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THE BASCOM AFFAIR, APACHE PASS
FEBRUARY 4, 1861


One day in October, 1860, Apache Indians raided the ranch of John Ward on Sonoita Creek, plundered his house, took his son Mickey Free, and ran off all of his stock.  John Ward was absent at the time of the raid.  Upon his return, Ward immediately rode to Fort Buchanan, twelve miles to the northeast, at the head of the Sonoita Valley, and reported the raid to the Commanding Officer, Lieut. Col. Pitcain Morrison.  Nothing was done at this time, the reasons to this day are unknown, but a guess would be due to the lack of troops present for duty.  No reason was ever given and the pursuit of the raiders was not undertaken until January 29, 1861, three months later.

On January 29, 1861, Lieut. Col. Morrison ordered Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom, 7th U.S. Infantry, to proceed to Apache Pass, 150 miles to the Northeast to retake the boy, Mickey Free and the stolen stock.  Bascom's command, consisted of 54 men mounted on mules.  Also accompanying Bascom was Mr. Ward and an interpreter called Antonio. Bascom and his command arrived at the west summit of Apache Pass February 3rd and proceeded over the road two and a half miles to the Overland Mail Station.  Bascom halted his command for water, and told the station keeper Mr. Culver that he was on his way to Fort Bliss, Texas.  After watering his command, Bascom continued on his way.  When he had marched about one mile to one and a half miles, he halted his command in the vicinity of Goodwin Canyon and set up his camp.  Bascom's command was camped in Siphon Canyon.  Cochise's camp was in Goodwin Canyon, only a short distance away.



Cochise had seen the soldiers at the Overland Mail Station, and in all probability out of curiosity, proceeded to the station and inquire of Mr. Culver, the reason for the soldiers being at Apache Pass.  Mr. Culver answered, that they were on their way to Fort Bliss.  The same day, Cochise, accompanied by a party of seven in number, a half brother, two nephews, two squaws and a boy, entered Bascom's camp, which was the Apache custom, to greet visitors.  Mr. Ward immediately told Lieut. Bascom that Cochise was present in the camp, and pointed him out.

Bascom invited Cochise with his party into his tent for a talk.   When inside, Bascom confronted Cochise demanding the return of the boy and the stock.  Cochise replied that he did not have them. Bascom again demanded the return, Cochise again replying that he did not have them.. He then went on to say that if given time, he would find out who had taken them, secure them from the raiders and return them to Bascom.  Bascom replied no, demanded the immediate return, then told Cochise and his party that they would be held as hostages until the return of the boy and the stock.  Prior to this, the soldiers had been instructed to surround Bascom's tent, with arms at the ready and bayonets fixed.  Cochise, then produced a knife, slashed the tent and ran up the hill, amid a volley of rifle fire from the surprised soldiers.  Cochise escaped unharmed, but the rest of his party was captured.  It is not sure, if at this time one of the Indians was bayoneted.

The next day, February 5th, Bascom, broke his camp and retraced his line of march to the Overland Mail Station, and advised Mr. Culver as to what had transpired the previous day, and that he had hostages.   At the time of his return, Cochise appeared on a hill above the station and wanted to talk about the release of the captive Indians.  Mr. Culver, along with Mr. Wallace and Mr. Welsh, both helpers at the station, went up the hill to talk to Cochise.  After a few minutes, Cochise attempted to capture the three white men and succeeded in capturing Mr. Wallace. Culver and Welsh made good their escape, but upon reaching the door of the station, Mr. Culver was shot from behind, and his body drug into the building.  Mr. Welsh, while attempting to climb over the corral wall was shot in the head by a soldier, who had thought the Indians were attacking them.  Wallace was now a captive of Cochise.

During this period, a wagon train had entered Apache Pass at the west end, and was ambushed by the Indians.  The wagons were burned, and two white men were taken captive. These two men were Mr. L.C. Jordan and Mr. Walter Lyons.  Eight Mexicans, also part of this wagon train,  were chained to the wagon wheels, turned head down, and a fire built under their heads.  This was a favorite means of slow death used by Apaches.  The fire slowly boiling the brains until the head explodes.  A very slow and painful death. Another means of a slow painful death used by the Apaches, was to stake a man out and then build a fire in the middle of his chest.  Now Cochise had three white captives for exchange.

About dark, the East bound stage entered Apache Pass's western summit, and was fired upon by Indians lying in ambush.  The first volley hit the near lead mule, the stage coming to a halt. The conductor, Mr. Culver, brother of the station keeper, and Mr. Buckley, jumped from the coach and cut out the dead animal.  In this ambush, the driver, Mr. King Lyon was wounded in the leg and one passenger was  wounded in the chest.  The coach stopped where the wagon train massacre had taken place.  Buckley and Culver looked the site over, then climbed back aboard the coach and the wounded driver went full speed down hill to the station.

The Indians, prior to this had pulled the planking from a small bridge over a deep gully, and when the coach reached it, the mules jumped over the ravine, and the axles of the coach slid over the center remaining planks and made it into the station. Now the troops, the station helpers, and the passengers of the coach were now at the station, in a state of siege.

On the evening of the 8th, Wallace was brought into sight of the station, gaining the attention of the soldiers.  A stick was placed in the ground with a message attached to it.  The Indians then departed with Wallace  A soldier was sent up the hill, on the south side of Siphon Canyon, returning with the message.  This is when Bascom found out about the other two white captives of the Indians.

Late in the evening of the 6th, Buckley sent A.B. Culver to Tucson, to tell Mr. William S. Oury, the station keeper there, to send a coach and help, as there was wounded passengers at Apache Pass.  At the same time, Lieut. Bascom sent an escort of soldiers with saddle mules to Fort Buchanan for medical aid.  The escort accompanied Culver to Dragoon Spring, and Culver proceeded into Tucson  the troops on to Fort Buchanan.

When Culver arrived in Tucson, he gave Buckley's instructions to Oury.  Oury sent a messenger from Tucson to Fort Breckenridge informing them of the situation at Apache Pass.  The troops reached Buchanan without incident and informed Col. Morrison of the situation at Apache Pass. Colonel Morrison, immediately dispatched Asst. Surg.  Bernard J.D. Irwin with an escort of fifteen mounted infantrymen to Apache Pass to help the wounded.

In the meantime, on February 8th, Bascom needed water so he divided his herd of mules, sending one half to the spring for watering.  The Apaches ambushed this party, Mr. Moses Lyon, a Butterfield employee was killed, one soldier and one Butterfield  man was wounded.  Bascom lost half of his animals in this exchange and the situation in Apache Pass was now becoming critical for  men and animals. 

Upon receiving Oury's message,  Lieut. R.S.C. Lord and Lieut. Isiah N. Moore, left Fort Breckenridge with Companies D and F, 1st Dragoons, and proceeded directly to Apache Pass.  The route was east down Aravaipa Canyon thence to Ewell's Springs where he would meet with Oury's party.  Surgeon Irwin with his command marched the 65 miles to Dragoon Spring in 24 hours  After watering animals and men, proceeded out on to the road to Apache Pass.  Here after a short march, he encountered Apache's with a herd of horses and cattle, and after a chase of about seven miles and a short fight captured the animals.  Irwin then continued on to Apache Pass arriving there February 10th.  Irwin had to make the decision to proceed on or await the help that was expected, but decided to continue on into the pass and on to the station, which he did without incident.  The Indians were not guarding the west entrance, as they had seen on the old Leach Road, a Company of the 8th Infantry on their way from Fort Breckenridge to Fort Bliss in Texas, therefore there were no Indians present to prevent Irwin in his march to the stage station.

On the 14th of February, Lt. Moore, in command of the Dragoons arrived at Ewell's Station and left a note for Oury to meet him at the tank at the entrance to Apache Pass.  They met and all proceeded to the Apache Pass station without incident.

On the 15th of February, the Dragoons had a day of rest, and on the 16th and 17th scouts were sent out but no Indians were found.  On the 17th or 18th, Cochise's rancheria was found and it was set afire.  About a mile west of the station a short distance from the road, the bodies of the Americans were discovered.  The bodies were littered with lance holes, and badly mutilated and were literally unrecognizable.  Wallace was identified as one, only because Oury knew about one of his teeth having gold.

After finding the dead Americans, the soldiers wanted to hang the Apache captives (Irwin being the one who wanted to hang the captives).  Lieut. Bascom protested, and there began a discussion of what was to be done.  Irwin, pointed out that since three of the captives were his, he could do as he pleased, and Lieut. Moore, being the senior officer present concurred with this decision to hang the captives.  Lieut. Moore said that he would take full responsibility for this order to hang the Indians.

On February 19th, the captives were marched to the graves of Cochise's victims, and there they were hung from some oak trees close by the graves.  These bodies were still hanging in Apache Pass in July 1861, when the withdrawn troops from Ft. Breckinridge and Ft. Buchanan were on the march to New Mexico.

Bascom on his return to Fort Buchanan reported to Morrison and was highly commended in the manner that he had carried out his assignment.  Bascom was later promoted to Captain, 16th U.S. Infantry, and was killed in the Battle of Valverde, New Mexico February 21, 1862.  Bascom's report has never been found, as it would have probably cleared up a lot of later speculations of  what did actually take place at Apache Pass, in those critical few days.  His report was either lost, or possibly destroyed when the Union troops were withdrawn to the east and the seat of the war.  Assistant Surgeon Irwin was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his pursuit of the Indians on the way to Apache Pass.

The Bascom Affair started a war that lasted until 1872.  The Apaches, believing that they had driven the soldiers out of the country, were literally free to do as they pleased.  Mines, Ranches and Towns were deserted, all stock stolen, and dozens of citizens were killed.  Tucson was only one of  three sites that held out against the Indians.  The other being the Patagonia Silver Mine, owned by Sylvester Mowry, and the Pete Kitchen Ranch, just north of the U.S. Mexico boundary.

This incident, would have telling effects on coming events during the Civil War in Arizona and New Mexico.  The Confederate forces, under Captain Sherod Hunter would suffer losses due to this war.  The advancing California Column, on its march from Fort Yuma to the Rio Grande, would also result in numerous affairs and one two day pitched battle with the Apaches under Cochise and Mangas Colorado, July 15-16, 1862.  The California Volunteers and fight these Indians until their withdrawal in 1866, and then the Regular Army would continue the fight, until the final surrender.

Written by Arnold Franks
Copyright © 2000 Arnold Franks

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