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In essential ways, both Indians and white Americans see their common past as a story shaped by violence, competing martyrdoms and the collision of irreconcilable opposites. In a nation that is often impatient with history, Indians are still dominated by it in a visceral way. Indeed, it is impossible to even begin to understand modern Indians without taking into account the lingering power of events that the rest of the nation has pushed to the margins of memory. Two new books revisit this dark history with unvarnished accounts of the last Indian wars that ravaged the Southwest, from the 1860s to the 1880s. They focus on a pair of remarkable Indian leaders—both members of far-flung Apache tribes whose ethos of raiding and ferocity in battle was renowned among settled tribes and Anglo-American newcomers alike. Their forces outrode, outwitted and often outfought far larger American and Mexican forces for decades. Both books are compact, crisply written and provocative, and they benefit from being read in tandem, covering as they do much of the same geography and sharing some of the same players, but with little narrative overlap.
"The Wrath of Cochise" builds outward from a single incident, known as the "Bascom Affair," which occurred in a remote corner of Arizona in 1861. A settler's ranch had been attacked, his cattle run off and his son kidnapped by Indian raiders. The settler blamed it—unjustly, in author Terry Mort's view—on Cochise, the leader of a Chiricahua Apache band well known in the region. Invited to meet on neutral ground at a place known as Apache Pass by Lt. George Bascom, a young and impulsive West Point graduate, Cochise arrived expecting a diplomatic parley. Instead, in a shocking breach of frontier protocol, Bascom seized Cochise's family and killed one of his companions, though Cochise himself managed to escape.
Fierce Echoes From the Frontier (The Wall Street Journal 4/20)
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