Conjecture limits new understanding of historical events
Glen Young's book review (March 28, 2013)
Mort offers his conclusion in his new account of "The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars."
Driving Mort's story is the standoff turned send up between military man and native chief of 1861. Or more importantly, given the cultural gulf between them, Mort wonders, was there any way one could know the motivations of the other, or expect the documented response.
To his credit, Mort knits a narrative that looks at multiple possibilities, though he cannot but lean on his own cultural latitudes for guidance.
When Bascom winds up at Fort Buchanan in the Arizona territory, he is pressed to respond after Cochise is implicated in the raid of a nearby farm and the kidnapping of the farmer's son. Bascom bristles when the chief denies his role in the events, leading to willful resistance and uncertainty on all parts, breathing life into the stalemate and bloodshed known after as The Bascom Affair.
A primary concern for Mort is Bascom's West Point education.
Critics of the military academy blame a reliance on decorum and routine for shortcomings in application. West Point brass failed to recognize the evolution of conflict on the American continent. Where the past allowed for protocol in battle, the army's Indian adversaries were unschooled but far from unskilled. Bascom was, therefore, an emblem of his time, well versed in useless curricula. "This heavy emphasis on mathematics and civil engineering would be entirely useless to an infantry officer facing hostile Apaches in Arizona."
As for Cochise, the trouble results from a lack of order. Chiricahua cosmology was less rigidly defined than military practice. While Cochise came to lead a large band in skirmishes against the army after the events in question, in the years leading up to the Bascom Affair, he was less a wise leader and more a warrior, "less a Roman statesman and more a fearsome Achilles."
A problem for Mort is there is the dearth of Bascom letters. What we have then is primarily conjecture. To this end, the Army, Mort contends men like Bascom would believe, "was the only institution of integrity in a world of violence, corruption, and incompetence."
Mort contends the growing divide also resulted from the expansion of commerce, as well as the army's experiences in the Utah war, waged as much by rhetoric as rockets. Brigham Young resisted the federal government every bit as much as the Indians. All of this factors into Bascom's frontier education. Cochise, like Young, had the same kind of cultural paranoia that led them to protect their own and suspect outsiders."
In the end, Mort's conclusions are as uncertain as the secondary sources, though the questions are certainly worthy of attention, as he seeks to gain a larger understanding of "The Wrath of Cochise."
Rating: 3 out of 5
Glen Young teaches English at Petoskey High School. His column, Literate Matters, appears the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Young can be reached at P.O. Box 174, Petoskey, Mich. 49770.