American Indian Trails of the West

Southern Arizona’s Apache Heritage Trail
Cochise County is a window into the Chiricahua tribal history.

In Arizona, Cochise County is the epicenter of Chiricahua tribal history with more heritage sites dedicated to the tribe’s history than anywhere else in the state or country. The county is named after the famed Apache chief, Cochise, who negotiated the best peace treaty his band ever had with the United States in late 1872. The historic settlement created the Chiricahua Indian Reservation, which stretched from the Dragoon Mountains to the Peloncillo Mountains.

Unfortunately, the treaty was doomed from the start, and after Cochise’s death in 1874, the Chiricahua Apaches were almost constantly in conflict with the ever-growing number of American settlers, miners and soldiers streaming into the Southwest. On September 4, 1886, Geronimo and the last of his band surrendered. The Chiricahuas, classified as POWs until 1914, were exiled first to Florida and Alabama, then moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1894.

Visitors to Cochise County should start their heritage tour at Chiricahua National Monument in the Chiricahua Mountains for an introduction to the natural and cultural history of the former home of Cochise and his tribe. From the monument, the next stop should be Fort Bowie National Historic Site, which has one of the most interesting hikes in the state, past Apache Springs, across the Butterfield Trail, and to the ruins of the strategic fort. From Bowie, stop in Willcox to visit the Rex Allen “Arizona Cowboy” and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame. After soaking up ranching history, drive west and visit the spectacular Amerind Foundation and Museum and its world-class exhibits on Native culture, history and art in Texas Canyon just south of Dragoon. Then drive southwest to the Dragoon Mountains and hike into the Cochise Stronghold, a wondrous, wild place that was one of the legendary chief’s favorite retreats.

A tour of Cochise County would not be complete without a visit to Sierra Vista, home to the Fort Huachuca Museum, Gen. Nelson Miles advance headquarters when he negotiated Geronimo’s surrender.


Cheewa James is enrolled with the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. Her great-grandfather fought in the Modoc War. She is the author of MODOC: The Tribe That Wouldn’t Die.

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