Biography of Captain Thomas Jonathan Jeffords

Captain Thomas Jonathan Jeffords was born in Chautauqua County, New York, in 1832. He laid out the road from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Denver, in 1858. In the fall of 1859 he came to Taos, New Mexico, and wintered in Taos. The following spring he went into the San Juan Mountains to prospect and mine. In 1862 he carried dispatches from Fort Thorn to General Carleton at Tucson. At that time, he was on the payroll of the United States Government as a scout, and piloted the advance companies of the California Column into New Mexico, to old Fort Thorn near the Rio Grande near Las Cruces. He is said to have taken part in the battle of Val Verde and the other engagements which resulted in the expulsion of the Confederates from New Mexico.

In 1867 Captain Jeffords made the personal acquaintance of Cochise, who had been very active against all Americans and Mexicans. Of this meeting, Captain Jeffords said: “He had killed twenty-one men to my knowledge, fourteen of whom were in my employ. I made up my mind that I wanted to see him. I located one of his Indians and a camp where he came personally. In the meantime, I had acquired a smattering knowledge of the Indian language, having been an Indian trader under a commission from Mr. Parker, Secretary of the Interior. Having been advised that Cochise would be at a certain place at a certain time, I went into his camp alone, fully armed. After meeting him, I told him that I was there to talk with him personally, and that I wished to leave my arms in his possession or in the possession of one of his wives whom he had with him, to be returned to me when I was ready to leave, which would probably be a couple of days. Cochise seemed to be surprised, but finally consented to my proposition, took possession of my arms and I spent two or three days with him, discussing affairs, and sizing him up. I found him to be a man of great natural ability, a splendid specimen of physical manhood, standing about six feet two, with an eye like an eagle. This was the commencement of my friendship with Cochise, and although I was frequently compelled to guide troops against him and his band, it never interfered with our friendship. He respected me and I respected him. He was a man who scorned a liar, was always truthful in all things; his religion was truth and loyalty. My name with Cochise was Chickasaw, or Brother, and among his tribe I was known as Tyazalaton, which means ‘Sandy Whiskers.’ The following will illustrate a point in Cochise’s character: He said to me once, ‘Chickasaw, a man should never lie!’ I replied: ‘No, he should not, but a great many do.’ He said: ‘That is true, but they need not do it; if a man asks you or I a question we do not wish to answer, we could simply say: I don’t want to talk about that.’

“I learned from Cochise, and I think his story bears me out, that up to about the year 1859 when he was betrayed by Lieutenant Bascom, he had always been very friendly to the whites, but since that time he had done them all the harm he could.”

In 1870 General Howard was sent out by the Department in Washington as Indian Commissioner. During that year he took several Indian Chiefs to Washington, and returned in 1871. Cochise’s band was still on the warpath, and all white men gave him a wide berth, fearing to enter Iris camp. Howard was anxious to interview him and see if some terms could not be made by which he would be induced to go on the reservation and quit his murdering and robbery of inoffensive citizens.

At that time Captain Jeffords was acting as a scout for Captain Farnsworth in hunting down these Indians, and was away from Tularosa, which was his headquarters, on a scouting trip with Farnsworth. General Howard made the acquaintance of a man by the name of Milligan, and told him what he wanted. Milligan told him there was but one man who could conduct him into Cochise’s camp; that he was the only white man who had ever gone into his camp and returned, and that man was Captain Jeffords. Upon Jeffords’ return from the scout, General Howard was at Tularosa, and sent for him, telling him what he wanted to do. Jeffords told him that he could take him to Cochise’s camp in seven days but in order to do so he, as general of the army, would have to be under the control and direction of him, Jeffords; that he would guarantee his safe return, but that he would have to go in alone with him, and do as he said. Howard consented to the terms, but some of his officers protested, saying that he would never get out alive and insisted that he should go with a strong military escort. Jeffords said: ” To me it is immaterial whether you go or not, but if you are going out there with a lot of soldiers, you will need more than 250. If you go with me alone I can take you to his camp, and we can have this interview, and I think you can make peace with him by giving him a reservation in his own country.” After considering the matter, Howard told Jeffords in the presence of his officers that he was going, and that Jeffords would be in command of the expedition. Jeffords, telling the story, said: “I always had a great respect for General Howard after that. Before this time I was prejudiced against him on account of his well known humanitarian ideas, and, to my mind, posing as a Christian soldier. I saw then that he was not only a brave man, and fearless as far as his person was concerned, but was really in earnest about trying to stop the destructive war which Cochise was waging upon my countrymen.”

Jeffords immediately set himself to work to locate Cochise. He left Howard’s camp that night, and found one of the Indians twenty miles away by the name of Chee, and brought him back to the post. This Chee was a son of Mangus Colorado but had been brought up by Cochise. Jeffords then went in another direction, and brought in another Indian, Ponce, a son-in-law of Mangus. He arranged with these Indians to take him and General Howard to Cochise’s camp. To perfect all of these arrangements took several days. Jeffords continues: “Finally we started for Cochise’s camp from Fort Bayard, New Mexico. General Howard had requested me to allow him to take his aide-de-camp, Captain Slayden, with him, which request was granted. I took charge of the expedition, and landed General Howard in Cochise’s camp in seven days as had been agreed.”

Targash, which means ‘Gamecock,’ was the sub-chief. Five or six Indians and from fifteen to sixteen squaws and children were in the camp. The General and the Captain stayed overnight. The next morning the General said to Captain Jeffords: “Hadn’t we better be going?” Jeffords said: “Where?” The General said: “Why, to hunt Cochise.” Jeffords answered: “He will be here in about fifteen or twenty minutes. He will come on horseback, and will have behind him the ugliest Indian you ever saw, by the name of Teese, bearing a lance. Jeffords and his Indians had been signaling all the way out, using smoke, the usual method of telegraphing among Indians. Cochise made his appearance in about fifteen minutes, as Jeffords had said. He looked around, and then embraced Jeffords according to the Mexican and Indian custom. He was introduced to General Howard and Captain Slayden. After a few minutes conversation, Cochise asked Jeffords how long he had known these people. Jeffords said about thirty days. “Will they do as they say they will?” Jeffords replied: “Well, I don’t know; I think they will, but I will see that they do not promise too much.” During the trip Jeffords had cautioned Howard against making too great promises, because Indians were very exact, and the slightest violation of any promise made would queer them all the way through. Cochise studied a while and said: “I am going to send him to Bowie and see how much of a friend of the Indian he is.” He said to Howard: “My people are out making a living. If they come across any whites, they will kill them, and it may be that some of my people will be killed. If my people are killed, I will take care of them, and if my people kill any whites I don’t want to be held accountable for it, for they are out making a living. I want you to go to Bowie tonight.” The General said to Captain Jeffords: “I am very tired and I don’t know how to get there.” Jeffords replied: “The Indians will show you a new route, and you can make a sulphur spring, about twelve miles from here tonight, sleep there, and go to Bowie tomorrow, and return in about three days.” Howard did as requested and returned in three days.

In the meantime some of Cochise’s Indians came in and reported that they had killed five whites. Cochise said: ” I do not think the troops can follow the trail of my Indians, but if they do, they will be in here tonight, and we will have a fight.” Jeffords explained to Slay den the condition of affairs, and told him if the troops followed the trail and fought with the Indians, they would be beaten. He told him that if he wanted to leave, he had better go right away, and an Indian would conduct him to General Howard. Slayden said: “What are you going to do?” Jeffords answered: “I am going to stay here, but you are an officer of the army, and it might complicate matters if the soldiers found you here.” Slayden studied for a while, and said: “If you are going to stay, I will stay too.”

Cochise moved his camp up among the rocks, and the Indians made a nice bed for Slayden and Jeffords. It was all planned by Cochise that if the soldiers came in upon them, the women and children would be taken out of the camp beyond possible danger. The braves, in the meantime, were placed in position to resist any attack. When General Howard returned, he looked over Cochise’s defensive arrangement, and said that no general in the Army of the United States could have made a better disposition of his men to resist an attack from a superior force. Consultations then began in reference to peace. The sub-chiefs came in from all over Cochise’s stamping grounds. After a few days, they had a general powwow. General Howard wished to attend, but Captain Jeffords said: “No, we will stay here. They will let us know whether they want to make peace or not.” By and by, through certain noises in their camp, Jeffords knew that it was all right, and that the council had decided for peace, and so told the General. Cochise then came up and informed the General that they were ready to make terms of peace. The terms were that they should have a reservation in the Sulphur Spring Valley within the boundaries of Stein’s Pass Mountains, Chiricahua Mountains, and the Dragoon Mountains, and that Captain Jeffords should be the Indian Agent. Jeffords said he did not wish the position; that the Government owed him $3,000 which he would forfeit if he accepted the position of Indian Agent, and, besides, he did not wish to be mixed up in it. If; he was agent he would be called upon for political assessments every time a president was to be elected, or a delegate in his territory elected; that he was an old time Democrat, and did not feel like assisting any Republican in any position. Howard replied: “I will tell General Grant about it and I think it would be better. In the meantime, Captain, I cannot make peace unless you consent to act as Indian Agent.” Jeffords considered the matter, and being anxious to stop a war which was killing off so many of his friends, finally consented, with the understanding that he was to be absolute boss upon the reservation, admitting no one on the reservation unless with his consent, and taking absolute control and authority over the Indians. This authority was given him by the President. Thereafter no soldier or civilian, or official of any kind came upon the reservation without Jeffords consent, and for the four years that he was Indian Agent, there was never any trouble with the Chiricahua Apaches. The White Mountain Indians sent several delegations into the reservation to get assistance from Cochise’s Indians, but never received it. Further, all the horses and other stock in the hands of Cochise at the time this treaty was made, were restored to the owners. There was trouble with the White Mountain Indians at times, but Cochise sat always at the right hand of Jeffords, and enforced whatever order he made, with the result as above stated. It was charged that these Chiricahua Indians went upon different raids into Mexico, and that a part of the treaty made with Howard was that they should have that privilege, all of which was untrue.

During the time that Jeffords was agent, Cochise died upon the reservation. It can be said that every promise which he made to Howard was religiously kept as long as he lived, and he advised his Indians never to go on the warpath against the whites again.

In the last sickness of Cochise, Jeffords was with him and gave him the best medical attention to be had, but was called away from Cochise’s wickiup to issue rations to the Indians. Before leaving, however, Cochise told Jeffords that when he died, he wanted him to take care of his particular tribe, which numbered about three hundred and twenty, and keep supervision over them. Jeffords said: “I am only one, and they are over three hundred, and they won’t do what I ask them to do unless they want to.” Cochise said: “We will fix that.” He called in the head chiefs of his particular division, and then and there selected his oldest son as his successor, and they agreed with Cochise that they would do whatever Jeffords wanted them to do. On the removal of the Chiricahua Indians to the San Carlos Reservation, Jeffords took charge of this branch of the tribe, and it was the only band that went voluntarily to the San Carlos. Jeffords then left to issue rations to the rest of the Indians. In saying goodbye, Cochise said: “Chickasaw, do you think you will ever see me alive again?” Jeffords replied: “I do not know; I don’t think I will, for you have been failing very rapidly in the last three days, and I think that by tomorrow night you will be dead.” Cochise said: “I think so too, about tomorrow morning, at ten o ‘clock, I will pass out, but do you think we will ever meet again?” Jeffords replied: “I don’t know. What do you think about it?” “Well,” said Cochise, “I have been giving it a good deal of thought since I have been sick here, and I think we will.” “Where?” asked Jeffords. “I don ‘t know, somewhere up yonder,” pointing to the skies. He died the next morning as he said he would, from inflammation of the bowels. He never feared death, but rather courted it.

While Slay den was in the camp, Jeffords asked Cochise if they could not have some fresh meat. “Well,” Cochise said, “what I can give you is good enough for you and I, but I don’t know about the other fellow.” “All right,” said Jeffords, “you have it cooked up, and I will vouch for him.” So they had meat boiled in large quantities set before them, and Slay den ate like a pig. After the meal was over, Jeffords asked him how he liked the meat. “I never tasted anything so good in my life. I ate three portions of it, and would have called for more had I not been ashamed to. What kind of meat was it, elk?” Jeffords said: “Well, you saw them kill that colt over there. That was horse meat.” Slayden answered: “Well, if I had known it, I suppose I wouldn’t have touched it, but I still say it was the best meat I ever tasted.”

During Captain Jeffords administration there was only one outbreak, if indeed it can be so characterized. “Rogers and Spence were living by permission of the Government and myself, as agent, at Sulphur Springs. They were instructed by me not to keep any whiskey or liquors, and above all not to let the Indians have any because if they did, in one of their drunken sprees, they will murder you, and I will be obliged to order you off the reservation, which I do not wish to do. This was understood between us. Two Indians, Pioncenay and Piarhel went down to their camp, and Rogers and Spence sold them whiskey at $10.00 per bottle. The Indians became drunk, and in a fit of intoxication, killed both white men, when they would not sell them more liquor. I received the news at ten o’clock at night, they having been killed that morning about an hour after sunrise. I immediately went to Major McClelland, who was in charge of the military forces, and informed him of this murder, and told him that I wanted him to send an officer with me to Rogers and Spence ‘s camp the next morning. He sent Lieutenant Hendley with twenty-eight soldiers. We went to the camp. I knocked open the head of a keg of whiskey, and in the bottom found several plugs of tobacco cut up, and a lot of chile, a decoction that would make any man crazy. The next thing was to capture the Indians who committed the murder. I was informed by my Indians where they were, but a brother of one of the Indians had a few of his followers with him, and their efforts were to get the murderers away into Sonora, which they succeeded in doing. The two Indians returned to the reservation in about twenty days, from Sonora, and I was informed of it. I called up Tar jay, the son of Cochise, and the head chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, and told him that I wanted those Indians. My object was to take them and send them to Tucson for trial by the civil authorities.

Nacheis, the youngest son of Cochise, urged me to let him deal with Esquinay, the war chief of the Chiricahuas, who was Nacheis’ father-in-law, and who was protecting these two Indians. After some debate, I consented, and when resistance was made, Nacheis killed his father-in-law, and three or four Indians, when I had told them that they were prisoners, and they attempted to resist, the fight commencing, and Nacheis killing his father-in-law, as above stated, and four others. Pioncenay was shot through the lungs. This ended the trouble. Clum, who was my successor, turned him over to Charlie Shibell, Sheriff of Pima County, and the Indian escaped.”

During all the time that Jeffords was in control of the Indians, he had their confidence and could induce them to do almost anything that he desired. He saw that they were protected at all times as far as possible in their rights, and dealt with them humanely, justly and friendly, thus commanding their respect and confidence. When his successor was appointed, his accounts were audited in Washington, and his bondsmen were released within three months, something unheard of in the history of the administration of Indian affairs in Arizona. Most of the Indian agents were under bond for $10,000. Jeffords was under bond for $50,000. He made all his reports to the Interior Department direct, and had, as before stated, the entire control of the reservation given to him by President Grant.

Captain Jeffords was superintendent of the mail from Mesilla to Tucson, in 1866-67, during which time a number of his men were killed by Cochise’s band, which led Jeffords to hunt up Cochise in person, as stated above.

The later years of Captain Jeffords’ life were spent at Owl’s Head, a mining camp in Pinal County, about fifteen miles from Red Rock Station, on the Southern Pacific, where he was interested in some mining property. He died on February 19th, 1914, and was buried in Tucson.



Farish, Thomas Edwin. History Of Arizona, Volume 2. Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D. 1915.

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