Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars

by Terry Mort

Pub Date: April 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1605984223
Publisher: Pegasus

Second-tier, oddly old-fashioned military history by former naval officer Mort (The Hemingway Patrols, 2009).

In February 1861, a young Anglo boy disappeared from a ranch near the borders of New Mexico, Arizona and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, territory that was home to several Apache bands. Suspicion fell on the closest of them, led by the well-known fighter Cochise, who had long distinguished himself in battle against the Mexican army. An American officer named George Bascom questioned Cochise and, not believing what he heard, took several of Cochise’s family members hostage. Cochise escaped in a hail of gunfire. It turned out that Cochise’s band was not at fault after all, but the damage was done, and the Bascom Affair touched off the Apache Wars, which would last off and on for more than half a century. The Bascom Affair is a fixture in every history of those wars, and Mort doesn’t turn up much that is new. Indeed, his approach reads as if written half a century ago, before ethnohistorical research helped establish the Apache point of view on such matters; his bibliography lacks some central texts, and so it is that he is given to pat explanations—writing, for instance, that the Apaches raided because “they simply liked it,” and not, as Grenville Goodwin and other anthropologists have observed, because it was an enterprise as much cultural as economic and military in nature. Just so, he perpetuates tales about gruesome torture that have long been revealed to be canards—although, to be sure, ugly behavior took place on both sides. Mort’s history, overall, is of the Zane Grey school, readable enough but more yarn than true history.

Readers with an interest in the subject would do better to begin with David Roberts’ far superior Once They Moved Like the Wind (1993).