The Battle at Apache Pass (1952)





Director:     George Sherman. 

Starring:     John Lund (Maj. Jim Colton), Jeff Chandler (Cochise), Beverly Tyler (Mary Kearney), Bruce Cowling (Neil Baylor ), Susan Cabot (Nona), John Hudson (Lt. George Bascom), James Best (Cpl. Hassett), Regis Toomey (Dr. Carter), Richard Egan (Sgt. Reuben Bernard), Hugh O'Brian (Lt. Robert Harley), Gregg Palmer (Joe Bent), William Reynolds (Lem Bent), Jay Silverheels (Geronimo), Tommy Cook (Little Elk), Jack Elam (Mescal Jack).

deals with "The Bascom Affair", 1861, and the battle at Apache Pass, 1862, involving Cochise


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


The son of Cochise, Little Elk, rides with Geronimo.  He returns home and tells his father where he has been.  Cochise says:  "I warned you that Geronimo and his followers are evil."  His son snaps back:  "He's a wise leader.  He showed me strange things.  The soldiers burned their fort and ran away."  Cochise says:  "Such things cannot be."  The son says it happened and he saw it with his own eyes.  When he becomes a warrior he will ride with Geronimo.  Cochise grounds his son to the village for the "space of one moon".  He will be doing chores that the son regards as "woman's work".  Little Elk leaves.

Cochise is worried that if the soldiers leave the area, Geronimo will raid the wagon trains.  He adds that tomorrow he will go to Fort Buchanan. 

Fort Buchanan, New Mexico Territory.  Cochise arrives at the fort.  He and Major Jim Colton already know each other and consider themselves friends.  The major tells Cochise that the fort he inquires about was burned because the whites are involved in a war with each other (the Civil War) and they don't have enough men to man certain forts.  Now Cochise knows the reason for the burning of the fort.  He leaves. 

The calvary replacements ride in on their horses.  With the replacements comes the irritant Mescal Jack from Fort Apache.  (The Fort Apache Indian Reservation is located in parts of Navajo, Gila and Apache counties in north east and central Arizona.)  Lt. Bascom reports for duty.  Major Colton tells him that Sgt. Reuben Bernard will show the new troops to their barracks.  Sgt. Bernard tells Corporal Hassett to escort Lt. Bascom to his quarters. 

Sgt. Bernard goes over to speak with Mescal Jack.  It's not a happy reunion for the major booted Jack out of Fort Apache.  Jack says now he is working for Baylor.  The sergeant takes a whiskey bottle belonging to Jack out of a saddle pouch and smashes it against a rock.  Then he warns Jack that he had better not find him giving mescal to the Apaches or he'll "kick his tail right through his belly".

Major Colton and Neil Baylor meet in Colton's office.  The major explains that in New Mexico and Arizona there are only 700 soldiers as compared to 7,000 apaches.  Cochise of the Chiricauha Apache is the biggest influence in the territory.  He adds:  "And Cochise is my friend."  Baylor wants to be in on the ground floor of the growth of Arizona and New Mexico which, he figures, will make him a big man in the territory.  Before Baylor is shown to his quarters, the major warns him about Mescal Jack, who was kicked out of Ft. Apache for selling whiskey to the Indians. 

The major has orders to cooperate with Baylor.  He comments:  "I'm afraid it's going to be difficult." 

Apache Pass Station.  Butterfield Overland Mail, 1,115 miles west to San Francisco and 1,680 miles to St. Louis.  A wagon train has stopped at Apache Pass Station.  A teacher named Mary Kearney is with the wagon train.  The station master George Culver tells her that he would like to keep Marry and let her teach school at Apache Pass, but there are just too few pupils.  The only student here is Mickey and the boy's father Johnny Ward. 

The leader of the wagon train asks Culver if they will be able to make it all the way to Buffalo Spring by dark?  Yes.

Geronimo watches the small wagon train of only three wagons.  He and his men sneak up on the wagon train when it is stopped for the night.  They take the whites by complete surprise.

Baylor tells the major that he wants to move the Chiricauha away from Apache Pass and over to the San Carlos Indian Reservation.  Major Colton says the the Chiricauha would refuse to go.  Furthermore, if Baylor started trouble here, the territory would experience a real bloodbath.  The major makes it clear that he won't cooperate with Baylor on his idea. 

Cpl. Hassett arrives with a patrol.  He runs into the major's officer saying there's been a massacre at Buffalo Springs.   The corporal reports that there's no way of telling which Apaches committed the massacre and the mutilation of the wagon train passengers

Major Colton takes Baylor with him to ride out and talk to Cochise.  Their first stop is at Apache Pass.  The station master says the villain of the massacre is probably Geronimo.  He also tells the major that on the wagon train there was a beautiful woman school teacher, Mary Kearney, who was headed out to Tucson to be a teacher.  Now the major tells Lt. Bascom to take the detail and head out for burial duty to Buffalo Springs.  Mescal Jack will go with them.  The major and Baylor are going to go see Cochise. 

Major Colton introduces Baylor to Cochise and then tells him what happened at Buffalo Springs.  Baylor tells Cochise if the culprits are not turned over within a week, the Chiricauha will be sent to the San Carlos.   Reservation.  Cochise tells Baylor flatly that the Chiricauha will not leave this land, but he will speak to the council and the culprits will be driven from Chiricauha land.

At the council Cochise says he thinks the one responsible for the massacre at Buffalo Springs is Geronimo.  All of a sudden Geronimo shows up saying the Apache are strong and can drive the white eyes off Apache land.  Cochise gets up and tells Geronimo that the Chiricauha lands are now closed to Geronimo.  If he does not leave this land, his braves will hunt him down and kill him.  Cochise also tells him that the white woman will stay with them.  Geronimo says that his brave Niga captured her and she will stay with him.  That is, unless Cochise defeats Niga in battle.  The two Apaches fight each other and Cochise gets a nasty cut on his upper right arm.  Cochise kills Niga.  So the copper-haired woman will stay with Cochise.

Cochise tells Mary that the Apaches have done her a great wrong and he is saddened by this.  He says his wife Nona will take care of her.  Nona is not thrilled about this assignment.  Mary asks why Nona hates her so.  Frankly, it's because of jealousy on the part of Nona.  She says that her husband fought for Mary and now he doesn't see Nona anymore.  Nona is about to start cutting off Mary's hair, but Cochise arrives.   He tells her that tomorrow they will take the copper-headed woman to the major.  This is a big relief for Nona 

Cochise and his men come riding up to the fort with Mary Kearny.  Cochise confirms that the culprits are Geronimo and his band.  The major greets Mary and tells the doctor to let Mary use his quarters.  A little later the doctor cleans up the chief's wound and bandages it for Cochise. 

At dusk the major talks with Miss Kearny.  He tells her that he is not going to send her anywhere else, as long as he can find excuses to keep her here. 

Mescal Jack visits with Baylor.  He says he found Geronimo's trail, but didn't tell Lt. Bascom.  Baylor asks Jack if he thinks Geronimo will work with them?  Jack says as long as he gives Geronimo weapons and ammunition, he will cooperate with them. 

The next day Baylor and Mescal Jack send out a smoke signal for Geronimo.  Geronimo and his men come riding in.  Baylor suggests that Geronimo can help create a situation in which the Chiricauha will break the peace.  Geronimo is doubtful because of the bond between the major and Cochise.  Baylor says the bond can be broken.  There is a stage driver and his son who stay near Buffalo Springs.

At dinner at the fort, Baylor tries to get the support of Mary for his ideas of driving out the Chiricauha.  No dice.  Mary is sympathetic, like the major, to the Indians.  So Baylor asks the doctor's opinion.  The doctor says that he has had a belly full of bloodshed all because of men like Baylor.  He sides with the major.  Now the sergeant with Johnny Ward bursts into the dining room and tells the major that the Apaches attacked Johnny Ward's place, killed his wife and took his boy Mickey with them.  Ward says that it was the Chiricauha because he found a Chiricauha amulet.  Baylor is also quick to say it was the Chiricauha.  Major Colton asks Baylor if he has ever heard of "planted evidence"?  The major goes out to check on the situation. 

Now Baylor and Mescal Jack talk with Lt. Bascom.  If he will cooperate with them, Bascom will have a bright future in Arizona.  What they want him to do is to go to the Chiricauha and bring back the boy Mickey.  Bascom gets on the assignment right away.  He takes two platoons out to visit the Chiricauha.  Mescal Jack told Bascom that he would set up a meeting with Cochise for him.  Jack tells the chief that the lieutenant has proof that the Chiricauha attacked the Ward home, killed his wife and kidnapped his son.  Of course, Cochise says that's impossible, but he will check with the other leaders.  Then he will go see the lieutenant camped not too far from them. 

Cochise comes in with his family.  He has a talk with Bascom, but Bascom refuses to believe a word Cochise is saying.  He calls for the guard.  Cochise slices an opening in the tent and runs into the mountains.  The guards shoot at him but nobody hits him.  Cochise gests away.  But now Bascom is going to hold the members of his family as hostages.

The sergeant tells the fellows to saddle up, but Bascom tells him he does not want the men to saddle up.  They will stay here because Cochise will bring the boy here in exchange for his relatives. 

The Chiricauha branch under Cochise gets close to the soldiers.  Cochise shoots an arrow into a guard, the signal for the attack.  More guards are hit with arrows.  Bascom orders his soldiers to retreat.  The soldiers gladly do that but they still lose quite a few men. 

Bacom regroups his men at another location.  He wants Nona to go tell Cochise to come in to speak with him under a white flag.  Nona goes and Cochise and four braves come down to see Bascom.  Bascom is completely intransigent and insults Cochise.  Bascom and his men turn to go.  Cochise grabs the Apache Pass station master and takes him up onto the hill.  There he is dragged behind a horse.  Bascom now orders the three Indian hostages to be hanged.  And hanged they are.  

Cochise goes on the warpath.  He and Geronimo are now allies.  As the major returns, he hears war drums and figures that the whole Apache nation is coming down on them.  He and his men ride on and the major demands an explanation  -- not from Bascom, but from Sgt. Bernard.  Bernard explains what happened.  He also says that the whole thing was Baylor's idea.  The major is furious with both Baylor and Bascom and tells Bascom that he has succeeded in bringing the whole might of the Apaches down on them.  The major places Baylor under military arrest. 

An attack of the Apaches begins.  Several soldiers and several Indians are killed.  The small band of Chirilcauha now retreat.  The major tells Bascom to take H troop, while Harley will take K troop.  Both going in different directions, they will make a loop around the Apache nation and rejoin each other at Eagle Rock.  The missionis  to find out which Indians are on the warpath and which are not. 

Mescal Jack goes out and signals for Geronimo.  Cochise and his men arrive and grab Jack.  Jack is quickly shot to death. 

Bascom gets himself trapped in between two groups of Apaches led by Geronimo.  H troop is saved by the arrival of K troop on the scene. 

The major has a romantic talk with Mary.  They are interrupted by the arrival of H and K troops.  When Bascom and Harley are with the major, he informs them that they are abandoning Ft. Buchanan for the safety of Fort Sheridan.  The sergeant says Fort Sheridan?  The major says yeah, if Cochise will let them pass through Apache Pass. 

All the men and horses now leave Fort Buchanan.  They are headed for Apache Pass.  As they get near Apache Pass, the major and the sergeant go on ahead to see if there is an ambush waiting for them.  The pass is a little valley between two mountains.  The major gives the signal for the soldiers to come ahead.  But at Apache Pass is Cochise.  Cochise starts the battle with a shot from his rifle.  Geronimo is also there.  Baylor tells some Indians to take him to see Geronimo.  They take him but since Baylor had not delivered the weapons and ammunition Geronimo wanted, Geronimo shoots Baylor dead. 

Cochise doesn't want the soldiers to reach Apache Spring where there is water.  The situation does not look good for the cavalry.  The major calls for the use of the howitzers.    The howitzers open fire and the Indians are amazed at the fire power of the new weapons.  The Indians start retreating after a number of explosions in their mountain positions.  Nona is hit.   

Cochise and another man come to the cavalry under a white flag.  He brings Nona with him and says she is hurt.  The major shouts out for the doctor.   Meanwhile, Geronimo tells the Apaches that Cochise only cares about his squaw.  So Geronimo will now be their leader.  They open fire on the cavalry.  The major asks Cochise why don't the Apache honor the white flag?  Cochise says that he honors the white flag, but Geronimo  does not. 

Cochise jumps on a horse and rides up and down Apache Pass carrying a long lance with a white flag attached to it.  Geronimo sees this and jumps from the rocks onto Cochise.  The two men struggle with each other.  Cochise gets the better of Geronimo.  Geronimo tells Cochise to kill him, but Cochise says Geronimo shall live, but he must live as an outcast walking forever alone.  Geronimo walks back into the mountains. 

When Cochise goes back to Nona, he hears the sounds of his little baby boy crying.  The major tells Cochise that it was Baylor and Geronimo who broke the peace.  And now Baylor is dead and Geronimo is an outcast.  They will have peace again.  Cochise tells him:  "The hearts of my people are angry.  Your fire wagons have killed many warriors.  Their blood darkens the rocks.  The spirits call for vengeance."  Cochise goes to get on his horse and leave with Nona and the baby. He turns around and tells the major:  "Go to Fort Sheridan.  When the wounds have healed and the blood grows pale among the rocks, then we will again talk of peace." 

Cochise, Nona and the baby ride out of Apache Pass. 


 By and large, the larger details of the story are correct.  But the many details are not.   The Bascom Affair (Jan. 27, 1861) is closer to the truth in detail than the Battle of Apache Pass is.  The Bascom Affair is given credit for being the key kick-off point to the 25-year long Apache Wars against the U.S. Cavalry.  The Battle at Apache Pass (adjacent to the later Fort Bowie) occurred in l862.  The men from Ft. Buchanan did not face Cochise at Apache Pass.  Rather Cochise faced Union volunteers of the California Column marching from California to capture Confederate Arizona and to reinforce New Mexico's Union army.  A forward column was led by Captain Thomas L. Roberts of  Company E, 1st California Infantry, accompanied by two 12-pounder mountain howitzers, a twenty-two man cavalry escort from Company B, 2nd Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry led by Captain John C. Cremony, and twenty-one wagons plus 242 mules and horses.  The Californians were saved by their mountain howitzers.  The Indians suffered 66 dead compared to the death of 3 Californians.  Fort Bowie was built in 1862 after the Battle of Apache Pass.  

The film was entertaining.  It would be nicer if the story was closer to the truth, but at least the film does deal with these two important events.  The love story ain't much of anything  --  it kind of just fizzles out.  Jeff Chandler (as Cochise), Richard Egan (as Sgt. Reuben Bernard) and Jack Elam (as Mescal Jack) were all very good.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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