Jimmy Stewart played a heroic Tom Jeffords in 1950’s Broken Arrow. He learned the Apache language and boldly rode alone into Cochise’s Stronghold to make a private peace for his stagecoach company. Having made friends with Cochise and earned his trust, he later led General O.O. Howard to the chief so that a more general peace could be made. Searching for the real history, we find it didn’t happen quite this way, although Jeffords was almost as brave and impressive as the legend had it.
Tom Jeffords was born in 1832, the fourth child, in a poor family that would eventually include 12 siblings. His father arrived too late in Chautauqua to find the cheap farmland he wanted and so moved less than 100 miles to Ashtabula, Ohio, where he worked the docks until he’d saved enough to buy a farm. By then Tom and is elder brother, James, had left home as sailor both rising to captaincies in their early 20s. By the time their father had found his farm, other brothers had also gone to sea. It was a loving family but the brothers learned from their father that they should make their fortune before they married. Tom found the lakes boring, much like long haul truck driving with little romance. The 1858 Pike’s Peak Gold Rush drew him west.
His early experiences marked him in several ways. He never stopped looking for a golden fortune and treasuring family ties, he took care of his brother John, a hotheaded troublemaker. Most important, as a ship’s officer he learned to be accepting of other cultures and social classes and to earn respect and maintain it at close quarters.
Tom arrived too late in Denver to get a good claim and moved south to the little known and short-lived San Juan Gold Rush of 1860. As it fizzled, he headed for the Colorado Gold Rush and arrived as it too fizzled. Gila City packed up and almost to the man moved east to the Pinos Altos Gold Rush of 1860. He was there when the Civil War began and offered his services to Colonel Canby, defending New Mexico, as a civilian scout and dispatch rider. He was with Canby at the February 1862 battle of Valverde, the bloodiest of the war. He then rode west with dispatches to General Carlton at Yuma, Arizona, linking the two Union forces. He was sent with Lieutenant Colonel Eyre and the leading companies as a guide through Tucson east to the Rio Grande. Along the way, his unit made contact with Cochise and offered friendship. The information provided to the chief allowed him to set up the ambush of the forward elements of Carleton’s force the next month in what is known as the Battle of Apache Pass. Tom remained with the army throughout the war as the California Column was used to subdue Navajos, and fight Comanches and Apaches.
In 1861, Cochise was accused by Lieutenant Bascom of stealing a boy and some livestock. He’d done similar things before and Bascom had good reason to believe the chief had the boy; he didn’t or events might have gone quite differently. Cochise was a prudent chief, not a friendly one. He didn’t want a fight with an American army close at hand. He was a great chief, but times were difficult and war was coming. Bascom’s actions may have been the spark but no more than that. Years later, after the Civil War, Arizona had a new population. One man returned who’d been with the army in 1861, though not at Apache Pass with Bascom. To promote himself, he spread the word that he was there and had tried to save the day over Bascom’s objections. He made Bascom, who died at Valverde, a villain who started a war with a friendly Indian. Cochise pursued a revenge for a few months in 1861 and then the army left, followed by the settlers. He tried to keep them from coming back, but when it became clear they were returning in the late 1860s, he started trying to make peace. No one was authorized to grant it to him.
In 1861 and 1862, Arizona consisting of Tubac, Tucson and a settlement along Sonoita Creek was largely abandoned leaving Tubac burned and Tucson a town of fewer than 100. In 1863, Arizona became a territory with Prescott, in central Arizona, as capitol. The south didn’t revive. Tom Jeffords prospected and scouted for the army. Mail to Tucson came via Prescott and across the desert from Fort Yuma on the Colorado. The great southern route used by the Overland Mail (Butterfield), did not revive. In 1867, Tom Jeffords was superintendent of a mail line that used part of the old Butterfield Trail from Tucson to Socorro, New Mexico. Initially, there were two pony riders sent out each week. Later a stagecoach, a buckboard, was added once per week. In 1869, Cochise attacked the stage killing the driver and five passengers.
That year Tom showed up near Canada Alamosa, the new Chiricahua Apache Indian Reservation, and went into business as an Indian trader with Brevoort as partner. They warned the lieutenant serving as Indian agent that drinking with the Apaches was a bad idea. He retaliated. The drunken officer had West Point friends and Brevoort and Jeffords lost their license. While on patrol, the lieutenant died of dehydration in a way only an alcoholic can.
Jeffords continued scouting and prospecting. Cochise came in with his band to see the reservation and determine if they would settle there and was camped many miles back in the mountains. Tom led a patrol through Cochise’s camp and everyone was rounded up and taken to the reservation. Cochise wasn’t at home. The army wanted a volunteer to go back and ask the hostile Cochise to come in. Jeffords rode out alone and later billed the army for $300 for his services. According to Fred Hughes, Jeffords’s clerk on Cochise’s reservation 1872 to 1874, this was how Tom met Cochise. Hughes would have known. Apparently Cochise liked the tall scout as Tom was asked along as adviser and translator (Spanish-English, most Apaches spoke some Spanish). He served in this capacity in several parlays in 1871-72. It was decided that the Canada Alamosa Reservation would be moved west to high country in the Tularosa Valley. Many Apaches, including Cochise, abandoned Canada Alamosa.
It was during this time that Jeffords met Zebina Streeter. Streeter was fluent and educated in English and Spanish and had learned Apache. He served as scout and translator. He would be with Tom at Cochise’s reservation in Arizona. General O.O. Howard arrived in late 1872 to make the peace with Cochise. He was sent to Jeffords as the man who could guide him to Cochise’s camp. With Streeter and others they set out on a journey through southern New Mexico to Arizona’s Dragoon Mountains where peace was concluded and the southeast corner of Arizona became Cochise’s reservation.
All went well for several years until Cochise died in 1874. His sons were not successful in preventing raiding into Mexico. In 1876, Nick Rogers, who had partnered with Jeffords on several mining claims and who ran a ranch in the Sulphur Springs Valley that served as the first Chiricahua Agency, sold alcohol to Apaches. Two brothers got into a drunken fight and when their wives, sisters, tried to break it up, they killed the women and went back to Rogers for more whiskey. He refused. They killed him and then killed settlers in the middle San Pedro Valley near the reservation. The Tucson papers went wild. Jeffords was fired and the reservation broken up with some of the Apaches relocating to San Carlos. Tom helped the San Carlos Agent, John Clum, move the people. Streeter went to Sonora with Joh and Geronimo where he raided with them including two raids against the Sonoita ranch of the newspaper editor who had been so vicious to Jeffords.
Tom Jeffords went into business. Some of Tucson’s most prominent citizens partnered with him on mines and mining claims. He owned the Brunckow Mine famous as the Arizona murder house. He owned mines and claims in Tombstone and served as a deputy there. He even owned a share of the famous Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee. His two biggest projects were a company that attempted to supply artesian water to Tucson, Tucson’s first public water company, and was the sutler, post trader, for Fort Huachuca. He continued to scout for the army including one adventure down into Sonora in 1879 to get Geronimo and Juh to come in to San Carlos. At times he was flush and others thin. In 1888, he was living in high style in Tucson, but by 1892 he was at Owl Head Buttes where he spent the rest of his life.
Owl Head Buttes was not the lonely place it is today. There were small towns and a stamp mill near where Tom mined. The road ran directly to Tucson about 20 miles south. Today the route runs wide around the Torillita Mountains and one drive almost 60 miles to get there. Mining continued until 1914 when Jeffords died. Whether it brought in much money is hard to say. The presence of a stamp mill indicates that there was some wealth coming out of the ground and Tom had a very nice house. He was content.
In 1895, he was visited by Alice Rollins Crane, a woman in her mid-thirties. She claimed to be an archaeologist, writer, and ethnologist. Alice begged him to show her where the peace was made and to introduce her to the Apache Kid. They made a journey together to the Dragoon Mountains. In 1895, she told journalists that they’d met Bronco Apaches on this trip. When she retold the story in 1914, she’d met the notorious and wanted Apache Kid on this trip. Alice is associated with Jeffords off and on during the rest of his life.
Alice Rollins Crane claimed that Jeffords had been destitute in his later years and only her kindness had kept him fed. It’s an interesting claim and like many of her other claims untrue. But it became part of the legend. She and her then husband intended to profit from Jeffords’s estate. Things did not go well. Tom had not renewed his claims and neighbors came to make new ones. Her husband ended up getting shot.
Tom Jeffords had two sets of pall-bearers; six honorary, too old to hoist the coffin, and six actual. The names are a who’s who list of Arizona frontiersmen putting the lie to the idea that Tom was lonely or a loner.