In Tom Jeffords, Doug Hocking is not interested in replicating the legend of Thomas Jefferson Jeffords (1832-1914). Instead, he seeks to create an accurate context for the events in Jeffords’ life and an honest biography of a Western legend. Growing up around the east-coast sailing ports and later living on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico himself, Hocking’s narrative reflects his own deeply held beliefs as to how Jeffords became the “Blood Brother” of Cochise.
Starting with the Jeffords’ family genealogy, the author re-constructs the early years of Jeffords’ life and imagines how Tom probably developed the traits that he would need later, as a forty-year-old, to live comfortably among the Chiricahua Apaches. Hocking then uses these traits as he outlines the most likely journey taken by Jeffords from his teenage years on Lake Erie to his legendary years in Arizona. Along the way, the author offers much for the reader to ponder about Jeffords during his “pre-legend” era, including the origin of “Captain” Jeffords, his early gold-prospecting activities in the Southwest, and his role as a courier for the Union Army. And finally, as one last cautionary step before introducing his readers to the legend, the author first crafts the context for that legend by narrating his interpretation of the “Bascom Affair,” the Pemmican Treaty with Cochise, and the famous 1862 battle of Apache Pass.
Once in Arizona/New Mexico Territory, the story of Tom Jeffords’ life becomes even more complex. Hocking, however, takes his readers on an orderly trip from Jeffords’ first look at Apache country in 1860, to his meeting (years later) with Cochise at Canada Alamosa in New Mexico, and then well past Cochise’s death in 1874. Guided by a steady purpose, the author expertly sorts through a maze of evidence to produce a clear story of one of the most unlikely friendships in American history. Furthermore, by connecting this friendship to later events in Jeffords’ life, including a lucrative appointment as post trader for Fort Huachuca, the author establishes the fact that the real Tom Jeffords both prospered and suffered from the public’s view of him as the agent on Cochise’s Chiricahua Apache Reservation. Up to and through Tom Jeffords’ strange encounter with Madame Morajeska, it is clear from Hocking’s account that the legend of Cochise remained an integral part of Jeffords’ life until Tom’s death in 1914.
Throughout his narrative, Hocking consistently challenges himself and his readers to critically examine Hollywood’s version of Tom Jeffords. Although Jeffords left very few written accounts of his adventures, the author uses his imagination in conjunction with a variety of primary and secondary sources, including the memories of those who knew Jeffords, to create the first authentic biography of Jeffords’ life. My only complaint stems from my desire for more details in Hocking’s endnotes. Considering the extensive set of research materials on Jeffords at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson, I was left wanting more than twenty-one pages of footnotes. Despite this one drawback, however, Hocking’s Tom Jeffords is a fascinating journey through the life of one of Arizona’s most courageous pioneers.
Wild West History Association
Journal of Arizona History, 58/3, Autumn 2017, pp 328-330.