About Nino Cochise
Nino Cochise, Son of Taza, Grandson of Cochise
Nino Cochise was born on February 20, 1874, in Chiricahua Apache Reservation, Arizona, as Ciyo Cochise, and died December 23, 1984, in Arizona. He was 110 years, 10 months, and 3 days old when he died. Nino was married to Minnie Cochise, who is buried with him. The photo at the right was a screen capture of his appearance on Groucho Marx’ You Bet Your Life in 1957.
Nino’s father, Taza (sometimes spelled Tahza), was born in 1843 and died in Washington DC of pneumonia on September 25, 1876, while he was there on tribal business. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taza_(Chiricahua_leader))
Nino’s grandfather, Chief Cochise, was born in 1805 and died June 8, 1874, in the Cochise Stronghold, Arizona.
Nino was an actor, known for Natas: The Reflection (1986) and You Bet Your Life (1957). The Rock Hudson western, Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) was a highly fictionalized story about his father and although Nino was one of Taza’s sons, the film doesn’t mention him (IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1158663/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm) (Note, Natas: The Reflection was filmed in 1983, before Nino’s death, but not released until 1986.)
Nino lived his later years in Wilcox, Arizona, where he entertained tourists with stories about his youth. A few years before his death, he moved to Tombstone, Arizona, where he continued to entertain tourists with stories of his youth.
The following is a transcript from the TV show You Bet Your Life recorded Oct 10, 1957. In that show, Groucho Marx interviewed Nino Cochise. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1xiUmzmuRg). I did not include a full transcript since part of that show was an interview of another contestant, but I have included the parts related to Nino.
Nino: “I majored in English in Carlisle University and also in the University of Washington State.”
Groucho: “Chief, how old are you?”
Groucho: “Are you chief of all the Apaches?”
Nino: “I’m chief of the Chiricahua tribe and representative for the other four tribes.”
Groucho: “How long have you been chief?”
Nino: “Ever since I was 16 years old. My father and I went back to Washington and he died back there, and I rode all the way back to Arizona horseback and became chief.”
Groucho: “How are your people getting along? … Do you have any particular worry as Chief?”
Nino: “I have one worry in particular. My worry is that right at the present I’m trying to get a bill up that I might be able to get some redress on lands that were taken from the Apache during the wars which we feel belong to us.”
Groucho: “An Indian Chief must lead an unusual life. Can you give us a rundown on some of the highlights of your career?”
Nino: “…I remember the time that I was with Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. We toured Europe at that time, I was a sharpshooter on that show. We went broke in Paris just about the time of World War I. Well, being broke and no place to go, I figured out that the best thing for me to do was to join the Lafayette Escadrille as a pilot, which I did.”
Groucho: “You, the grandson of Cochise, flew a fighter plane in World War I?”
Nino: “That’s right.”
Groucho: “Have you done much flying since World War I?
Nino: “I flew 68 missions in a B-17 Bomber in World War II.”
Groucho: “You say you were a bomber pilot during World War II? Weren’t you pretty old by that time? How old did you tell them you were?”
Nino: “Well, I told them I was 45.”
Groucho: “Why did you tell them that? Why didn’t you tell them the truth?”
Nino: “I told them I was 45 because the truth was that I was 60.”
Nino wrote a book, The First Hundred Years of Nino Cochise, which was ghostwritten with Kenneth Griffith (1971, Abelard-Schuman). In that book, he states that in 1876, when he was two, his father’s clan of Chiricahua Apaches fled an Arizona reservation to a wilderness sanctuary in the mountains of Sonora, Mexico. Then at 15, Nino was elected their chief. He wrote that from time to time they sheltered outlaw Apache braves, among them Nino’s uncle, Geronimo. He also stated that he went to town, learned English, then ordered it taught to the entire tribe. Finally, he said that he took up flying at the age of 73, which would have been 1947.
There is considerable evidence that the person buried as Nino Cochise was not who he said he was.
- His father was purported to be Taza, but Taza was never married and had no children.
- Taza died in 1876, two years after Nino was born, so the story about riding back from Washington DC as a 16-year-old could not possibly be true.
- In 1876 the Chiricahua Tribe was moved to a reservation in San Carlos, Arizona. At some point after Taza’s death, his mother, brother, and two half-sisters moved to the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. At no point could I find evidence that any of Taza’s Tribe lived in Sonora, Mexico.
- Nino told Groucho that he was 73 but since that show was broadcast in 1957 and Nino was born in 1874 that would make him 83. While it is reasonable that someone could misstate their age by a year or two, it seems unlikely that he would have missed it by 10 years.
- Nino mentioned that he was with Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and it went broke in Paris about the time of World War I. In fact, the Wild West Show started its last European tour in France on March 4, 1906, but quickly moved to Italy. That entire tour was only a few months long and the show returned to the United States by the end of 1906. It did not go “…broke in Paris just about the time of World War I.”
- There is evidence that Nino was a “white guy” born about 1897. Although I do not know his birth name, it could possibly be Robert Lee Majors, which seems to be associated with Nino in one source.
- Nino was a pilot and crashed a crop-dusting plane near Kent, WA, where he lost a foot and three and a half fingers on one hand.
- While Nino was a pilot, his claim that he flew missions during World War I and World War II is, to say the least, suspect.
- In the early 1950s, Nino was hired to play an Indian in the newly opened Museum of the West in San Francisco where he began calling himself “Nino Cochise, Grandson of Cochise.” Nino would have been about 50 years old at this time.
- He appeared in five movies in the 1920s-30s in uncredited roles. He later moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he appeared in three episodes of the High Chaparral, which was filming at the Old Tucson Movie Studio in 1967. His final movie role was as in the supporting cast for Natas: The Reflection, which was filmed in Tucson in 1983.
- After he died, the Tombstone city officials buried him as Nino Cochise, I assume because they thought it would be a tourist attraction.
Though I am posting the information I have about Nino Cochise, I do have two remaining questions. If I can find those answers, I’ll update this post.
The most important question to me is what was Nino Cochise’s real name? If I can find that answer it may permit me to search for information about that person and determine a bit about Nino’s true early life.
My second question concerns Nino’s military experience. If he was born in 1897 then he would have been too young to fight in World War I but near the top end of the eligible age to fight in World War II. There were no major military actions between the World Wars so it seems unlikely that Nino would have military experience. I’ve been unable to find any evidence of Nino’s military service but will continue to search.
Nino Cochise is buried in the Tombstone City Cemetery, Section A, Row 17, Plot 8.