The Cooley Family

Photos

+ click on images to enlarge

Description

C. Cooley was a Civil War lieutenant who made his home in Show Low near Arizona's White Mountains. Six generations later, his descendants carry on there as part of a family who helped shape part of Arizona's history.

Transcript

Mike Cooley:
The Fort Apache Indian Reservation is absolutely a beautiful, marvelous place. The mountains are 10,400 feet. It's sort of untamed, and I really love this place. It's the center of the earth for me.

Mike Cooley:
My great-grandfather, my father, and my wife's side, all of her family and all her relatives are from here. You've got to feel a bond to this land.

Narrator:
If there's magnetism in these mountains, Mike's great-grandfather was the first Cooley to feel that pull. Corydon Eliphalet Cooley came here about 1870, hired by the army to help build an outpost that became fort Apache. Cooley spent the rest of his life in the white mountains, opening the area to settlers, but he also was a teacher and friend of the Apaches. When Corydon Cooley came to this area, he found the White Mountain Apaches living along the White River as neighbors of the fort.

Edgar Perry:
People live here, and they farm here.

Narrator:
Edgar Perry works to preserve the history of his Apache people and their way of life.

Edgar Perry:
And they built from these bear grass and the willows.

Narrator:
The implements of life back then, which are artifacts or vanishing arts today. Corydon Cooley came to know the Apaches as very few white men had.

Odette Cooley:
I think he loved the Apache people primarily because they had such a joy for life, and their sense of humor was incredible, which it is still today.

Narrator:
Odette Cooley Fuller is Mike Cooley's sister. She's director of the Fort Apache Historical Park, where archives give us a window on Apache life a century ago.

Odette Cooley:
When you married into that group, you married the whole group, and perhaps that was what was most meaningful to him.

Narrator:
Meaningful because Cooley married into the tribe twice. In Apache tradition, Cooley married two daughters of Chief Pedro. One later died in childbirth, but Molly survived and gave later generations of Cooleys their Apache birthright. There's another chapter of Cooley's life that almost seems torn from a different book. This white man who loved Apaches and learned their language also hunted them down. The army hired Cooley to lead Apache scouts in the running battle with hostile Apaches. In later years, he enjoyed the nickname "Colonel," though he won his army fame as a paid civilian.

Odette Cooley:
He was an adventurer. He was an opportunist. He was looking for that edge, and I think he found it. He also found a real home.

Narrator:
Between adventures with the army, the Colonel settled into ranching.

Everette Cooley:
The Colonel himself was not a person to go out and punch cows.

Narrator:
Everett Cooley says his grandfather got into cattle for the money. But ranching is one of the ways Everett and the Cooley family have kept close ties with the Apaches. This land has been a key to survival for the White Mountain Apaches, but a century ago, they were in danger of losing it. As white settlers pushed into the area, there was growing political pressure to take more Indian land. Colonel Cooley stood up for the Apaches.

Odette Cooley:
It was a shooting offense in those period of time if you were on the wrong political side, as it were, and the wrong political side was absolutely being with the Indians.

Narrator:
Much of Colonel Cooley's ranch land now belongs to the Apache tribe, but back in 1876, when he and a partner split up, they agreed a card game would decide who kept the ranch. After several rounds with no winner, the partner said, "show low and take the ranch." Legend has it, Cooley laid down the deuce of clubs and won. That's how the town that grew up on part of the ranch got its name, Show Low. The homes that Corydon Cooley built on his ranches were well-known rest stops for travelers, but today, it's hard to tell just how grand the biggest house really was.

Clementine Cooley:
Oh, my lord. Looks like an explosion happened here.

Narrator:
Mike Cooley's mother, Clementine, remembers the splendor of the house that was built here in the 1880s.

Clementine Cooley:
I loved that fireplace. It was so big and so beautiful. And then the veranda, oh, that was lovely, sitting out there in the sunshine and breeze. The officers' wives and the officers used to come up here and dance.

Narrator:
The old house was still standing in the 1960s until the night of the fire.

Everette Cooley:
Then I pulled up and parked across the road and saw the old ranch burning, I cried. I'll admit it. It was gone forever.

Narrator:
Corydon Cooley's grand old house is gone, but his family remains. Great-grandson Mike built his home right here on the reservation.

Mike Cooley:
Is this the colonel right here? Whoa-ho-ho. You want to talk -- you want to talk about a wild bunch of characters, this is it.

Narrator:
And like his great-grandfather, Mike married an Apache woman. Mike's son, Bruce, married a woman of Apache and Navajo blood, and now a sixth generation of Cooley family is growing up here in the White Mountains.

Mike Cooley:
We're a mixture, and it's two cultures coming together. Yeah, history does repeat itself, doesn't it?

Narrator:
Corydon Eliphalet Cooley lived out his last 30 years in the big ranch house he loved. When he died in 1917, the man hey called the Colonel was buried at Fort Apache with full military honors. Now, if the Colonel could return to see this land again, the Apache people, and his descendants, what would he think of it all?

Mike Cooley:
I think he'd be quite proud of us. And I'm quite pleased that -- the legacy that I'm going to leave to my family.

Narrator:
A legacy of two worlds, two cultures, and they came together in an amazing place loved by both.

Narrator:
On the next Arizona Stories, the Biltmore, Arizona's most famous hotel, a springtime extravaganza of dance, song, and light, Ira Hayes -- he helped win a war but could not find peace, and a courthouse where time stands still.

Narrator:
Arizona Stories is made possible by our Program Partners, who provide additional gifts for programs about the Arizona experience and by the John F. Long Foundation.