- The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History by Paul Andrew Hutton
The Apache Wars (1861–86) have been a popular topic in American history for some time, and scholars have churned out a broad body of scholarship predominantly focusing on the roles of specific tribes and bands or biographies of participants, both Apache and U.S. Army. In The Apache Wars, Paul Andrew Hutton provides a comprehensive treatment of “the longest war in American history” with a special focus on Geronimo and the exploits of two less well known but no less important participants: the Apache Kid and Mickey Free. Intended for a broad audience, the book provides a thorough, balanced, and fairly traditional treatment of [End Page 518] the Apaches’ long struggle to retain their independence amidst a rapidly changing southwestern frontier.
In the brief prologue, Hutton introduces readers to twelve-year-old Felix Ward. In January 1861, a raiding party of Aravapai Apaches took Felix captive, precipitating rescue efforts that sparked the onset of the twenty-five yearlong Apache wars. In subsequent chapters, the author details additional causes: the infamous “cut the tent” episode involving Cochise, the whipping of Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves) by miners at Pinos Altos, and the hanging of six Apache prisoners at Apache Pass. Apache retaliation followed, and by the end of 1861, the U.S. army found itself embroiled in warfare both to preserve the Union and to extend its control over widely scattered bands of Apaches in Arizona and New Mexico.
Hutton does a masterful job introducing the multitude of Apache leaders, military officials, Indian agents, scouts, and territorial officials that played a part in ameliorating—or exacerbating—the bloodshed. A short biography follows the first mention of each participant to provide context and offer hints at possible motivations. In December 1872, Felix Ward, who had lived for over a decade with the Apaches, enlisted as a scout and received the name Mickey Free (a popular character in Charles Lever’s 1901 novel Charles O’Malley, The Irish Dragoon). His motivations for enlisting remain a mystery but a steady paycheck, meals, and the opportunity to fight against traditional tribal enemies may explain the choice. Appearing neither white nor Apache, Free was, according to fellow scout Al Seiber, “half-Mexican, half-Irish and whole son-of-a-bitch” (201).
The Aravapai Apache known as the Apache Kid (also known as Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl and Ski-be-nan-ted) was approximately ten years younger than Mickey Free, and Hutton reserves most of his discussion of him until late in the book. Like Free, the Apache Kid enlisted as an Apache scout and was well respected by his peers. In the summer of 1887, he went AWOL from his unit to avenge the death of his father by killing an Apache named Rip. He was subsequently court-martialed and sent to Alcatraz prison but was released and returned home after serving only seven months. Arrested and tried again in an Arizona territorial court, the Kid received a seven-year sentence to Yuma Territorial Prison. He escaped in transport and for the next several years managed to elude authorities. Mickey Free reportedly tracked and discovered the Apache Kid’s remains in Aravapai Canyon at some point in the 1890s. By this time, Free was a middle-aged man. He died in obscurity in 1914.
Hutton’s writing style, research, and organization are exemplary, and he is certainly successful at telling the story of Mickey Free and the story of his contemporaries— “both friend and foe alike, red and white—whose lives were shaped by the violent history of the deserts and mountains of the American Southwest and northern Mexico” (2). For those interested [End Page 519] in a one-volume study of the Apache Wars and the peoples who fought it, this is essential—and enjoyable—reading.