In this turbulent election year, as issues like human rights for minorities intensify, The Apache Wars relates the attempted annihilation of a culture more than a century ago, supported by government policy and encouraged by popular prejudice. It is compelling—and a timely if distressing read. University of New Mexico Professor Paul Andrew Hutton’s meticulously researched and exhaustively chronicled history of the longest war in U.S. history (1861-1886) reintroduces the many legendary heroes and villains of the early days in America’s Southwest. It is also a thorough accounting of the cost—in lives and destinies—paid by Native Americans, the settlers who claimed their tribal lands and the postwar military forces left looking for another fight.
Leading the way through these tales of barbarism and perfidy in Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas is Felix Ward, a one-eyed 12-year-old boy of mixed Irish/Mexican heritage, whose kidnapping by the White Mountain Apaches in a raid on his family’s ranch ignited the many simmering conflicts between settlers and natives. Adopted by the tribe and taught their traditional ways, the youth became Mickey Free, riding astride two cultures as an expert Apache scout for the U.S. Army and the adopted son of his Apache captors. Revered for his hunting and tracking skills and reviled as a “miserable little coyote,” Mickey Free figured in almost all encounters between these enemies, who “could never decide if he was friend or foe.”
Hutton brings to life many characters, among them Geronimo, the last Apache chief to surrender and doomed to become a tourist attraction; Civil War generals like Philip Sheridan, who reportedly said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian;” the ever-elusive Apache Kid; warriors Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, Lozen, and Victorio; and Army scouts Kit Carson and Al Sieber. All played their parts in the “bleak and unforgiving world” known as Apachéria, and all figured in the Indians’ ultimate removal from their tribal lands.
Priscilla Kipp is a writer in Townsend, Massachusetts.