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
Crown Publishing Group, $30, 544 pages
On a March day in 1851 after he and friends had spent time trading goods with residents of the Mexican town of Janos, a young Apache warrior named Goyahkla (One Who Yawns) returned to his home in a nearby village. What he discovered would impact American history.
Lying next to one another in pools of blood, scalped, dead, were his wife, his three children and his mother. They had been murdered by Mexican militia controlled by warlords who ruled this chaotic region.
So severe was the vengeance he inflicted that his terrified Mexican enemies would cry out for protection to the great saint of deliverance - Jerome. And this is how Goyahkla came to be known by a different name, the Spanish word for Jerome - Geronimo.
Grandson of a chief but never one himself, as an Apache Geronimo considered his homeland to be what the Mexicans and the Spanish before them called Apacheria, the vast expanse stretching from what today is west Texas through New Mexico and Arizona to eastern California and deep into Mexico.
As Americans pushed westward vying against the Indians for control of the Southwest no one more frustrated the U.S. government's efforts to subdue the Indians than Geronimo. His first three times in captivity he escaped. So skilled was he at eluding his pursuers that a leading magazine ridiculed the U.S. military by running a cartoon portraying Geronimo instructing West Point cadets in warfare. At one point fully one-quarter of the U.S. Army was deployed in pursuit of him - even when Geronimo's force numbered merely 34, many of them women and children.
"Never in American history had so many sought to kill so few," renowned historian and University of New Mexico professor of History Paul Andrew Hutton notes in his monumental book, "The Apache Wars," a meticulously researched and magnificently rendered epic story of the legendary times and persons of a segment of American history that Mr. Hutton labels "the longest war in American history."
What had ignited this "longest war," writes Mr. Hutton, was the abduction in late January 1861 of the 11-year-old Irish-Mexican adopted son of a prominent white Arizona rancher by a band of Apaches. The red-headed, light complexioned captive boy grew up as an Apache warrior named Coyote and later, known as Micky Free, became the best and most famous Apache scout assisting the U.S. Army. He straddled Apache and white cultures, neither one trusting him, both faulting him for the prolonged war his abduction had brought about. He played a pivotal role in the great struggle and caused Geronimo more anxiety than anyone else ever had.
Mr. Hutton uses the captive boy's life as a thread in weaving together this quintessential American story about the legendary people and events of the quarter-century-long final struggle for domination of Apacheria that left "a trail of blood from the Pecos River in Texas through New Mexico and Arizona and deep into Mexico." It was a war in which each side committed horrendous brutalities, betrayals and massacres.
Ending of this "longest war in American history" is dated the day Geronimo surrendered, for the fourth and final time, on Sept. 3, 1886 to Gen. Nathan Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. He was not captured. He had been located in Mexico by Apache scouts, had agreed to meet with aides of Miles and then, following discussion with his warriors who opted for surrender, decided there was no sense in his continuing and agreed to surrender officially on U.S. soil.
As Geronimo and Gen. Miles stood facing one another, the American interrupter told Geronimo: "General Miles is your friend." To which Geronimo replied: "I never saw him. But I have been in need of friends. Why has he not been with me?" With laughter echoing in Skeleton Canyon the long war finally ended.
Geronimo went on to become one of the greatest celebrities the country had ever known. Tourists paid him for his autograph and to have their pictures taken with him. He became a big draw for exposition, fairs and shows all over the country, including the St. Louis World's Fair. He was the sensation of the inauguration parade for President Theodore Roosevelt when he rode horseback in it. He died at age 79 on Feb. 17, 1909 after falling off his horse one night at the Fort Sill, Oklahoma, reservation during a drunken stupor and catching pneumonia from lying all night half-submerged in a cold stream.
Reading "The Apache Wars" is almost like watching a movie that entertains and informs about what life was like on the Southwest frontier. It introduces readers to many fascinating people, including Apache chiefs Cochise, Mangas Coloradas and Victorio; "The Warrior Woman;" Kit Carson; "The Dreamer;" The Apache Kid; famous generals and Indian agents - and so much more. And as with many a good movie it includes an interesting and informative epilogue.
"The Apache Wars" is history as history should be written. It doesn't just simply tell you - it seems to take you there.
• Fred J. Eckert, a former Republican congressman from New York and former U.S. ambassador to Fiji, is author of "Hank Harrison for President" (Vandamere Press).