Paul Andrew Hutton is no stranger to this magazine—or to Western history buffs nationwide. He is the recipient of multiple Spur Awards from Western Writers of America and Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. And if you catch a Western documentary on TV, chances are you’ll see Hutton waxing eloquent about a subject he loves. This spring Crown, a division of Penguin Random House, releases Hutton’s The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History. Hutton, a history professor at the University of New Mexico, took time from grading students’ papers to discuss his new book.
What initially drew you to Mickey Free?
Mickey Free is a shadowy figure who has long fascinated me. Years ago Bob Boze Bell and I decided to write a graphic novel/screenplay about him—a project that floundered but may still be resurrected. At the time I read Kenney Griffith’s 1969 book Manhunter and found it an interesting artifact of a 1960s style of popular Western history. Griffith obviously hoped for a TV or movie deal that never materialized. Much of the book is wild fiction passed off as history, although Griffith did know several old hands at San Carlos, and they gave him some interesting tales. I used only one story from Griffith in my book. Far more valuable is Allan Radbourne’s 2005 biography of Mickey Free, a masterpiece of careful research. Equally important to an understanding of Free’s tortured life is Victoria Smith’s 2002 Arizona State University dissertation on Mickey and her 2009 book Captive Arizona.
How did the kidnapping of Mickey Free affect Apache-U.S. relations?
The kidnapping of Felix Ward, later to be named Mickey Free, set in motion a quarter-century of unrelenting, brutal warfare between various Apache bands and the U.S. government. There had been conflict before—most notably skirmishes with Jicarilla and Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico and Colonel Benjamin Bonneville’s Gila campaign of 1857—but it was Mickey’s abduction that led to the infamous Bascom Affair with Cochise at Apache Pass. That event started the war, much like Pearl Harbor started America’s involvement in World War II. Behind it all, of course, was American territorial expansion and most especially the quest for mineral wealth in both New Mexico and Arizona.
How did you research the Apache wars?
There are several wonderful books on the Apache wars, and any scholar addressing the topic owes a great debt to Eve Ball, Dan Thrapp, Edwin Sweeney, James Haley, Robert Utley, Lynda Sánchez, Grenville Goodwin, Keith Basso, Veronica Tiller, Carol Markstrom, Henrietta Stockel, Sherry Robinson, David Roberts, Frank Lockwood, Morris Opler and several other outstanding authors. There are many excellent memoirs of the period as well, most by Army officers, though several by Apache participants, including Geronimo. Research was conducted in federal records, collections of papers in various libraries and in the especially rich holdings of the Arizona Historical Society. Aiding me in all of this was a top-notch research assistant—Candolin Cook—funded by the University of New Mexico. I hoped to provide the first comprehensive history of the Apache wars—including all the various bands and not just the Chiricahuas—and feel very good about the final product. The original manuscript came in at 245,000 words and has been cut considerably, but the essence of the grand narrative and the story arc remain in a stronger, tighter and more fluid form. Credit for this goes to my superb editor at Crown, Kevin Doughten, and to several readers—Jim Donovan, David Zucker, Bob Boze Bell and Stephen Harrigan—who all gave me tough but invaluable advice.
Geronimo. Good guy, bad guy, in between?
Geronimo is a fascinating and complicated character. He has morphed from a notorious murderer into a patriotic freedom fighter in American popular culture and probably is the best-known Indian in our history. He was never a chief, but he certainly was a charismatic and powerful war leader, who was said to have mystical powers. Was he a good guy or a bad guy? I’ll leave that to my readers to decide. He was certainly a fabulous man who earned his reputation through incredible deeds of daring.
How did your research shape your opinions of other Apache leaders?
I came away with increased respect for Mangas Coloradas, probably the greatest Apache chief, and my childhood admiration for Cochise (from the film Broken Arrow) was absolutely confirmed. Victorio proved a fascinating leader and a true patriot chief. His last stand at Tres Castillos really was the stuff from which great legends arise.
And Victorio’s sister Lozen?
Lozen is a controversial character to say the least. Two historians who I respect immensely, Ed Sweeney and my mentor Bob Utley, dismiss her as a fabrication. I had to disagree with them. Apache oral tradition on her adventures, as set down by Eve Ball, Sherry Robinson, Lynda Sánchez, Henrietta Stockel, Ruth Boyer and Narcissus Gayton, is vivid and compelling. The warrior woman was real, and her exploits were incredible. She is a major character in my book.
What was Arizona like at the time?
Arizona was a tough place in those days—with people right out of Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight. It was brutal and unforgiving.
How did Generals George Crook, Nelson Miles and O.O. Howard compare?
The generals often worked at cross-purposes, as did officials of the Indian Bureau and the Army. The soldiers were so furious Indian agent John Clum had captured Geronimo that they secured his release. Crook and Howard were bitter rivals, although they later worked together for Indian rights. Miles and Crook cordially despised each other, and it was a bitter pill indeed for Crook when he was sacked and replaced by Miles. The Apaches had considerable respect for Howard and Miles, and even affection for Crook. When you consider the role of the soldiers as compared to the politicians in Washington and their hacks in the Indian Bureau, the Army comes out smelling like a rose. The stunning duplicity and cruel expediency of the political class toward the Apaches remains a dark stain on our national honor.
What was the Apache Kid’s role in the overall narrative?
The story of the Apache Kid is the final installment in the book. His is a colorful and romantic tale of betrayal and vengeance. He and friend Mickey Free each faced a crucial moment of decision between the Apache world and the white world. Mickey was a white raised by Apaches, while Kid was an Apache raised by whites. Kid’s fatal decision set a great legend in motion.
What ultimately brought Geronimo to his knees?
By 1886 all bands save Geronimo’s Chiricahua followers had been defeated. The final surrender of Geronimo came about as a result of hard campaigning by Henry Ware Lawton and Leonard Wood, by the negotiations of Charles Gatewood, but most especially by the removal of all the Chiricahuas—including Army scouts—to Florida. There was no longer a reservation for Geronimo to agree to return to—only imprisonment far to the east. Chiricahua leaders—including the loyal scout Chatto—were sent east to meet with President Grover Cleveland and, in an act of stunning treachery, were sent from the meeting to imprisonment in Florida. Chatto wore the Peace Medal given him by Cleveland on the prison train to Florida. This is where Mickey Free finally came to understand the bottomless depths of the white man’s duplicity.
Why have New York publishers renewed their interest in Western history in recent years?
S.C. Gwynne’s marvelous book Empire of the Summer Moon—great history and a fabulous read—certainly perked the interest of the big New York houses in Indian titles. My agent, Jim Donovan, called me soon after Gwynne’s book hit the bestseller list to inquire about an Apache book. That is an agent with great instincts! Considerable credit should also go to Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder, which proved that Western history sells. Since then we have seen commercial success for Bob Drury and Tom Clavin with their Red Cloud biography The Heart of Everything That Is, a Pulitzer Prize for Elizabeth Fenn’s Mandan history, Encounters at the Heart of the World, and T.J. Stiles’ wonderful new Custer biography, Custer’s Trials. These books, along with commercial Western titles by writers like Mark Gardner, Thom Hatch and Michael Wallis, are obviously striking a responsive chord with readers. This bodes well for frontier history in the marketplace. I think my Apache book to be particularly relevant with its mixed-race hero, tales of trouble along the Mexican-U.S. border and the inspiring (and universal) struggle for freedom waged by the Apache people.
You’re a Custer guy. How would he have fared against the Apaches?
Well, I certainly retain my childhood fascination with the “Boy General,” and many of my earliest publications were on him. I don’t think of myself, however, as a “Custer guy” any more than I am a Davy Crockett guy, or a Kit Carson guy, or a Buffalo Bill guy or a Billy the Kid guy—for I’ve retained a love for all these grand frontier characters. As for Custer and the Apaches: He would have been miserable in Arizona or New Mexico and terribly frustrated by the nature of that warfare. Howard Cushing of the 3rd Cavalry was something of a Custer-like character in the Apache campaigns, and he met exactly the same fate as the Boy General. Ironically, my favorite Custer movie is John Ford’s Fort Apache, which changes all the names and places the action in Arizona with the Apaches. A chapter in my book titled “Fort Apache” tells the story of the Cibecue fight, which may well have inspired James Bellah’s short story “Massacre,” on which Ford based his film.
Any other intriguing characters in your book?
My story is about the Americans and the Mexicans as well as the Apaches. You could not hope for a more colorful cast of characters than Tom Jeffords, Jack Swilling, Kit Carson, Al Sieber, Tom Horn, William Oury, “Texas John” Slaughter and John Clum. On the Mexican side there is the relentless Colonel Joaquín Terrazas, the scout Mauricio Corredor and the remarkable Russian soldier of fortune Emilio Kosterlitzky. Wyatt Earp even has a cameo. Hollywood could never dream up a story like this, with so many incredible characters.
What’s next for you?
I still very much want to write a biography of Davy Crockett, and I have also become fascinated with the remarkable story of early Western film star and 1920s cabaret queen Texas Guinan. We shall see what the future brings. WW
BOOKS BY HUTTON: He is the author of Phil Sheridan and His Army (1985) and the editor of such books as Soldiers West: Biographies From the Military Frontier (1987, with Durwood Ball), Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (1987), The Custer Reader (1992) and Western Heritage: A Selection of Wrangler Award–Winning Articles (2011).