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Legend of the Apache Kid

By Paul Andrew Hutton
2/27/2017 • Wild West Magazine

When the trusted U.S. Army scout killed his father’s killer, that act of revenge set him on a course as a renegade whom no one could catch on either side of the Mexican border.

Helge Ingstad crossed into Sonora, Mexico, on November 4, 1937, in search of the long- rumored “lost tribe” of Apaches of the Sierra Madre. The famed Norwegian explorer had already won international fame for The Land of Feast and Famine, a narrative of his four years as a trapper living with a Chipewyan tribe in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Around the campfire the Chipewyans had told Ingstad tales of long-ago ancestors who had traveled south never to return. In 1936 Ingstad had ventured into Arizona’s White Mountains, where Apache elders confirmed the stories of the northern origins of their people. They also told him that some of their people had fled the reservation to find sanctuary in the vastness of Mexico’s Sierra Madre. There, amid the mountain valleys once favored by Geronimo, they had continued to live in the old ways as free Apaches.

Ingstad’s search led him to the Mormon settlement at Chuichupa in the Sierra Madre. These Americans had fled to northern Mexico nearly a half-century before when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints officially disavowed polygamy. His new friends told Ingstad many stories of their conflicts with the Apaches, in particular with the notorious Apache Kid. Ingstad had heard of this Apache outlaw from the elders in the White Mountains. Mormon settlers in the isolated Cave Valley claimed to have killed Kid in 1899, and most of the Mormons at Chuichupa confirmed the story. They led Ingstad to a Mexican family living in Chihuahua near the Mormon settlement of Garcia. There he met Lupe, whom all believed was the daughter of the Apache Kid. Ingstad was mesmerized. “She is around 40, large and strongly built,” he wrote. “Her hair is pitch black and swept back, her face finely featured with skin taut over protruding cheekbones. She looks tough and aggressive, but at the same time intelligent.”

Lupe, married to a Mexican man and fluent in Spanish, said she had been captured by vaqueros in 1910 and raised by a childless Mexican couple in Nacori Chico. At age 14 Lupe had gone back into the mountains in search of her people but could not find them. Learning that her Apache mother and father were dead, she returned to her Mexican foster parents. Decades had passed, but Lupe still remembered her father well.

“My father was a scout for the American soldiers at San Carlos but was arrested and then killed two men,” she told Ingstad. “After that he fled into the Sierra Madre. He was a great warrior.”

That great warrior’s birth date is unknown, but it must have been sometime in the early 1860s, probably in the canyon of Aravaipa Creek, the stream the Apaches called Little Running Water. He was born into a time of violence and great change, and he came to be known by many names. To the Apaches he was Has-kay-bay-nay-ntayl. To William “Timberline Bill” Sparks, who knew him well, he was Ski-be-nan-ted. But to most Americans he was simply Kid, the Apache Kid.

 

One of Arizona Territory’s remarkable pioneers, Clay Beauford, who served as chief of police at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, took the Apache boy under his wing. An ex-Rebel soldier from Virginia, Beauford had enlisted after the Civil War in the 5th U.S. Cavalry and distinguished himself in Indian combat on the Great Plains. He had risen to first sergeant by the fall of 1872, when his gallant actions in the Red Rock country of central Arizona Territory would earn him the Medal of Honor. Beauford often led expeditions accompanied only by Apache scouts, thus acquiring a passable knowledge of their language. On one such expedition his detachment surprised the Aravaipa ranchería of Togade-chuz, a member of Captain Chiquito’s band, and captured the Apache warrior and his family, including his preteen son Has-kay-bay-nay-ntayl. At San Carlos, Toga-de-chuz and Beauford became friends, and the boy attached himself to the big Virginian. Serving as a mascot of sorts to Beauford’s Apache police force, the boy became one of the best wranglers in the territory. On ration day Beauford issued him a carbine and cartridges with which to shoot agency beef in the issue corral. In this way the boy became an expert marksman.

The Apache boy soon became pals with young Joe Stevens, the son of local rancher and Indian trader George Stevens. The elder Stevens had come to Arizona Territory in 1866 and had married a daughter of an Apache chief. “He was gentle as a girl and as affectionate as it was possible for one to be,” Joe Stevens recalled of his Apache friend in 1898. “For years we hunted and journeyed over the mountains together. In all of these travels I scarcely heard him speak an unkind word of any person.”

By 1875 the boy took to hanging around the budding mining settlement of Globe, just west of the reservation boundary. Bright, handsome and fluent in English, the boy soon found steady work as a herder for a Globe butcher. Nobody could pronounce the likable lad’s Apache name, so people started calling him the Apache Kid or just Kid.

Al Sieber, the celebrated chief of scouts for the Army, recruited Kid early in 1881 as his personal orderly. Famed fellow scout Tom Horn called the boy Sieber’s “pet Indian,” but Kid soon proved his mettle. When Geronimo broke out from San Carlos in late September 1881, the boy was in on the pursuit and the long campaigns into Mexico that followed. It is uncertain whether he was back at San Carlos or with Sieber and Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles for the final surrender of Geronimo’s band in 1886.

With Geronimo imprisoned far to the east, all was tiswin drunks and blood feuds at San Carlos. Tiswin was Apache home brew, a potent fermented corn drink one old frontiersman noted “would make a jackrabbit slap a wildcat.” Sieber, with Kid and a handful of other Apache scouts, kept a lid on the simmering pot that was the reservation. Kid had emerged as a great favorite with Sieber. The young Apache had proved his worth under fire at Big Dry Wash and in Mexico to emerge as a natural leader among the scouts, even before a promotion to first sergeant. Army officers who served with Kid shared Sieber’s admiration for him. One officer told a Los Angeles Times correspondent of how Kid once alerted him to an approaching band of riders some 15 miles distant. Even with his field glasses the officer could make out but specks in a cloud of dust, while Kid specified the number of white riders, the number of Indian scout riders and the number of pack mules. He determined the ethnicity of the riders by how they rode their horses. When they later met up with the party, the officer found that Kid was perfectly correct.

Square-jawed with high cheekbones and piercing eyes, Kid cut quite a figure and made an impression on all who met him. He dressed in a mishmash of white and Apache clothing, favoring high-top cavalry boots, a black sombrero and a flowing silk bandanna. The handsome young scout had no problem when he courted a daughter of Aravaipa Chief Eskiminzin. The old man fixed a bride price, and Kid carried her off to his lodge. Soon after she bore Kid a daughter.

 

On May 3, 1887, a massive earthquake rolled beneath San Carlos and the surrounding mountains. In Sonora more than 50 people died. The Apaches saw this as the darkest of omens. Drums began to beat across the reservation as the shamans sent incantations to Usen for deliverance. Repeated aftershocks kept everyone on edge even if they did not believe in omens. At San Carlos a grand tiswin gathering was planned to accompany more pleas to Usen. Kid’s father, Toga-de-chuz, was among the celebrants, and as often occurred during a tiswin debauch, he exchanged words with another old warrior. Gon-zizzie was the brother of Rip, who years before had courted the woman who later married Toga-de-chuz and was Kid’s mother. Rip reportedly never got over this rejection, and it had led to a decades-long family feud. Gon-zizzie decided to settle matters that night. He shot down the unarmed Toga-de-chuz. Sieber got wind of the tiswin party and sent Kid and several scouts to break it up. They reached the scene to find Toga-de-chuz sprawled dead in front of the black tiswin kettle with a bullet in his back. Not far away one of the scouts found the body of Gon-zizzie; Toga-de-chuz’s friends had taken revenge and then dispersed. Kid stood over his father’s body. He knew it was old Rip who had set this all in motion. Apache custom and law gave him the right to exact vengeance, but the law of the White Eyes forbade it. It was a long ride back to San Carlos.

Two weeks later Sieber and San Carlos agent Captain Francis Pierce had to travel north to Fort Apache for a few days. Sieber placed the still-grieving Kid in charge of the scouts and the guardhouse at San Carlos. He may well have hoped to bolster the boy’s spirits by the assignment. The old scout had warned Kid against seeking vengeance. Sieber had not been gone long when Kid came to a decision, fueled by tiswin and egged on by the local band chief, Gonshayee. With four scout companions Kid rode up to Rip’s village on the Aravaipa. The old man had been warned and tried to flee, but Kid blocked his passage. He shot Rip through the heart. Fearing Army justice, Kid and his scouts then fled into the hills.

Sieber and Pierce hurried back to San Carlos. Sieber immediately sent out Gonshayee to convince Kid to come in. It was late afternoon on June 1 when Kid and his four companions rode into San Carlos and, with other Apaches in tow, made directly for Sieber’s tent. “Hello, Kid,” Sieber said coldly as the scouts dismounted. Gesturing to a table in front of the tent, he ordered them to surrender their weapons. Kid was the first to step forward. He handed his carbine and gun belt to Pierce and instructed his companions to place their guns on the table, which they did. It was then Pierce noticed murmuring and movement among the crowd and the glint of sunlight on metal. He had no sooner called out a warning to Sieber than gunfire erupted.

Sieber had the presence of mind to sweep the surrendered guns from the table even as the scouts made a grab for them. The chief of scouts then ducked into his tent to retrieve a rifle and rushed back out. A fusillade of bullets greeted him. The scout Curley, long a rival of Kid for position in the scouts, took aim and fired. The .45-70 slug shattered Sieber’s left ankle and sent him tumbling. His fall saved his life, as more bullets peppered the tent. In the confusion Kid and his companions bolted, soon to be joined by other San Carlos men.

Horn rode into San Carlos at 2 in the morning, looking for answers after Kid’s 17-man band had stolen the scout’s favorite horse from his mining claim on Deer Creek, 11 miles to the south. He found the agency in an uproar. Sieber told Horn what had happened between grimaces as a doctor worked on his leg. The leg was, as Horn delicately put it, “shattered…all to pieces,” and the doctor wanted to amputate. Sieber refused to consider it. He had kept his right leg after a horrible wound at Gettysburg, and he was not about to give up the left one.

In the following days the Apaches made for Mount Turnbull and then turned south along the San Pedro. On June 5 they killed Bill Diehl north of Benson and stole some horses. Kid hoped to avoid any killing, but Gonshayee was hot for blood and shot Diehl down. A few days later they killed another rancher near Crittenden.

 

Lieutenant Carter Johnson, with a detachment of Apache scouts led by the famous Mickey Free, located the fugitives in the Rincon Mountains on June 11 and captured all their ponies and baggage, including Horn’s horse. Kid and his men escaped by making a desperate slide down a precipitous rocky slope to the San Pedro River. On June 13 General Miles departed Los Angeles for San Carlos. He downplayed the outbreak to the press but soon discovered that 1,000 Apaches had departed for the mountains above San Carlos for dances. The shamans were making big medicine. Miles sent out messengers in the hopes that Kid, who had not fired a shot during the San Carlos outbreak, would surrender peacefully and opt for a fair trial.

On June 22 Gonshayee surrendered, and the general quickly sent him, as well as Kid’s mother and wife, to talk the fugitive into surrendering. Kid agreed to come in if Miles would recall the troops. Miles agreed to this, and Kid kept his word. On the 25th Kid and six others returned with Gonshayee and surrendered to Captain Pierce, who locked them in the San Carlos guardhouse. That same day General Miles ordered a court-martial be convened to try Kid and the four other Apache scouts; the fate of Gonshayee, who had quietly engineered much of the trouble, and the other San Carlos outlaws would be decided in a civilian court. “Although the scouts do not fully comprehend the responsibilities of their obligations as enlisted men,” Miles confessed. “I ordered a general court-martial for their trial, the same as if they had been white soldiers.” He appointed Major Anson Mills to preside over the court-martial, and the trial convened on June 28, with 1st Lt. John A. Baldwin as defense counsel. The charge was mutiny and desertion; the penalty on conviction was death.

Second Lieutenant Laurence Tyson served as judge advocate, or prosecutor, and his star witnesses were Captain Pierce, Sieber and interpreter Antonio Díaz. All three testified Kid had not fired a weapon, though Sieber pointedly remarked Kid had attempted to retrieve his carbine. Sieber, who testified from his sickbed, also suggested Kid had given a signal to his companions to grab their guns and bolt while Gonshayee’s warriors covered them. Lieutenant Baldwin called on Kid to testify. The scout claimed he had never considered or attempted mutiny, but admitted, “I left here without permission from Sieber or the Captain.” He also confessed to Rip’s murder. “I drank a whole lot of tiswin,” the scout said. “As soon as I got up to Rip’s camp, I saw Rip and shot him.” Kid concluded his testimony with a poignant statement reflective of the cultural crosscurrents that so bedeviled him:

I am 1st Sgt. Kid, San Carlos, Arizona Territory. God sent bad spirit in my heart, I think. You all know all the people can’t get along very well in the world. There are some good people and some bad people amongst them all. I am not afraid to tell all these things because I have not done very much harm. I killed one man whose name is Rip because he killed my father. I am not educated like you and therefore can’t say very much. If I had made any arrangement before I came in, I would not have given up arms at Mr. Sieber’s tent. That is all I have to say.

After deliberating only a few hours, the eight-man courtmartial panel found Kid and his companions guilty on both counts and sentenced them to death by firing squad. Miles used his power as department commander to mitigate the sentences to 10 years in the military prison on Alcatraz Island. In Washington, Acting Judge Advocate General Colonel G. Norman Lieber reviewed the trail and concluded the Apache scouts had not understood the nature of the charges against them and in any case had not fired a shot during the melee. He recommended Secretary of War W.C. Endicott remit the sentences. On October 20, 1888, the orders came down to release Kid and his four fellow scouts. “The Indians arrived home on stage, and after crossing the Gila at San Carlos, the 10th Cavalry Band met them at the river and serenaded them into the camp,” grumbled agency blacksmith Ed Arhelger, “which caused a great deal of ill-feeling among the people at San Carlos.”

 

Sieber was certainly not finished with the Apache Kid. His wound had not healed, nor had his deep sense of betrayal. Although the doctor had saved Sieber’s leg, there had been so much bone loss that it was now shorter than the other leg. The chief of scouts was still on crutches when Kid and his companions returned as free men to San Carlos. “Sieber was very bitter against the Kid, whom he held responsible for the whole trouble,” recalled Bill Sparks, who knew both men well. Since military law had failed him, Sieber turned to the civil authorities in Globe. Sheriff Glenn Reynolds and other Gila County officials were more than happy to oblige. On October 14, 1889, they issued a territorial warrant for Kid’s arrest for the attempted murder of Sieber.

At the trial, which began on October 29, 1889, Sieber was the star witness. This time he testified Kid had shot him, even though he knew his protégé had not touched a weapon during the melee. Antonio Díaz and Frank Porter backed up Sieber’s testimony. Following them on the stand was the scout Curley, who all too readily identified Kid as the shooter. Blacksmith Arhelger fidgeted in his chair as he heard these lies. He had witnessed Curley fire the shot that wounded Sieber, but both prosecution and defense neglected to call him to testify. He well knew why, for the fix was in.

Kid was called to the stand. He testified Curley had shot Sieber out of jealousy. Curley had been Kid’s losing rival for the hand of his wife, and compounding Curley’s bitterness was Sieber’s favoritism toward Kid as a scout. Kid reiterated he could never have shot at Sieber. Kid’s wife then took the stand. She testified to Curley’s jealousy and to the good character of her husband. Nevertheless, Kid was found guilty as charged, and three of his scout companions were convicted as his accessories. “All were promptly found guilty,” noted Arhelger, “which I think myself was wrong, but the sentiment was such that a good Indian was a dead Indian.” The next morning the judge sentenced Kid and his companions to seven years in the Yuma Territorial Prison, a notorious hellhole even by frontier standards. This was a death sentence. Sieber had his sick revenge.

Well, not quite. After declining Sieber’s offer of a scout escort, Sheriff Reynolds set out with Deputy William A. “Hunkydory” Holmes to transport Kid and eight other manacled prisoners to Yuma—and didn’t make it. The first stretch of the trip was by stagecoach from Globe to the Southern Pacific railhead at Casa Grande. But at a steep grade, as Reynolds removed his Apache wards from the coach to walk the hill, the prisoners jumped the sheriff and his deputy, killing them both. Stage driver Gene Middleton was also shot but survived and managed to tell the story. (For more on the escape see “The Sheriff Who Took on the Apache Kid,” by R.K. DeArment, in the December 2012 Wild West.) When Sieber, still confined to his sickbed, heard the bad news, he said, “I was afraid of that, and that was why I offered a scout escort to Casa Grande.” He quickly had a detail of 20 scouts in the field.

On November 5 someone spotted Kid only a few miles from San Carlos, and that same day Territorial Governor Lewis Wolfley posted a $500 reward for Kid and his accomplices. Within a few years the territory would increase the reward for Kid to $5,000—dead or alive.

On March 2, 1890, Apaches killed a Mormon freighter named Fred Herbert on the road between San Carlos and Fort Thomas. A patrol of cavalrymen and Apache scouts under 1st Lts. Powhatan Clarke and James Watson trailed the fugitives into the Sierra Ancha, where Clarke and scouts killed one of Kid’s companions, mortally wounded another and captured two warriors and a boy. Kid remained elusive but had not yet fled to Mexico. Sieber suspected that Kid’s wife and old Eskiminzin must be sneaking supplies to Kid.

In May, led by an Apache turncoat named Josh, San Carlos troops and a civilian posse under the direction of Gila County Sheriff Jerry Ryan (the man who replaced the late Reynolds) surprised the Apaches in the Ash Flat Valley in the southeastern corner of the reservation. A running fight followed in which four of the fugitives were killed. Sieber kept up the pressure on family members of the remaining fugitives. Authorities eventually captured or killed all the men involved in the stagecoach escape except for Kid, who finally did head for Mexico. On his way south he killed two cowboys some 20 miles southeast of John Slaughter’s San Bernardino Ranch. Emilio Kosterlitzky, a Russian soldier of fortune and de facto warlord of Sonora, and his rurales picked up the Apache trail in Mexico and killed three of the warriors in a fight. At the scene the rurales recovered Glenn Reynolds’ pistol and ornate gold watch. Kosterlitzky forwarded the items to Mexico City along with a description of the gray-haired Apache he had taken them from.

The Apache Kid had escaped yet again.

 

Al Sieber was determined Kid would find no succor. In May 1891 the agent at San Carlos had Eskiminzin arrested without charges and sent him—along with dozens of followers and relatives (including Kid’s wife)—to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, to join the other Chiricahua prisoners of war. After the deportation of his wife, Kid took particular pleasure in raiding San Carlos and stealing women to keep his camp. When he tired of them, he sent them back to the reservation. When the abductions abruptly stopped, all across San Carlos agreed Kid had fallen in love with his latest captive and taken her as a bride.

Kid’s anger seemed as fixated on his own people as on the whites. Every death of an Apache or of a miner or cowboy was attributed to Kid. His story quickly went national, with several articles in The New York Times. A report in the April 29, 1894, San Francisco Examiner labeled him an Apache Ishmael who had “written his name in letters of blood throughout the land,” though the writer grudgingly admitted, “There is a certain romance in the matter, too, notwithstanding the hideous brutality of the man.” Public opinion pressed both the Army and the law to bring in Kid. The military command assigned special detachments to track down the outlaw. Both Mickey Free and Tom Horn joined the manhunt. But while Kid was often sighted, he was never taken.

The fate of the Apache Kid would remain a mystery. Horn and childhood pal Joe Stevens each later claimed Kid had died in the mountains from consumption, and an Indian woman spread that story at San Carlos. In 1899 Emilio Kosterlitzky reported that Kid and his woman were living high in the Sierra Madre among the Tarahumara Indians. After the turn of the century stories of the Apache Kid faded from the newspapers. There were still infrequent Kid sightings, by both Apaches and whites, but most people assumed he was dead. On May 25, 1907, the Tucson Daily Citizen reported that at least 18 Arizona heroes had claimed to have killed the Apache Kid. The reward was never paid.

At San Carlos his name was spoken in hushed tones. “Many of those I talk to here speak darkly of the Apache Kid,” noted Neil Goodwin, son of famed Apache ethnologist Grenville Goodwin. Grenville had gone in search of Kid and the “lost tribe” in the early 1930s. “As frightened as people on the reservation were of the Kid, there is an undercurrent of admiration in the stories my father and others have recorded about him,” wrote Neil. “The Kid was a dark folk hero, a celebrated outlaw. He was at large in Mexico, living off the land, raiding when he felt like it. It was the old Apache way.”

Lupe remembered that Apache way. “We lived high up in the cliffs where it was difficult to track us down,” she said. “When we moved, we used our eyes well and kept out of view. We made small fires at dusk or in the morning, because then the fire could not be seen. We never felt safe.” When she finished speaking, she seemed agitated, as if she had said too much. But she soon relaxed.

“She sits there staring off into the distance with big, dark eyes,” Ingstad noted. “Her thoughts are probably up there in the mountains, which were once her home and where she roamed like a renegade with her people.” The explorer never found the lost tribe of Apaches, but he did track down the lost child of the Apache Kid and perhaps discovered the fate of the last of the free Apaches.

 

Award-winning author and University of New Mexico professor Paul Andrew Hutton’s Apache wars book (Crown Publishing) is forthcoming. Also see Al Sieber: Chief of Scouts, by Dan L. Thrapp, and The Apache Kid, by Phyllis de la Garza.

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