Mickey Free: Apache Captive, Interpreter, and Indian Scout
by Allan Radbourne, Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, 2005, $34.95.
From the period of the Apache wars in Arizona and New Mexico territories, Al Sieber has probably emerged as the most famous scout, but Mickey Free isn’t far behind, and not just because of his catchy nickname. Felix Telles was Free’s real name. He was a Mexican from Sonora who in the late 1850s was known as Felix Ward, after the boy’s mother hooked up with John A. Ward, an Irishman. The senior Ward established a ranch/farm in the Sonita Valley (in what would become Arizona). On January 27, 1861, an Apache raiding party attacked the Ward place and captured 13-year-old Felix. He looked young for his age or else he would probably have experienced horrible torture and death. A White Mountain Apache, Nayundite, adopted the boy, and from 1861 to 1871, Felix absorbed the Apache lifestyle, and then in December 1872 he signed on as a scout for Brig. Gen. George Crook. The soldiers gave the fair-skinned auburn-headed young man with a blind left eye the name “Mickey Free” after a manservant in Irish novelist Charles Lever’s Charles O’Malley: The Irish Dragoon. That name would be hard for anyone to forget.
Following Free’s trail was not a particularly easy task for English author Allan Radbourne, because Mickey left behind no letters, diaries or other papers; he was illiterate. It helped that Free was raised with Nayundite’s White Mountain Apache son, who became known as John Rope and told ethnologist Grenville Goodwin about his foster brother. Radbourne also received plenty of help from some friends in the States, including Joyce L. Jauch, who is cited on the book cover for providing “additional research.” By telling Mickey Free’s story, Radbourne sheds light on all the Indian scouts who played such an important role in the Apache wars. “While he was a unique individual in many respects,” the author says in his introduction, “his experiences were often typical of those who were involved with the conflict, not just for a year or two, but throughout the period from the 1860s to the 1890s, and who then lived with its legacy into the twentieth century.”
Free became a scout sergeant and then an interpreter in 1874. At Camp Verde, Arizona Territory, he became associated with chief of scouts Al Sieber. They would work together for much of the next decade. In 1883 Free rode with Crook’s famous Sierra Madre expedition, and he continued to serve the Army until July 16, 1893, when 1st Sgt. Mickey Free was discharged with good character commendation. He lived until 1915, marrying for the fourth time in August 1911. This 302-page biography will please anyone interested in the Apache wars, and others too, because, as Radbourne concludes, Mickey Free was “one of the most colorful, resilient, and ubiquitous characters who peopled a turbulent era in southwestern history.”
Originally published in the June 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.