In The Apache Wars, Paul Hutton takes us from 1861, when a bungling Army lieutenant began the war by attempting to take Cochise captive, to exchange him for 12-year-old Felix Ward (later Mickey Free), until the late 1880’s, when Geronimo surrendered for the last time.
It’s a remarkable, enthralling narrative history, and Hutton is going to tell us about it, right now.
ROBB: Was the American military effort against Apaches greatly hampered by men who knew nothing about Apaches? For instance, Lt. Bascom’s mistaken efforts to capture Cochise?
HUTTON: The Bascom affair at Apache Pass is but one of many bungling acts by young army officers during the Indian wars. Two other examples are Lt. John Lawrence Grattan (probably responsible for the Grattan massacre during the first Sioux war) and Capt. William J. Fetterman (who led his men into an ambush during Red Cloud’s War on December 21, 1866) on the northern Plains.
The nature of the military at the time meant that few experienced officers remained in station for very long. Some of these officers—like Ewell, Randall, and Emmet Crawford—were excellent. The same was true for civilian Indian agents. As soon as they finally began to understand Apache culture they were removed by a new political administration.
Of course many of the civilian agents were also corrupt and were bilking both the Apaches and the government. Men like Tom Jeffords, (friend to Cochise and peace negotiator) John Clum (Indian agent) and Kit Carson (army scout) were rigidly honest, but they were unfortunately but rare exceptions to the crooked dealings that so marked the Indian Bureau during the Gilded Age.
ROBB: Do you believe Apache leaders Mangas, Cochise and Victorio really appeared to their people after death?
HUTTON: In my book I attempted to establish a tone of respect for cultural belief systems. I do not know with any certainty if Lozen, Geronimo, or the Dreamer had mystical power, but I certainly do know that many Apaches believed that they did. I respect those beliefs, and they help explain the actions of the Apaches.
ROBB: I’ve wondered if the American army could have won the Apache wars without Apache scouts. What do you think?
HUTTON: General George Crook’s adoption of the Apache scout program was essential to the American army’s success against the Apaches. This was made possible by the lack of any sense of Apache tribal unity.
The eventual betrayal of the Apache scouts by the U.S. government was a terrible wrong. It was, however, the 1886 final removal of the Chiricahua and Warm Springs people from Arizona to Florida that finally broke Geronimo’s ability to resist the “White Eyes.”
ROBB: Why did these Apaches agree to work against their own people? Did members of one band sometimes work against their own people (for instance, White Mountain against White Mountain) or just against other bands (White Mountain against Chiricahuas, for instance).
HUTTON: Certainly White Mountain Apaches scouted against Chiricahuas without the slightest compunction. There was no sense of tribal unity, and in fact there were many old scores to settle. When the government attempted to settle many separate Apache bands at San Carlos Reservation it caused great trouble—there were old feuds.
Apaches had a great sense of honor and carried grudges for a long time. These were Hatfield/McCoy type grudges.
Blood feuds were a great problem on the reservations. When members of the same band scouted against each other it became much more problematical.
This is where government scouts like Mickey Free, Tom Horn, and Al Sieber proved invaluable. Many army officers suspected the Apache scouts of assisting their band members and they were correct in this—although not always, for honor often trumped even family with the scouts.
General Phil Sheridan, however, never trusted the scouts and this finally led him to sack General Crook from his Arizona command.
ROBB: I was shocked when I read the American government even sent the faithful Apache scouts to Florida. That’s right, isn’t it? How do you feel about that?
HUTTON: I was horrified by this act of unfathomable deceit. I never had much respect for Grover Cleveland, but this was really the nail in the coffin of my disdain for him. To meet with these people, shake their hands, smile at them and give them peace medals—and then secretly order them imprisoned. Incredible.
ROBB: I’ve read other accounts of Gen. Crook, but yours was more personal and realistic. I think of the time the Apaches and the Mexican families were fighting over the captive children (whether the foster parents would be able to keep them or if the kids would be returned to their own people), and the children were hysterical.
Crook left because he said he couldn’t stand to hear more. Was Crook a more sensitive person than he seemed?
HUTTON: Well, I’m pretty rough on Crook—certainly he was a somewhat compassionate man, but I think his reaction at the conference had more to do with his contempt for Gen. Otis Howard than any feelings he had for the Apache children.
ROBB: Why was Crook upset when Lt. Royal Whitman stopped the Tucson posse, which was determined to attack the Apaches?
HUTTON: Whitman’s action was a major breach of the delicate division between military and civilian authority. Unless you have declared martial law you can’t interfere with civilian movements. Whitman was right in what he did but it was certainly illegal.
Crook was just looking for anything to use against Whitman. All of this seems so odd when you consider Crook’s later defense of the Indians—but it was reflective of his professional position at that time.
ROBB: You mentioned that the valiant Howard Cushing, (captain, third cavalry, killed in 1871 while fighting Apaches), was attempting to make up for something he had done in the past. What did he do?
HUTTON: Cushing had disgraced his storied family name by a drunken prank at the end of the Civil War. He was a man in search of redemption. He made a reputation for valor in Arizona but he is pretty much forgotten today. He reminded me of Custer.
ROBB: Gen. Crook not only demanded Apache heads, he put them up on sticks!! Really!?!
HUTTON: Crook wanted to make a point and he certainly did. Years later, Geronimo commented on how easy it was to lose one’s head in Apache country if you did not follow the rules.
ROBB: What did you mean when you wrote about Vincent Colyer’s “paternalistic racism?” (Colyer was a Quaker who attempted to assist the Apaches).
HUTTON: Colyer, and most of his fellow “humanitarians” were only interested in converting the Indians into “white Christian farmers,” with an emphasis on Christian. General Otis Howard was much the same. This was a despicable form of cultural genocide. At least the soldiers just wanted to fight the Apaches man to man. The so-called “friends of the Indians” were far worse than the soldiers.
ROBB: The Apache wars remind me of our American misadventures in the Middle East, bumbling into what we don’t really understand, constantly adopting new policies, which often work against other policies, changing commanders in the middle of the war, feeding them and bombing them, feeding them and bombing them. What do you think about that?
HUTTON: Well, the comparison to our current misadventure is a compelling one. In both cases we are dealing with tribal societies which we seem to have a rather detached understanding of. In both cases we seem to want to introduce among them our cultural and political values. Guess what? It does not work. We are always surprised by this.
ROBB: You write about a lot of frontier characters most Americans know nothing about. It’s the style now to attack and denigrate American historical figures, but you haven’t done that. You show Capt. John Bourke, third cavalry, (one of my personal favorites), Lt. Howard Cushing (third cavalry), Eugene Carr, Kit Carson, Thomas Jeffords, Scout Al Seiber, Gen. Otis Howard, and many others, as outstanding men.
HUTTON: I do not see much value in sitting in judgement on Americans from a different century with entirely different values. It is not as if we have done such a great job with the modern world that we are allowed to judge those who came before. These frontiersmen did the best they could in a very difficult environment. I found them both heroic and tragic, but I have no right to judge them. I leave that to my readers.
ROBB: Were you aware you were writing against the fashion? Among these men, which do you admire most? Which is the most interesting?
HUTTON: Well I admire Tom Jeffords and Cochise immensely. They both fought for peace in a world consumed by war and racial hatred. They were my childhood heroes and it was wonderful to discover how close the reality of their lives were to my childhood fantasies.
ROBB: Before you did your research, were you aware Apache women had so much influence over the men? I am thinking of what John Bourke had to say about that. Have you found that to be true?
HUTTON: Well, humans are humans in any place or time. Lozen, of course, (the highly respected sister of Cochise, said to have psychic powers) was an exception to the normal role of a woman in Apache society.
But Apache women held enormous influence over all aspects of life. Once, while Geronimo was fleeing from pursuing troops, the band halted to observe a young girl’s puberty ceremony. I think that says everything about the importance of women. They were the givers of life. The Apache people were nothing without them.
ROBB: Democracy seemed to have gotten in the way of Indian policy. Officials seemed to always do what earned them the most points with the voters rather than the right thing. Is that correct?
HUTTON: The bottom line was that settlers voted and Indians did not. It was that simple.
ROBB: It occurred to me while reading Apache Wars, that the Apaches got what they deserved from the Americans considering what they did to the Mexicans for so many years. What do you think about that?
HUTTON: The Apaches certainly made life a living Hell on the northern frontier of New Spain and then the Mexican Republic. Santa Anna agreed to the Gadsden Purchase because the Mexican northern frontier was indefensible.
The Apaches actually assisted American expansion. The unrelenting Apache war on the Mexicans grew out of necessity (they lived by raiding) but then out of a quest for revenge.
The Mexican slavery system and the hiring of professional scalphunters (some of whom were Americans) was outrageous. In many ways the Mexicans brought the Apache revenge raids on themselves.
HUTTON continued: It is interesting that much of the conflict between the Americans and the Apaches was over Apache raids into Mexico. The Apaches refused to halt these raids and so the American government moved in to stop them.
It was the American determination to protect the Mexicans that contributed to the continued warfare. That is often forgotten in the historical record of those dark days.