The early settlers of the Southwest faced more perils than just outlaws. Chief among their concerns were raiding bands of Apaches who also called the newly settled area home. The Apache had found harmony with this harsh, desert land. They learned to live with it and not resist it. They also found that their other needs could simply be met by raiding their neighbors.
The history of the Southwest tells of conflicts between Mexican and American settlers and fierce Apache warriors. Led by Cochise, Mangas Colorado, Victorio, and Geronimo, very small groups of Apaches had made fools of the United States Army and wreaked havoc on the early border settlers.
General George Crook had hit on the idea of using Apaches to fight Apaches. He had enlisted Apaches from San Carlos and other reservations to serve as scouts. These enlisted Apaches could read sign and could locate the trails their outlaw relatives traveled. They could also lead the army to waterholes that were known only to the Apache. More than any other factor, these Apache scouts caused the breakup of the Apache war clans that had ravaged the country for so long.
MILES CREATES A DEADLY ENEMY
General Nelson Miles had replaced General Crook by the time Geronimo agreed to surrender in Skeleton Canyon in southeastern Arizona in 1886. Miles's plan was to deliver the outlaw Apaches to the closest railhead and send them to confinement in Florida. Miles also devised the terrible plan to disarm the Apache scouts and send them to the Florida prison, too. Why Miles chose to repay the faithfulness of the scouts with this sort of treachery will never be known, but his foolish move brought about many more years of terror for the settlers and spawned the legend of the Apache Kid.
No one can say with surety when the Apache Kid was born. Heck, historians can't even agree on what his Apache name was or whether he was a White Mountain Apache or a San Carlos Apache. Whatever his origins, the Apache Kid had made a good army scout. By 1887 he had been promoted to First Sergeant of Company A, Indian Scouts.
Unfortunately, in that year, he and the rest of the scouts were ordered to San Carlos and told that they would be disarmed and shipped to Florida. Not surprisingly, disarming these fighters proved to be a problem.
At the close of the 19th century, the Apache Kid wreaked havoc on the Arizona frontier, exacting revenge for the treacherous way in which Apache scouts had been treated by the U.S. Army.
Shooting broke out, and civilian scout Al Sieber was wounded--some claim by a bullet from the Apache Kid.
Miles went to San Carlos and called for a court martial for all of the Apache scouts involved in the shooting. A military panel sentenced the scouts to death, but Miles commuted that sentence to 10 years in Alcatraz prison. A fight was brewing in the civilian courts, however, and Miles was ordered to return the Apache scouts to Arizona to stand trial again. This time, in 1889, the scouts were sentenced to serve seven years at the territorial prison in Yuma, Arizona Territory.
In November of 1889, Arizona sheriff Glen Reynolds and deputy Hunkadory Holmes set out by stagecoach to deliver the Apache scouts to the prison. Near Riverside, Arizona, the stagecoach had to traverse a steep hill. To ease the negotiation for the driver, Sheriff Reynolds ordered most of the Apaches out of the coach and made them walk. He left the Apache Kid and one other Apache handcuffed inside the coach.
As the sheriff, his deputy, and their prisoners walked up the hill behind the stagecoach, the Apaches jumped their captors. After a short scuffle, the Apaches disarmed the officers and killed them. They shot the driver, too, but he survived. Finding the key to the handcuffs, the Apaches released the Apache Kid, and they all escaped into Mexico.
A GHOST IN THE DESERT
The Apache Kid did not stay with his brethren. He became a lone wolf who was despised by his own people and feared by Anglo settlers. It was said that he would kidnap an Apache woman and keep her until he tired of her. He then would kill her and kidnap another. The Apache Kid preyed on lone ranchers, cowboys, and prospectors. He killed them for their food, guns, and horses. He exacted revenge for the treacherous way in which the Apache scouts had been treated by the army.
The Apache Kid moved like a ghost in the desert. He followed no pattern. No one knew where he would show up next. It was unnerving to work cattle or a mine a claim when every shadow, every slight noise, could be the Apache Kid closing in for the kill. One worried settler said it best: "Usually, by the time you saw the Apache Kid it was entirely too late."
In 1893 the Arizona Territory government put a $5000 bounty on the Apache Kid. In 1894 an Arizona settler, Walapai Ed Clark, noticed moccasin tracks near his Galiuro Mountains homestead. Figuring that the Indians were scouting his horse corral, Clark settled in for an armed all-night vigil. Just about dawn, he saw two Apaches approach the corral. Clark fired on them. He killed an Apache woman and wounded an Apache man. The man escaped, but it was obvious that he was mortally wounded. The consensus was that Clark had put a killing bullet into the Apache Kid.
But that may not have been the case.
THE LEGEND MEETS HIS END
In September 1907, a strange event occurred in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico, near the Arizona border. Ranchers noticed that their horses were disappearing and that their cabins were looted for food, guns, and ammunition. Scouting for sign around these crimes turned up moccasin tracks.
Rancher Billy Keene formed a posse that tracked his stolen horses through the Black Range and into the San Mateo Mountains. Early one morning, they came upon the horses, hobbled and left to graze in a mountain valley. The posse took up vantage points and waited to see who retrieved the animals. Two Apaches approached. At a signal from Keene, who carried a Winchester Model 1895 rifle in .30-06, the posse fired and hit the lead Apache with three rifle rounds. The second Apache escaped. Checking the Apaches' nearby camp, the posse found sign that there had been a woman and two small children present.
The posse quickly rounded up the horses and headed home. Fearful of trouble for killing the Apache horsethief, the men decided to keep quiet and let the matter drop. However, a few nights later, police in San Marcial, New Mexico, south of Socorro, captured an Apache woman who was raiding the town's trashcans for food. The woman told them that she was the wife of the Apache Kid and that a posse in the San Mateo Mountains had killed him.
The Apache Kid died
in the same manner he had lived: as a ghost among the greasewood and a shadow in the mountains. It is unfortunate that so little is known about him. Even more unfortunate is the treatment that he and other loyal Apache scouts experienced at the hands of the U. S. Army. The era of the Apache troubles was over. Well, almost.
You see, when Geronimo surrendered in Skeleton Canyon, not all of his people surrendered with him. The army failed to mention the large number of Apache who fled into Mexico's Sierra Madre range. And there is documental proof that Apaches raided in and around the Sierra Madres as late as 1938.
The history of the western frontier is not quite as distant as we sometimes think it is.
GUNS OF THE APACHE KID
In the only known authentic photograph of the Apache Kid, he and two companions posed with Trapdoor Springfield rifles. You can also see their military issue canvas cartridge belts. The Kid also had a set of U.S. Army field glasses hung over his shoulder.
From 1873 to 1877, more than 50,000 Trapdoor Springfield rifles were manufactured. The Trapdoor featured a 321/2-inch barrel and was chambered in .45-70 (the official U.S. Army cartridge from 1873 to 1892, when the .30-40 Krag replaced it). This rifle and cartridge combination was a popular choice in the frontier army. The Apache scout units carried it during the various Apache uprisings.
The blackpowder version of the .45-70 cartridge drove a 405-grain bullet at a velocity of 1300 fps.
This combination of cartridge and rifle provided the frontiersman and Apache alike with a powerful, accurate fighting gun. Though the Apache Kid may well have carried other rifles during his later years, he was well armed during the times that he relied on the Trapdoor Springfield.