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Southwest Adventure, Living & Travel


Apache Kid

Apache Kid Peak

By James W. Hurst

High in the San Mateo Mountains of the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico is Apache Kid Peak, and one mile northwest as the crow flies, at Cyclone Saddle, is the Apache Kid gravesite. The hiker who comes across the marked site in such a remote area may wonder who the Kid was, and perhaps will ask himself why, so far from the usual tourist attractions, such an elaborate memorial has been assembled. In the story of the Apache Kid, much of it fact and part of it legend, rests one of the Southwest's many intriguing sagas.

Apache Kid
Apache Kid Photo - Apache Kid Wilderness in the Cibola National Forest.

The Kid was born in the 1860s, possibly a White Mountain Apache, and his family settled at Globe, Arizona Territory, in 1868. His name, Haskay-bay-nay-natyl ("the tall man destined to come to a mysterious end"), was too much for the citizens of Globe, who called him "Kid." The Kid learned English, worked at odd jobs in town, and was soon befriended by the famous scout, Al Sieber. In 1881, the Kid enlisted in the Indian Scouts, probably at Hackberry, Arizona Territory, and showed such aptitude for the job he was made sergeant, eventually rising to the rank of first sergeant within two years.

The Geronimo Campaign of 1885-1886 found Kid in Mexico early in 1885 with Sieber, and when the Chief of Scouts was recalled in the fall, Kid rode with him back to San Carlos. He re-enlisted with Lt. Crawford's call for one hundred scouts for Mexican duty, and went south in late 1885. In the Mexican town of Huasabas, on the Bavispe River, Kid nearly lost his life as the result of a drunken riot in which he had been a participant. Rather than see Kid shot by a Mexican firing squad, the Alcalde fined him twenty dollars, and the Army sent him back to San Carlos.

It was during Kid's eighth enlistment in the scouts, which began April 11, 1887, that he found himself in a situation that would lead to a court-martial, imprisonment, a civil trial, a new sentence, escape, and life as a fugitive. The course of the disastrous events unfolded, as did so many among the Apaches, with the brewing of tiswin, a beverage made of fermented fruit or corn. Brewing tiswin was illegal on the reservation, but with the agent, Captain Pierce, and Al Sieber both gone on business, the time seemed auspicious for a tiswin soiree. Kid had been left in charge of both the scouts and the jail, but before he and the scouts could get to the camp where the tiswin was flowing freely, two men were dead.

One of the dead was Kid's father, Togo-de-Chuz, and the other was the man who had killed him, Gon-Zizzie. Kid's friends had killed Gon-Zizzie, but the blood-price did not satisfy Kid; he and his scouts went to Gon-Zizzie's brother's place, and there Kid killed the brother, Rip. Kid and his scouts then returned to his father's camp, where they joined the others in drinking tizwin. The drunk lasted several days, and finally, perhaps filled with remorse and certainly hung-over, the scouts made their way back to San Carlos to face both Sieber and Captain Pierce.

Kid and his scouts arrived at San Carlos on June 1, 1887, and found that neither Sieber nor Pierce was in a mood to deal generously with them. A crowd of Indians, some armed, had gathered to witness the punishment, and when Captain Pierce ordered the scouts to disarm themselves, Kid was the first to comply. The scouts' firearms were laid on a table near Sieber's tent, and Pierce ordered Kid and the others to the guardhouse to be locked up until further action could be decided upon. They were about to comply when a shot was fired from the crowd, and soon the firing became widespread.

In the melee that followed, the disarmed Kid fled, Sieber's tent was shredded by bullets, and a massive .45-70 bullet smashed Sieber's left ankle, crippling him for life. It has never been determined who fired the shot that struck Sieber, but it is known that neither Kid nor the four scouts ordered to the guardhouse with him did the shooting. They ran for cover, managed to secure horses, and with perhaps a dozen other Apaches fled for wilderness. The Army reacted swiftly, and soon two troops of the Fourth Cavalry were following the fugitives up the banks of the San Carlos River.

Telegrams were sent from San Carlos to San Francisco, Headquarters Division of the Pacific, and to Washington, D.C., as the Territories braced for another Apache outbreak. Territorial newspapers in Arizona and New Mexico were quick to pick up the story, and the Army began to feel the heat of irate editorials. For two weeks the errant Apaches led the cavalry a good chase, until, aided by Indian scouts, Kid and his band was located high in the Rincon Mountains. The troopers surprised the Indians and captured their mounts, saddles, and equipment. Kid and his followers escaped into the rocky canyons and ravines, but faced the prospect of survival without horses while pressure from the Army increased daily.

After some negotiation, Kid got a message to General Miles stating that if the Army would recall the cavalry he and his band would surrender. Miles called off further pursuit, and on June 22, eight of Kid's band gave themselves up. Kid and seven others surrendered on June 25. Miles decided to try Kid and four others by a general court-martial, despite the fact that they did not, in all probability, understand the charges pending against them.

The trial was concluded, and to no one's surprise the men were found guilty of mutiny and desertion, and each was sentenced to death by firing squad. General Miles, upset with the verdict, ordered the court to reconsider its sentence. The court reconvened on August 3 and the convicted men were resentenced to life in prison. Miles, still not satisfied, reduced the sentence to ten years. The sentence began with the men in the San Carlos guardhouse until such time as the Army decided where to send them. The Army decided, on January 23, 1888, to send the prisoners to Alcatraz Island, California, rather than Fort Leavenworth Military Prison. Taken to Alcatraz under heavy guard, the five began what was to be a brief incarceration.

In reviewing the trial, the Judge Advocate General's office had become convinced that prejudice existed among the officers on the court-martial, thus precluding a fair trial. On October 13, 1888, Secretary of War William C. Endicott authorized the remission of the remainder of the sentences of the five prisoners, and by November they were back at San Carlos. Meanwhile, the Indian Rights Association, concerned that the incarceration of Apaches as federal inmates in state prisons was the result of federal usurpation of territorial jurisdiction, had sued on behalf of two incarcerated Apaches. The court agreed to the release not only of the two named in the suit, but to the release of all the Apaches held as federal prisoners in Illinois and Ohio. Eleven murderers were to be returned to San Carlos as free men, and the outrage in the Southwest was immeasurable.

By the middle of October 1889, Sheriff Glenn Reynolds of Gila County had arrest warrants for most of the freed Apaches, and among them was Apache Kid. The trial of Kid and three others for assault to commit murder in the wounding of Al Sieber was set for October 25, 1889. The four were found guilty, and on October 30, each was sentenced to seven years in the Territorial Prison at Yuma. On November 1, along with five other prisoners, they began what was to have been a stagecoach journey to incarceration in a prison notorious for its brutal living conditions, a prison aptly called "Hell-Hole."

The journey was to have been a two-day trip by stage from Globe to Casa Grande and from there by rail to Yuma. Sheriff Reynolds chose a deputy, W. A. "Hunkeydory" Holmes, as guard, and Gene Middleton, the stagecoach owner, as driver. All three were armed. Except for Kid and Hos-cal-te, considered to be the most dangerous and shackled at both wrists and ankles, the Apaches were shackled by twos, leaving each man with a free hand. A Mexican horse thief, Jesus Avott, was unshackled.

On the second day, after a night at Riverside, the coach had to make a steep ascent at Kelvin Grade, and all prisoners but Kid and Hos-cal-te were put out to walk. As the coach made the grade and disappeared from view, the prisoners over-powered Reynolds and Holmes. Holmes died of fright, and Reynolds was killed with Holmes' rifle. Middleton was also shot and horribly wounded with Holmes' rifle, but survived. The prisoners unlocked their shackles with keys taken from the dead bodies of Holmes and Reynolds and disappeared into a developing snowstorm. Jesus Avott cut a horse loose and rode into nearby Florence with the grim news.

By a strange course of events, Apache Kid was no longer an admired and honored scout, but a fugitive with a price of five thousand dollars on his head. It was widely believed that Kid used the San Simon Valley in Arizona and Skeleton Canyon in New Mexico as his avenue for travel to and from Old Mexico. Into the 1920s and 1930s, rumors circulated along the border that Kid had been seen, men had talked to him, he was alive on a ranch in Sonora, and on and on. Who knows? As our Mexican neighbors say, "Solo Dios sabe, SeƱor, solo Dios!"

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