The Apache Scouts

apache scouts

One of the smartest strategic moves by the Frontier Army during the Indian Wars was to enlist Natives as scouts. On the Plains, tribes like the Crows were all too willing to assist the Army in their war against their traditional enemies, the Lakota and Cheyenne.

The Apache groups were formidable foes in New Mexico, Arizona, Chihuahua and Sonora. The wild, untamed land worked to their advantage making them almost impossible to find. 

The Apache didn’t see themselves as a nation. Their loyalties worked up from clans, to Chiricahua bands such as Bedonkohe and Chokonen and finally to Chiricahua. Their country was southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, northern Chihuahua and Sonora

Other Apache groups included the Western Apache, Mescalero, Lipan and Jicarilla. 

The Army successfully enlisted Apache scouts to locate and hunt down other Apache who refused to live on the reservations or had bolted. On the campaign they were ably led by men like Lt. Charles Gatewood and Captain Emmett Crawford.

Officers from General George Crook to Captain John Bourke to Lt. Britton Davis all wrote glowing accounts of the bravery, persistence saying they were invaluable on the Campaign trail.

Bourke wrote: “It grew increasingly apparent that the success of the troops depended on the scouts. Without the scouts the troops couldn’t find the enemy; with the scouts they rarely missed. It was as simple as that.” He added, “The longer we knew the scouts, the better we liked them.”

It was the Apache scouts who finally ran Geronimo to the ground. Unfortunately, the two Chiricahua scouts Martine and Kayitah who went in with Tom Horn and Gatewood to bring Geronimo in were rewarded for their service by getting exiled to Florida with the rest.

Sergeant Mickey Free was one of the bravest, cagiest and most trustworthy of Crook’s storied Apache scouts.

Ironically, Mickey wasn’t an Apache. He was a full-blooded Mexican with maybe a little Irish thrown in. He was kidnapped as a youngster and grew up among the Apache people where he became a full-fledged warrior before joining the Army.  

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu