The Missing and Ulzana’s Raid.

From “Broken Arrow” (1954) through “Little Big Man” (1970) to “Dances with Wolves” (1990), Hollywood Westerns fell into step with the spirit of the times.  They took an ever-more sympathetic view of the Indians and an ever-more negative view of the white Americans who conquered the West.  Occasionally, some people have taken a more “classical” view.  In particular, “Ulzana’s Raid” (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1972) and “The Missing” (dir. Ron Howard, 2003) focused their attention on Apaches out for blood.  In part, they are effective because they take Indian beliefs seriously as a motivation to action.

In “Ulzana’s Raid,” an Apache warrior named “Ulzana” (Joaquin Martinez) jumps the San Carlos Reservation.  Basically, he’s fed up with the smell of women, children, dogs, and old people.  He wants to smell ponies running, burning, and blood.  In short, he chooses Life over Death.  He takes along his teen-age son and a few other young warriors.  He gets right to business, while the Army tries to track him down.  The Army patrol is “led” by a young lieutenant fresh from West Point (Bruce Davison).  The lieutenant’s father is a Protestant minister in favor of “humane” treatment of the Indians.  The real leader of the patrol is an old scout named “Mr. McIntosh” (Burt Lancaster).  The scout is assisted by an Apache from the San Carlos Indian Police, who happens to be Ulzana’s brother-in-law (Jorge Luke).  (This seems more credible once you’ve been married for a while.)  The patrol revolves around the education of the lieutenant.  Ki-Ne-Tay, the Apache policeman, explains that Apaches torture prisoners to obtain their power: “in this land, you must have power.”  He also learns to command, although his commands are not always for the best and are not always well-received by his troopers.  The movie ends badly for a number of those concerned, as was common in that time and place.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCFiO3Kb1ms

 

The Missing.

In “The Missing,” Samuel Jones, a white man who “went Apache” years before (Tommy Lee Jones) appears at the ranch of his daughter, Maggie Gilkerson (Cate Blanchett).  She is a “grass widow” who also works as the local “healer.”  She hates her father and rejects his effort to make amends.  At that same moment, an Apache called “El Brujo” jumps the reservation and goes on a rampage.  He kills white settlers and other Apaches, and kidnaps young women of both races for sale as sex-slaves in Mexico.  One of the kidnapped girls is Maggie’s rebellious daughter, who wanted bright lights instead of the homestead.  Maggie’s ranch-hand/lover is among the slain.  The local sheriff can’t help because it’s outside his jurisdiction.  (Sound familiar?)  The Army can’t help because it is busy with other stuff.  (Plundering the homes of murdered settlers for example.)  Maggie tells her father that he can make amends by helping her get the kidnapped daughter back.  So Maggie, and her youngest daughter, and her father set off in pursuit of the Apaches.

One problem is that “Brujo” is the Spanish word for “witch.”  This “El Brujo” has mystical powers and can change into a wolf or an eagle.  Probably he found this a stressful experience as a child because he’s crazy and sadistic.  (There having been too few trained talk therapists in Arizona in the 1880s.  Sad, but true.)  Eventually, the dysfunctional little family teams up with a couple of Chiricahua Apaches who are hunting “El Brujo” for the same reason.  They get the girls back and kill “El Brujo” and his merry men, but at a cost.  On the other hand, there’s a certain amount of reconciliation between the generations, a la Mark Twain.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI3IKUa9HyA

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The Apache Wars.

The Apache started out as nomadic buffalo hunters on the Southern Plains.  The “Apacheria” ran from north of the Arkansas River  in Colorado and Kansas into what are now the northern states of Mexico and from Central Texas through New Mexico to Central Arizona.   Central Texas is where the Spanish first ran into them in the 1540s.  The two groups got along, until they didn’t.[1]  Spanish did some slave raiding; then the Apache did some “I don’t want to be a slave” raiding.  Then the Comanche showed up.  The “Comanch” were scary, so the Apache moved off the Plains.  They concentrated in the mountains and deserts of what would become New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora, and Chihuahua.  Hard lands made hard people.  Constant small-scale warfare made them harder still.  Raiding and warfare between first Spain and then Mexico continued until the middle of the 19th Century.  By the 1830s, the state governments in Mexico were offering large bounties[2] for Apache scalps.  Scalp hunters took up the offer.

Then the United States showed up.  Mexico lost the resulting war.  They also lost Arizona and New Mexico.  They also lost most of the Apache.  The American won everything the Mexicans lost.  A series of wars followed: the Jicarilla War (1849-1854); the Chiricahua Wars (1860-1862); the Texas-Indian War (1861-1865, involving Apache but mostly Comanche); the Yavapai War (1871-1875); Victorio’s War (1879-1881); and Geronimo’s War (1881-1886).  In theory, that ended the Apache Wars, but small groups of “renegade” Apache continued to “jump the reservation” from time to time.  The last of these incidents in the United States occurred in 1924; the last in Mexico in 1933.[3]

How does this relate to the movies “The Missing” and “Ulzana’s Raid”?

Part of the reason that the United States defeated the Apache is a numerical advantage.  The Army sent 5,000 soldiers to hunt Geronimo’s band of thirty men.  Another part of the reason lay in the Army’s recruitment of Apache scouts to hunt Apache “hostiles.”  Apaches shared a common culture, but they didn’t have a strong sense of identity beyond their own bands.  Often they quarreled among themselves.  So, some Apache warriors enlisted as scouts with the Army.[4]   Sometimes—as was the case with the “Apache Kid–they then fell out with their employers.

Mexico and the United States had a testy relationship after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).  Mexico viewed the Americans as predators to be kept at arm’s length.  “Pity poor Mexico: so far from God, so near the United States.”  Mexican reluctance to allow American troops chasing Apaches to cross the border turned Mexico into a “safe haven” for the raiders.

“Brujo” is Spanish for “witch.”  This isn’t the same as a “medicine man” or “shaman.”  The latter use their skills—“white magic” in Medieval European terms—to heal or protect.  In contrast “brujo/bruja” use their skills—“brujeria” or “black magic” in Medieval European terms—to harm others.  As part of their art, it was believed that they could take the form of animals like owls or snakes or coyotes.  This transformation allowed them to travel secretly and to strike at their victims.  Furthermore, it was believed that they could make “corpse powder” from powdered corpses.  The powder could induce the symptoms of painful or lethal diseases.

[1] Just like Canadians are really nice, until they’re not.  Ask the Waffen SS troops in France who shot a bunch of wounded Canadians in June 1944.  Wait, you can’t.  Never mind.

[2] The equivalent of a year’s pay for a working man for one scalp.  Scalps were supposed to come from males aged for years or older, but how could you tell from just the scalp?  Lots of women and kids got killed in attacks on Apache “Rancheria.”

[3] The best book on this is Dan Thrapp, The Conquest of Apacheria (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967).

[4] See: “Mickey Free.”

Mickey Free.

Boundaries and identities could be murky in the West.  For example, between the end of the Mexican-American War (1848) and the Gadsden Purchase (1854) a little strip of what is today southern Arizona and New Mexico belonged to Mexico.  Mexicans and Apaches vastly outnumbered any American immigrants.  Jesusa Martinez (b. 1830) lived with a part-Irish Mexican named Santiago Telles.  They had a couple of red-haired kids, so the Irish ancestry may have been real.  Their son was called Felix (1848-1913 or 1915) and their daughter was called Teodora.  So, all of them were Mexicans who suddenly found themselves living in the United States.  In 1859, she either left Telles or he died.  In any event, she moved in with John Ward (1806-1867), another Irish immigrant who had come to the area to ranch.  They more or less got married and Ward more or less adopted the kids.  Felix Telles became Felix Ward.

No sooner did they get these matters sorted out than some White Mountain Apaches rustled a bunch of Ward’s cattle and kidnapped young Felix Ward in January 1861.  The U.S. Army sent a small detachment to try to get the kid back.  This effort misfired and led to Cochise’s decade-long war with the United States (1861-1872).  Felix Ward was adopted into the band, with whom he lived for about ten years.

You might have thought that the Indian tribes would all stick together against the Americans.  Not the case.  The Yavapai Indians continually fought with the Apaches.  In late 1871 war broke out between the Americans and the Yavapai.  In December 1872, Ward and his White Mountain foster-brother, came down out of the mountains to enlist as scouts for the US Army.  Whites had a hard time with Apache names, so Felix Ward became “Mickey Free” and his brother “John Rope.”  They scouted for George Crook in the Yavapai War.

They may have been scouting for Crook later that month when the Army besieged a large band of Yavapai in a cave in Salt River Canyon.  Eventually the Yavapai were defeated and forced onto a reservation at Camp Verde, Arizona Territory.  Mickey Free went there as an interpreter.  So did Al Sieber, Chief of Scouts for Crook.[1]  Sieber appears to have thought well of him.  So he probably moved to the San Carlos Apache Reservation with Sieber.

Life on the reservation wasn’t very tranquil.  For example, in August 1878, September 1881, and May 1885, Geronimo “jumped the reservation” in raiding expeditions.  Free scouted for the Cavalry as they hunted these and other bands of “renegades.”  He and his brother John Rope stayed with the scouts until the final capture of Geronimo in 1886.

One of Free’s fellow scouts was the “Apache Kid” (sometime in the 1860s-1894 or perhaps not if you believe the legends).  Like Free and Rope, the Kid did good service in the hunt for Geronimo.  However, in 1887, the Kid and some of his friends were involved in a shooting affray with some other Apache scouts; the Army arrested the Kid; and he promptly escaped and took to the hills.   In May-June 1887, Free helped Sieber in the successful hunt for the Kid.  Since the Apache Kid again escaped and was hunted by various groups, Free may have been a bounty hunter for a while.

Free left the Scouts in 1893.  He took up farming at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, where the White Mountain Apaches lived.

I suspect that he inspired the fictional character “John Russell” in Elmore Leonard’s novel Hombre (1961).  A Mexican-Irish-Apache in Arizona and Mexico.  Murky boundaries.

[1] Al Sieber (1843-1907) was a German-born immigrant.  In the Civil War he fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.  After the war he went West to prospect and ended up ranching in Arizona.  He served as Chief of Scouts from 1871 to 1890.