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.

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