May 21, 2011A friend of mine is working on "Cowboys & Aliens" the big $180 million movie coming out this summer. They are in post, and he tells me, from the parts he's seen, it's spectacular and going to be very big.
With the unqualified success of the Coen brother's "True Grit" ($300 million plus, so far) it looks like the Western has some traction.
Lots of projects happening, including Alan Huffines new book "Killed By Indians, 1871." Gary Foreman has created a very cool promo video for the book. Check it out.
All of which inspired me to revisit Mickey Free. This is part of a post from 2009.
The Greatest Western Story Never Told?
Mickey Free is a story of The Border. The border between countries, the border between cultures and the border between people. For over 130 years the mystery of what happened to the Apache Kid has tormented historians. How did he get away? Was he killed and his death covered up? What I'm about to tell you may be the greatest Western story never told.
It's a story that is not without controversy: for example, Geronimo hated Mickey Free, calling him “the snake eye with the forked tongue.”
He had long-red hair, matted and tangled, hanging to his shoulders in the Apache style. His skin was weathered mahogany, with a series of scars. He rode a Mammoth Jack mule, 16-hands high and he carried a machete in the Yaqui style. He was neither American nor Apache nor Mexican, but somehow he was all three.
"He was half Mexican, half Apache, and all son-of-a-bitch."
—Chief of Scouts, Al Sieber
But let's go back to the beginning. When he was just a boy, he started a war. The longest in the history of the United States.
January 27, 1861
On Sonoita Creek, in southern Arizona Territory, Felix Ward, 13, was kidnapped from his step-father's ranch by Arivaipa Apaches led by one Victor (called Beto by the Apaches).
When Felix's step-father reported the kidnapping to the soldiers, officers attempted to contact Cochise to find out where the boy might have been taken. Meeting at Apache Pass, a brash young West Point graduate attempted to arrest Cochise, after the Chiricauhua denied knowledge of the boy's whereabouts. Cochise boldly escaped, cutting his way out of a tent and making it to safety. Others with him were not as fortunate and a standoff ensued between the soldiers holding Apache hostages and Cochise, who took hostages of his own. Lt. Bascom hanged six of the Apaches and Cochise went on a rampage killing every white person he could find (hint: he found plenty).
Meanwhile, far to the north of Apache Pass, the kidnapped boy, Felix Ward was being held in a camp near Arivaipa Creek.
As Tom Horn put it, “Felix became nothing more than a slave, relegated to cooking and cleaning and moving the camp, and when he tried to run away, he was caught and beaten again and again." When the young Apache John Rope first saw Felix he felt a great sympathy for the boy. His father offered a trade to Beto, but the cruel renegade refused. Rope was patient and reminded Beto of his obligation to Apache law.
All the weight of loneliness seemed to bear on the young captivo. Beto, the leader of the group who kidnapped Felix, was himself a former Mexican captivo, and perhaps because of it, he was relentless in his meanness towards the boy.
“A convert to any cause, is always overdone.”
Beto finally relented and traded Felix to the Rope clan for a bushel of peaches and, ironically, a rope.
Horn hailed from Memphis, ran away from home at age 14, landed in Santa Fe where he learned Spanish, drove stages and learned the packing game. He later drifted into Arizona and met Al Sieber at Prescott, prior to Al's ascension to Chief of Scouts at San Carlos. Tom and Al became fast friends.
"Tom is clean straw game.”
Not long after he arrived in Arizona, Horn spent the better part of a summer with Felix Ward and his adopted clan, the Ropes, in their summer encampment in Arivaipa Canyon. With that experience, Horn learned to speak tolerable Apache.
According to all who met him, Felix had the face that only a mother could love, but to hear Horn tell it, the scrawny boy had no feelings for his mother. Why this was no one knew.
The Rope clan treated Felix with much more equimanity, although, even in the new community, Mickey ran up against the natural pecking order of male dominance. The elder Rope took the scrawny, youngster under his wing and nurtured his skills at woodcraft and survival tactics. It wasn’t easy.
One of the first challenges Felix had to endure was the pinecone quest, which the Apaches call Khee-hahd-oh. The boys of the clan gathered before dawn at the river and each took a drink, then held the water in their mouths, while the senior Rope pointed to a distant, blue mountain range and ordered them to bring back a pine cone and the water, spitting it out on the ground when they
returned. If they could pass this test, they were ready for their first mission.
Of course, the stronger Apache boys, led by Curly took off like deer and quickly left Felix behind, quickly disappearing into the foothills.
Felix ran awkwardly, struggling to keep from swallowing the water in his mouth. After several miles, the desert tundra gradually gave way to cedar trees as the boys spotted their goal, higher up the steepening slopes.
Running with their mouths closed, to save the water, the young boys learned to breath through their nose. This greatly expanded their lung capacity, and at the same time gave them discipline to travel great distances, a survival technique still marveled at today.
Grabbing the first pine cones they could find, Curly and the other boys, quickly reversed their path, scrambling down off the mountain, racing each other. Halfway down they crossed paths with Felix still struggling up the incline. One of the older boys tripped Felix as they scooted past, all of them
laughing as they disappeared into the draw.
Several hours later, Old Man Rope met the boys coming along the river bank. They ran up, Curly in the lead, and dropped their pine cones at his feet, then they spit the water and breathed heavily for some time, laughing and kidding each other as young boys are wont to do everywhere.
Rope praised their skills and dismissed the boys and looked up the trail. All had passed the test, but one was missing. It was dusk before the pale form of the young captivo came stumbling out of the creosote, clearly overheated and distraught. He staggered up (his knees were bleeding where he had fallen) and tossed his puny pine cone on the pile and spit out his water, then swayed, bent over, barely keeping his feet as he tried in vain to catch his breath.
“You have the hard bone of the red-haired people, right here,” Old Man Rope said as he put one hand on the boy’s shoulder and pointed at Felix’s head with the other.
It was true. The Irish in the boy served him well, although no Irishman would claim this skanky kid. Slowly, Felix learned the skills he needed to survive as an Apache.
The next test was not so easy. Lying down in a cold mountain stream without making a sound.
Eventually, the young captivo named Felix graduated to the advanced level of frontier survival, and, thanks to the cruel humor of the San Carlos troopers, he received a new name: Mickey Free.
"In the end, Mickey Free freed me."
—The Apache Kid