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What history writes about the Apache Kid

The Apache Kid was the Gila County Jail’s most notorious inmate. His career as first sergeant in the Apache scouts and trusted assistant to Chief of Scouts Al Sieber came to a tragic end through misunderstandings, jealousy, and the vengeance cycle typical of Apache conflicts.

The Kid’s fame has bred a confusing array of legends, but one of the clearest account comes from Dan Thrapp’s biography, Al Sieber, Chief of Scouts. Thrapp presents several versions of the Apache Kid story, offering insight into their accuracy. The Kid may have been born in Aravaipa Canyon in 1860 as a member of Chiquito’s band, or perhaps he was from Wheatfields, north of Globe, a White Mountain Apache born in 1868.

All agree that he was tall and had piercing dark eyes. He often wore a black felt hat, and boots, when available. His family appeared in Globe around 1875 and the Kid began to pick up small jobs in saloons and stores. There he drew the attention of Al Sieber, a German immigrant who served in the Civil War, prospected in California and Nevada, and finally settled in Globe. Sieber made the Kid his protégé, even teaching him his own version of frontier-style cooking.

One of the few portraits available of the Apache Kid. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photographer: Erwin Baer.
One of the few portraits available of the Apache Kid. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photographer: Erwin Baer.

General Crook created the Apache Scouts in the early 1870s, and hired Sieber as a civilian commander. Sieber shared his success with his young assistant. The Kid enlisted in the scouts as a teenager and rose to sergeant quickly. He took part in the battle of Big Dry Wash, the last pitched battle with the Apaches, with Lt. George H. Morgan’s Troop E, Third Cavalry.

Two years later “Sgt. Kid” was promoted to First Sergeant. General Crook returned to Arizona in 1883 and promoted Al Sieber to Chief of Scouts. He and the Kid followed helped the general track Geronimo in Mexico.

Officers and newspapermen agreed that the Apache Kid had “amazingly keen” eyesight. On one expedition where the commanding officer could barely make out an approaching party through his field glasses the kid could not only see them, but he could tell how many whites, mules, and horses there were. When they caught up to the group, he was exactly right–according to legend. The Kid may have been off bit, but Sieber taught him to be an expert tracker. He probably estimated the numbers by the amount of dust raised and other tricks of the trade.

By the summer of 1887, the Kid had served on several campaigns in Mexico and married one of Aravaipa Apache Chief Eskiminzin’s daughters. That summer the San Carlos Indian Agent, Captain Francis C. Pierce, and Al Sieber went north to Fort Apache. Without considering the consequences, they left the young Apache Kid in charge of the scouts and the guardhouse. While they were gone, a band of Apaches who lived about ten miles north of the agency decided to brew a batch of tizwin, a native corn beer prohibited by American authorities. Then they went on a binge.

The story goes that an Apache scout named Gon-zizzie killed Togo-de-Chuz, the Apache Kid’s father, at this party. Then some of the Kid’s friends killed Gon-zizzie in retaliation. The Kid got drunk with the others, and then several of them headed south to Aravaipa Canyon and killed Gon-Zizzie’s brother, Rip. When he testified in court, the Apache Kid said that Rip killed his grandfather six months earlier.

Several days after they killed Rip, the Apache Kid and the others returned to San Carlos to turn themselves in. One soldier remembered sitting in front of the agency at 5 p.m. on June 1, 1887 and seeing six or seven armed Apaches approach on horseback.

The Kid rode up to Sieber’s tent and told him he wanted to talk. Sieber sent for Captain Pierce, and a crowd began to gather. When he arrived at the back of the tent, Captain Pierce took the scouts’ guns and issued his one-word order: “calaboose” (he wanted them to turn themselves in at the guardhouse). Unfortunately, a scout named Antonio Diaz added his own interpretation in Apache; he told the men that if they did not comply they would be sent to Florida, where Geronimo was sent the year before.

Just then in front of the tent an Apache fired one or two shots and pandemonium broke loose. Sieber no sooner grabbed his rifle and came out of the tent when a .45-70 caliber slug (almost half an inch of lead) slammed into his left ankle and knocked him to the ground.

All agree that the Apache Kid fled without a weapon. Some later testified that a scout named Curley shot Sieber. After about two dozen shots, Sgt. Kid and others fled to the north followed by cavalry, who chased them until dark. The next morning the Apaches doubled back and headed toward Mexico.

An Indian rushed to Globe to tell Dr. T.B. Davis that Al Sieber was dying. Newspapers across the territory fanned the old flames of fear, hatred, and hysteria, exhorting once again that no Indian could be trusted. Fort McDowell’s Major E. J. Spaulding warned lawmen and settlers to guard their livestock and not travel alone until the Apaches were back on the reservation. The Kid’s band followed the San Pedro almost to Mexico, but then turned around and headed back.

Al Seiber, Chief of Scouts.Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photographer: Erwin Baer.
Al Seiber, Chief of Scouts.Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photographer: Erwin Baer.

 

General Nelson A. Miles arrived from his headquarters several weeks later. He saw things had calmed down and was about to return to Los Angeles when he got an important message. A runner told Miles that the Kid and his men would return to the reservation if the soldiers stopped chasing them. The general ordered his men to call off their pursuit.

On June 22, 1887 eight Apaches turned themselves in, and three days later the Kid and seven others followed suit. Miles said he realized the scouts might not understand the charges against them, but ordered a general court-martial “as if they had been white soldiers.”

The trial seemed to be a mere formality. Defense objections of soldiers’ biased and prejudiced testimony were overruled. Witnesses said they did not see the Kid with a gun and that he had fled the scene as soon as he could. Captain Pierce testified that he saw some men on horseback loading their guns. He told Sieber to look out, they were going to fire. So far, the evidence pointed away from the Apache Kid.

The court met in Sieber’s room on July 3rd because pain was intense. Sieber testified that after Pierce took away their guns that afternoon and ordered them to the calaboose, the Kid gave a certain look. Sieber said it was the Kid’s signal for the scouts to grab their guns back.

When called to testify, Sgt. Kid said that after they turned in their guns Antonio Diaz told them in Apache that those who did not obey would be sent to Florida. The Kid also testified that he only killed Rip because the man had killed his grandfather. He said he did not have any plans to attack, and would not have given the guns to Sieber if he planned to take them back.

On cross examination Sieber said the Kid did not get his gun back, but that his look was definitely what set off the shooting.  The verdict came quickly, and the Kid and four others were sentenced to death by firing squad for mutiny and desertion.

General Miles opposed the ruling because he felt Diaz’s statement about Florida may have provoked the scouts. The court met again at Fort Thomas on August 3rd and sentenced the five to life, which Miles reduced to ten years for some and 15 for others.

The Kid and the others were sent to Alcatraz for 16 months, but were then returned to San Carlos, where outraged Arizonans insisted they stand trial for civil offenses.

* * *

On October 14, 1889 Gila County Sheriff Glenn Reynolds arrested all but the Kid with the help of Sieber and Captain John Bullis, the new agent at San Carlos. The Kid was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Jerry Ryan without incident.

The jail in Globe now held the Kid, charged with intent to murder Al Sieber, and three accomplices: Say-es, Hale, and Pas-lau-tau. At least six other Apaches were crowded into the jail on other charges.

Court convened on October 23, 1889 with Judge Joseph H. Kibbey (later territorial governor of Arizona) presiding. Curley, the man many said fired the first shot, was a witness for the prosecution. Testimony revealed a long-standing feud between Curley and the Kid.

The Kid took the stand and said Curley, his enemy, was jealous of his luck with the girls. He said Curley shot Sieber to get him in trouble. Na-Shay-Shay, whom the whites called “Beauty”, was a surprise witness for the defense, testifying to the Kid’s good behavior. Sieber rebutted that the Kid made up the story about Curley to clear himself. Going primarily on Sieber’s testimony, the court found all four guilty of attempted murder and sentenced each of them to seven years at the territorial prison in Yuma.

Sheriff Reynolds refused Sieber’s offer to help transport the four to the train depot in Casa Grande, supposedly saying “I can take those Indians alone with a corn-cob and a lightning bug.” He chose William A. “Hunkydory” Holmes to assist him.

They chartered a new green and yellow stagecoach driven by Gene Middleton and reached Riverside, forty miles south of Globe, the first night. They got up at 5 a.m. the next day and headed for Casa Grande to catch the 4 o’clock train to Yuma.

A Mexican prisoner named Jesus Avott rode inside the coach. The Kid and Say-es were in separate handcuffs while the other Apaches were handcuffed in pairs.

Just about dawn they reached the foot of a steep ridge. Traveling in a sandy wash with so many people on board was too much for the horses, so Reynolds, Holmes, Avott, and the prisoners shackled in pairs got out and walked.

The stage made it up the hill and then got quite a ways ahead of the walking prisoners. Middleton drove around a rocky outcropping and stopped to rest the horses. Then he heard a shot.

As the men on foot got close to the rocks, one pair of shackled Indians moved up close to Sheriff Reynolds while the others dropped back by Deputy Holmes. Two Apaches grabbed Holmes while Pas-lau-tau grabbed his rifle. At the same time, the other Indians jumped the sheriff and wrestled for his shotgun. Pas-lau-tau ran up and shot Reynolds with Holmes’s rifle. Legend says Holmes died of fright, but it was most likely a heart attack.

The Apaches gathered up the guns and keys and hurried to catch the stage. Avott got there ahead of them and warned the stage driver.  Middleton pulled his pistol to keep the Kid from escaping, but at the same time an Apache shot him in the head. The Indians freed the Kid and Say-es, and the horses bolted away with the empty stage.

Jesus Avott rode off to Florence with the news, and Middleton managed to get up and start walking back down the road where he met another stage driver, Shorty Saylor, who took the news to Globe. They telegraphed Sieber, who organized a twenty-man scouting party. Troops joined the search from every army post in southern Arizona, but a snowstorm came up and wiped out the Apaches’ tracks. Although there were many reports of Apache Kid attacks, as well as his death, in the next twenty years, none were ever substantiated. It may be that the Apache Kid lived as late as the 1930s with a small band of Apaches high up in Mexico’s Sierra Madres, a fugitive for life for a crime he probably did not commit.

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About Jim Turner

Jim Turner
Jim Turner is an author, historian and speaker. His recent book, "Arizona: Celebration of the Grand Canyon State," is a pictorial history of Arizona. He has contributed several historical pieces for Globe Miami Times.

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