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SDSU Professor Chronicles Apache Kid

A young Indian man in the year 1889 managed to escape while being transported to prison in the Arizona territory. With that escape, Apache Kid became the stuff of western legend. He was never caught and nobody is really quite sure what really became of him.
Photo Courtesy of Clare "Bud" McKanna
A young Indian man in the year 1889 managed to escape while being transported to prison in the Arizona territory. With that escape, Apache Kid became the stuff of western legend. He was never caught and nobody is really quite sure what really became of him.

SDSU Professor Chronicles Apache Kid
SDSU history professor Clare McKanna talks about the plight of Native Americans in his new book "Court-Martial of Apache Kid, Renegade of Renegades."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. A young Indian man in the year 1889 managed to escape while being transported to prison in the Arizona territory. With that escape, Apache Kid became the stuff of western legend. He was never caught and nobody is really quite sure what really became of him. But the real mystery of Apache Kid is how he was able to maneuver, often successfully, between three very different worlds: the world of his Indian tribe, the U.S. military, which used him as a scout, and the culture of Western settlers, who generally despised the Apaches. When Apache Kid avenged the murder of his grandfather according to ancient Indian customs, he found those three worlds colliding. His journey through two legal systems and his ultimate survival tell us much about the inequities of the Wild West through one man's personal story. Here to tell us more about this remarkable character is my guest, Clare "Bud" McKanna. He is instructor of History at SDSU, who specializes in Native American history, and he's written the new book, "Court-Martial of Apache Kid, Renegade of Renegades." Bud, welcome to These Days.


CLARE "BUD" MCKANNA (Author/Historian): Good morning, Maureen. I'm glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us first of all, if you would, who was Apache Kid? Where and when did he live?

MCKANNA: Okay. Apache Kid was born approximately 1860 in Aravaipa Canyon, which is just south of San Carlos Reservation, and he was Aravaipa Indian. There are ten different tribes of Western Apache and then they're broken into sub-groups. He's a sub-group of various of those, probably the San Carlos Apache. Born about 1860. He was the grandson of a chief, Togodechuz, and he had very high prominence in that particular band. And he married into another family which was important and that, of course, was Eskiminizin, marrying his daughter. Now, Eskiminizin was also a band chief of another group called the SL band. And, consequently, that gave him high status very early on.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Now is it true that nobody knows his real name?

MCKANNA: There are at least nine names that have been used to describe him. One was given by Sayes, who was a member of his tribe. He claims his name was Shisininty. Another one, of course, was Tony, a Apache scout, claimed his name was Hohuntel (sp), and then there's seven others. And, normally, he's just called Kid or Apache Kid.


CAVANAUGH: Yeah, by the white people…


CAVANAUGH: …who – in the military and in the civilian world.


CAVANAUGH: Now, Kid was a scout…


CAVANAUGH: …for the U.S. Army. What did Indian scouts do?

MCKANNA: Okay, Indian scouts were – Young Apache boys were trained in woodcraft and how to cut trail, that sort of thing, to follow animals and also people. And he was very skilled at this. He was rather young, 22, to be a scout. He was first sergeant of the scout, which is unusual for that age but it indicates his status and his ability. He was physically very robust. He was about 5'9", weighed about 140 pounds, and he was very lean and, according to one of his tribal band members, Gonshayee, claimed that he could run like a horse, he could run better than a horse…


MCKANNA: …which is probably a little bit hyperbolic. But he was very physically adept at doing that and cutting trails. And he was involved in several battles and we don't know how many he may have killed but he certainly was very skilled at being a scout.

CAVANAUGH: And as a scout, he was a member of the U.S. military.

MCKANNA: Yes, for about six months out of a year. Normally, the policy was – This is during the period of Geronimo and – 1882 and '83, and the general term of enlistment was six months. Six months on and six months off, unless there was more problems then they'd hire them back. And that way it saved the military some money. But the problem here is he's in two worlds.


MCKANNA: What we call the liminal world, in between two, and shifting back and forth. He was never quite sure what his responsibilities were. And that's what really identifies Kid, I believe, more than anything else.

CAVANAUGH: And one of these shifting back between the worlds and being sometimes part of the military and sometimes not, is really the essence of the legal troubles that he…


CAVANAUGH: …got into because he caused a retribution murder. He did murder the person that he thought was responsible for the death of either his father or his grandfather, we're not quite sure. But how did his world turn upside down then once he was swept into the military legal system?

MCKANNA: Okay. The way it happened is interesting. If he had not killed Rip, the tribal member from the SA band who had killed his grandfather, Togodechuz, if he had not killed him, nothing would have happened. We would know nothing about Kid. That's the great, remarkable thing. But what happened, of course, is that he went off on a, what we call a tiswin drink. That was a alcoholic beverage that was commonly used by Apaches and it was very spiritual. It was a very important part of their ritual. And then he went south to kill Rip and then he came back again. He was AWOL, he was away without leave for about five days. And he knew he was going to be punished when he got back but he didn't know what it was, probably wouldn't have been too much. But when he got back then, he lined up before Captain Pierce and he said, give up your weapons, and they all put their weapons down, and their belts, etcetera. And Antonio Diaz was the interpreter and he was – he didn't like Kid. And so as they were doing this, he was somewhat menacing and he says, well, you know, the commander says go to the calaboose and if you don't, all the Apache scouts are going to Florida, and he made a circle in his hand, which – And, of course, that spooked – There were about 12 or 14 SI band members on horseback right behind him and they were watching very intently. They weren't sure what was going to happen. And when they heard that, it really spooked them. And so one of them pulled up a gun and fired 15 or 16 shots, fired. Then at that particular point Kid and the scouts escaped. Now only one person was hit and that was Al Sieber in the foot. Any case, of course, they were not trying to kill them.


MCKANNA: They were just trying…


MCKANNA: …to, you know, spook them so they – they could escape. But that was the beginning then of his odyssey, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Right. I'm speaking with Bud McKanna, Clare "Bud" McKanna. He is instructor of history of SDSU and he's written a new book, "Court-Martial of Apache Kid, Renegade of Renegades." Now this really incredible story goes through the legal problems with the military. He was court-martialed, he was convicted, he was sentenced to death, and then that was overturned and he was on his way, except then he had to face a second civil trial in which he was convicted. And it was all for the same – basically the same incident.

MCKANNA: Right. Now some people think that – some people might think that it was double jeopardy but it's not. It's two different jurisdictions, military versus civilian criminal court. And in the second case, of course, when he returned to San Carlos after spending some time in Alcatraz, when he came back then, of course, there were some members of the military who wanted to arrest him again because they were really ticked off. He hadn't spent much time in jail and they wanted to punish him. So what they do is, they trumped up charges claiming he tried to kill Sieber. Well, he never had a gun when this took place so that was just a bogus charge, and he was convicted. We don't know much about the trial because there are no transcripts. Transcripts in those days for those kinds of trials, usually were destroyed. But we do know then that Al Sieber spoke out against him, which is surprising to some. Not to me, but some thought it was surprising. But – So he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in Yuma Territorial Prison, which is kind of like a death sentence.

CAVANAUGH: Right, because it – Tell us the – he escaped, luckily, while he was on the way. I mean, luckily for him.


CAVANAUGH: On the way to the territorial prison in Arizona. Tell us a little bit about what it was like for an Indian in prison in those days.

MCKANNA: Well, prison life in those days was very tough on Indians. Native Americans didn't do well in prison because of diseases of various types. And, for example, if you look at San Quentin in the 19th century and you look at Yuma Prison during that same period, the death rate for Indians who were convicted and sent there for murder was 44% in San Quentin, 37% in Yuma. And people might say, well, but they're in there for murder but these deaths occurred in the first three or four years. So conditions were terrible there. They had very primitive conditions and usually the cells had no windows. It was really quite bad. So he was lucky not to have to go through that a second time.

CAVANAUGH: And after his escape, after he – and it's really very interesting the way you describe it in the book. He – to – it's sort of this ambush that takes place with the prisoners who are being – headed to this prison and yet Apache Kid doesn't take part in it but he does manage to get released. It's after that time, if I understand it correctly, you start to call him the renegade of renegades.

MCKANNA: Okay, I – That's not my term. That comes from a New York Times news…

CAVANAUGH: Ah, okay.

MCKANNA: …paper article and I think I kind of like that because it means that, hey, he's the best of all the renegades that – But the way he escaped is interesting because they were in the stagecoach headed for a railroad station and they're going up this grade and so the sheriff had six of the eight Apaches get out and walk behind the stagecoach, plus a deputy and a couple others. And as the sheriff was walking, he was walking right behind the stagecoach and the six Apaches behind him. I mean, this is careless. I don't know why he did that. And it was a cold morning. He had – His pistol was in the, you know, a holster and he had his – his heavy coat was tied over it. And so all of a sudden, they hollered and they grabbed and they took their guns away from – and they shot – shot the sheriff but they didn't shoot the deputy down. He died of a heart attack, which is, you know, kind of sad but it's a interesting story. And then they released Kid. Kid was still in the stagecoach. He was still…


MCKANNA: …chained in the stagecoach.

CAVANAUGH: The prisoners released Kid.

MCKANNA: That's right.

CAVANAUGH: And he disappeared as far as the authorities were concerned. They – Search party after search party, they couldn't find him at all.

MCKANNA: No, they – they didn't make contact because he was – he was so elusive. Now, he'd spent – When he was fighting as a scout, he spent at least three times going into the Sierra Madre, the mountain – the mountains in Sonora. And that was a stronghold of Geronimo before Geronimo was – finally, you know, surrendered and was sent off to Florida. And what's interesting, of course, is that because he had that experience, at least three, maybe four times, he knew where to go after he left there. And, of course, he was a very angry man and his wife had been taken prisoner and sent back to Alabama and so he was – he would make raids on San Carlos and steal women and, I mean, he was a pretty angry man. Now people always say, well, how many did he kill? He only killed Rip that we know for sure. And after that, he may have killed some more. He probably killed some Apaches during the wars but my point is that he was not really a killer.


MCKANNA: He's portrayed as that but that's really a unfair characterization, and he's not a bandit. He's a renegade.

CAVANAUGH: There are a lot of exaggerated stories about Apache Kid because he became the stuff of western legend. Some people say that he died at the age of 30 but what do you think happened to Apache Kid?

MCKANNA: I think he probably survived into the twenties and the thirties possibly. Santee…

CAVANAUGH: You mean the 1920s and '30s.

MCKANNA: Oh, yes. Yeah, Santee thinks that he – He had evidence that he was riding with Pancho Villa in the nineteen – fifteen – you know, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, that period. And there are other examples. Atchley (sp) was one of his nephews, claimed that he was still around in 1924.


MCKANNA: So, my feeling is he probably died of old age and maybe in the 1930s. I don't know, but there's no indication of any type. There's no verification of him ever being captured or even seen for that matter.

CAVANAUGH: He just disappeared…


CAVANAUGH: …into legend.

MCKANNA: Disappeared, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for telling us about your new book.

MCKANNA: I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Clare "Bud" McKanna. He is instructor of history at SDSU, and the new book is called "Court-Martial of Apache Kid, Renegade of Renegades." I want to remind you that you can post your comments about what you hear on These Days at Stay with us for our second hour in just a few moments.