I’ve been a little lax in my book reviews, and this isn’t Monday, but nevertheless, I’m going to share my thoughts on the latest book I read, Paul Andrew Hutton’s The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History. If that seems like a mouthful for a title, it’s because the book is pretty broad in scope. It basically covers the entire history of the American government’s conflict with the Apaches, starting with the capture of Felix Ward from his stepfather’s ranch in 1861 by Pinal Apaches. This kidnapping and the subsequent events that transpired led to one of the longest conflicts on American soil in history, and the deaths of thousands of innocent people.
I can’t express how much I loved this book. I’ve read a lot of Western history (as any reader of this blog can guess, judging by how often I post about the subject), and I can honestly say Hutton’s work is in my top two or three Western history books of all time. He does a masterful job of introducing a huge cast of characters, each with their own agendas, motivations, and unique traits, while simultaneously balancing the narrative flow and keeping the reader invested in the overarching theme of events. It’s a wonderful read, and I can’t recommend it enough.
One thing I loved about the book was the way Hutton shows us people. Some historians have a tendency to paint in black and white, particularly when it comes to controversial figures. Hutton doesn’t shy away from showing us the good and the bad of people, leaving the reader with a fully developed sense of a person rather than a caricature. One such person is John Clum. Clum is introduced as an able, intelligent figure, who does a competent job (initially) in his role as the agent at the San Carlos Reservation. He treated the Apaches fairly, cut down the graft and corruption, and formed a tribal police force and tribal court. But he also convinced the government to move all the Apaches under his control at San Carlos, which created issues between tribes that historically had not been friendly with each other. And of course, to say nothing of the inherent immorality of putting an ethnic group onto a reservation in the first place.
Geronimo is another such character. Legend has often held Geronimo in high esteem, the last freedom fighter of a beleaguered people. The truth, however, is that Geronimo was a much more complex person. Hutton shows us a man willing to sacrifice Apache children to save his own skin, a man who would leave his family in captivity if it meant being able to continue fighting, a man for which many other Apaches had a deep disdain.
Hutton is at his best sharing the stories of these people. Without question, the most fascinating character is that of Lozen, the sister of the great Apache chief Victorio. Lozen, who would not marry, was revered by her tribe as a sort of shamanistic warrior who could foresee the enemy’s movements. She risked her own life many times over to save women and children, and fought bravely in battle. Hutton tells the story of how American soldiers attacked a specific village, and when the other Apaches fled, Lozen stayed behind with a pregnant wife. The woman gave birth in silence while the soldiers passed by their hiding spot, unaware of the presence of Lozen and the mother.
Hutton does a wonderful job with the narrative flow as well, and finds a way to introduce all these characters while telling a more linear story than, say, Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star. There was no back and forth, but as he relays the events in time, he also peels back additional layers on the characters so that they slowly become much more well developed than their initial introduction would lead us to believe.
I can’t recommend this book enough. If you are interested in American history at all, this is a must own. I listened to it on Audible, and the narration was very solid. It is not a hard read, but it is relatively long (544 pages, or over 17 hours on Audible). It does not feel long, however, as the fast paced narrative and unique characters that made up this time period come to life off the page.