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UNM professor unflinchingly details decades of Apache wars

Ten years ago, Hampton Sides published “Blood and Thunder.” Its subtitle correctly claimed it “An Epic of the American West.” Kit Carson and the Navajos were at the center of the story overlaid by the federal policy of Manifest Destiny.

Now, a decade later, Paul Hutton, a distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico, has authored a history book that is equally epic in scope but details the dramatic, brutal relations between Americans and Apaches in the mid-19th century.

Hutton’s “The Apache Wars” (Crown, $30) sharply and unflinchingly explores the many years of bloody, thunderous conflicts between soldiers based in camps and forts and elusive Apaches in New Mexico and Arizona.

Conflicts, yes, but more clearly defined as a series of skirmishes, scoutings, nocturnal attacks and massacres.

The book covers the warring years from 1861 to about 1890 but also provides extensive historical background.

The geographical heart of the warfare is the territory called Apacheria, a large landmass stretching from Mesilla through the Sonoran desert and mountains of southwestern New Mexico into the desert-and-mountain terrain of southeastern Arizona. A map in the book reveals a number of Indian tribes, Apache mostly, in that territory and extending into northern Mexico.

There is a long cast of characters in this history. Perhaps the most familiar names are the formidable Apache warrior Geronimo and the Apache chief Cochise.

bks_jd_01may_1apache_CMYKAmong the lesser-known figures are Al Sieber, a frontiersman respected by Apaches; Tom Jeffords, the agent for the Chiricahua Apaches who befriended Cochise; Mickey Free, the half-Irish, half-Mexican who was kidnapped and raised by the Aravaipa band of Apaches and later scouted for the American military; and Gen. George Crook, whom the Apaches nicknamed “Nantan Lupan” or wolf.

Free’s kidnapping is the reason Hutton gives for the constant American-Apache fighting.

Hutton also describes the confusion caused by changing Washington politics and federal policies toward Indians.

The book describes the fascinating culture of the Apaches. The Apaches were devoted to the cult of the warrior. Nomads, they raided farms and ranches because it was their primary method for obtaining food and supplies, Hutton wrote.

“The Americans did not, at least legally, enslave their Indian prisoners. The federal government had called its glorified deportation policy ‘Indian Removal,’ ” Hutton wrote, and it came into play before the mid-19th century.

Removal fit with Manifest Destiny: Move the Indians out to make way for the white invaders.