Court-Martial of Apache Kid: Renegade of Renegades

by Clare V. McKanna Jr., Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 2009, $29.95.

“Apache Kid” is such a natural moniker for an outlaw or renegade in the American West that if it didn’t exist, Ned Buntline or some other dime novelist probably would have invented it. From 1889 there was an Apache Kid on the loose, more often than not attacking fellow Indians, who eluded at least 10 concerted efforts to bring him in dead or alive and ultimately vanished in the mountains between Arizona and Mexico. His fate is open to the sort of endless but futile speculation that in the West could only end in legend.

Until 1887 few would have expected Kid to become an outlaw, let alone what the white press called the “Renegade of Renegades.” Clare McKanna Jr.’s book focuses on the best-documented segment of his life, his trial for the killing of an Apache named Rip, whom Kid accused of killing his grandfather. At the time, the defendant was 1st Sgt. Kid—his Apache name remains as unknown as his exact birthday—and he had served with distinction in Al Sieber’s Apache scouts, helping the U.S. Army track down other Apaches, ranging from hostiles to those who had simply left the reservation.

In the course of Kid’s trials—during which the defendant himself spoke no more than 700 words—the author derives details of the still-uneasy relationship between scouts and the bluecoats they served. Kid’s killing of Rip satisfied clan requirements but ran afoul of the U.S. laws he had also sworn to obey.

Essentially a legal history, Court-Martial of Apache Kid uses existing records to reconstruct the six years between its subject’s obscure emergence and end. It also offers insight into the general dilemma of an Indian caught between two worlds. In Kid’s case, that conflict led to two trials, resulting first in a military sentence of death by firing squad, which was remitted on appeal, then in a civil conviction for assault to murder and a sentence of seven years in the Arizona Territorial Prison at Yuma. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Kid never boarded the 3:10 to Yuma, nor would he languish at the San Carlos Reservation or in faraway Florida. He escaped and died somewhere on his own terms.


Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.