The body of folklore surrounding Mickey Free makes it difficult to separate fact from fancy, but a few facts are known. He disappeared from a ranch west of the Chiricahua Mountains when was about 12 years old and was either given to or kidnapped by the White Mountain Apaches. He apparently was of Irish and Mexican descent.
In late January, 1861, 2nd Lt. George N. Bascom led a party of soldiers to find him. Bascom left Fort Buchanan with 54 men for Apache Pass, where it was thought the boy was being held. A meeting was arranged between Bascom and Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, who, unaware of the situation, brought with him his wife and son and his brother and two nephews. The meeting was held inside an Army tent.
The brash Bascom demanded the release of the kidnapped boy. Cochise truthfully denied any knowledge of the affair and promised to find him if possible, but Bascom thought the chief was lying and said he would hold him hostage until the boy was returned. Cochise drew his knife, slashed the wall of the tent and escaped. Bascom made prisoners of the other Apaches.
The unfortunate affair concluded when Cochise killed three hostages taken from a nearby stage station; Bascom hanged Cochise’s brother and two nephews. The Chiricahua leader’s wife and son were taken to Fort Buchanan and later released.
The action of the raw lieutenant unwittingly destroyed a nominal peace – and presaged more than two decades of brutal warfare between the Apaches and U.S. Army.
Some years later, the captive boy was freed, quite by accident, when soldiers attacked a hostile Apache camp. He was given the surname Free for having been set free from the Apaches. The name Mickey probably derived from his red hair and Irish countenance.
He was fluent in Apache, spoke Spanish and knew enough English to be given a job as an interpreter. He signed on at the San Carlos Reservation, Dec. 4, 1874. His salary was $125 a month.
“Even with all the cruelties of the Apache in his long war against the white man,” wrote long-time Cochise County rancher John Plesent Gray, “I still believe he has an inborn sense of justice and does not forget a kindness ever done him.
“In the early campaigns against Geronimo, the army had among its scouts a half-breed Indian who went by the name of Mickey Free.
“He came to our ranch a number of times with his troop, and I remember mother always had some little treat to give Mickey for his scouts – such as a batch of doughnuts or cookies, or even jerky, the sun-dried meat of which the Apaches were fond.
“Anyhow, Mickey Free told mother she need never worry, that the Apaches would never raid our ranch – trying to tell her in this way, probably, that he appreciated her kindness.”
Remarkably – though many settlers were killed and ranch houses set aflame during the Apache wars – the Gray ranch never was attacked by Apaches.
Photo and research W. Lane Rogers.
©Arizona Capitol Times.