Nasty, Brutish, and Short
The Apache Wars Book Review

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  • The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton


As I read through The Apache Wars by Paul Andre Hutton, I was reminded of Thomas Hobbes’ famous description of man’s original state of nature. He described it as a state of “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” There is no better description of the southwestern United States during much of the nineteenth-century. Making up parts of modern-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico, this was the land known as Apacheria. It was a land ruled by tribes of Apache Indians – united in their language and similar culture but divided in many other ways – each vying for power as white settlers moved in from the east and south. Conflict was bound to arise; and it did.

This book begins with the kidnapping of a young boy named Felix Ward by a group of Apaches. This abduction would set off a chain of events that led to, as the subtitle makes clear, the longest war in American history. In large measure, this is the story of Felix Ward – a half-Irish, half-Mexican adopted Apache who would be involved in the war between the white men and the Apaches until all of them were on reservations in Florida, Alabama, or Oklahoma. He was renamed Mickey Free and often acted as a mediator between his people – the white man on one side, the Apache on the other. He’s one of the only characters that makes it all the way through the book. Nearly every other figure mentioned, American or Apache, ends up living a short, nasty, brutish life.

Hutton does an admirable job at weaving the different threads of history together to craft an intelligible narrative. Unfortunately, since this is a history of a rather large piece of land over a lengthy period of time, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of names. Some characters will be introduced as children and then, an hundred pages later re-enter the story as adolescents or men. This can leave the reader trying to remember how all of the characters fit into the story. Likewise, many of the Apaches are related to one another and all of the relationships can become confused – especially when several of the Apaches have the same, or very similar names. However, none of this is necessarily Hutton’s fault. It’s just the nature of writing this type of history book.

Regardless, the writing is solid and the narrative keeps the reader interested from the first page until the last. There’s enough murder, lying, backstabbing, and cheating to fill a day-time soap for years. And Hutton isn’t afraid to let the blame fall on both sides – American and Apache. It’s clear that neither side had clean hands. But that’s history, isn’t it? We like to look back and separate everyone into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ but too often, the reality is far more messy than that.

The fact is, men are sinful. This book is a tragic reminder of that fact.

It would be wise for us to read this kind of history – the kind that reveals not only America’s triumphs but also her warts. It’s an important reminder that America has always had her issues, just like every other nation in the world. But, as Christians, we needn’t despair. The Kingdom of God awaits – a nation without spot or wrinkle.

May we never forget where our true citizenship lies.

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