An Apache raiding party crossed Sonoita Creek southeast of Tucson, Arizona Territory, to steal the cattle grazing on John Ward’s ranchland. But they came away with something more valuable.


In late January 1861, the Apache spotted the rancher’s young stepson, Felix Martinez Ward, trying to hide. They eventually captured him and took him away. Several efforts by the military to locate and rescue the young man failed.

Army Lieutenant George Bascom, the leader of one of the rescue parties, ended up in a deadly confrontation with Chiricahua Chief Cochise over the abduction.

The dispute turned into a prolonged war between the U.S. and the Chiricahua—a conflict cooler heads might have avoided. The start of the Civil War further hampered rescue efforts. 

Felix, born in Sonora, Mexico, in about 1847, was the son of Jesusa Martinez and Santiago Tellez. After Tellez died, his mother married John Ward.

Two decades later, Santiago Ward—the young man’s foster brother—received news he could find his brother on the San Carlos Reservation

Soon after arriving, Ward discovered Felix had adopted the traditions and ways of the Apache.

On December 2, 1872, Felix, who now called himself Mickey Free, enlisted in the U.S. Army as a scout at Fort Verde, Arizona Territory.

During his career, he distinguished himself with legendary tracking skills. Some accounts refer to Free as a half-breed Apache, but he had no Apache lineage

Considered trilingual, Free spoke fluent English, Spanish, and several Apache dialects.

Free worked for Al Sieber, the well-known chief of scouts for the Army. Sieber harbored some misgivings about Free’s truthfulness but respected Free’s abilities and skills.

Adversaries feared Free because of his reputation for always bringing in his man—often dead. But Southwestern historian Dan Thrapp, in his Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: A-F, wrote that Free “is never known to have killed a man…”

Free rose to the rank of First Sergeant, worked as a scout until 1893 and eventually retired to the White Mountain Reservation.

Married four times, he fathered two sons and two daughtersFree died in the summer of 1915 among his people near Whiteriver. 


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4 comments to “THE ABDUCTION”

  • Shelley

    Did Mickey Free ever desire to rekindle his relationship with his natural mother?

  • Shelley, I’ve never found any mention of him reuniting with his mother. His father had died in 1867. His mother, however, was 25 years younger than John Ward, so it is possible she was still alive when he became an Army scout. But it’s difficult to find any information on her except for her moving in with Ward. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Fred Staff

    In my book INDOMITABLE the story is told of Bascom and the blunder he made that led to the 25 yearlong Apache war that nearly cleared Arizona of settlers. It is good to see your recount of history.

  • Thanks, Fred. For the record, “INDOMITABLE: The Laura Pennington Story” (https://amzn.to/3uoYK1z) describes the kidnapping and insufferable ordeal of a 23-year old pioneer woman also abducted by the Apache.

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