Sunday, February 10, 2019

Geronimo's Death 1909

For many of us growing up in the 1950s and '60, we heard constant references to Geronimo. In most cases it was a scene where someone is talking about the "Apache Chief." Of course one of the things about those old movies and television westerns, they placed the Apache and Geronimo in places and situations that they were never in.

Also, while very well known as a Chief, Geronimo was not a Chief among the Mescalero-Chiricahua or any other band of Apache. He was a medicine-man and leader for the the Bedonkohe band of Apache. He's considered a great warrior, who led anywhere from 30 to 50 Apaches men and women on raids. But no, he was not considered a Chief. He had a following because he was smart and understood how to conduct raids and wage war against sheriff's posses and the U.S. Army.

Raids were a way of life for the Apache. They raided the Spanish when they were in power, and they raided American civilians after they arrived. They used raids as a way of conducting war, but mostly as a way of survival. During raids, they stole cattle and horses, as well as other livestock. No, it was not out of the question for a raiding party to go off with a pig or chickens. They would also rob their targets of food, supplies, clothing, and anything else they saw worth stealing. They were well known to kill the occupants of the homes and ranches that they raided. Besides killing them, they were known to torture and mutilate their victims. Yes, before setting fire to their homes, barns, other outbuilding, hay storage, and even wagons, on their way out.

Americans reacted by responding with attacks. Of course, as with anyone attacking without prejudice, sans torture and mutilation, the retaliation against the Apache was as ruthless and without quarter. In many cases, since there was no real way of knowing what Apache were involved in the attacks on settlers, the retaliation was not limited to those doing the raids. For years, as with the Spanish and Mexicans, Americans were raided and retaliated in a vicious cycle of attack and revenge while the body count mounted.

It's said that there were those of Geronimo's own Chiricahua tribe, those who respected his skill in battle and knew of his reputation as an effective leader, who did not like him. In fact, because of his carelessness when organizing raids, he was seen as using his followers for his own means instead of for the good of the Apache people. His followers saw Geronimo's supposed "powers" as sort of super-natural gifts. As a medicine-man, he was very powerful in his tribe who had many followers. But while he definitely had his followers, those Apache who really did stand in awe of the medicine that Geronimo possessed, there were others who saw his "powers" as nothing more than hate for whites.

In June of 1829, Geronimo was born with the name Goyaale which means "the one who yawns." He was born to the Bedonkohe band of the Apache, in No-Doyohn Canyon near Arizpe, Sonora, near Turkey Creek, which is a tributary of the Gila River. At the time it was still a part of Mexico. Today, that area is in the present-day state of New Mexico.  

As is not surprising to anyone, his parents raised him according to Apache traditions. And later after his father died, his mother gave him to the Tchihende Apache. He grew up with that tribe, and at age 17 was married to a woman named Alope. She was from the Nedni-Chiricahua band of Apache. They had three children. Believe it or not. she was the first of nine wives. 

While most Apache leaders saw the advantages of raiding the Americans as a means to survive on plunder, it's said that Geronimo was different. There is a belief that Geronimo waged a personal war of revenge for the murder of his family. Yes, revenge on Mexicans and Americans. Both of which he saw as white.

On March 5, 1858, a company of 400 Mexican soldiers from Sonora led by Colonel José María Carrasco attacked the Tchihende camp outside Janos, pronounced Kas-Ki-Yeh in Apache. It's said that Geronimo and the majority of the other men of the band were in town getting supplies when the attack took place. The Mexican soldiers wiped out the village. Among those slaughtered in the attack was his first wife, all three of their children, and his mother. 

Later, Geronimo said this of that massacre:

"Late one afternoon when returning from town we were met by a few women and children who told us that Mexican troops from some other town had attacked our camp, killed all the warriors of the guard, captured all our ponies, secured our arms, destroyed our supplies, and killed many of our women and children. Quickly we separated, concealing ourselves as best we could until nightfall, when we assembled at our appointed place of rendezvous — a thicket by the river. Silently we stole in one by one, sentinels were placed, and when all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain."

After that, Geronimo and his followers took revenge on any Mexican when they had the chance. He would hate Mexicans for the rest of his life, and lumped Americans in with them. He saw Mexicans and Americans as one and the same. He considered them all whites.

Geronimo's chief was a man by the name of Mangas Coloradas. He realized Geronimo's burning desire for revenge and sent him to Cochise's band. Chief Cochise was the leader of the Chihuicahui local group of the Chokonen. He was well recognized chief of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache. His band would be the one's to give him the name Geronimo.

The story of his name is interesting in that there are a number of different reasons given for that band calling him Geronimo. Supposedly, it was the result of how he conducted himself during a fight with a group of Mexican soldiers. During that fight, he ignored the gunfire and charged the Mexican soldiers with a knife and started slashing away. Some say he fought as if possessed and the soldiers supposedly called out "Jerónimo" during the fight. Jerónimo being Spanish for Saint Jerome who they were supposedly asking for help.

I really don't put a lot of faith in that version simply because I have a hard time believing that soldiers in battle will be calling out the name of the patron Saint of archaeologists, scholars, librarians, students, and translators. I can see them calling out for the patron Saints of soldiers which are Saint Ignatius, Saint George, and of course Saint Michael.

Others say Geronimo was simply a name he got from that band, and it's translation is lost. So really, from what I can tell, no one really knows the meaning of it.

Geronimo and members of the Tchihende, the Tsokanende and the Nednhi bands of the Chiricahua Apache waged war on the United States in what is today New Mexico and Arizona. When he was finally captured, he was placed on a Apache reservation in Arizona. Reservation life was one of confinement. For free-ranging Apache, it's no wonder they had a great deal of animosity for those who have changed their way of life. Of course, just because he was placed on a reservation didn't mean that he was staying there and actually broke-out on three different occasions.

In 1886, after an intense pursuit, Geronimo surrendered for the last time to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood who was an Apache-dialect speaking West Point graduate. When Geronimo was later transferred to General Nelson Miles, the general is said to have treated Geronimo as a prisoner of war and sent him to Fort Bowie. From there, he and others who General Miles saw as combatants were sent to join the rest of the Chiricahua tribe relocated to Florida.

After his capture, Arizona's civil authorities wanted him tried and hanged for the deaths of a large number of Americans who he was responsible for killing during this raids. The U.S. Army pressed jurisdiction and asserted that he was a prisoner of war. Of course, while supposedly a prisoner of war, a POW, believe it or not, the man responsible for the murder and mutilation of a great number of Americans actually achieved a celebrity status of sorts. Yes, so much so that an Eastern newspaper who was a sponsor for 1898 Trans-Mississippi International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska.

He was also invited to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis to be their guest there. In an act which angered a lot of folks in the Southwest, the U.S. Army granted him leave and he showed up at the fair as an honored guest. While there, he is said to have rode a Ferris wheel and even sold souvenirs such as photographs of himself. Yes, while guarded be U.S.Army soldiers, Geronimo dressed in traditional Apache clothing and posed for photographs. In reality, the Apache leader Geronimo was turned into a tourist attraction.

After the fair, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show made a deal with the U.S. Army for Geronimo join the show. Of course, while again under guard since he was technically still a prisoner of war. In fact, he was allowed to travel with the show, always with soldiers assigned to be his guards. All in all, that Wild West Show made him a huge celebrity as well as a great deal of money.

Though technically still a prisoner of war, his celebrity status was so that he was invited to ride in President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 Inaugural Parade. And there in Washington D.C., accompanied by five real Native American Chiefs was Geronimo who rode horseback down Pennsylvania Avenue. All the while dressed in full headgear which was burrowed from the Wild West prop department.

Later during that Inauguration week, Geronimo met President Theodore Roosevelt. During their brief meeting, Geronimo asked that the Chiricahua Apache be relieved of their status as prisoners of war, and allowed to return to their homeland in Arizona. To his credit, President Roosevelt refused Geronimo's request. President Roosevelt stated the fact that there was a great deal of ongoing animosity in Arizona for what Geronimo and his band did not that long before their meeting. His band was responsible for the killing and mutilations of a large number of men, women, and children. Civilians who were not combatants who were killed in Geronimo's quest for revenge.

Supposedly, through an interpreter, President Roosevelt told Geronimo, "You killed many of my people; you burned villages, you murdered the innocent, and were not good Indians. You had a bad heart." 

As for his death? And I'm sure you were wondering when I was going to get around to talking about how Geronimo died. Well it wasn't in some hail of gunfire. Actually, in February of 1909, Geronimo was riding home when his horse spooked and he was thrown. Being thrown didn't kill him, but since he's said to have laid in the cold all that night before someone found him the next day, he contracted pneumonia. On February 17, 1909, he died of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He died at the Fort Sill hospital. He was buried at Fort Sill's Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery.

There's a story about how he told his nephew that he shouldn't have surrendered and instead have been killed like the others that he had gotten killed seeking revenge. But frankly, I have no idea where that legend comes from. To me, it may have just been something he said for his followers considering it seems that he was doing pretty good for himself after he "surrendered". Consider this, he married eight more women, made a lot of money on the Wild West circuit, sold a lot of pictures of himself, met the president of the United States, was treated as a celebrity in spite of being considered a "prisoner of war" which is sort of laughable since I gather some of the soldiers "guarding" him were known to quit and request other duty because they were more his servants than guards.

As for the supposed theft of Geronimo's skull which is another legend pertaining to Geronimo? There was a rumor going around in the 1920s that grave-robbers had dug him up and stolen his skull for one reason or another. The rumor took off until the U.S. Army got tired of denying that it ever happened. It was then in 1928, that the Army certified that the grave was not disturbed and would make sure it remained that way in the future. To do that, the folks in charge of Fort Sill ordered Geronimo's grave covered with concrete.

How did people see him when he was alive? During his time, Geronimo is said to have had a reputation of brutality that was unmatched by his contemporaries. With his followers, he had a reputation as a great warrior, a man with almost super natural powers. With Americans living in the East who were not affected by his raids, those who didn't know what he was responsible for doing, they saw him as a celebrity who some thought should not have been a prisoner of war guarded by the U.S. Army. For Americans in the Southwest, those whose families and friends were butchered in many cases, his reputation was one of a ruthless murderer, a butcher who evaded a noose.

Tom Correa

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