The Chiricahua Apache leader Goyathlay, known as Geronimo. (National Archives)
The Chiricahua Apache leader Goyathlay, known as Geronimo. (National Archives)

To the Apaches, he was the embodiment of ancient values and warrior spirit. To the pioneers in Arizona and New Mexico, he was a bloodthirsty murderer. And to the U.S. government, Geronimo was a wily "hostile," as American Indians were called, who evaded capture so many times that the final search for him took several months, 5,500 troops, and 1,645 miles.

Geronimo was a Bedonkohe Apache shaman whose original name was Goyathlay, or "One Who Yawns." But his peaceful nature was forever changed when Spanish troops from Mexico murdered his wife, mother, and three young children in 1858. From that day on, he reportedly had such a hatred of whites that he took every opportunity to terrorize Mexican settlements — the Spanish soon christened him with their version of "Jerome" for his daring feats at Sonora. When the Chiricahua Apache were forced to move to arid reservation land at San Carlos, Ariz. — known as "Hell's Forty Acres" — in 1874, Geronimo fled with a band of followers into Mexico, eluding U.S. forces for over a decade.

Geronimo surrendered to Gen. George Crook in 1884 and spent a year farming on the San Carlos reservation, but took flight again in 1885 with a small band of men, boys, and women. On March 27, 1886, he again surrendered to Crook at Canon de Los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico. However, as they neared the border, Geronimo, fearing murder, bolted again with his small band. This incident, viewed as proof that Crook was too soft on the Indians, prompted Crook's resignation and the appointment of Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles as head of the Department of Arizona. Miles organized the more than 5,000 men who were employed at various times over the next five months to track the Apache band.

In late August, Miles' Lt. Charles Gatewood met with Geronimo and told him that all of his friends and relatives had already been transported to Florida, which left the brave Apache shaken. On Sept. 4, 1886, Geronimo formally surrendered to Gen. Miles at Skeleton Canyon with the promise that, after an indefinite exile in Florida, he and his followers would be allowed to return to their homeland.

The promise was never kept. Geronimo, the last leader of an American Indian fighting force to capitulate to the United States, lived out his last years in exile. Ironically, he became famous by appearing at the St. Louis World's Fair and in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural procession. Shortly after dictating his memoirs to S.M. Barrett in 1901, Geronimo died and was buried in the Apache Cemetery at Fort Sill, Okla.

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