You are on page 1of 3

THE SANTA FEAN MAGAZINE, January-F€bruary 1992, l5

GERONIMO Story, Charles Bennett


vor 20 No. 1 JAN_FEB. 1992

Readers of the Santa Fe daily New Mexican

forgot the sultry days of early September when they ffi''.*'*
read the headline proclaiming the surrender of
Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo. The surren-
der had taken place September 5, 1886, at Skeleton
W-l\ rffi'ff;
Canyon, a rugged, age-old Apache raiding route
between old Mexico and the Arizona mountains sev-
eral miles west of the New Mexico-Arizona bound- Geronimo, ca. 1885
s photo-C,S. Fly
ary. courtesy, Museum of
Rumors that Geronimo had surrendered had New Mexico. Neg. 14272

been circulating in Santa Fe during the previous

week. But a telegram to headquarters in Santa Fe
from General Bradley, commander of the Military
District of New Mexico, who at the time was direct-
ing troops in southwestern New Mexico against
Geronimo, confirmed the surrender. With Geroni-
mo when he surrendered were Chief Naiche, the
son of the famous chief Cochise; sixteen other war-
riors; fourteen women; and six children.
It had taken a force of 5000 U.S. troops and
4000 Mexican soldiers to force the surrender of
Geronimo and his small band, who were outnum-
bered more than 500 to 1 (ratio of fighting effec-
tives). It had also taken an international treaty
between the United Sates and Mexico and two of the
most prominent generals experienced in Indian
warfare. Other advantages utilized by the federal
government included the most modern military
equipment, steam, electricity, the telegraph, the
railroad, the heliograph (a device consisting of mir-
rors mounted on a tripod with which operators
could flash messages from mountaintops 25 to 30
miles away), and Apache Indian scouts and trackers.
Geronimo carried on his last campaign successfully
for five months against these odds. His final sur-
render involved negotiations more intricate and
time consuming that those following Burgoyne's
surrender of his entire army during the American .'t \;
Revolution, and after Lee's capitulation at Appo-
mattox ending the U.S. Civil War. The terms of
peace reached with Geronimo specified that he and
his band surrendered "as prisoners of war to an
army in the field," effectively removing them from
the jurisdiction of civil authorities.
Following the surrender, Geronimo, his 37
1 HE SA.NTq FEA,\' ITIAGAZ l\[, January-February | 992. | 6

followers, and 394 of his tribesmen were sent to groups were defeated and placed on reservattons.
detention in Florida. Later, Geronimo's people, Several forts were built or regarrisoned beginning
except for those who had died of tuberculosis and in 1862 in order that troops could be stationed in
other diseases or the children who had been sent to southern New Mexico to provide protection from
the Indian School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania were hostile Indians.
kept in captivity for more than 20 years in Florida, From his headquarters in Santa Fe General
Alabarna, and finally Oklahoma. But the Chiric- Carleton ordered militia colonel Christopher "Kit"
ahuas never gave up hope of returninS to their Carson to gather the Mescalero Apaches and Nava-
southwestern mountains. jos on a reser.,ration established on the Pecos River
Geronimo was a remarkable individual whose in New Mexico at a place called Bosque Redondo.
impact on history was significant. He is credited as By 1864 this task was accomplished' On his return
the last American Indian to surrender formally to to Santa Fe, Carson received a hero's rvelcome. But
the United States Government. Geronimo gave his removing people from their native lands, convert-
own account of his life during his 23 years of cap- ing them to Christianity, and turning them into
tivity. Firsthand narratives of Apache warriors who farmers proved disastrous. By the summer of 1868
followecl him in battle also exist, as well as reminis- the reseruation was dissolved, and the Navajos were
cences of men and women who knew him personal- allorved to return to their homeland' The
ly. Thus, it is possible to separate the man from the Mescaleros had already fled Bosqud Redondo in
fictional paragon. 1865.
Geronimo was not considered a "chief" Meanwhile, the western Apache tribes t'vere
among his people, but he was a medicine man and a terrorizing southwestern New Mexico, Arizona, and
leader. His band was the southernmost of the Chir- northern Mexico. Geronimo's name seems first to
icahua Apaches. He was born in the late 1820s in have come to public notice in 1876, when the reser-
the area of the headwaters of the Gila River in what vation the government had established specifically
is today the Gila Wilderness of the Gila National for the bands of the Chiricahuas- their traditional
Forest in southwestern New Mexico. His youth was homeland- was dissolved. The dissolution was
spent on both sides of the border during a time of prompted by two incidents: several non-lndians had
increasing conflict between his people and non- been killed after they illegally sold whiskey to some
Indians. both Americans and Mexicans. A turnin$ Chiricahuas; and a factional fight between disparate
point in Geronimo's life occurred when Mexican elements within the Chiricahua tribe had resulted
solcliers surprise attacked a group of Chiricahuas in the deaths of seven warriors. As a consequences
who were trading at Janos, Chihuahua. Geronimo's of these incidents, and other alleged depredations
mother, wife, and his three small children were over the course of years, the giovernment decided to
killed. As a consequence of this experience he move the entire Chiricahua Apache Tribe to the San
received the gift of the "Power," which to the Chir- Carlos Apache Resen'ration in east central Artzona'
icahuas was the life force of the universe, which dis- At the conference where the Chiricahua were told
tinguished him as a medicine man. they must leave their homeland Geronimo seemed
The western Apache tribes, includin$ the to be one of the principal leaders.
Chiricahuas, ranged throughout southwestern New Although the majority of the Chiricahuas,
Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and the northern about 325 people, went to San Carlos, Geronimo's
states of Mexico. They were superb warriors. and another band fled. He reappeared six weeks lat-
unusually adept at guerrilla lvarfare, perfectly er at another reservation set aside for the Apaches
attuned to the arid environment of the Southwest, at Warm Springs, New Mexico about 40 miles
anrl highly intelligent and resourceful people to northwest of present Truth or Consequences. This
boot. In the perception of the federal $overnment, failure to heed the order to vacate his homeland for
the western Apache were an extremely difficult peo- the San Carlos reservation branded Gerontmo a
ple to bring under control. renegiade in the eyes of the federal government.
FollolvinS the unsuccessful Confederate cam- The next year the Commissioner of Indian
paign in New Mexico Territory in 1862, New Mexico Affairs in Washington ordered Geronimo and other
federal and territorial officials turned their atten- renegades living on the Warm Springs Reservation
tion to military action agiainst hostile Apache and to be arrested, removed to San Carlos, and held in
Navajo Indians. In Santa Fe, Governor Henrl Con- confinement for murder and robbery. In all proba-
nelly; Superintendent of New Mexico Indian Affairs bility the Chiricahuas had continued their custom
James Collins; and the commander of the Military of raiding in northern Mexico and returnin$ to the
Department of New Mexico, General James Car- Warm Springs Reservation with stolen horses'
leton, devised a strate$y to remove these semi- Subsequently, on April 21, 7877, Geronimo was
nomadic Indians who, feeling increasin$ pressures lured to reservation headquarters for a council,
of continued intrusion into their land, had stepped arrested, shackled, and with his band marched to
up their raids on livestock herds and aSainst set- San Carlos, where preparations were made to hang
tlers and prospectors. One by one these Indian him and some others. But because of a government
THE S[''JTA FEAI{ MAGAZINE January-February 1992. 17

snafu Geronimo was released. the band encountered an Anglo whiskey peddler,
Life at the San Carlos Reservation did not giot drunk, and fled to the mountains once more.
agree with the Chiricahuas. Far from their home- At last, on September 3, 1886, General Nelson
land, starving, poorly clothed, and dying from Miles presided at the final and unconditional sur-
smallpox and ill from malaria, the Chiricahuas render of Geronimo, although the warrior had not
began saving their flour ration and other supplies, understood the "unconditional" part of the terms.
and stockpiling guns and ammunition. Geronimo He and the other members of his band were sent to
and a group of Chiricahuas left the San Carlos exile and prison in Florida. There and at Fort Sill,
reservation in April 1878, and headed for Mexico. Oklahoma, five years later, Geronimo earned money
After attacking a wagon train, killing the drivers by selling pictures of himself and small bows and
and seizing food and ammunition, and fighting off arrows with his name on them. He came to be
an attack by U.S. troops, Geronimo and his band regarded as a public attraction and was a popular
reached the Sierra l4adre of Mexico, where they feature at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi International
joined another renegade band of Chiricahuas. Exposition in Omaha, the Pan-American Exposition
Geronimo and his band remained at large for in Buffalo in 1901, and the St. Louis World's Fair in
more than a year, when, possibly because he was 1904. He died in 1909 at Fort Sill on the federal
concerned that his band would be held accountable payroll as an army scout.
for raiding by other Apache groups, he returned to The opening of the Trans-Mississippi West to
the San Carlos Reservation. He remained incon- settlement occurred at the expense of the Amerrcan
spicuous there until 1881, when his and other Indians as the European-based cultures spread
Apache bands again broke out. In 1883 he was per- across the West from the south and east. As a prod-
suaded by General George Crook to surrender, uct of his time, the Indian Wars period of U.S. his-
although he did not actually give himself up until tory- the 25 years following the U.S. Civil War-
February 1884- and then under his own terms. Geronimo emerges as perhaps the most defiant
He again broke out from the reservation in May Indian leader to refuse to relinquish his homeland
1885; and in March 1886 General Crook again without a fight, or to submit to the federal govern-
effected a conditional surrender. En route to Fort ment's inconsistent policies and false treaties. He
Bowie, Arizona, the agreed upon place of surrender, was the proud victim of a changing time. 1