The Apache Warrior

D Moreno

Geronimo-was known as a fierce and brave warrior that only legends are made of. Personal tragedy would shape his lifelong hatred for anyone who attempted to subject him or his people. Born to the Bedonkohe tribe of the Chiricahua Apache's in the month of June in 1829, near the headwaters of the Gila River, present day Arizona. There within the mountainous canyons, and scattered valleys, where fields of boundless prairies lie, he would train to be a warrior, shooting the bow, caring for the horses, and learning to make tools. By the time he was ten years old he was hunting and by the age of fourteen, he was being trained for war. He was given the birth name Goyahkla (Goth-lyka) which in Apache means “One who Yawns”. He was not called the name “Geronimo” until much later in his life, after the Mexicans would call out to St. Jerome when faced with him in battle. Geronimo is Jerome in Spanish. After the Mexicans called him that during a battle, the name stuck and afterwards everyone, including the Apache’s, called him by Geronimo.

In 1846 he was seventeen, he was admitted to the council of the warriors. He had long desired to fight with the warriors, but his greatest joy was that he could now marry the one he truly loved, Alope. Her father had asked for many horses when he asked for her hand in marriage, and by the next day he had a herd of horses. This was all the custom needed for a marriage. He was happy and content living in peace. Him and his wife had three children whereas they too would play in the scattered valleys and boundless prairies.

In the summer of1851, the tribe would go south into old Mexico to trade. They would usually trade with the neighboring Mexican towns. Mangas Coloradas had organized a trading mission to Casas Grandes and had stopped enroute at Janus. Since it was a peaceable mission, the men had brought along their wives and children and had set up camp just outside the town. Leaving the women and children in the camp, one afternoon, General Carrasco from Senora had crossed into Chihuahua, and found the camp. The Mexican troops killed all the warriors of guard and several women and children and had taken some captive to sell as slaves. They also destroyed the supplies and took the horses. When Geronimo and the other men got back to the camp, there he found his aging mother, his wife and three children slain. That night was decided that they did not have the men or enough arms to fight the Mexicans. The chief, Mangas Coloradas gave the orders to head back to Arizona, leaving the dead upon the field. Everything Geronimo had was taken from him, and he vowed upon vengeance on the troops who had wronged him. It was at this time they say Ussen, (the giver of life), gave him the power that made him a great warrior. Not all chiefs would get the power. He believed he heard Ussen speak to him, “no gun can ever kill you”. Subsequently, Geronimo would lead small groups of warriors to take revenge against the Mexicans. During this time much of the Southern Apache territory was still in Mexico. Until the Gadsden Treaty, the US/Mexican border was defined as the Rio Grande and Gila Rivers. Geronimo’s first contact with the Americans probably came in the late 1851 when he heard that the white man was surveying land near his camp, and so he went to meet them. There was a treaty made between them by shaking hands and promising to be brothers. A formal treaty was signed in Santa Fe between Mangas Coloradas and other Apache leaders. The Apache's promised peace to the United States and free passage to its citizens through their territory. However, raids against the Mexicans continued.

The peace treaty would only last for a time, as there were hostilities between the Americans and the Native American tribes. Around 1861, the Bascom Massacre was a confrontation between the Apache Indians and the US Army in the Arizona territory. A band of an Apache tribe had raided the ranch of John Ward, who had taken several head of livestock and kidnapped his 12-year-old son. A large group of the U.S. infantry attempted to recover the boy, but they were unable to locate the tribe. They believed it was the Chiricahua Apache's who had taken him, but it was later determined it was the Coyotero Apache's who were responsible for the kidnapping. Geronimo would participate in numerous raids afterwards, against the Americans and Mexicans for the next several years. As many of the American policies were always changing and some promises never kept.

In 1872, the U.S. government created a reservation for the Chiricahua Apache's, they were brought into eternal submission. Yet, a defiant Geronimo would break out of the San Carlos reservation in Arizona with his followers three separate times. His knowledge of the surrounding hills helped him evade his pursuers. The more often Geronimo escaped the longer he was able to disappear, the more embarrassed the U.S. military and politicians grew. He would continue to escape skirmishes with the law enforcement of Anglo-Americans and Mexicans. He was wounded multiple times, but always recovered. His whole existence a hardship, a struggle, the Apache was whetted to a ferocity of edge, an endurance of temper. He had the ear of a cat, the cunning of a fox, the ferocious courage and tirelessness of the gray wolf. He would become a newspaper sensation. While on the loose, Geronimo and his band raided both Mexican and American settlements, sometimes killing civilians in the process.

In March of 1886, General Crook forced Geronimo to surrender, but at the last minute, he would escape. Five thousand U.S. soldiers and 3,000 Mexicans pursued the escapees. They held out for five months before Geronimo would turn himself in to General Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. Geronimo and fellow captives were sent to Fort Pickens, in Florida by train. Then Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama. He would eventually end up imprisoned at the Comanche and Kiowa reservation near Fort sill, Oklahoma. He would spend over 14 years at Fort Sill, leaving occasionally for government-approved trips to world fairs and wild west shows, where he would be put on display. He even participated in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration.

On February 17, 1909, Geronimo died of pneumonia, still classified as a prisoner of war. He was buried in Beef Creek Apache Cemetery in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was not until the act of Congress on August 1912 would remove the hated classification of prisoner of war from the remnants of the Chiricahua Apache's. He had been turned into a peaceful farmer, learning the lessons of civilization, but it is worthwhile to preserve the legends of the past which made him famous, in which he rose to be the perfect warrior.

  • Geronimo (1971). Barrett, Stephen Melvil; Turner, Frederick W. (eds.). Geronimo: His Own Story. The Autobiography of a Great Patriot Warrior. New York City: Ballantine Books.
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I write a variety of local, unique and historical articles. BA in History

Roswell, NM

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