leader and medicine man, 1829
. Geronimo's real name was Goyathlay, which means "One Who Yawns". He was the feared enemy of the Mexican
s and the American
s in the southwest who led his people's defense of their homeland against the United States
military might. Geronimo was born at the Gila river near the town Clifton in southeast Arizona
. He married another Chiricahua Indian, Juana, and moved (in accordance to Apache practices) to her people. In 1858
his mother, wife and three children were killed by Mexican soldiers, creating a hate within him against all white people that would never go away.
The Mexicans gave him his famous name, Geronimo, (which is a form of "Jerome", from the Greek word "Hieronymos", which means "Holy Name" - thanks to Cletus the Foetus for pointing that out.) after his participation in an act of vengeance; Geronimo and fellow Indians attacked the Mexicans near Arizpe in Sonora, Mexico, in 1858. In 1876 the United States government moved the Chiricahua Apaches from their homes around the Chiricahua mountains to the dry San Carlos reservation in southeast Arizona with its non-fertile land. During the following years Geronimo remained rebellious, breaking out several times and cleverly leading small groups of warriors in raids in Arizona and Mexico.
General George Crook was assigned the task of hunting down these groups of Apaches. With a group of Apache scouts he successfully tracked down the refugees and forced them to return to the San Carlos reservation. The Indians became more and more depressed because of the poor, boring life in the reservation; the monotonous days were spent getting the food ration, quarreling, gambling and drinking beer.
Finally, on May 18 1885, Geronimo left the reservation with 34 warriors, 8 younger men and 92 women and children, headed towards the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico. This was sensational news in the papers. General Crook now had around 3000 men, including more than 200 apache scouts, hunting Geronimo. In the middle of January 1886 Crook's Apache scouts surprised Geronimo's main camp. Geronimo decided to meet Crook for peace talks. They met on Mars 26 in Cañón de Los Embudos and after a few days the Apaches agreed to unconditionally surrender and be sent east, most likely to Florida, as prisoners of war. They could only accept this if Crook promised they would be able to return to the reservation two years later; Crook finally agreed on this and gave them his word - a promise that wasn't kept.
Convinced that the Apaches would come after them to Fort Bowie in Arizona along with the Apache scouts, Crook hurried to submit a report to general Philip Sheridan and get a confirmation on the conditions he and the Apaches had agreed on. To his surprise, he was replied with a short telegram in which Sheridan said he did not agree on the conditions.
The following day Crook was told that Geronimo had "left his escort" and disappeared with 20 warriors and 19 women and children. Crook got a harsh reprimand for his "tolerance" with the Apaches, which led to him requesting to be assigned another mission.
General Nelson A. Miles took over after Crook and hunted Geronimo's small troop during the whole summer with 5000 white soldiers, hundreds of Apache scouts and a few thousand Mexican soldiers. He spread his troops and tried to guard every well and mountain pass. Hysteria was spread in the region when the Apaches - despite the massive man-hunt - managed to stay away, and from their hiding places they could carry out successful strikes. Finally, five months and 1645 miles later, lieutenant Gatewood and the Apache scouts Martine and Kayitah made contact with Geronimo deep in Sierra Madre's offshoot.
Geronimo wanted to know what the US government would offer if he gave up. Gatewood replied that they would only accept unconditional surrender and that Geronimo would then be deported to Florida. Geronimo replied with "Take us to the reservation or fight us". Gatewood then let Geronimo know that his family had already been moved to Florida with other Chiricahua Indians. This came as a shock to the old warrior and he promised to discuss with Miles.
On September 4, 1886, Geronimo finally surrendered to general Miles and was sent with the rest of his people as a prisoner of war to Fort Pickens, Pensacola, in Florida and then to Vermont, Alabama. Many Indians there died of epidemics and apathy. Geronimo and the remaining Chiricahua Apaches were sent to a more tolerable life at Fort Sill.
In 1904 Geronimo sold signed photos of himself at the St. Louis world fair, 50 cent a piece. He started to tell his life's story in 1905 to the school inspector Stephen Melvil Barrett who published the book "Geronimo's Story of His Life" a year later. Geronimo never saw Arizona again and died on February 17, 1909 after having pneumonia. He was buried at the Apache Cemetery, Cache Creek near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
"I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say." -- Geronimo
You can read Geronimo's autobiography at http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/B/geronimo/geronixx.htm.