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Geronimo

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When Taza and the Chiricahua Apaches were ordered removed to the San Carlos Reservation in May, 1876, many of them fled across the border to Mexico. Among the leaders of the exodus was Geronimo, who was born in Bedonkohe, was later a follower of the Membreno chief, Mangus Colorado, and then a confederate of Taza's father, Cochis. His real name was Goyathlay and he was 46 years old when he went to Mexico.
The hatred of the Apaches for the Mexicans was great, and Geronimo had no difficulty in getting followers to raid the Mexicans. Before long Geronimo's band had large herds of horses and cattle, which they sold to white ranchers in New Mexico. The money went for new guns, clothes, ammunition and whiskey. The leader himself was particularly fond of whiskey.

Indian Agent John Clum, under orders from Washington, took his Apache police to the Ojo Caliente Reservation in New Mexico to transfer the Membrenos and others to San Carlos and was specifically told to bring in Geronimo, who was known to be hiding out nearby. Both Geronimo and Victorio were brought before an Army court. Victorio was released, but Geronimo was chained and placed in the guardhouse. He was kept a prisoner for four months and then released at San Carlos. Geronimo and his band stayed there until September, 1881, when a rumor was spread that the Army was going to arrest all of the former hostiles. The presence of a heavy concentration of troops at the agency seemed to lend credence to the story, so Geronimo and some 70 Chiricahuas slipped away in the night and raced to their Mexican stronghold in the Sierra Madres.
Geronimo's band returned in six months and persuaded a large number of Apaches of several tribes to return with them to the Sierras. Colonel George A. (Sandy) Forsyth pursued with six companies of cavalry. Near the border, at Horseshoe Canyon, the troopers caught up with the Apaches, but were held at bay long enough for the main body of Indians to escape across the border, with the women and children in front. A Mexican infantry regiment saw the approaching horde of Indians and attacked, killing many of the survivors, and he led his remaining followers on to join forces with another renegade band headed by nana, a withered old chief who was one of the few survivors of Victorio's slaughtered band. Other Apaches, in small groups, continued to sneak away to join their kinsmen in Mexico.

General George Crook, the famed Indian fighter of the Black Hills campaign, was put in charge of the Department of Arizona. Crook knew Indians well and believed in dealing fairly with his charges. He instituted reforms at San Carlos that made the plight of the Apaches on the reservation less desperate. It was Crook's desire to avoid warfare with the renegade Apaches and he set about making plans to meet with Geronimo. He organized a small expeditionary force of about 50 soldiers, several interpreters and some 200 reservation Apaches, many of the latter being selected because they had been involved in earlier raids in Mexico. Crook waited with his men near the border and, on March 21, 1883, some Apaches raided a mining camp near Tombstone, Arizona. This gave Crook an excuse to cross the border and, after several weeks of searching, he located the Chiricahua stronghold.

Geronimo led a raid against Mexican cattle ranchers in May. He was pursued by Mexican soldiers, but Geronimo ambushed the Mexicans in a canyon and then escaped. When he arrived at the Sierras, Geronimo learned that Crook had taken over the camp and held all the women and children. Under a flag of truce Geronimo and Crook held three long councils and finally came to terms. Crook insisted that the Apaches would be treated fairly if they returned to the reservation to make their way as farmers and stockers. To prove that he trusted them, Crook permitted the Apaches to keep their guns and offered Geronimo all the time he need to gather his followers and bring to San Carlos. Crook returned with 123 warriors, including even the ancient Nana, and 251 woman and children.
Eight months later Geronimo and his lieutenant, Chato, arrived along with a herd of cattle stolen from the Mexicans. Crook ordered the cattle sold and returned and proceeds ($1, 762.50) to Mexico.

There followed more than a year of peace, with even the surly Geronimo working hard to make a "go" of ranching. Outsiders who still feared the Indians accused Crook of being "too soft" on them and built Geronimo's name into gigantic proportions as a fearsome monster.

Geronimo, Nana, Mangus (son of Mangus Colorado) and Chihuahua got drunk on the night of May 17, 1885, and decided to go to Mexico. They departed with 92 woman and children, eight youths and 34 men, cutting the telegraph wires on the way. Geronimo, who lived in fear of arrest for some of his earlier indiscretions, wanted only to go to Mexico away from white rule, but rumors and newspaper stories convinced the public that Geronimo was raiding again.

Chihuahua changed his mind and tried to return to the reservation with a small group, but ran into troops and had to fight, He then started back to Mexico, making several raids along the way because of the delays. Geronimo was blamed for these by the public. Crook left for Mexico with orders to kill or capture the fugitives by unconditional surrender. On March 25, 1886, Geronimo and Crook held council for three days and the Apaches agreed to surrender. On the way back, Geronimo and some of his men thought about what would happen to them-imprisonment or death-and decided to run away again. Again, Geronimo and his friends had gotten hold of some liquor.

Crook was reprimanded by the War Department and he offered his resignation immediately. He was replaced by General Nelson A. Miles, who immediately put a huge force into the field, consisting of 5,000 troops, almost as many civilian irregulars, and hundreds of Apache scouts. Geronimo and his 24 men were chased all over Arizona and New Mexico and finally gave themselves up to Lieutenant Charles Gatewood and two Apache scouts.

President Grover Cleveland was of the opinion that Geronimo should be hanged. Instead, Geronimo and many of his friends were sent to the Florida prison for incorrigible Indians. The place was a hell of disease and death, but even worse was a post on the Mobile River in Alabama, Mount Vernon Barracks, where the Apaches later were incarcerated. Finally, through the efforts of Crook, John Clum and other white men who sympathized with their Indian friends, some of the Apaches were returned to San Carlos. The Geronimo and the Chiricahuas into the state.

In a curious reversal of an ancient relationship, the Kowas and Comanches at Fort Sill offered to share their reservation with Geronimo's tribe-their traditional enemies. The remnants of the Chiricahua arrived at Fort Sill in 1894.

Geronimo was by then a wizened old man, short and stocky and with the hard features expected of so notorious a renegade. He was also drinking heavily. Although he remained a prisoner of war, he was not kept in the guardhouse except when he became drunk and disorderly-which was frequently. He had photographs made of himself which he sold for 50 cents or a dollar, and even made a trip to the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 where he was a notable tourist attraction. He also traveled to towns such as Lawton, Oklahoma, where he sold hand made bows and arrows. The pitiable, drunken old man became a living legend with as many stories told of his exploits as were told about Billy the Kid or Jesse James. Similarly, some of them were sympathetic, blaming the Mexicans for his warlike activities because (it was said) they murdered his child bride when he was a youth.
The man who had escaped death even when his enemies numbered in the thousands was brought to his end by another enemy: alcohol. One night Geronimo fell into a drunken sleep in the back of a wagon. It was raining and very cold. The owner of the wagon later drove toward his home, not knowing the aged chief was asleep in the wagon bed. Along the road, Geronimo fell from the bed and lay unconscious in the wet and muddy road. When found, he was suffering from pneumonia and near death, and he breathed his last on February 17, 1909. He was buried at the reservation.

A rumor persists that his body was stolen by some of his friends and returned to one of the haunts of his years of freedom, perhaps in the Sierra madres.

A number of Geronimo's descendents have been well known in various fields of endeavor. One of his grandsons was Charlie Stevens, who was a well known character actor in hundreds of Hollywood films and a close friend of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

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