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
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
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
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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