Apache Chief Geronimo: a fierce warrior and leader
Hope you are doing well and have been enjoying yourself! Yesterday, on the West Coast of Canada, the sun was shining and the sky was blue 🙂 I also just attended a sweat and got rid of a few things and feelings I needed to get rid of. Feels good! A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of Geronimo on this site’s Facebook page and said that an article was coming about this great Apache chief. So here it is!! A wonderful and fierce leader and medicine man. And one hell of a warrior! Let’s talk about Apache Chief Geronimo.
Geronimo’s early years
Geronimo was born in June 1829 in No-Doyohn Canyon, in present day New Mexico (which was still Mexico at the time). Geronimo’s traditional name is Goyathlay or “One who yawns” and he belonged to a small Chiricahua Apache tribe, the Bedonkohe. Geronimo was born in a time when the Apache people were surrounded by enemies. The Mexicans for one as well as rival tribes such as the Comanche and the Navajo. Because yes, rivalry between tribes was huge back then. At times, it was survival of the fittest and everyone did what was needed to survive, including stealing and killing members of other tribes. The Apache were especially known to raid their neighbors when they were out of food for example. It was just part of the lifestyle. As a way to counteract the actions of the Apache people, the Mexican government (as at the time it was Mexican land), began offering rewards for Apache scalps. Yes you read that right. The scalp of a child for example was worth $25 (a significant amount of money at the time). The scalp of a child!!
Early on Geronimo’s bravery and warrior like skills were noticed. As a child, it is said that he swallowed the heart of his first kill to bring him luck and success. Not for the faint of heart, no pun intended! Some say he was born a leader and began the life of a raider and a hunter early on. By the age of 17, he had already led four successful raids. Some said that he was blessed with a gift that made him invincible to bullets (see below). Whether or not that was the case, Geronimo escaped death and the authorities more times than what would seem humanly possible!
And then he fell in love…
But that did not stop him! Around the age of 17, Geronimo also met and fell in love with his first wife, Alope, with whom he had 3 children. Geronimo, embodying the Apache aggressiveness and courage continued to go on and lead raids, leaving his wife and children at home. He also continued to go on trading excursions into Mexico. A pivotal moment happened in 1858 when, coming back from one of those trading excursions, Geronimo found his wife, three young children and his mother, murdered by the Spanish troops. I can only imagine what he then felt. Pure hatred for the “opposition” and a desire to kill as many enemies as possible. There are unfortunately no picture of his first wife.
Geronimo, in the Apache tradition, burned his family’s belongings and went to mourn and grieve his losses into the woods. It is then that some say he received his aforementioned gift. According to the story, Geronimo heard a voice, while alone and crying, that promised him he would never get hurt by guns.
And then he wanted revenge
Pumped by his vision, he rallied his troops and went looking for the Mexican soldiers who had killed his family. This was the beginning of years of raids and obtaining revenge against the Mexican authorities. However, this was also the time when the USA took over territory that until then was the Mexicans’. This was also around the same time as the gold rush in the USA and Lord behold, gold was found on the lands of the Apache. Settlers and miners rushed in invading the Apache land. In their tradition, the Apache said “hell no” (my own interpretation here…..) and began ambushing wagons and stagecoaches coming in.
And he escaped the authorities…
In a move that shocked and disappointed Geronimo, Chief Cochise, his father-in-law at the time, called the war quit and agreed for the Apache people to be placed on an established reservation. But as one can see from Cochise’s date of death on the picture on the right, he died soon after. The American government then went back on their word and moved the Chiricahua people north, giving their former land to the settlers.
Geronimo wanted none of that and fled. He was eventually caught in 1877 and brought back to the reservation (Native people back then were not allowed to live outside of the reservation).
Geronimo tried to adapt to this way of life and his reservation but he was never happy. He fled again after 4 years in September 1881. By that time, Geronimo had made quite a name for himself and the American and Mexican authorities mobilized thousand of soldiers to find him. In May 1882, Apache scouts for the US army managed to penetrate his sanctuary in the mountains. He once again made his way back to the dreaded reservation.
His later years
For the next 4 years, the same pattern took place: escape, surrender, escape, surrender. In 1886, he surrendered one last time (often seen as the last Indian war in the USA) and the Chiricahua were moved to Florida. 450 men, women and children were moved to Fort Marion and Fort Pickens, Florida. Basically becoming prisoners of war. They then moved to Alabama and in 1894, they were moved one last time, this time to Fort Still, Oklahoma. Geronimo and his troops were then stuck in a prison camp and he became a rancher.
In his later years, Geronimo became a bit of a celebrity among the White people, as many wanted to see this “great brave Apache warrior”. in 1905, he wrote his biography and got to meet privately with then president Theodore Roosevelt. He even rode in the president’s inaugural parade.
In 1909, while still a prisoner of war, stuck in Fort Still, Geronimo got thrown off a horse he was riding. He survived the night and was found by a friend the next day. He remained alive for 6 extra days but eventually succumbed. His last words were “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive”.
Geronimo spent his whole life fighting the system, fighting for the freedom of his people. Some say he was never a chief but rather a medicine man, a seer, an intellectual and spiritual leader. Many sought his wisdom and advice. But many also perceived him as being stubborn and driven by revenge (for the death of his family), thus putting his people in danger. I think that no matter how one sees it, Geronimo was a leader who wanted his people to be free. He wanted to continue to live the life his people had always led. On the land that was the land of their ancestors. And that to me, is one hell of a good reason to speak up and not surrender. But like other great chiefs such as Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph, he also knew when he needed to surrender for the life of his people. He nonetheless died never able to see and be home again. And that makes me sad.
Did you enjoy learning about the life of Apache Chief Geronimo? Comment below and I will answer you 🙂
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