GERONIMO–THE LAST APACHE HOLDOUT

 It’s been one hundred years since he died—and the mystique still surrounds Geronimo.

 Who was he, really?  Even now, historians can’t be completely sure of the facts.  Some biographers list his birth date as June of 1829.  Others say he was born somewhere between 1823-1825.  He was the fourth child in a family of four boys and four girls, but even his birth name is disputed.  Some say he was called “The One Who Yawns,” his name being “Goyathlay.”  Others spell it differently:  “Goyahkla.”  But by the time he was in his mid-twenties, he was called by the name we remember:  Geronimo

 In 1850, because his mother, his young wife, (Alope) and his three children were murdered in a raid on their village by Mexican troops, Geronimo pledged that he would avenge their deaths.  He received “the Power”—the life force of the universe that gave him supernatural abilities.  These included being able to see into the future, walk without leaving tracks, and hold off the dawn.  In a vision, he was told that no bullet would ever bring him down in battle, a prophecy that proved true.

 Geronimo fought so savagely, so fiercely, that the Mexican troops began to call to Saint Jerome for deliverance from him.  Thus, their cries for help became the name he was known by: Geronimo.

 In addition to fighting the Mexicans, Geronimo found himself and his Chiracahua Apache tribe at odds with the U.S. Government.  By the early 1870s, the federal government’s newly-instituted policy of placing the traditionally nomadic Apaches on reservations was the cause of regular uprisings.  Geronimo fought for his peoples’ hereditary land for years.

 In 1885, he led a group of more than 100 men, women and children in an escape from the reservation, to the mountains of Mexico.  During this time, his band was pursued by more than 5,000 white soldiers, and over 500 Indian auxiliaries were employed to achieve Geronimo’s capture.  It took over five months to track Geronimo to his camp in Mexico’s Sonora Mountains—over 1,645 miles away.

 On March 27, 1886, exhausted and hopelessly outnumbered, Geronimo surrendered.  His band consisted of only a few warriors, women and children.  Also found was a young captive, a white boy, name Jimmy “Santiago” McKinn who had been kidnapped six months earlier.  The boy had become so assimilated to the Apache way of life that he cried when he was forced to return to his parents.

 As the group began the trek back to Fort Bowie, Arizona, Geronimo and some of the warriors, women and boys escaped once more, making their way back into the Sierra Madre.

 On September 4, 1886, Geronimo surrendered for the last time to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon in southern Arizona.  He was sent to Florida in a boxcar, a prisoner of war.  It was May of 1887 before he was reunited with his family, and they were once again moved; this time, to Mount Vernon Barracks near Mobile, Alabama.

 In 1894, Geronimo was again moved with other Apaches to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  He attempted to try and fit in, farming and joining the Dutch Reformed Church.  He was expelled from the church for his penchant for gambling. 

 The federal government made many empty promises to Geronimo and his people, but they allowed him to keep the money he made from selling buttons from his clothing or posing for pictures at numerous fairs and exhibitions such as the Omaha Exposition in Omaha, NE (1898), the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY (1901), and the St. Louis World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO (1904).

 In 1905, Geronimo rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade.  It was also during this year that he told the story of his life to S. M. Barrett, who wrote “Geronimo: His Own Story”, which was published in 1906.

 In 1909, Geronimo was riding home after drinking too much.  He fell off of his horse and lay, wet and freezing, beside the road until he was discovered several hours later.  Never having seen his beloved Arizona homeland again, he died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909.

 Geronimo is buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in an Apache POW cemetery.  There is a simple stone monument at his gravesite where people still bring icons and offerings and leave them.  Baggies of sage, seashells, scraps of paper—homage to the greatest warrior who ever lived.

 Geronimo was not a chief.  He was not a medicine man.  He was a leader of men—a fighter whose battle tactics are studied still in military institutions.  In the quiet of the cemetery, his children, warriors, relatives and wives buried nearby, he is still a leader, respected and recognized all over the world. 

 Did you know:  “Apache” is a word for “street thug” in France?

Did you know:  There is a rumor that some of Geronimo’s warriors “disappeared” mysteriously from the boxcar as they were being transported to Florida?

 Did you know:  Signers of the Medicine Lodge Treaty were given burial rights in the main post cemetery at Fort Sill?  (Quanah Parker and others are buried with white soldiers in the regular base cemetery.)

 Did you know:  The custom of paratroopers yelling, “Geronimo!” is attributed to Aubrey Ebenhart, a member of the U.S. Army’s test platoon at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  He told his friends he would “yell Geronimo loud as hell when I go out that door tomorrow!” Which he did!

 In my novel, Fire Eyes, Kaed Turner was abducted by the Apaches as a young boy, just as Jimmy McKinn was kidnapped by Geronimo’s band.  Kaed and his younger siblings were traded to the Choctaw, where they were assimilated into the tribe.

  This excerpt is a remembrance between Kaed and Chief Standing Bear, the man who raised him.  I hope you enjoy it.

 Cheryl

EXCERPT FROM FIRE EYES

Standing Bear dismounted and came forward to stand beside Kaed, and Kaed turned his full attention to the warrior, waiting for the older man to speak.

It was as it had been all those years ago, when Kaed had come to live with the Choctaw people. The Apache had killed his mother and father, then taken Kaed and his younger brother and sister into captivity. The Choctaws had bartered with the Apaches for the youngsters, so they’d been raised in the Choctaw way.

The healing bruises Kaed wore today were reminiscent of the ones he’d been marked with when he first met Standing Bear, close to twenty years earlier.

 “Seems we’ve stood this way before, Chief.”

“Yes, Wolf. You were marked as you are today. But still strong enough to wear defiance in your eyes. Strong enough to stand, and fight.”

Kaed gave him a fleeting grin, remembering how, as a nine-year-old boy faced with being traded away, he had rammed his head into Standing Bear’s rock-hard belly, catching him off guard, nearly knocking him to the ground in front of the Apaches and Standing Bear’s own warriors.

Standing Bear smiled and put his hand to his stomach. “This recovered before my pride did.” He nodded at Kaed’s arm. “I hope it is not so with you, Wolf. You did all you could, yet I see you still hold some blame in your heart for yourself.”

Kaed had to admit it was true, and he didn’t understand it. When he went over it logically in his mind, as he had done a thousand times, he knew he wasn’t to blame, that he’d done everything he could have. But he’d never expected White Deer to do what she had done, and he understood the parallel Standing Bear was drawing. The chief had never expected the young boy Kaed had been to lower his head and run at him, either.

Standing Bear spoke in his native tongue. “Have you thought upon my words concerning Fire Eyes? Or will she go to one of my warriors?”

      “She is my woman now,” Kaed said in the same language, “and will belong to no other man.”

 

Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 37 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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26 Comments

  1. This was a fascinating post. I never knew the background on Geronimo. Do you have any idea why Ebenhart chose to yell “Geronimo”?

    And your passage from Fire Eyes made me sigh.

    Have a great day!

    Peace, Julie

  2. what a wonderful post–have you read geronimo’s life story?
    did you enjoy it if so?

    what an amazing man–it’s too bad his death was the way it was

    i love the excerpt…fire eyes is in my shopping cart for my next amazon order…i can’t wait to get it, especially after reading that!

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for a wonderfully informative post. There a few things there I hadn’t heard before. Interesting that he was considered a prisoner of war (and buried as one) after all those years even though he was allowed freedom of movement.
    You mentioned the rumor about his warriors “disappearing” from the boxcar. Is the speculation the magically left, they escaped, they were released, or they were murdered by the guards?

    I am looking forward to reading FIRE EYES.

  4. Hi Julie,

    Thanks so much for your comments! Geronimo’s tactics are still taught in military classes as some of the greatest warfare tactics anywhere, any time. If I remember correctly, Ebenhart and his comrades had been discussing their worries about the jump. It was his way of putting some of those fears to rest by giving a “war cry” of some kind when he jumped, and that was what he decided to yell. There was soooo much info I wanted to include but of course, just didn’t have room for it. Geronimo was just a fascinating person.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpt from Fire Eyes, too, Julie!

    Cheryl

  5. Hi Tabitha,

    No, I haven’t ready his life story in the book with Barrett that I mentioned in this post. I would love to, some day–I think it would be very interesting. So many books so little time–you know how that goes. LOL There is a book I have that I haven’t read yet called Watch For Me On The Mountain by Forrest Carter that is about Geronimo–fictionalized, but very good–I’ve only read the first few chapters so far. Forrest Carter also wrote The Education of Little Tree–you might have read that or seen it several years ago as one of the HBO movies that was made. I enjoy his writing a lot.

    Yes, Geronimo’s death was very tragic, I think, after all he’d been through.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the excerpt! Fire Eyes will always hold a special place in my heart since it was my debut novel.

    Thanks, Tabitha!
    Cheryl

  6. Hi Patricia,

    I suspect that the U.S. Army thought it would be some kind of disgrace to bury him in the POW cemetery. But I figure that Geronimo would have been perfectly content to be where he was–he never truly “gave up” in his heart. In the cemetery where he’s buried, there are also the graves of his family and many of his warriors and their families. To me, it is one of the most serene places on earth. There’s a small creek that flows nearby, and old trees throughout–the cemetery itself is not huge. Across the road from it is another POW cemetery that we have not gotten to go to yet, but hopefully the next trip down there we’ll manage it, maybe when it cools off some.

    Oh, and the story about his warriors disappearing from the boxcar–this is true, I believe. I believe they were murdered along the way by their military escort. When I worked at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, I met a man who told me about this. His great grandfather was one of the warriors who survived the trip and told the story of how sometimes they would stop the train and everyone would get off for a few minutes, or while they were refueling, and then when they got back on one or two would be missing. As loyal as his men were to him, it’s hard to imagine that they would have run away–but I guess it’s a possibility. There is a book out there — can’t think of the name of it, that is about this journey and the disappearance of so many of Geronimo’s men–speculation as to what actually happened, etc. Another one I must read sometime–wish my days had about 50 hours in them. LOL

    Thanks so much for commenting, and I hope you enjoy Fire Eyes!

    Cheryl

  7. Love this post, Cheryl. I’ve been a Geronimo fan for years and have used him as a secondary character in several books. That fierce face of his is mesmerizing – he looks like a bobcat in human form. And the way he never really gave up his fight is an inspiration. Of all the great Apaches he remains my favorite. Thanks for bringing him to P & P.

  8. Hi Elizabeth!
    I, too, am captivated by his face! As you say, he DOES look like a bobcat in human form! I totally agree. And I love the fact that he never gave up. He adapted to survive, but he never surrendered, truly. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. He is one of the most interesting historical figures of all times to me.
    Cheryl

  9. Cheryl, I’d long heard of Geronimo but never knew his story. This is so interesting. And sad. I’m sure it killed his soul to be put on the reservation. I’m glad his war tactics are being studied at West Point. And glad he’ll never be forgotten. I think that’s all any of want anyway. If we can live in someone’s memory we’ll never die.

    Love the excerpt for your book. Wishing you lots of success.

  10. Hi Linda!

    Yes, I am sure it was very hard for him to try to adapt to life in captivity. But you’re right–he will never be forgotten.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpt! Thank you so much for your comment!

    Cheryl

  11. Good one, Cheryl. And the post is terrific. The Matt Damon Geronimo movie is a very good one. oxoxox

  12. Hey Tanya!

    I have not seen the Geronimo movie, but now I will have to rent it. LOL I’m not a huge Matt Damon fan, so maybe that’s why I haven’t seen it yet. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  13. I had known some of the facts but I learned many more from your blog – thanks!!

  14. Great post, Cheryl! I enjoyed reading about Geronimo.

  15. Hi Cheryl!

    Seems to me that I once heard that Geronimo wore ruts in the floor of his jail cell from pacing back and forth during his incarceration in Florida. Have you come across any mention of that?

    His story is both so tragic and so inspiring. He lived to be at least 80 in a time when that was unusual, but he lost most of his family and friends. And yet he was still able to ride at that age! He experienced both that old and honored way of life and the complexities of a presidential inauguration and World’s Fair. What an extraordinary life!

    Great topic and great post – I learned a lot.

  16. Hi Catslady!

    Thanks for coming by — I always appreciate your comments! Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Cheryl

  17. Hi Estella,

    He was truly a remarkable person in so many respects. I’m glad you came by and commented!

    Cheryl

  18. Hi Judy,

    I have heard that about the ruts in the floor–in fact, my mom told me that story when I was younger. My husband and I saw the tiny little cell they kept him in there at Fort Sill. There was barely room to even stand up. If you ever get to Oklahoma, that is one of the places I would put on my list to go visit. So much history there in the Lawton/Fort Sill area!

    I wonder what was going through his mind when he was at the Presidential inauguration. So many thoughts, and to have to put a good face on it all. And the World’s Fair–to see so much and to be in the position he was in–truly a rarity and so very sad in a lot of respects.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Judy!
    Cheryl

  19. Really interesting comments on Geronimo.
    I am familiar with the Whiteriver Apaches of north eastern Arizona where I have visited a lot. They operate Apache Sunrise ski area and there is a casino on their reservation.
    I have visited Skeleton Canyon in the Chircahuas in southern Arizona. Beautiful, wild mountains that you wonder how their tribe existed in them.
    Your book sounds really good and I have added it to my TBR list.

  20. Facinating post Cheryl! Geronimo was a remarkable man, and I am glad that people still talk about him to this day. I can’t wait to read FIRE EYES, I will definatly be getting a copy from Amazon.

  21. Hi Joye,

    Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    Cheryl

  22. Hi Tammy,

    Glad you enjoyed the post–yes, Geronimo was really fascinating. Thanks for coming by and commenting. I hope you enjoy Fire Eyes!

    Cheryl

  23. The Old Corral website has an in-depth article on the origins of the ‘Geronimo’ paratrooper yell. Apparently it was inspired by a now-forgotten 1939 movie featuring Chief Thundercloud a.k.a. Victor Daniels, who also played Tonto in the first screen adaptation of The Lone Ranger, as Geronimo. It’s an interesting read:

    http://www.b-westerns.com/geronimo.htm

  24. Oh, very cool, Elisabeth! Thanks so much for putting this link up–I’m headed over there right now.
    Cheryl

  25. Cheryl,

    From my research on Geronmino he was a medicine man. I am currently working on a manuscript on the Apaches.

    Loved all the info Great Post

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  26. Hi Melinda,

    It was said that he was not a “medicine man” in the way we think of tribal medicine men, but rather that he possessed great medicine, being supernatural and having “the power.” That’s not the same thing as being a “medicine man.” He was known more for his leadership abilities than anything, and his battle skills as a warrior.

    Glad you enjoyed the post!
    Cheryl

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