On the Run: Geronimo

Geronimo (Courtesy Library of Congress)

In 1823 Goyahkla was born to Talishim and Juana in what is now the state of New Mexico. He had one sister and was the grandson of a chief.  The Chiricahua Apache infant would come to be known by his Mexican name, Geronimo, the famed medicine man and Chiricahua leader. When Geronimo was 10 years old his father died and Juana left to live with the Chihenne band taking Geronimo with her. At 17 Geronimo married Alope. They had three children.

The relative peace Geronimo had enjoyed for much of his life disappeared when Mexico began their efforts to destroy the Apache populace who had plagued them with numerous raids. In March 1851 while out on a trading trip Geronimo learned of a massacre back in camp. He returned to find his mother, wife and three children all dead at the hands of Colonel José Carrasco and his troops. Others who had not been killed were taken away into slavery. The incident helped to further cement Geronimo’s great hatred for Mexicans. Geronimo would later marry eight more times and have several children. In 1861 Geronimo suffered the death of his third wife and the couple’s child as a result of the battles between the Indians and Mexicans. In addition to conflict with the Mexicans the Apaches had another threat to their security. American settlers were expanding into their territory. Whatever trust the Apaches may have placed in them disappeared when crooked dealings of American officials hit home. Later a gold rush brought even more settlers into the area. Fights between Apaches and Americans became commonplace.

Geronimo, mounted rider on the left(Courtesy Library of Congress)

In 1877 Geronimo was placed on a reservation on San Carlos, Arizona. Soon after the Apache and his good friend Juh pulled up stakes for Mexico. They were eventually forced to return to the reservation, but Geronimo would prove a hard man to hold onto. In 1880 Geronimo staged another breakout, leaving a path of bloodshed and havoc that led into Mexico. In a Mexican attack which left 78 dead and 33 others taken captive, Geronimo’s second wife was taken prisoner. In 1883 while trading the band of  ‘fugitives’ were enticed with liquor by Mexicans. Later weakened and disoriented by their binge the Apaches were taken off guard when Mexicans swarmed over their camp. Geronimo escaped but lost two of his children in that attack. By May Geronimo decided to talk peace with American Brigadier General George Crook, who had come to take Geronimo back to the reservation. Crook couldn’t be persuaded to agree to Geronimo’s terms. He called for unconditional surrender and if Geronimo didn’t want to agree, fighting would resume. Geronimo finally agreed to the terms and prepared to return to the reservation. When the time came to move out Geronimo and other Apache men remained behind to round up the rest of their people. Geronimo promised Crook he would follow. It wasn’t until nearly a year later Geronimo finally arrived back at the reservation.

On 17 May 1885 Geronimo prepared for yet another breakout. There were nearly 150 souls along for the ride this time. Geronimo deceived other chiefs into taking part in the breakout. Upon learning of the trickery the chiefs were furious. One went so far as to attempt to kill Geronimo. On August 7, while in hiding, Geronimo and his group were discovered by American troops come to take them back. It was proving more and more difficult to hide from the army because the government was enlisting the aid of Apache scouts. In the attack members of Geronimo’s family were taken prisoner; three wives and five children. But Geronimo, as wily as every, had once again slipped through the fingers of the army.

On 11 January 1886 Geronimo and what was left of his shrinking cohorts witnessed Mexican forces attack the American troops. After the Mexican forces left, Geronimo appeared to begin negotiations with the US army. Unfortunately, the officer who he trusted had taken a bullet in the head while trying to identify himself to the Mexicans. A couple of months later Geronimo began negotiations with Crook who called for unconditional surrender just as he had in 1883. This time Geronimo wouldn’t agree. One night he and a rather small group of Apaches slipped away without being noticed. This caused Crook some embarrassment when reporting the incident to his superiors. But by August the band was exhausted. Geronimo, although at first fearing for his life, was convinced to start peace negotiations. He finally surrendered on 4 September 1886 to General Nelson Miles.

Geronimo at Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, NY (Courtesy Library of Congress)

In October 1886 Geronimo and other Chiricahuas were sent to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida as prisoners of war. They held onto the hope that the Chiricahua band would one day be reunited to live on a reservation for themselves. No longer under the care of the Indian Bureau but the War Department the Apaches fared somewhat better. To pass time at the fort they did some menial chores and entertained ‘sightseers’. Not until April 1887 was Geronimo’s family reunited with him at Fort Pickens. By May 1888, 396 Chiricahuas were reunited at Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. Happy as they may have been at the reunion, the surroundings were taking a toll on the Apaches’ health. The swampy area wasn’t what they were accustomed to.

We didn’t know what misery was until they dumped us in those swamps ~ Eugene Chihuahua

Still they made do. Geronimo encouraged Apache children to attend school and also became the disciplinarian and justice of the peace. He would also take pride in his gardening. In 1894 the band was moved to Fort Sill (Geronimo would later ask President Theodore Roosevelt to send the Chiricahuas back to Arizona). That same year Geronimo lost his adult son Chappo to tuberculosis. In 1903 Geronimo joined the Dutch Reformed Church, although he would struggle with Christianity and his native beliefs for the rest of his life. In 1905 Geronimo dictated his memoirs which was published the next year.

Geronimo c. 1904 (Courtesy Library of Congress)

On 11 February 1909 Geronimo sold some bows and arrows and bought whiskey before heading home to Fort Sill late at night. Along the way he fell from his horse where he was found in the morning. He caught a cold which turned into pneumonia. He died on February 17. For the great warrior and medicine man the running was over.

Source: Utley, Robert M. Geronimo.

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40 thoughts on “On the Run: Geronimo

    • Yes it does make a person wonder. It’s sad really. Geronimo spent so many years running and he ended up dying as a POW. That is not to say Geronimo was completely blameless. He could be pretty ruthless when it came to people who were in his escape path. Just sad the whole way around.

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  1. You’ve done a great job on this story! I’m always ready to learn anything about Indians and this makes me want to learn more about Geronimo,thanks for sharing this! :)

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  2. Good job! I have read a lot about Geronimo and this is the first mention of religion that I can remember. Kind of took me by suprise. :-)

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    • Yeah, I was surprised too that he encouraged other Apaches to also convert to Christianity. But he seems to have been confused. At the same time he was doing that he was also telling others he still believed in the Apache religion.

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    • He had to have a lot of grit to last as long as he did on the run. It’s amazing how the army would almost have him and then he and his band would slip away. Thank you for your comment!

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  3. Wonderful narrative of Geronimo.

    He was not a perfect man; but who is? The suffering that was bestowed onto him wasn’t necessary.

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    • Thanks!

      Can you imagine being taken from your home and put in a prison simply because someone else wants that land? Given that I’m surprised he gave up when he did. I guess he just got tired. Thanks for your comment.

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  4. Why is it so many great men have such tragic endings? Your post is concise and interesting, teaching me more about Geronimo than anything I have ever read. Keep posting essays!

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    • Thank you!

      When you think about it, it is very disheartening when a great figure in history spends much of their life fighting for their freedom or something and they end up meeting with an end that could have been avoided. This is what has always bothered me about Nathanael Greene’s death. Sunstroke! Who would have thought.

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  5. I can remember visiting the cemetery at Fort Barrancas, Florida, which is right near where Fort Pickens was, and coming across the grave of one of Geronimo’s wives. Even though there were thousands of other graves around – nearly all of them veterans or their spouses – it seemed like such a lonely place for an Indian woman to have been buried. The more I read about Native Americans, the more tragic their story becomes to me.

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    • I wonder how Geronimo felt about continually losing his family members in conflicts. Quite a few of them were either taken prisoner or killed. I didn’t know that one of the his wives had died in Florida (on further inspection this appears to be his wife Ga-ah). I wonder what the cause of death was? Thanks for your comment.

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    • Indeed. Sometimes I wonder if my own g-g-grandmother was forced to move out West in the Cherokee removal. Sad they were forced to leave their homes. Thanks for your comment.

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