Geronimo: A Biography

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The raiding and retaliation fed the fires of a virulent revenge warfare that reverberated back and forth between Apaches and Mexicans and later, Apaches and Americans. From to Geronimo, as well as other Apache leaders, conducted attacks, but Geronimo was driven by a desire to take revenge for the murder of his family by Mexican soldiers and accumulated a record of brutality during this time that was unmatched by any of his contemporaries.

Among Geronimo's own Chiricahua tribe many had mixed feelings about him. While respected as a skilled and effective leader of raids or warfare, he emerges as not very likable, and he was not widely popular among the other Apache.

Nevertheless, Apache people stood in awe of Geronimo's "powers" which he demonstrated to them on a series of occasions. These powers indicated to other Apaches that Geronimo had super-natural gifts that he could use for good or ill. In eyewitness accounts by other Apaches, Geronimo was able to become aware of distant events as they happened, [14] and he was able to anticipate events that were in the future. Geronimo was born to the Bedonkohe band of the Apache near Turkey Creek, a tributary of the Gila River in the modern-day state of New Mexico , then part of Mexico , though the Apache disputed Mexico's claim.

He had three brothers and four sisters.

The Life of Geronimo, Apache Warrior

His parents raised him according to Apache traditions. After the death of his father, his mother took him to live with the Tchihende and he grew up with them. Geronimo married a woman named Alope, from the Nedni-Chiricahua band of Apache when he was 17; they had three children. She was the first of nine wives.

The loss of his family led Geronimo to hate all Mexicans for the rest of his life; he and his followers would frequently attack and kill any group of Mexicans that they encountered. Recalling that at the time his band was at peace with the Mexicans, Geronimo remembered the incident as follows:. Late one afternoon when returning from town we were met by a few women and children who told us that Mexican troops from some other town had attacked our camp, killed all the warriors of the guard, captured all our ponies, secured our arms, destroyed our supplies, and killed many of our women and children.

Silently we stole in one by one, sentinels were placed, and when all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain. Geronimo's chief, Mangas Coloradas Spanish for "red sleeves" , sent him to Cochise 's band for help in his revenge against the Mexicans. It was during this incident that the name Geronimo came about. This appellation stemmed from a battle in which, ignoring a deadly hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked Mexican soldiers with a knife.

Others source it as the mispronunciation of his name by the Mexican soldiers.

Geronimo was raised with the traditional religious views of the Bedonkohe. When questioned about his views on life after death, he wrote in his autobiography:. As to the future state, the teachings of our tribe were not specific, that is, we had no definite idea of our relations and surroundings in after life. We believed that there is a life after this one, but no one ever told me as to what part of man lived after death We held that the discharge of one's duty would make his future life more pleasant, but whether that future life was worse than this life or better, we did not know, and no one was able to tell us.

We hoped that in the future life, family and tribal relations would be resumed. In a way we believed this, but we did not know it. Since my life as a prisoner has begun, I have heard the teachings of the white man's religion, and in many respects believe it to be better than the religion of my fathers Believing that in a wise way it is good to go to church, and that associating with Christians would improve my character, I have adopted the Christian religion.

I believe that the church has helped me much during the short time I have been a member. I am not ashamed to be a Christian, and I am glad to know that the President of the United States is a Christian, for without the help of the Almighty I do not think he could rightly judge in ruling so many people. I have advised all of my people who are not Christians, to study that religion, because it seems to me the best religion in enabling one to live right.


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He joined the Dutch Reformed Church in , but four years later was expelled for gambling. The first Apache raids on Sonora and Chihuahua took place during the late 17th century. To counter the early Apache raids on Spanish settlements, presidios were established at Janos in Chihuahua and at Fronteras in what is now northeastern Sonora, then Opata country.

In , Mexico had placed a bounty on Apache scalps. Two years later, Mangas Coloradas became principal chief and war leader and began a series of retaliatory raids against the Mexicans. Apache raids on Mexican villages were so numerous and brutal that no area was safe. Early in his life, Geronimo became invested in the continuing and relentless cycle of revenge warfare between the Apaches and Mexicans.

On March 5, , [26] when Geronimo was in his 20s, a force of Mexican militia from Sonora under Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco attacked and surprised an Apache camp outside of Janos, Chihuahua, slaughtering the inhabitants, including Geronimo's family. Carrasco claimed he had followed the Apaches to Janos, Chihuahua after they had conducted a raid in Sonora, taken livestock and other plunder and badly defeated Mexican militia.

Attacks and counter-attacks were common. In December , 30 miners launched a surprise attack on an encampment of Bedonkohes Apaches on the west bank of the Mimbres River of modern New Mexico. According to historian Edwin R. Sweeney, the miners " According to National Geographic , "the governor of Sonora claimed in that in the last five months of Geronimo's wild career, his band of 16 warriors slaughtered some to Mexicans. I have killed many Mexicans; I do not know how many, for frequently I did not count them. Some of them were not worth counting. It has been a long time since then, but still I have no love for the Mexicans.

With me they were always treacherous and malicious. In the Mexicans once again attacked the Apache.

Citation Information

Though outnumbered, Geronimo fought against both Mexican and United States troops and became famous for his daring exploits and numerous escapes from incarceration from to The legend states that Geronimo and his followers entered a cave, and the U. Later, it was heard that Geronimo was spotted outside, nearby. The second entrance through which he escaped has yet to be found, and the cave is still called Geronimo's Cave, even though no reference to this event or this cave has been found in the historic or oral record. Moreover, there are many stories of this type with other caves referenced that state that Geronimo or other Apaches entered to escape troops, but were not seen exiting.

These stories are in all likelihood apocryphal. After about a year, some trouble arose between them and the Indians, and I took the war path as a warrior, not as a chief. I had not been wronged, but some of my people had been, and I fought with my tribe; for the soldiers and not the Indians were at fault.

At the end of his military career, he led a small band of 38 men, women and children. They evaded thousands of Mexican and American troops for more than a year, making him the most famous Native American of the time and earning him the title of the "worst Indian who ever lived" among white settlers. Haley, "About two weeks after the escape there was a report of a family massacred near Silver City ; one girl was taken alive and hanged from a meat hook jammed under the base of her skull.

The people, who had lived as semi-nomads for generations, disliked the restrictive reservation system. Each was composed of a troop of cavalry usually about forty men and about Apache scouts. They pursued the Apache through the summer and fall through Mexican Chihuahua and back across the border into the United States.

The Apache continually raided settlements, killing other Native Americans and civilians and stealing horses.

Geronimo (person) | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

While Apaches were shielded from the violence of warfare on the reservation, disability and death from diseases like malaria were much more prevalent. On three separate occasions — August ; [42] [43] September ; [44] May [45] [46] —Geronimo led his band of followers in "breakouts" from the reservation to return to their former nomadic life associated with raiding and warfare.

The Apache knew the rough terrain of the Sierras intimately, [47] which helped them elude pursuit and protected them from attack. The Sierra Madre mountains lie on the border between the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which allowed the Apache access to raid and plunder the small villages, haciendas, wagon trains, worker camps and travelers in both states. During these raids the Apaches often killed all the persons they encountered [49] in order to avoid detection and pursuit as long as possible before they slipped back over the border into Mexico.

The "breakouts" and the subsequent resumption of Apache raiding and warfare caused the Mexican Army and militia, as well as United States forces to pursue and attempt to kill or apprehend off-reservation "renegade" Apache bands, including Geronimo's, wherever they could be found. Because the Mexican army and militia units of Sonora and Chihuahua were unable to suppress the several Chiricahua bands based in the Sierra Madre mountains, in Mexico allowed the United States to send troops into Mexico to continue their pursuit of Geronimo's band and the bands of other Apache leaders.

Crook was under increased pressure from the government in Washington. He launched a second expedition into Mexico and on January 9, , Crawford located Geronimo and his band. His Indian scouts attacked the next morning and captured the Apache's herd of horses and their camp equipment. The Apaches were demoralized and agreed to negotiate for surrender. Before the negotiations could be concluded, Mexican troops arrived and mistook the Apache scouts for the enemy Apache. The Mexican government had accused the scouts of taking advantage of their position to conduct theft, robbery, and murder in Mexico.

Maus, the senior officer, met with Geronimo, who agreed to meet with General Crook. During the three days of negotiations, photographer C. Fly's images are the only existing photographs of Geronimo's surrender. Geronimo, camped on the Mexican side of the border, agreed to Crook's surrender terms.

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That night, a soldier who sold them whiskey said that his band would be murdered as soon as they crossed the border. Geronimo, Nachite, and 39 of his followers slipped away during the night. Crook exchanged a series of heated telegrams with General Philip Sheridan defending his men's actions, until on April 1, , when he sent a telegram asking Sheridan to relieve him of command, which Sheridan was all too willing to do. Sheridan replaced Crook with General Nelson A. Gatewood , to lead the expedition that brought Geronimo and his followers back to the reservation system for a final time.

Lawton's official report dated September 9, sums up the actions of his unit and gives credit to a number of his troopers for their efforts. Geronimo gave Gatewood credit for his decision to surrender as Gatewood was well known to Geronimo, spoke some Apache, and was familiar with and honored their traditions and values. He acknowledged Lawton's tenacity for wearing the Apaches down with constant pursuit. Geronimo and his followers had little or no time to rest or stay in one place.

Completely worn out, the little band of Apaches returned to the U.

Geronimo Facts

General Crook said to me, "Why did you leave the reservation? One year I raised a crop of corn, and gathered and stored it, and the next year I put in a crop of oats, and when the crop was almost ready to harvest, you told your soldiers to put me in prison, and if I resisted, to kill me. If I had been let alone I would now have been in good circumstances, but instead of that you and the Mexicans are hunting me with soldiers.