“When I arrived at their camp I went directly to General Miles and told him how I had been wronged, and that I wanted to return to the United States with my people, as we wished to see our families, who had been captured and taken away from us.”
– Geronimo (above) on his meeting with General Miles
“He was one of the brightest, most resolute, determined looking men I have ever encountered. He had the clearest, sharpest dark eye I think I have ever seen…. Every movement indicated power, energy and determination. In everything he did, he had a purpose.”
– General Nelson A. Miles on Geronimo
On today’s date, September 4 in 1886, Apache warrior/leader Geronimo surrendered to the U.S. Army troops in Arizona. By this point in time, Geronimo had been conducting a guerilla war against both the U.S. and Mexican governments over the rights to his tribe’s homelands since 1856, when his family was killed. His name had become a dreaded spectre on both sides of the border in that area (the Southwestern U.S.). But he had run out of time and places to hide; his people were exhausted and outnumbered so he finally gave himself up to the U.S. Government. But in spite of General Miles respectful impression, the U.S. had no intention of allowing him to return to his native land.
The Apaches -vs- the United States and Mexico
The word “Apache” actually covers several linguistically related tribes which populated the section of North America which now comprises roughly the American states of Arizona and New Mexico and some adjacent areas including northern Mexico. This included the San Carlos, Mescalero, Lipan, Jicarilla, and Gerrnimo’s tribe, the Chiricahua Apaches. Dating from their initial contacts with the Spanish in the 16’th Century the Apaches had been in continuous struggle with the white peoples who encroached upon their tribal lands, and committed frequent massacres, including the 1858 murder of Geronimo’s mother, his wife and his children at the hands of Mexican troops. According to historian William Brandon:
“More than anything else, it was probably the incessant kidnapping and enslavement of their women and children that gave Apaches their mad-dog enmity toward the whites (pictured above, captured Chiricahau, circa 1880’s), from the earliest Spanish times onward. It was officially estimated that 2,000 slaves were held by the white people of New Mexico and Arizona in 1866 after 20 years of American rule — unofficial estimates placed the figure several times higher.”
The Chiricahua had been on comparatively amicable terms with the whites until 1861 when an Army officer imprisoned and hanged several Apache leaders who had been helping build a Stage Coach station through Apache Pass in the Chiricahua mountains. Chief Cochise was one of those who escaped, and who, along with Geronimo conducted a merciless war with the whites. The Apaches were extremely skilled fighters, using horses to conduct lightening fast raids on white settlements and army posts killing in huge numbers. They could cover some 40 miles a day on foot and 75 on horseback. “No Indian has more virtues and none has been more truly ferocious when aroused.” in the words of Captain John Bourke, and adjutant to General George Crook, whom the United States sent into the area to put an end to the Apache problems in 1871. Towards the end of a career in which he engendered legends for escapes from caves with no exits and from vastly greater numbers of Army troops, Geronimo led a group of about 36 men, women and children. During this period when his was the last major Indian force still resisting the U.S. Army, he became the most famous and the most feared Native American leader of his day.
The United States Army Finally Catches Up With Geronimo….
General Crook, a tough, but completely honest soldier chased Geronimo’s band back and forth across the Mexican border . He finally caught up with him in March of 1886. In the photograph shown above, which was taken during a parley to negotiate Geronimo’s surrender, Geronimo is third from the left, and Gen. Crook is second from the right. After agreeing to surrender, Crook and his men were transporting Geronimo north into the United States, when he escaped again. By now the U.S. Government had had enough of General Crook and his honorable approach to dealing with the Apaches in general and Geronimo in particular. So he was replaced by General Miles (below). And General Miles was able, by essentially promising the moon to Geronimo, to talk him into surrendering again. As Geronimo remembered it later:
“So General Miles told me how we could be brothers to each other. We raised our hands to heaven and said that the treaty was not to be broken. We took an oath not to do any wrong to each other or to scheme against each other. Then he talked with me for a long time and told me what he would do for me in the future if I agreed to the treaty. I did not greatly believe General Miles, but because the President of the United States (Grover Cleveland at this time) had sent me word I agreed to make the Treaty and to keep it.”
Once he had given himself up and was safely in U.S. custody, Miles had Geronimo clapped in irons. Then he was immediately and, quite unceremoniously, along with all of General Crooks old Indian Scouts, as well as every last Chiricahua Miles could find sent as a prisoner to Florida. This number included those who had not been amongst Geronimo’s group at all, but who had been living peacefully on the reservation the whole time. Also in this forced exile from their homeland was the rival Chiricahua leader Chatto, who had helped in bringing Geronimo in, in hopes of sparing his remaining people more hardship. Geronimo for his part took up farming in Florida and became quite successful at it. He even took advantage of his celebrity in 1903 when he was taken (under guard) to the St. Louis World’s Fair wherein he sold pictures of himself to amazed tourists for 25 cents each. He took part in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905. But he always regretted having surrendered. He died in Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909 from complications of pneumonia. His last words were to his nephew: “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.” He was never permitted to return to his homeland in the Southwest, not even in death: he was buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in the Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery.
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“Geronimo and Chatto: Alternative Apache Ways” by Edwin R. Sweeney, “Wild West”, Aug2007, Vol. 20 Issue 2
Narrative by William Brandon, American Heritage Publ. Co., New York, 1961.
By Angie Debo, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK., 1976