The Legend of Geronimo and the Last Apache Holdout

October 13, 2019 4 min read

The Legend of Geronimo and the Last Apache Holdout

Geronimo was born in No-doyohn Canon, Arizona, June 1829, near Clifton, Arizona, from the Bedonkohe Apache tribe. He was named Goyathlay (One Who Yawns) the fourth in a family of four boys and four girls. In 1846, when he was seventeen, he was admitted to the Warriors ' Council, which allowed him to marry. He was soon allowed to marry a woman named Alope, and the couple had three children.

The tribe, at peace with the Mexican cities and nearby Indian tribes, moved to New Mexico in the mid-1850s where they could trade. They've been camping outside a Mexican town called Kas-ki-yeh for several days. The rest of the men went to the city to trade, leaving a few warriors to guard the camp. Many women and children who told them that Mexican troops had invaded their camp met them when they returned from town.

They went back to camp to find their guard guards killed, and their horses, provisions and weapons were gone. Even worse, there were also many women and children killed. Goyathlay's daughter, mother, and three children were among those who lay dead, and as a result he despised all Mexicans for the rest of his life.

It was his family's slaughter that made him a brave warrior from a friendly Native. He soon joined a fearsome Apache tribe known as Chiricahua and engaged in several attacks in northern Mexico and across the border into U.S. territory, now known as the New Mexico and Arizona states.


Written by James Miranda

It was those Mexican critics who gave him the "Geronimo" nickname, the Spanish version of "Jerome."  Geronimo fought against both Mexicans and white settlers in increasing numbers as they began to colonize many of the homelands of the Apache. Nevertheless, the Department of Arizona commander, Lieutenant Colonel George F. Crook, had succeeded in maintaining relative peace in the area by the early 1870s.

In 1876, the U.S. government tried to move the Chiricahua from their traditional home to the San Carlos Reserve, a desolate desert in east-central Arizona, known as "Hell's Forty Acres." Revolted, stripped of traditional tribal privileges, short of rations and homesickness.

Hundreds of Apache, spurred by Geronimo, left the reservation and fled to Mexico to resume their war against the whites. Geronimo and his followers launched ten years of sporadic raids against white settlers, alternating on the San Carlos reservation with periods of peaceful farming.

General George Crook was told of launching a war against the Apache in Arizona in 1882. Geronimo surrendered in January 1884, but flew from the San Carlos Reserve on May 17, 1885, joined by 35 warriors and 109 other men, women and children, prompted by reports of imminent trials and hangings.

At least 5,000 white troops and 500 Indian auxiliaries were working in the capture of Geronimo's small band at different times during this final campaign. Five months later, Geronimo was tracked to his camp in the Sonora Mountains of Mexico, 1,645 miles later.

Geronimo surrendered at Cañon de Los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico, tired and hopelessly out numbered on March 27, 1886. He had a handful of warriors, women, and children in his unit. A young white boy named Jimmy "Santiago" McKinn was also discovered to have been abducted in September by the Indians about six months earlier. The "rescued" boy was so assimilated to the lifestyle of the Apache that he cried when he was forced to return to his parents.

The photographer, C.S., also flew with General Crook. Travel of the fame of Tombstone. He was able to take some of the best-known photographs in U.S. history after the bands captured.

The party was gathered by the soldiers and began the journey to Fort Bowie, Arizona. Near the border, though, Geronimo was terrified they would be killed if they crossed into U.S. territory, bolted with Chief Naiche, 11 warriors, and a few women and children who could flee back into Sierra Madra. Consequently, on April 2, 1886, Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles replaced Crook as commander.

At a meeting at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona on September 3, 1886, General Miles persuaded Geronimo to surrender again, promising him that he and his followers would be allowed to return to Arizona after an extended exile in Florida.

The pledge has never been fulfilled. Geronimo and his fellow inmates were transported for incarceration by box-car to Florida and put to hard work.

Before he saw his parents, it was May 1887. He was transferred to Fort Sill in Oklahoma Territory some years later, in 1894, where he sought to "fit in." He farmed and entered the Dutch Reformed Church, which, due to his inability to avoid gambling, expelled him.

When years went by, Geronimo's warrior ferocity tales made him into a legend that fascinated both non-Indians and Indians. As a result, he appeared at several fairs, selling himself souvenirs and photos. In 1905, when he participated in the inaugural parade of President Theodore Roosevelt, he was quite the sensation. The public's obsession with him led to his appearances at the turn of the century in Wild West Shows like Buffalo Bill Cody's and Pawnee Bill's, which attracted hundreds of spectators. Such films re-created legendary wars, "Indian Races," live buffalo, and the biggest attraction of all – famous people like Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, and Rains in the Face (reported to be the man who killed Custer). The Indians entered the shows for opportunities to fly in Europe as well as in the United States. Geronimo also participated in a number of other "attractions" that introduced him to interested audiences, including the shows of Omaha and Buffalo and the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. Together with Geronimo's strong prestige, these many incidents made him one of the most photographed Native Americans of the period.

Geronimo dictated his memoirs, published as the Story of His Life by Geronimo in 1906. On February 17, 1909, Geronimo died of pneumonia and was buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the Apache cemetery.


Written by James Miranda

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