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Pale Horse Revelations #59 - Geronimo

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.

This week's edition will introduce you to the Apache war chief, Geronimo. I imagine that the majority of readers will immediately recognize the name. I fear that few will know the details of his story. He was born in June 1829 in what is now Arizona (other sources indicate he was born in New Mexico) to the Bedonkohe Apache tribe. He was named Goyathlay, which means "One Who Yawns." It would be many years before he would become known by the name Geronimo.

He was raised according to Apache traditions. At the age of seventeen he married his first wife, a woman named Alope from the Nedni-Chiricahua band of Apache. Together, they had three children.

In March 1851 a company of 400 Mexican soldiers attacked his camp while the men were in town trading. As the men were returning from town they were met by the few survivors of the attack. The men hurried to the camp site to discover that the warriors left to guard the camp were dead. Their horses, supplies, weapons, and ammunition were gone. Worst of all many of their women and children had been slaughtered. Among the dead were Goyathlay's mother, wife, and three children.

The slaughter of his family left Goyathlay with an unquenchable hatred for all Mexicans. From that point forward he and his followers would frequently attack and kill any group of Mexicans that they encountered.

Now filled with hatred and thirsting for vengeance, Goyathlay joined together three bands of Apache to wage war against both Mexican and American forces as ever-increasing numbers of settlers encroached on Apache lands. It was during the early days of this conflict the Goyathlay would become known as Geronimo. According to tradition the appellation stemmed from a battle during which he ignored a deadly hail of bullets to repeatedly attack a group of Mexican soldiers. Historians disagree on the origins of the name. But the traditional belief is that the soldiers repeatedly called out to Saint Jerome (Jeronimo in Spanish) for help as they were attacked. Regardless of how it originated, the name would stick for the rest of the man's life. Attacks and counterattacks between the Mexican army and Apache were common and went on for many years.

In 1876 the U.S. government moved the Apache from their traditional home to the San Carlos Reservation. According to most accounts the reservation was located in a barren wasteland in east-central Arizona. It has been described as "Hell's Forty Acres." Not surprisingly, the nomadic Apache people found life on the reservation confining and resented the restrictions on their customary way of life.

Geronimo was not the chief of his band, but he was well respected as a superb leader in raiding and warfare. As such he led several breakouts from the reservation in an attempt to restore his people to their previous nomadic lifestyle. During the ten-year period from 1876 to 1886 Geronimo led three such breakouts. The first was in April (or August) of 1878. The second occurred in September 1881. The third and final breakout occurred in May 1885. Following each Geronimo led his band across Arizona and New Mexico to Mexico, plundering and killing as they went.

Upon reaching Mexico they established a base of operations in the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains where they were protected from pursuit by the U.S. Army. The mountain range lay on the border between the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. This allowed Geronimo and his warriors easy access to raid and plunder in both states. No one was safe as the Apache attacked small villages, haciendas, wagon trains, worker camps, and hapless travelers alike.

The Apache also launched surprise raids back into the United States from their mountain hideout. Just as when raiding into Mexico the Apache would move swiftly and attack isolated ranches, wagon trains, prospectors, and travelers. It was common practice to kill everyone that they encountered in order to avoid detection and pursuit as long as possible before slipping safely over the border into Mexico.

Unable to suppress the marauding Apache bands hiding in the mountains, a frustrated Mexico allowed the U.S. to send troops across the border in pursuit of Geronimo. Following Geronimo's third breakout two columns of troops were dispatched by Department of Arizona General George Crook to track down the renegades. Each column was composed of a troop of cavalry and one hundred Apache Scouts recruited from the among the Apache people.

The Apache units proved effective in tracking the renegade Apache to their mountain strongholds. The fact that their own tribesman helped track them down also proved to be demoralizing to Geronimo and his warriors. The U.S. troops relentlessly pursued the Apache throughout the summer and fall. This constant pursuit slowly wore down the will of the renegade bands.

On January 9, 1886, forces led by Captain Emmet Crawford cornered Geronimo's band. The following morning the Apache Scouts attacked and captured the Apache's herd of horses and their camp equipment. The demoralized Apache agreed to negotiate for their surrender.

In an ironic twist of fate, the Mexican army arrived before the negotiations could be concluded. Mistaking Crawford's Apache Scouts for the enemy Apache they had been pursuing, the Mexican troops launched an attack that resulted in Captain Crawford's death. Lt. Maus stepped in as the surviving senior officer to meet with Geronimo and arranged for him to meet with General Crook.

In March 1886 the two sides meet for three days of negotiations. Geronimo ultimately agreed to General Crook's terms. The night prior to the surrender a soldier arrived in Geronimo's camp on the Mexican side of the border to sell them whiskey. He claimed that the band would be murdered as soon as they crossed the border into the United States. Fearful for their lives, Geronimo and forty of his followers slipped away in the night. This debacle resulted in General Phillip Sheridan relieving Crook of his command.

Crook was replaced by General Nelson A. Miles. Miles subsequently selected Captain Henry Lawton and First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood to lead the expedition that would bring Geronimo in for the final time. The two led a constant pursuit that eventually wore down Geronimo and his followers, giving them no time to rest or stay in one place. The small band returned to the states with Lawton and officially surrendered to General Miles on September 4, 1886.

Following the surrender Geronimo and the other Apache, including the scouts who had helped track him down, were sent to Fort Sam Houston as prisoners. They were held there for six weeks before being sent to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida. Geronimo's family was sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. They would not be reunited until 1888 at the Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama. Nearly 1/4 of their population died of tuberculosis before the Chiricahuas were relocated to Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1894.

Stories of his exploits raised Geronimo to legendary status making him popular with Indians and non-Indians alike. As a result, he appeared at numerous fairs, always under armed guard, where he sold buttons from his clothes and photographs of himself. In 1905 he participated in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade. He participated in Buffalo Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill's Wild West Shows and was an attraction at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904.

Given this fame, one might be surprised to learn that his own people had mixed feelings about him. While he was respected as a skilled leader of raids and warfare, he was not considered very likable and was not widely popular among his fellow Apache. His refusal to give in to the American government caused many of his fellow Apache to fear American retribution.

Despite this, legend holds that Geronimo possessed supernatural powers that his people were in awe of. According to these legends he demonstrated these powers on multiple occasions. Among these powers was the ability to become aware of distant events as they happened and the ability to anticipate future events. Legend holds that he also possessed the ability to heal other Apache. Whether these legends hold any truth, I will leave for each of you to decide for yourselves.

The once legendary warrior's life came to an ignoble end in February of 1909. He was thrown from his horse while riding home and lay out in the cold all night before being found the next morning extremely ill. He died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909, as a prisoner of the United States at Fort Sill. It was reported that his last words expressed regret that he ever surrendered. Geronimo was buried at Fort Sill in the Beef Creek Apache Cemetry.

This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

  As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found on the "Contact the Author" page of this website and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

  Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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