The Great Chiefs

(juh rah uh moh)
1829 - 1909

             Goyathlay (The Yawner; One Who Yawns) was, with the possible exception of Sitting Bull, the most famous Indian of the late 19th century.   A Chiricahua Apache war chief who was a feared opponent of both the Americans and the Mexicans in the Southwest.  He was born into the Bedonkohe clan, in No-doyohn Canyon along the Gila River in southern Arizona in June of 1829, the son of Taklishim “The Gray One,” and Juana, a part Mexican woman.  Goyathlay was the fourth in a family of eight children; little is known of his boyhood beyond the fact that his father died when he was young.  “Jerónimo” or “Geronimo” meaning Jerome, was a translation of the Spanish attempt to pronounce Goyathlay.
            The great Mimbreño leader, Mangas Coloradas, was war chief at the time, and had formed an alliance with Cochise.  By 1872, Cochise had established a period of relative peace which most Apache people observed, until, in 1876, the American decided to remove the Chiricahua from Apache Pass to San Carlos, following border raids against Mexican settlements.  Only about half of the tribe made the move.  The rest, led by Geronimo, fled into Mexico where they continued to raid their ancient enemies, selling stolen livestock to American traders in New Mexico.
            The Apache base of operations was near Ojo Caliente, close to the Mexican border in Arizona.  In 1877 the Indian Police were ordered to bring the band into San Carlos.  Surprisingly, they succeeded, but once they were settled at San Carlos, friction between the other people and restlessness made them dissatisfied, and they constantly left the reservation to take part in raiding parties.  In September 1881, Geronimo and about 70 Chiricahua warriors left for Sierra Madre, Mexico; after about six months of raiding, they returned to San Carlos and succeeded in freeing all the Apaches there who wanted to escape military rule.  But after they crossed the border, Geronimo and his band were cut off by a Mexican regiment which killed most of the women and children, who were grouped for safety in the vanguard.  After this disaster, the life of the Apaches in Mexico became a war of attribution as they tried to maintain their independence and survive in a hostile environment. 
            In 1883, the United States sent a detachment under General George Crook to deal with the Chiricahua; Crook was an able soldier with the patience and integrity to try to settle Indian problems fairly.  At this point Mexico and the United States had agreed that soldiers of either country could cross the border in pursuit of marauding Apache.  Crook took advantage of this; and in May, while Geronimo was off on a raid, he captured Geronimo’s base camp, together with all of the women and children.  This forced Geronimo to meet with Crook to arrange peace.  Most of the Indians returned to San Carlos on Crook’s guarantee of his support and aid.  In February 1884, Geronimo and his subchiefs joined their people and began developing profitable ranches.
            Unfortunately, Geronimo’s fame and the panic his name evoked among the Whites caused an irresponsible press to turn this peaceful development into a cause célèbre in which Crook, the hero, became the victim; while Geronimo, seeking peace, was assigned the role of a monstrous villain.  Crook, according to the press, had “surrendered” to Geronimo.  Although this version was grossly inaccurate, it was true that the Apache were bored with reservation life and often turned to alcohol for solace—creating a fertile atmosphere for trouble.
            The authorities recognized the potential danger of the situation and attempted to stop the Indians from brewing tizwin, a native intoxicant.  New trouble began on May 17, 1885 when Geronimo and 134 warriors left on what was to become their most spectacular series of raids.  Crook was again sent in pursuit, and caught up with him in May of 1886, warning Geronimo that this time all of the offenders would be exiled to Florida.  Shortly thereafter, Geronimo and his followers fled into their old hideout, Mexico, causing a wave of hysteria to explode in the United States.  General Nelson A. Miles was assigned to replace Crook, and with 5,000 soldiers, 400 Apache scouts, the large civilian militia, and the active support of the Mexican army, Miles undertook a vigorous campaign against Geronimo and his band, variously estimated at between 24 to 35 warriors.  It took 18 months for Miles to succeed in his attempt to effectively subdue the Apache.  Finally, Geronimo was induced to surrender on September 4, 1887.  True to the warning, 340 Apache were shipped to Fort Marion, Florida, and later were transferred to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama.  Through the efforts of Crook and Clum, many of them were allowed to return to San Carlos, but Arizona refused to admit Geronimo and his closest associates, including Naiche, the hereditary chief.
            But finally, help came from an unexpected quarter.  The ancient enemies of the Apache—the Comanche and Kiowa—offered part of their reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Geronimo.  He accepted, and the Apache took up farming and livestock farming with considerable success.  In further demonstration of a peaceful attitude, he even embraced the Christian faith, joining the Dutch Reformed Church.  He also dictated his memoirs, Geronimo’s Story of His People, which was published in 1905.  He later appeared at the national expositions in St. Louis and Omaha, and rode in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade.  Four years later he developed pneumonia and died on February 17, 1909; he was buried in the Apache cemetery at Cache Creek, near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  The alleged removal of his body seems not to have been true.
            The name of Geronimo to this day is a fierce battle cry; in his own time it caused terror in the settlements of the Southwest.  While his final capitulation meant the end of murderous raids, it also marked the close of the ancient freewheeling lifestyle of the Apache people.

Source:  Great North American Indians by Frederick J. Duckstander


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