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Geronimo

byTodd Underwood

Geronimo is one of the most famous Apache Indian Chiefs that ever lived. The Indian warrior and his 37 followers were able to defy federal authority for over 25 years. He is said to have magical powers and that he could walk without creating footprints. Whatever the case, his story is one worth reading.

Geronimo, who’s real name Goyathlay means "the one who yawns", was born in 1829 in what is today western New Mexico. He was a Bedonkohe Apache by birth and a Net’na during his youth and early manhood. His name was apparently given to him by Mexican soldiers who were victims of his frequent raids. Geronimo means "Jerome" in Spanish. Geronimo was not a hereditary leader, but was the spokesman for his brother in law, Juh, and a medicine man. Juh was a Chiricahua Chief who had a speech impediment.

Over the years Geronimo earned a reputation as the most famous Apache of all because he held out the longest and fought against such daunting odds. He inspired fear in the early settlers of Arizona and New Mexico. His true hatred for the white man came when he arrived home from a trading excursion in Mexico to find his wife, three children and mother murdered by Spanish Troops from Mexico. From that point on he was determined to kill every white man he could find.

The Chiricahua’s were forced to move to what is now the San Carlos Indian Reservation in 1876, but Geronimo escaped with a band of followers into Mexico. Soon after, he was arrested and brought back to the reservation where he lived quietly with Juh until the slaying of an Apache prophet in 1881. From that point on, Geronimo was on the run fighting against the white man.

Lieutenant Colonel George F. Crook, commander of the Department of Arizona, cornered Geronimo in January 1884, but Geronimo escaped again in May 1885 accompanied by 35 men, 8 boys, and 101 women. Ten months later with Crook in pursuit, Geronimo was again captured in Sonora, Mexico. As he was being brought back into the United States, Geronimo again escaped, fearing for his life. He retreated into the mountains of Sonora, Mexico.

Due to Crook’s failure, he was replaced by Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles who lead a campaign of 5000 white soldiers and 500 Indian auxillaries in the pursuit of Geronimo and his followers. It took five months and 1645 miles to track Geronimo’s camp in the Sonora Mountains of Mexico. Miles called a conference with Geronimo and promised him that he would be able to return to Arizona after a temporary exile in Florida. The promise was never kept. "The soldiers never explained to the government when an Indian was wronged, but reported the misdeeds of the Indians; We took an oath not to do any wrong to each other or to scheme against each other.," said Geronimo.

Geronimo and 450 Apache men, women and children were transported to Florida for a stay in Forts Marion and Pickens. It was there they stayed until 1894 when they were moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Geronimo then became a rancher and was later allowed by the United States government to sell photographs and memorabilia of himself at expositions. Geronimo joined the Dutch reform church and was quoted saying ," I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us; There is one God looking down on us all; We are all the children of one God; The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say. " He was later kicked out the church because he could not stop gambling. Geronimo even rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade.

On February 17, 1909, Geronimo died a prisoner of war, never able to return to his homeland of Arizona. He was buried in the Apache cemetery in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Just before he died, he dictated his autobiography to S.S. Barett entitled, "Geronimo: His Own Story."

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Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles


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