Capture of Geronimo

Geronimo, an Apache medicine man, was sent into exile after he surrendered to General Nelson Miles on September 4, 1886.

In this image—which was taken on September 10, 1886—we see Geronimo en route to Florida.

The U.S. National Archives, which maintains the photo taken by A.J. McDonald, tells us more about it:

Band of Apache Indian prisoners at rest stop beside Southern Pacific Railway, near Nueces River, Tex., September 10, 1886. Among those on their way to exile in Florida are Natchez (center front) and, to the right, Geronimo and his son in matching shirts. By A. J. McDonald. 106-BAE-251 7A.

Who was Geronimo? Why was he captured?

He was never a chief, although his reputation included that description. He did not like living on federal-government-enforced reservations, so he repeatedly escaped from them.

Born during 1829, in what we know as New Mexico (but was still Mexican territory at the time), Geronimo’s birth name was Goyathlay (“one who yawns”). History tells us that Mexican soldiers gave him the name “Geronimo,” but we don’t know why.

An incredibly successful raider of neighboring villages—actions permitted by Apache traditions, especially when food was scarce—Geronimo was married and had three young children by 1858. In that year, however, a terrible event occurred which drastically impacted his life.

Returning from a trading trip to Mexico, he found that his wife, his mother and his three young children had been murdered by Spanish soldiers. In an article compiled by Glenn Welker, and published at Indians.org, we learn how this tragedy changed Geronimo:

This reportedly caused him to have such a hatred of the whites that he vowed to kill as many as he could. From that day on he took every opportunity he could to terrorize Mexican settlements and soon after this incident he received his power, which came to him in visions.

Geronimo was never a chief, but a medicine man, a seer and a spiritual and intellectual leader both in and out of battle. The Apache chiefs depended on his wisdom.

Although he was not a chief, many people thought he was because he often acted as spokesman for Juh, his brother-in-law, who was a chief.

By 1875, the federal government was still ordering Native Americans to move from their ancestral lands to different “Indian reservations.” Because he was living west of the Rio Grande River, Geronimo was required to move to the San Carlos Reservation. Welker tells us what happened next:

In 1875 all Apaches west of the Rio Grande were ordered to the San Carlos Reservation. Geronimo escaped from the reservation three times and although he surrendered, he always managed to avoid capture. In 1876, the U.S. Army tried to move the Chiricahuas onto a reservation, but Geronimo fled to Mexico eluding the troops for over a decade.

Sensationalized press reports exaggerated Geronimo’s activities, making him the most feared and infamous Apache. The last few months of the campaign required over 5,000 soldiers, one-quarter of the entire Army, and 500 scouts, and perhaps up to 3,000 Mexican soldiers to track down Geronimo and his band.

It took other Apaches, who worked for the U.S. Army, to actually find Geronimo:

In May 1882, Apache scouts working for the U.S. army surprised Geronimo in his mountain sanctuary, and he agreed to return with his people to the reservation.

After a year of farming, the sudden arrest and imprisonment of the Apache warrior Ka-ya-ten-nae, together with rumors of impending trials and hangings, prompted Geronimo to flee on May 17, 1885, with 35 warriors and 109 women, children and youths.

In January 1886, Apache scouts penetrated Juh’s seemingly impregnable hideout. This action induced Geronimo to surrender (Mar. 25, 1886) to Gen. George CROOK. Geronimo later fled but finally surrendered to Gen. Nelson MILES on Sept. 4, 1886.

The government breached its agreement [that the Apache could return to their homes in Arizona after two years] and transported Geronimo and nearly 450 Apache men, women, and children to Florida for confinement in Forts Marion and Pickens. In 1894 they were removed to Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Geronimo became a rancher, appeared (1904) at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, sold Geronimo souvenirs, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 inaugural parade.

Although he did his best to make a living, Geronimo wanted to return to his own land. He was never allowed to do so:

Geronimo's final surrender in 1886 was the last significant Indian guerrilla action in the United States. At the end, his group consisted of only 16 warriors, 12 women, and 6 children.

Upon their surrender, Geronimo and over 300 of his fellow Chiricahuas were shipped to Fort Marion, Florida. One year later many of them were relocated to the Mt. Vernon barracks in Alabama, where about one quarter died from tuberculosis and other diseases.

What do we know about Geronimo, from Geronimo himself? The following quotes are attributed to him:

There is no climate or soil which, to my mind, is equal to that of Arizona. We could have plenty of good cultivating land, plenty of grass, plenty of timber, and plenty of minerals in that land which the Almighty created for the Apache. (Quoted by Richard Spilsbury and Florence Faure in Geronimo, at page 36.)

Beyond the mistreatment he and other Native Americans received at the hands of the U.S. federal government, soldiers never reported when “Indians” were wronged:

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. (Quoted by Richard Spilsbury and Florence Faure in Geronimo, at page 31.)

He was denied his most-fervent request:

Let me die in my own country, an old man who has been punished enough and is free.  (Quoted by Richard Spilsbury and Florence Faure in Geronimo, at page 39.)

Instead, Geronimo died on February 17, 1909, still a prisoner of war. Never able to return to his homeland, he was buried in the Apache cemetery at Fort Still, Oklahoma.

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 30, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 18, 2019

Media Credits

Image of Geronimo and his son, described above, online via the U.S. National Archives. Public Domain.


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Capture of Geronimo" AwesomeStories.com. Aug 30, 2015. Feb 23, 2020.
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