Posted on

Goyathlay the Trader becomes Geronimo the Warrior

Geronimo was born to the Bedonkohe Tribe in June of 1829 near the present day town of Clifton, Arizona. Geronimo was called Goyathlay, “One who Yawns,” and he was the fourth of a family of four boys and four girls. When he was seventeen, Goyathlay was admitted into the council of warriors, which permitted him to marry. He soon married a woman named Alope and the couple had three children together.

Some time in the mid-1850’s the tribe journeyed to Old Mexico to trade with the Mexican settlers, with whom they were at peace. The tribe camped outside of a town they called Kas-ki-yeh, where they stayed for several days. During the day, the men would leave several warriors to guard the women and children in the camp while they went into town to trade. One day, while returning from the town, they were met by some of the women and children who told them that Mexican troops had attacked the camp.

They hurried back to the camp to find their guards had been killed and their horses, supplies and weapons had been taken. Even worse, many of the women and children had been killed. Among the women and children who lay dead were Goyathlay’s wife, mother, and three children. This slaughter of his family turned Goyathlay from a peaceful trader into a fierce warrior. He soon joined a warlike band of Apache known as the Chiricahua and took part in their raids of settlements in Northern Mexico and in the U.S. territories in the present days states of Arizona and New Mexico. The Mexicans soon gave Goyathlay the nickname of Geronimo, which is the Spanish name of Jerome.

Geronimo wages war on U.S. and Mexican settlers

Geronimo and the Chiricahua took part in ever-increasing raids on the Mexican and American settlers who were encroaching on Apache homelands. In the early 1870’s Lieutenant Colonel George F. Crook took over the Department of Arizona (which was a territory at that time), and established relative peace in the area. This peace, however, did not last.

In 1876, the U.S. government tried to move the Chiricahua from their traditional home to the San Carlos Reservation, which was an empty and desolate wasteland in central Arizona that was known as “Hell’s Forty Acres.” Geronimo soon convinced the rest of the Chiricahua to leave the reservation and from there they moved to Mexico, where they continued their war against the whites. Over the next ten years the Chiricahua conducted periodic raids on white settlements. When they weren’t raiding white settlements, the Chiricahua would be peacefully farming in the San Carlos Reservation.

By 1882, Lieutenant Colonel Crook was recalled to Arizona for a campaign against the Chiricahua. After several years of fighting, Geronimo finally surrendered in 1884. However, after hearing rumors of other Native American rebels being tried and hanged, Geronimo along with 35 warriors and 109 women and children fled for Mexico in May, 1885. Crook and his men pursued Geronimo’s small band into Mexico.

Geronimo and his band after their capture in 1886.

It took five months, 1,600 miles and thousands of men, but eventually Crook tracked Geronimo into the Sonora Mountains of Mexico. Outnumbered and exhausted, Geronimo and his band eventually surrendered to Crook and his forces on March 27th, 1886. Crook’s forces accompanied Geronimo’s band for a trek back to Fort Bowie, Arizona. It was at the border though that Geronimo, fearing he and the rest of his band would be killed once they crossed the border, escaped and fled back to into Mexico’s Sierra Madras. As a result of Geronimo’s escape, Crook was replaced by General Nelson A. Miles.

At a peace conference in Skeleton, Arizona on September 3, 1886, Miles convinced Geronimo to surrender in exchange for being able to return to Arizona after spending time in Florida. However, Miles and the U.S. Government did not keep their promise. Geronimo and his small group of warriors were shipped to Florida by box-car, where they were forced into a life of hard labor. Geronimo spent several years in Florida, before finally moving to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Here, he joined the Dutch Reformed Church in an attempt to “fit in.” However, he was kicked out of the church due to his love of gambling.

Geronimo’s final years and his lasting legend

Geronimo taking part in President Roosevelt’s inauguration.

Over the years, Geronimo’s legend of being a powerful warrior spread across the United States and into Europe. Geronimo appeared at various fairs, where he sold souvenirs and photographs of himself. He even managed to appear at President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.

In addition to these appearances, Geronimo took part in famous Wild West Shows such as those of Wild Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill. These shows drew hundreds of spectators and featured re-creations of famous battles, “Indian Races,” and live Buffalo.  Most important of all were the historic figures that included Geronimo, Chief Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph and Rains in the Face, who was said to have killed General Custer. Geronimo and the other Native American warriors took the chance to travel throughout the United States as well as through Europe.

Geronimo died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909, never having returned to his homeland of Arizona. He was buried in the Apache Cemetery in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Geronimo Fun Facts

  • Among those captured in Geronimo’s band was a young white boy named Jimmy “Santiago” McKinn. The band had kidnapped the boy six months earlier. McKinn had become such a part of Geronimo’s band that he wept when he was returned to his parents.
  • Famed photographer C.S. Fly accompanied Crook’s men in their pursuit of Geronimo. Fly took some of the most famous photographs in U.S. history during the capture of Geronimo and his band.
  • Those who followed Geronimo believed he had supernatural powers, including the ability to heal the sick.
  • All told, nearly 5,000 U.S. soldiers took part in the hunt for Geronimo.
  • Geronimo spent the last 23 years of his life as a Prisoner of War.