Geronimo: The Apache Warrior that fought to Avenge the Slaughter of his Family
In the 1940s, the U.S. Army was experimenting with the possibility of infiltrating enemy territory by dropping soldiers with parachutes from aeroplanes. According to one account, on the night before the first mass jump was to be performed, the soldiers involved were watching the 1939 film Geronimo. After the film, a private by the name of Aubrey Eberhardt boasted that he will shout ‘Geronimo!’ as he jumped out of the plane in order to prove that he was not afraid. This caught on with the rest of Eberhardt’s fellow soldiers, and subsequently the general public. It has since often been mimicked by those preparing to jump from great heights. Who was Geronimo?
Born in 1829 to the Apache tribe, Geronimo was originally known as Goyathlay, which meant ‘the one who yawns’. The Gila Wilderness, which is the place of Geronimo’s birth, is now located in the south of present day New Mexico, though it was part of Mexico at the time of Geronimo’s birth. On one occasion, Geronimo was on a trading trip away from his camp. When he returned, however, he discovered that his mother, wife and three young children were massacred by Mexican soldiers. This filled Geronimo with anger, and he decided to wage war against the Mexicans as revenge.
Geronimo (Goyathlay, 1820–1909), a Chiricahua Apach (Wikimedia Commons)
Using guerrilla tactics, Geronimo began conducting daring raids against the Mexicans. Geronimo’s fearlessness and aggressiveness soon made him a feared warrior amongst the Mexicans. According to legend, the terrified Mexican soldiers who had the misfortune of facing Geronimo in battle would shout and plea to St. Jerome for help and deliverance. As a result, the man called Goyathlay became known to his enemies as Geronimo.
Feared warrior Geronimo (right) and his warriors from left to right: Yanozha (Geronimos’s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son of 2nd wife) and Fun (Yanozha’s halfbrother) in 1886 (Wikimedia Commons)
By the middle of the 19 th century, the Mexicans had ceded large portions of the Southwest to the United States. This change of hands, however, meant nothing to Geronimo and his followers. The way of life of these new settlers was opposed to that of the Apache. Apart from disrupting the Apache’s established way of life, the American settlers also set limits on the places where they could live, thus restricting their freedom of movement. When Geronimo’s tribe was removed in 1876 to the San Carlos Reservation in eastern Arizona, the warrior fled with a handful of men into Mexico. He was soon arrested in the following year and brought back.
Geronimo as a U.S. prisoner (Wikimedia Commons)
Geronimo escaped again in 1881, and for the next five years waged what was to become the last of the Indian Wars against the United States. Geronimo finally surrendered in 1886 to General Nelson Miles, on the condition that his followers would be allowed to disband and return home to their families. The United States, however, reneged on its promise, and sent the men to Fort Pickers, whilst the accompanying women and children were sent to Fort Marion. Geronimo was later transferred to Fort Sill, where he became a local celebrity. Among other things, Geronimo charged visitors to Fort Sill to have their photos taken with him, took part in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Circus, was a huge attraction at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.
Portrait of Geronimo in 1905 (Wikimedia Commons)
Despite this fame, Geronimo was still a prisoner of war, even until his death from pneumonia in 1909. He was never allowed to return to his homeland, and was buried in a cemetery in Fort Sill. One of the most bizarre episodes happens to Geronimo’s remains years later. It has been alleged that the skull and femurs of Geronimo were removed from his grave, and are now in the possession of a secret society known as the Skull and Bones Society, an organization of privileged Yale students whose alumni include Prescott Bush (the grandfather of George W. Bush) and John Kerry. It is not clear whether the society really have the skull and femurs of Geronimo. Nevertheless, in 2009, 20 descendants of Geronimo filed a lawsuit against the secret society seeking to repatriate their ancestor’s remains and rebury them near his birthplace, though there has been a lack of hard evidence to support the case.
Featured image: Adapted photo of Geronimo. Credit: Mr Crayola / Photobucket
Adams, G., 2009. The Big Question: Who was Geronimo, and why is there controversy over his remains?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/the-big-question-who-was-geronimo-and-why-is--there-controversy-over-his-remains-1714167.html
Hiskey, D., 2012. Where the Tradition of Yelling “Geronimo” When Jumping Out of a Plane Came From. [Online]
Available at: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/01/where-the-tradition-of-yelling-geronimo-when-jumping-out-of-a-plane-came-from/
Iverson, P., 2015. Geronimo. [Online]
Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/geronimo
The New York Times, 1909. On This Day: February 18, 1909, Obituary: Old Apache Chief Geronimo Is Dead. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0616.html