7 Things You May Not Know About Geronimo
His capitulation marked the end of the major campaigns of the Indian Wars, but before then he spent the better part of a decade on the run and became a frontier celebrity for his ferocious guerilla raids and ghost-like ability to elude the American and Mexican authorities. Check out seven fascinating facts about Geronimo’s life and legend.
The man who would become the most feared Indian leader of the 19th century was born sometime in the 1820s into the Bedonkohe, the smallest band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe that inhabited what is now New Mexico and Arizona. His given name was Goyahkla (“The One Who Yawns”), but as a young man he earned the moniker “Geronimo” after distinguishing himself in Apache raids against the Mexicans. The source of the name remains the subject of debate. Some historians believed it arose from frightened Mexican soldiers invoking the Catholic St. Jerome when facing the warrior in battle, while others argue that it was simply a Mexican nickname or a mispronunciation of “Goyahkla.”
Geronimo came of age during a period of bitter conflict between the Chiricahua Apaches and the Mexicans. In response to the Apaches’ penchant for staging raids to gather horses and provisions, the Mexican government had begun ambushing Apache settlements and offering lucrative bounties for their scalps. In 1851, while Geronimo and several other warriors were in the town of Janos on a trading mission, Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco and a detachment of around 400 Mexican soldiers ransacked his Bedonkohe encampment and slaughtered many of its inhabitants. When Geronimo returned later that night, he found that his mother, his wife and his three young children had all been murdered. “I had lost all,” he said in his autobiography. Following the massacre, Geronimo swore vengeance against Mexico and led a series of bloody raids on its soldiers and settlements. “I have killed many Mexicans,” he later wrote. “I do not know how many…some of them were not worth counting.”
In the 1840s and 1850s, the Mexican-American War and the Gadsden Purchase placed the Chiricahua Apaches’ domain within the boundaries of the expanding United States. Geronimo and the Apaches violently resisted the influx of white settlers, but following several years of war with the U.S. Army, they reluctantly negotiated a peace. By 1876, most of the Chiricahuas had been shipped to San Carlos, an arid and inhospitable reservation located in Arizona.
Geronimo avoided the reservation until 1877, when he was captured by Indian agents and brought to San Carlos in chains. He tried his hand at farming, but like many of the Chiricahua, he longed for the freedom of the frontier. Geronimo and his allies would eventually stage three escapes from the reservation between 1878 and 1885. Each time, the renegades fled south and disappeared into the mountains, only resurfacing to conduct marauding expeditions on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. During his second breakout in 1882, Geronimo even staged a daring raid on the Apache reservation and forced several hundred Chiricahuas to join his band—some of them at gunpoint. By the time of his final breakout in 1884, Geronimo had earned an unparalleled reputation for cunning, and stories of his ruthlessness—both real and imagined—were front-page news across the United States. CONTINUE READING NEXT PAGE