Geronimo: From Shaman And Warrior To Tourist Attraction

September 6, 2022

Geronimo is one of the best-known Native American leaders. While he was not a chief, he was a shaman, and those who followed him believed he had the ability to heal the sick, slow time, avoid bullets, and even bring on rainstorms. According to some eyewitnesses, he could see into the future. He was not, however, beloved by all of his people, as some feared the American response from his refusal to give in.

Geronimo in 1887. Source: (Wikipedia/colorized).

He was born into the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe in the 1820s. He was named Goyahkla, or “The One Who Yawns,” but after the Apache raids against the Mexicans, he became Geronimo. The derivation of this name is uncertain, as some believe that it may have come from a mispronunciation of Goyahkla, while others believe that when the Mexican soldiers faced him in battle, they invoked the Catholic St. Jerome out of fear.

The Mexicans Killed His Family Members

In 1851, during a period of bitter conflict between the Apache and the Mexican government, Geronimo was in Janos on a trading mission with other warriors when Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco and 400 soldiers attacked Geronimo’s Bedonkohe encampment. Geronimo returned to find that the Mexicans had killed his mother, his wife, and his three young children. After this, he led a series of raids against Mexico, killing many Mexicans in the process.

His Capture And Escape

The Apache did not wear headdresses like this one, but this is Geronimo. Source: (Library of Congress/colorized).

After the Chiricahua Apache land became part of the United States, the Apaches resisted the U.S. Army for several years, finally ending in a peace settlement. Most of the Chiricahuas were sent to a reservation in Arizona. Geronimo was not among those, but in 1877, Indian agents captured him and took him to San Carlos in chains. Although he did attempt to be a farmer there, between 1878 and 1885, he staged three escapes, leading a band of followers as they tried to return to their former lives. Each time, they fled into the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, raiding and plundering on the way. They returned to the U.S. to steal guns and ammo, often killing everyone they saw before slipping back into Mexico. By the time of his final escape attempt, Geronimo had built a reputation for his ruthlessness and cunning, which was not entirely based on fact.

After A Long Pursuit, He Surrendered

After his final escape, Geronimo was pursued by two columns of troops, each of which included 100 Apache Scouts recruited from among the Apache people; the pursuit lasted through summer and autumn. Eventually, Geronimo and the Apache were captured, and they agreed to surrender terms. The next night, Geronimo and 39 of his followers escaped. Eventually, on September 4, 1886, Geronimo and the Apaches surrendered.

He Was Sent To Florida

Geronimo was sent to Fort Sam Huston in Texas along with the other Apaches and the Apache Scouts who helped track Geronimo. From there, they were sent to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida, while Geronimo’s family was sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine. Tragically, the Apache children were sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, and more than a third of them died from tuberculosis.