Obit of the Day (Historical): Geronimo (1909)
The United States’ long and horrific history of wars with their Native American population unofficially ended on September 4, 1886. On that date, the U.S. Army accepted the surrender of the Apache warrior Goyahkla (meaning “one who yawns”). For over a year, General Nelson Miles and his troops hunted Goyahkla and his small band of men, women, and children as they hid throughout the American Southwest. But the group was running out of food and water and in the hopes of protecting those under his leadership Goyahkla turned himself in to the authorities.
Born in Mexican territory - now New Mexico - in 1829, Goyahkla’s life changed forever on May 6, 1851 when Mexican troops attacked his village while the men were away on a trading expedition. Goyahkla returned to find that his mother, wife, and three young children were murdered.
Goyahkla and other members of the Chiricahua Apaches attacked Mexican troops in retaliation. During this battle, Goyahkla was noted for attacking soldiers in a hail of bullets armed only with a knife. The Mexicans began calling him “Geronimo” which is Spanish for Jerome. Some believe that the soldiers were calling on St. Jerome for protection from Goyahkla, others believe it was a mispronunciation of Goyahkla.
For more than thirty years, Goyahkla and other Chiricahua would attack soldiers and settlers throughout the American West. The war of attrition led to atrocities on both sides, as the Apaches fought for their existence and the U.S. fought for the expansion of the country and safety for their settlers*. A treaty was negotiated in 1872 creating the San Carlos Reservation. Located in what is now Arizona, the reservation was nicknamed “40 Acres of Hell” for the conditions and many Apache who lived on the reservation left, including Goyahkla.
Eventually overpowered and outmanned, Goyahkla surrendered, with his band of followers reduced to only 38 people. He was officially designated as a prisoner of war and relocated to Mobile, Alabama and later Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. He would never return to his people.
At the beginning of the 20th century the vanquished warrior became a celebrity of sorts. With little choice, “Geronimo” was paraded around the country as a symbol of American military strength. He attended the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, where he rode the Ferris Wheel and then in March 1905 he was part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. (To note, according to photographer Edward S. Curtis who took the picture above, later wrote that Goyahkla “appreciated the honor of being one of those chosen for [the inaugural parade].”)
Goyahkla died on February 17, 1909. The night before while riding his horse, he was thrown and lay exposed to the cold overnight. His last words, as recorded by his nephew were “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.” He was 79 years old.
(Image of Goyahkla/Geronimo taken on March 3, 1905 by Edward S. Curtis, one day prior to President Roosevelt’s inauguration. Goyahkla was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at the time, home of the famous Carlisle Indian School, whose most famous graduate was Jim Thorpe. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org and in the collection of Northwestern University Library)
* Even writing that sentence it exposes the absurd juxtaposition of the two sides’ reasons for fighting. However it does not serve as an excuse for the brutal killing of defenseless civilians by either side.