Geronimo

What does the name Geronimo remind you of? Surely, some would remember swashbuckling films like The Battle at Apache Pass(1952), Indian Uprising (1952) (1950), Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) etc.

Others would attach his name to U.S. paratrooper’s jumps. History says that in 1940 the night before their first jump they watched an inspirational film on this American legend. Since then, they have cried out his name during jumps, which became a tradition for later generations of paratroopers.

For yet others, SS Geronimo is a United States Liberty ship launched in 1943. Then there is a Web Application Server named after the same by the Apache Software Foundation. What’s more, two US towns are also christened after him.

All this and much more shows that the name of the legend is an unforgettable saga in American history and is deeply rooted in its culture, tradition and way of life.

The protagonist of this legend was born near Turkey Creek, a branch of the Gila River in what is now the state of New Mexico. The hero himself was a Bedonkohe Apache. He began his life as a medic but later turned into a skillful warrior and tribe chief who often fought against Mexicans.
As the story goes, Mexican soldiers had killed his first wife and three children during an allegedly peaceful trade camp in 1858; hence his hatred for Mexicans. In fact, the Mexicans gave him the nickname of Gerónimo, yet there are no definite theories as to what it meant.

However, history knows that Geronimo alias Chiricahua Goyaalé (One Who Yawns) (June 16, 1829–February 17, 1909) was a legendary Native American chief of the Chiricahua Apache who resisted the fall of aboriginal lands to the federal formation of the United States, for 25 years until they surrendered.

He led the last armed resistance that marked the revolt of the Indians against the U. S. Government’s policy of restrictive reservation. After the Civil War ended, the US Government implemented its military might to delimit the Apaches to 7200 square miles and by the 1880s; they had been enclosed within 2600 square miles. This resulted in a war between the military and the Apaches. The legendary hero was the chief of one of the tribes.

On September 4, 1886, the protagonist surrendered to the United States Army General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona and he was imprisoned at Fort Pickens, Florida. In 1894, the hero in the legend was moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Later in life, the hero became a celebrated figure, gave special appearances at native exhibitions, and sold his handicrafts and photographs.  However, he could never return to his homeland and died of pneumonia at Fort Sill in 1909. Before his death, he dictated to S.S. Barrett his biography, Geronimo: His Own Story.

He lies buried at the Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. These words from the mouth of the hero of the legend himself, sums up his life and story: “I was born on the Prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.” Sadly, only death got Geronimo the freedom he had fought for.

Joseph Paige 2006

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