Geronimo: The Formidable Apache Warrior Who Was Turned Into A Sideshow
Born Goyaałé or Goyathlay (or “the one who yawns”) in 1829, Geronimo spent his early days in the No-Doyohn Canyon near the modern Arizona-New Mexico border. At the time, it was considered part of Mexico.
Like many Apache in the area, Geronimo had a turbulent start to life. Even as a child, he had a bounty on his scalp worth 25 pesos to the Mexican government. Still, he was determined to fight back against the authorities who hunted him and his people. Legend has it that after Geronimo killed his first animal during a childhood hunt, he ate its raw heart for good luck.
He was 17 years old when he married his lover Alope, who bore him three children. Around that same time, Geronimo started making a name for himself as a warrior — practically a necessity for his survival. For sustenance, he and other Apache people would often raid Mexican villages. In response, the government of Chihuahua, Mexico put $200 bounties on their heads.
Geronimo’s life changed forever in 1858. He was out trading with locals when Mexican troops suddenly attacked his village and killed his wife, mother, and three children. Geronimo vowed to get revenge on those who murdered his family. He even heard a voice in his head that assured him no guns would ever kill him — and that his arrows would be guided into his enemies.
He survived his next fight with Mexican troops and thus became utterly fearless, running toward his enemies in a zig-zag pattern so that he could stab them to death up close. But the Mexican authorities were not his only enemies. When the U.S. government declared that Arizona’s Native Americans had to relocate to reservations in the 1870s, Geronimo refused.
Resisting Mexican soldiers in the south and American soldiers in the north, Geronimo was ultimately betrayed by his fellow Apaches — who lured him into his own arrest under the pretense of a peace meeting with Americans. Still, he and 17 others managed to escape in 1878. They fled through the Sierra Madre Mountains as about 5,000 U.S. soldiers hunted them down.
Eventually, the army caught up with them and Geronimo turned himself in — provided that the authorities would allow his men to stay together. Transported to Florida in 1886 alongside other captives, Geronimo was forced to saw logs before he was taken to the Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama about a year later. By 1894, he and 341 other Native American prisoners of war had been moved to a military base in Oklahoma.
With racist articles on his “savagery” filling the press, Geronimo became a celebrity of sorts. Put on display at fairs and exhibitions across America, he was billed as “The Worst Indian That Ever Lived.” Despite the insulting title, his fame did allow him the chance to attend many important events, such as President Theodore Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1905.
When he met the president, Geronimo boldly asked him to allow him and other Apaches to return home to the Southwest. In the end, that request was denied — and Geronimo passed away from pneumonia in 1909.