Geronimo – Prisoner of War

On September 4th in 1886, Apache leader and medicine man Geronimo surrenders a third and final time to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood, an Apache-speaking West Point graduate who had earned Geronimo’s respect a few years before. He would spend the next 23 years as a “prisoner of war.”

Born in 1829, from age 20 to his surrender Geronimo joined with members of three other Chiricahua Apache bands, the Tchihende, the Tsokanende and the Nednhi, to carry out numerous raids as well as resistance to US and Mexican military campaigns in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Sonora, and in the southwestern American territories of New Mexico and Arizona. Geronimo’s raids and related combat actions were a part of the prolonged period of the Apache–United States conflict, which started with American settlement in Apache lands following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

While well known, Geronimo was not a chief among the Chiricahua or the Bedonkohe band. However due to his various mad skills, at any one time about 30 to 50 Apaches were following him. As a superb leader in raiding and warfare, he frequently led large numbers of men and women beyond his own following.

During Geronimo’s final period of conflict from 1876 to 1886 he “surrendered” three times and accepted life on the Apache reservations in Arizona. Reservation life was confining to the free-moving Apache people, and they resented restrictions on their customary way of life.

In 1886, after an intense pursuit in Northern Mexico by US forces that followed Geronimo’s third 1885 reservation “breakout,” Geronimo offered his final surrender. He was later transferred to General Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon, just north of the Mexican/American boundary. Miles treated Geronimo as a prisoner of war and acted promptly to remove Geronimo first to Fort Bowie, then to the railroad at Bowie Station, Arizona where he and 27 other Apaches were sent off to join the rest of the Chiricahua tribe which had been previously exiled to Florida.

In his old age, Geronimo became a celebrity. He appeared at fairs, including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, where he reportedly rode a Ferris wheel and sold souvenirs and photographs of himself. However, he was not allowed to return to the land of his birth. He died at the Fort Sill hospital in 1909, still a prisoner of war.

Geronimo is buried at the Fort Sill Indian Agency Cemetery surrounded by the graves of relatives and other Apache prisoners of war. Recalling his origins late in life, Geronimo intoned “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.”

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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