A Year: Day to Day Men: 4th of September

Tactile Sensations

September 4, 1886 marks the surrender of Apache Chief Geronimo, ending the last major Indian- United States government war.

Chief Goyaałé (Geronimo) was a prominent leader and medicine man from the Bedonkohe band of the Apache tribe. From 1850 to 1886 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 started with American settlement in Apache lands following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

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 U.S. forces that followed Geronimo’s third 1885 reservation “breakout”, Geronimo surrendered for the last time on September 4th in 1886 to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood, an Apache-speaking West Point graduate who had earned Geronimo’s respect a few years before.

Geronimo 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 Saint Louis World’s Fair, where he reportedly rode a ferris wheel and sold souvenirs and photographs of himself. In President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 Inaugural Parade Geronimo rode horseback down Pennsylvania Avenue with five real Indian chiefs, who wore full headgear and painted faces. Held captive far longer than his surrender agreement called for, the Apache warrior made his case directly to the president requesting that the Chiricahuas at Fort Sill be relieved of their status as prisoners of war, and allowed to return to their homeland in Arizona. President Roosevelt refused, referring to the continuing animosity in Arizona for the deaths of civilians associated with Geronimo’s raids

Geronimo died at the Fort Sill hospital in 1909 of pneumonia; he was still a prisoner of war. On his deathbed, he confessed to his nephew that he regretted his decision to surrender. His last words were reported to be said to his nephew, “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.” Geronimo is buried at Fort Sill in the Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery. surrounded by the graves of relatives and other Apache prisoners of war.

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