History records that Geronimo was born on this day in 1829 in the southwest territory that became New Mexico and Arizona. Beginning in the 1870’s Geronimo and his people lived on and off reservations in many locations, sometimes pursued by soldiers, sometimes returning to the reservations of their own will. He and the Apaches were relocated as far east as Florida and gradually moved west until being settled at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He died a “prisoner of war” (for over 25 years) in Oklahoma in 1909. Prior to his death he was quite a “star” in American media and after his settlement in Oklahoma S. M. Barrett worked with him to produce a biography”In His Own Words”. He had quite a story to tell. A link at the bottom of this post will take you to the Open Library digitized version of the book. There are many other stories about Geronimo and many accounts of his deeds and actions in the period of time known sometimes as the “Great Indian Wars”.
That Geronimo worked to create this account of his life and perspective of the time is of itself an amazing accomplishment. In his “own words” the culture subdued by the great western expansion is captured and remembered. Words like “Apache” and “Geronimo” have taken on lives of there own in part because this auto/biography has preserved behavior and encouraged glorification of a very violent and devastating conflict.
Geronimo begins his tale with a creation story and details the history of his people through his own remembrances. His story shows him to be a thoughtful person and fairly opinionated. Its an easy read and worth the time. the PBS series American Experience produced a 5 part mini series, We Shall Remain, which tell the American story from the native perspective.
The final chapter in his story discusses his “Hopes for the future”, he hopes his people will be able to go home to their ancestral lands. Geronimo says:
There is no climate or soil which, to my mind, is equal to that of Arizona. We could have plenty of good cultivating land, plenty of grass, plenty of timber and plenty of minerals in that land which the Almighty created for the Apaches. It is my land, my home, my fathers’ land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return. I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct.
Could I but see this accomplished, I think I could forget all the wrongs that I have ever received, and die a contented and happy old man. But we can do nothing in this matter ourselves-we must wait until those in authority choose to act. If this cannot be done during my lifetime-if I must die in bondage- I hope that the remnant of the Apache tribe may, when I am gone, be granted the one privilege which they request-to return to Arizona. (pp 215, 216)
Geronimo’s Story of His Life (New York: Duffield and Company, 1906)