Native American News

100 Years Later: Fort Sill Apache Still Fighting to Return to Homelands

Apache en route to Florida as Prisoners of War
Apache en route to Florida as Prisoners of War in September of 1886. Picture taken near San Antonio, Texas.

March 7 marked the 100th anniversary of the release from prisoner of war status of the Chiricahua-Warm Springs Apache Tribe, now known as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.

“We are commemorating and reflecting on the strength of our ancestors and on their desire to return to our homelands in southwest New Mexico and Arizona,” said Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous. “Although the Tribe was released 100 years ago, we’re still struggling to fulfill their dream to return to our rightful home.”

In 2011, 97 years after its release, the Tribe was granted its only reservation in southern New Mexico by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Tribe is seeking to build a gaming facility to generate funds to bring its people home. Residents of the area support the Tribe’s return and the jobs that the project will bring to the economically depressed region.

“We’re closer to our home than we have ever been,” said Haozous. “Our ancestors didn’t give up and neither will we. With patience and perseverance, we will return to our home.”

Read more at Indian Country Today Media Network


Geronimo: The Last Free Apache


A portrait of Geronimo, 1913. Photograph by Adolph Muir.
A portrait of Geronimo, 1913. Photograph by Adolph Muir.

Geronimo is said to have had magical powers. He could see into the future, walk without creating footprints and even hold off the dawn to protect his own. This Apache Indian warrior and his band of 37 followers defied federal authority for more than 25 years.

Geronimo {jur-ahn’-i-moh}, or Goyathlay (“one who yawns”), was born in 1829 in what is today western New Mexico, but was then still Mexican territory. He was a Bedonkohe Apache (grandson of Mahko) by birth and a Net’na during his youth and early manhood. His wife, Juh, Geronimo’s cousin Ishton, and Asa Daklugie were members of the Nednhi band of the Chiricahua Apache.

He was reportedly given the name Geronimo by Mexican soldiers, although few agree as to why. As leader of the Apaches at Arispe in Sonora, he performed such daring feats that the Mexicans singled him out with the sobriquet Geronimo (Spanish for “Jerome”). Some attributed his numerous raiding successes to powers conferred by supernatural beings, including a reputed invulnerability to bullets.

Geronimo: The Last Free Apache. Posted at YouTube by trabalkar.

Geronimo’s war career was linked with that of his brother-in-law, Juh, a Chiricahua chief. Although he was not a hereditary leader, Geronimo appeared so to outsiders because he often acted as spokesman for Juh, who had a speech impediment.

Geronimo was the leader of the last American Indian fighting force formally to capitulate to the United States. Because he fought against such daunting odds and held out the longest, he became the most famous Apache of all. To the pioneers and settlers of Arizona and New Mexico, he was a bloody-handed murderer and this image endured until the second half of this century.

To the Apaches, Geronimo embodied the very essence of the Apache values, aggressiveness, courage in the face of difficulty. These qualities inspired fear in the settlers of Arizona and New Mexico. The Chiricahuas were mostly migratory following the seasons, hunting and farming. When food was scarce, it was the custom to raid neighboring tribes. Raids and vengeance were an honorable way of life among the tribes of this region.

From The American Experience documentary The Wild West: Geronimo, The Last Renegade (1993) Running time: 44:02

By the time American settlers began arriving in the area, the Spanish had become entrenched in the area. They were always looking for Indian slaves and Christian converts. One of the most pivotal moments in Geronimo’s life was in 1858 when he returned home from a trading excursion into Mexico. He found his wife, his mother and his three young children murdered by Spanish troops from Mexico. This reportedly caused him to have such a hatred of the whites that he vowed to kill as many as he could. From that day on he took every opportunity he could to terrorize Mexican settlements and soon after this incident he received his power, which came to him in visions. Geronimo was never a chief, but a medicine man, a seer and a spiritual and intellectual leader both in and out of battle. The Apache chiefs depended on his wisdom.

When the Chiricahua were forcibly removed (1876) to arid land at San Carlos, in eastern Arizona, Geronimo fled with a band of followers into Mexico. He was soon arrested and returned to the new reservation. For the remainder of the 1870s, he and Juh led a quiet life on the reservation, but with the slaying of an Apache prophet in 1881, they returned to full-time activities from a secret camp in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

In 1875 all Apaches west of the Rio Grande were ordered to the San Carlos Reservation. Geronimo escaped from the reservation three times and although he surrendered, he always managed to avoid capture. In 1876, the U.S. Army tried to move the Chiricahuas onto a reservation, but Geronimo fled to Mexico eluding the troops for over a decade. Sensationalized press reports exaggerated Geronimo’s activities, making him the most feared and infamous Apache. The last few months of the campaign required over 5,000 soldiers, one-quarter of the entire Army, and 500 scouts, and perhaps up to 3,000 Mexican soldiers to track down Geronimo and his band.

General George Crook
General George Crook

In May 1882, Apache scouts working for the U.S. army surprised Geronimo in his mountain sanctuary, and he agreed to return with his people to the reservation. After a year of farming, the sudden arrest and imprisonment of the Apache warrior Ka-ya-ten-nae, together with rumors of impending trials and hangings, prompted Geronimo to flee on May 17, 1885, with 35 warriors and 109 women, children and youths. In January 1886, Apache scouts penetrated Juh’s seemingly impregnable hideout. This action induced Geronimo to surrender (Mar. 25, 1886) to Gen. George Crook, who was considered the U.S. Army’s most skilled Indian fighter and who voiced his respect for Native Americans as valiant foes who deserved to be treated fairly and humanely in defeat. Geronimo later fled but finally surrendered to Gen. Nelson Miles on Sept. 4, 1886. The government breached its agreement and transported Geronimo and nearly 450 Apache men, women, and children to Florida for confinement in Forts Marion and Pickens. In 1894 they were removed to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Geronimo became a rancher, appeared (1904) at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, sold Geronimo souvenirs, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade.

Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886 was the last significant Indian guerrilla action in the United States. At the end, his group consisted of only 16 warriors, 12 women, and 6 children. Upon their surrender, Geronimo and over 300 of his fellow Chiricahuas were shipped to Fort Marion, Florida. One year later many of them were relocated to the Mt. Vernon barracks in Alabama, where about one quarter died from tuberculosis and other diseases. Geronimo died on Feb. 17, 1909, a prisoner of war, unable to return to his homeland. He was buried in the Apache cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.



“Women of the Apache Nation: Voices of Truth (University of Nevada, 1991)

“Survival of the Spirit: Chiricahua Apahces in Captivity” (University of Nevada Press, 1993) by H. Henrietta Stockelade.


Geronimo In His Own Words


The above photo is arguably he most famous image of Geronimo, and the most widely (and wildly) misidentified. Both NPR and Wikipedia date it from 1887. In a tedious Vanity Fair article of September 15, 2011, in which its author recapitulates the tired story of the secretive Skull & Bones Society at Yale possessing Geronimo’s skull (supposedly stolen by a group of Yalies training at Ft. Sill, among them one Prescott Bush, father of former President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush) and a crazy lawsuit filed in 2009 by Ramsey Clark, it appears as an inset captioned as being from 1884, ‘a year before he escaped from an Arizona reservation with a small band of guerilla fighters and led the U.S. Army on a 1,600-mile chase across the deserts and mountains of the Southwest.’ Unfortunately for VF, the photo has been confirmed as being an albumen silver print from 1890, taken at the Reed and Wallace Studio during Geronimo’s temporary confinement at Mount Vernon barracks in Mobile County, Alabama.

“I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds and sheltered by the trees as other Indian babes. I was living peaceably when people began to speak bad of me. Now I can eat well, sleep well and be glad. I can go everywhere with a good feeling.

“The soldiers never explained to the government when an Indian was wronged, but reported the misdeeds of the Indians. We took an oath not to do any wrong to each other or to scheme against each other.”

“I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.”

“When a child, my mother taught me to kneel and pray to Usen for strength, health, wisdom and protection. Sometimes we prayed in silence, sometimes each one prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us… and to Usen.”

“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.”


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