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October 23, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

Geronimo (1829-1909) was an Apache leader and medicine man best known for his fearlessness in resisting anyone–Mexican or American—who attempted to remove his people from their tribal lands.

He repeatedly evaded capture and life on a reservation, and during his final escape, a full quarter of the U.S. standing army pursued him and his followers. When Geronimo was captured on September 4, 1886, he was the last Native American leader to formally surrender to the U.S. military. He spent the last 20 years of his life as a prisoner of war.

Geronimo (1829-1909), American Apache chieftain, kneels with a rifle in his hands, 1887.

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Geronimo’s Early Life

Geronimo was born in what is today Arizona in the upper Gila River country on June 16, 1829. His birth name was Goyahkla, or “one who yawns.” He was part of the Bedonkohe subsection of the Chiricahua tribe of Apaches, a small but mighty group of around 8,000 people. By the time he came of age, the Apaches were at war with Mexicans to the South, the U.S. government to the North and neighboring Comanche and Navajo tribes. He showed early promise as a hunter and led four successful raids on nearby tribes by age 17.

Personal tragedy shaped his lifelong hatred for anyone who attempted to subject him or his people. While he was away on a trading trip in 1851, Mexican soldiers led by Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco attacked his family’s camp. Geronimo’s wife, Alope, their three children and his mother were all murdered.

Wild with grief, Geronimo burned his family’s belonging according to Apache tradition before heading into the forest, where he claimed he heard a voice that told him: “No gun will ever kill you. I will take the bullets from the guns … and I will guide your arrows.” He soon hunted down his family’s killers and devoted his life to avenging them.

What Does the Name ‘Geronimo!’ Mean?

The source of the name “Geronimo” is disputed. The young Goyahkla earned the nickname while leading Apache raids. Some historians believe its origins are the cries of frightened Mexican soldiers calling out the name of the Catholic St. Jerome when they faced Geronimo in battle. Others believe it is simply a mispronunciation of “Goyahkla.”

Whatever the origin of the name “Geronimo,” it took on new life long after the leader’s …read more


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