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How Geronimo Eluded Death and Capture for 25 Years

November 18, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

The legendary medicine man and guerrilla warrior was so expert at eluding the enemy, he was believed to hold supernatural powers.

In the summer of 1886, the legendary Apache medicine man and guerrilla warrior Geronimo was being pursued across hostile desert terrain by nearly a quarter of the standing United States Army. Geronimo had reneged on yet another surrender—one of his favorite ploys—and was on the run with a small band of holdouts in northern Mexico while an estimated 5,000 American troops and 3,000 Mexican soldiers sought his capture.

Geronimo was believed by the Chiricahua to possess not only the traditional powers of healing, but also to be supernaturally protected against enemy attack. And he lived up to his larger-than-life persona: For 25 years Geronimo eluded capture even as his infamy made him the primary target of American and Mexican troops and the subject of countless colorful newspaper reports.

The Army’s all-out surge for Geronimo in 1886 was an attempt to finally end the drawn-out, 25-year war with the Chiricahua Apache of the American Southwest. For centuries, the Chiricahua had occupied tribal lands stretching across much of modern-day Arizona and New Mexico, plus the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. But with the end of the Mexican-American War in 1854, the U.S. acquired thousands of square miles of Chiricahua tribal land, and with it came soldiers and white settlers.

Violent clashes between Apache and white interlopers were common in the mid-19th century, but the tipping point was the Bascom Affair, when Apache raiders kidnapped a young boy and the bungled negotiations for his release escalated into atrocities committed on both sides. The Apache Wars officially began in 1862 when Cochise, in retaliation for the Bascom Affair, ambushed a Union garrison at the Battle of Apache Pass.

Supernatural Powers Attributed to Geronimo

Apache leader Geronimo photographed by Edward S. Curtis, 1905.

Geronimo was at that battle, but he wasn’t a chief like Cochise—he was a shaman or medicine man who seemed impervious to enemy arrows and bullets. This supernatural gift was allegedly bestowed upon Geronimo by the god Ussen after Geronimo’s wife and young children were murdered by Mexican soldiers. Praying in mourning atop Bowie Peak, Geronimo heard Ussen’s voice on the wind, saying, “You will never die in battle, nor will you die by gun. I will guide your arrows.”

When an artist came to paint Geronimo’s portrait near …read more


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