When you hear the word “Geronimo,” what is the first thing that comes to your mind? For some it might be the memory of childhood fun with running and jumping into the pool in the classic “cannonball” position and yelling “Geronimo.” But, if you are a history buff and a fan of classic westerns then no doubt your first thought will be of the Apache War Chief, Geronimo.
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Geronimo, whose real name was Goyathlay, was born in 1829 near what is now Clifton, Arizona. At the age of 17, he was admitted into the Council of Warriors and soon after married and had three children. A peaceful Apache, Geronimo became a fierce and respected adversary of both the U.S. and Mexican governments after the massacre of his family by Mexican troops while on a trading mission with old Mexico villagers. From that day on, Geronimo (Spanish for Jerome, the name given to him by Mexican soldiers for reasons unknown) hated all Mexicans.
Over the next 20 years, as the white man continued to “invade” the Apache homelands, Geronimo waged war in both Mexico and the U.S. in the Arizona and New Mexico territories. By the early 1870s, General George Crook managed to establish a fragile peace and Geronimo, as well as his followers, joined his fellow Apache in their traditional homeland.
A few years later in 1876, the U.S. Government uprooted the Apaches and moved them to what is described as “Hells Half Acre,” the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Starving, homesick, and left with few options, Geronimo led hundreds of Apaches into Mexico where for ten years they sporadically raided white settlements across the border. In 1882, General George Crook was given the task of bringing Geronimo and his followers back on the reservation. Two years later, Geronimo and his band of Apaches surrendered and went back to the reservation. However, with rumors of trials and executions for acts they had done, Geronimo again left the reservation with about 30 warriors and 100 other Apache to the mountains of Mexico.
Nearly one quarter of the U.S. Army, about 5000 soldiers, took part in a campaign to bring Geronimo and his followers back to the reservation. One year later in Sonora, Mexico, Geronimo, who was exhausted, starving, and heavily outnumbered, surrendered once again. As the troops escorted the rag tag band of Apache back to Fort Bowie, Geronimo and some of his warriors who feared they would be executed once back at Fort Bowie, bolted before they crossed the border into Arizona.