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The Apaches-Geronimo`s fight for freedom and independence

Facharbeit (Schule) 2001 12 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Landeskunde



The topic I chose for my research paper is called “The Apaches - Geronimo’s fight for freedom and independence.” We talked about Native Americans in English class and I got interested in this part of the US- American past. My father told me about Geronimo and what he said was that he was one of the great leaders of the Apache tribe and fought with an overwhelming power and determination against the Mexicans and whites. I searched for the name of this impressive man on the internet and what I first found out was that he was some bloody, dangerous man with no respect for human life. That’s what I read on pages of the US government and FBI. The striking difference between these two opinions made me even more curious. Getting to know more about the Apache tribe and about Geronimo was my first intention of making it my research paper topic. But I never expected it would make me feel to be a part of it, to be supposed to tell the story I just found out about.

I was told to write a research paper about a problem, have some arguments and at least a suggestion of how to solve this problem. I made it my problem to tell the story of Geronimo, parts of his life and his true intention of fighting. I can not solve the problems of the past but I can write about them and try to help so they will not happen again.

Origins of the Apache Indians

In the beginning the world was covered 1 with darkness. There was no sun, no day. The perpetual night had no moon or stars. There were, however, all manner of beasts and birds. Mankind could not prosper under such conditions, for the beasts and serpents destroyed all human offspring.

All creatures had the power of speech and were gifted with reason. There were two tribes of creatures: the birds or the feathered tribe and the beasts. The former were organized wider their chief, the eagle. These tribes often held councils, and the birds wanted light admitted. This the beasts repeatedly refused to do. Finally the birds made war against the beasts. They fought for many days, but at last the birds won the victory. After this war was over, although some evil beasts remained, the birds were able to control the councils, and light was admitted, then mankind could live and prosper. The eagle was chief in this good fight: therefore, his feathers were worn by man as emblems of wisdom, justice, and power.

Among the few human beings that were yet alive was a woman who had been blessed with many children, but these had always been destroyed be the dragon. After many years a son was born to her and she dug for him a deep cave. Frequently the dragon would come and question her, but she would say, I have no more children; you have eaten all of them.

When the child was larger he would not always stay in the cave, for he sometimes wanted to run and play. He also said that he wished to go hunting. The mother would not give her consent. She told him of the dragon, the wolves, and serpents; but he said, To-morrow I go. At the boy’s request his uncle (who was the only man then living) made a little bow and some arrows for him, and the two went hunting the next day. They trailed the deer far up the mountain and finally the boy killed a buck. Just then the huge form of the dragon appeared. The child was not afraid, but his uncle was so dumb with fright that he did not speak or move.

The dragon said, This is the child I have been seeking. Boy, you are nice and fat, so I will eat you. The boy replied, No, you shall not eat me. So he walked over to where the dragon sat. The dragon said, I like your courage, but you are foolish; what do you think you could do? Well, said the boy, I can do enough to protect myself, as you may bind out. Dragon, will you fight me? The dragon said, Yes, in whatever way you like. The boy said, I will stand one hundred paces distant from you and you may have four shots at me with your bow and arrows provided that you will then exchange places with me and give me four shots. Good, said the dragon. Stand up. The dragon took his bow, which was made of a large pine tree. He tool four arrows from his quiver; they were made of young pine tree saplings, and each arrow was twenty feet in length. He took deliberate aim, but just as the arrow left the bow the boy made a peculiar sound and leaped into the air. Immediately the arrow was shivered into a thousand splinters, and the boy was seen standing on the top of a bright rainbow over the spot where the dragon’s aim had been directed. Soon the rainbow was gone and the boy was standing on the ground again. Four times this was repeated, then the boy said, Dragon, stand here; it is my time to shoot. The dragon said, All right, your little arrows cannot pierce my first coat of horn, and I have three other coats -shoot away. The boy shot an arrow, striking the dragon just over the heart, and one coat of the great thorny skin fell on the ground. The next shot another coat, and then another, and the dragon’s heart was exposed. Then the dragon trembled, but could not move. Before the fourth arrow was shot the boy said, Uncle, you are dumb with fear; you have not moved; come here or the dragon will fall on you. His uncle ran toward him. Then he sped the fourth arrow with true aim, and it pierced the dragon’s heart. He was killed instantly and rolled down the mountain side with a tremendous roar.

This boy’s name was Apache. The great spirit taught him how to prepare herbs for medicine, how to hunt, and how to fight. He was the first chief of the Indians and wore the eagle’s feathers the sign of justice, wisdom, and power. To him and to his people, as they were created, the great spirit gave homes in the land of the West.

History of the Apaches

The Apache Indians belong to the southern branch of the Athabascan group, whose languages constitute a large family, with speakers in Alaska, western Canada, and the American Southwest. The several branches of Apache tribes occupied an area extending from the Arkansas River to Northern Mexico and from Central Texas to Central Arizona. Generally, the Apaches are divided into Eastern and Western, with the Rio Grande serving as the dividing line. The Apaches went by numerous names. Because of their nomadic nature, it seems probable that several names were used to identify the same band or tribe. The name Apache derives from the Zuñi word apachu, meaning “enemy.” The Apaches referred to themselves as Inde or Diné, meaning “the people.”

They arrived in the Southwest between A.D. 1000 and 1400. After somehow being separated from their northern kinsmen, they carved out a home in the Southwest—apparently migrating south along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, then spreading westward into New Mexico and Arizona. In time, pressure from the Comanches and other tribes pushed the Apaches farther south and west.

The social unit of the Apaches was the extended family. Several extended families generally stayed together and were led by their most prominent member, who acted as chief advisor and director of group affairs. A number of the groups lived in close proximity and could unite for defensive or offensive purposes, or for social or ceremonial occasions. The leader of the combined groups was the band leader. Band leaders were always males, but females held a central place within the tribe. Upon marriage, the groom moved in with his wife’s family and had to hunt and work with his in- laws. If the wife should die, the husband was required to stay with her family, who would usually supply him with a new bride. The wife had little obligation to the husband’s family, but if he died, his family could provide a cousin or brother for her to marry. Men were allowed to marry more than one woman, but few besides wealthy or prestigious leaders did so. On those rare occasions, they were required to marry sisters or cousins of their wives.

The Apaches were nomadic and lived almost completely off the buffalo. They dressed in buffalo skins and lived in tents made of tanned and greased hides, which they loaded onto dogs when they moved with the herds. They were among the first Indians, after the Pueblos, to learn to ride horses. Learning from runaway or captured Pueblos, the Apaches quickly adapted to their use of horses. When the Pueblos became unwilling or unable to trade with the Apaches, the nomadic Indians turned their new equestrian skills to raiding for horses and supplies.

From the time of the Spanish colonization until 1886 they were noted for their warlike disposition. According to the written history of whites, Apaches have always been considered hostile; in truth, serious warlike behavior could usually be attributed to belligerent behavior on the part of the whiteman or misunderstandings between the two peoples. The most serious hostilities occurred under the leadership of Cochise, Victorio and Geronimo.

During the Civil War, Indian raids increased sharply and the Army had no place to put Apaches that they had rounded up. In 1870 it was proposed that a reservation be created to contain them, and two years later an Executive order created the San Carlos Reservation. Initial attempts to settle the scattered bands were unsuccessful and in 1874 the control of the reservation passed from the War Department to the Indian Bureau, now the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The San Carlos Reservation was settled by several Apache bands: Coyotero, Chiricahua, San Carlos, Tonto, Yuma and Yavapai (Mohave).

Many unsuccessful attempts were made to confine the bands to reservations; unlike whitemen these people, who had been free to wander for centuries, had no cultural desire for acquisition of property. On one notable occasion a band led by Geronimo left the reservation and resumed a nomadic style of life. After bloodshed on both sides, Geronimo and his band surrendered on September 4, 1886 to the U.S. Army. Along with many friendly Apaches he was sent to Florida as a prisoner of the U.S. government. These Indians were later moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where many of their descendants still reside.

Following the surrender of Geronimo the Apaches gradually became reconciled to reservation life. Their hereditary homeland which had extended over a large area of Arizona and New Mexico was now severely limited. Previously they had lived off the natural resources with limited attempts at agriculture and had no experience with community life as the whiteman knows it. Aggressive and individualistic, they were among the last of the Indian people of North America to give up their traditional pattern of life and accept supervision by military and civil authorities. In two generations they have been forced to adjust from a simple economy based upon a semi- nomadic way of life to the complicated life of modern America. This change has been made without the educational advantage of their white neighbor, and, until recently, without the opportunity to conduct their own economic and political affairs. Proud of their Apache heritage, many are still reluctant to accept the white man's way of life.

Approximately 10,000 Apaches live in the two communities of San Carlos and Bylas; the majority have not married outside the tribe and are fullblooded Apaches. However, only a few have been able to acquire a higher education and hold high office. The unemployment rate on the reservation is high; some estimate as high as 70 per cent.


“ The sun sinks and comes back tomorrow. The Indians sink, too, but soon you won’t hear from them anymore.”1 - Geronimo

His name was Goyathlay, the yawning one. The Mexicans were not able to pronounce his real name, so they called him Geronimo. He was born 1829 in No-do yohn Canyon in Arizona where he grew up and spent most of his youth. His father Taklishin, the gray, was chief of a tribe of the Chiricahua-Apaches. His mother was called Juana, she gave birth to seven other children. Goyathlay died 1909 as a prisoner of a foreign land. His last wish was to be buried in Arizona, so he could finally come home and rest in peace. This was ignored by the whites, they kept him in chains, scared he could still harm them even as a dead man.

“ I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun2 - Geronimo


In the summer of 1858 Geronimo and his tribe stopped at a Mexican town called Kas-ki-yeh to camp close to it and go into town for trading. One afternoon when Geronimo returned to the camp he found his aged mother, young wife, and his three small children killed by Mexican troops. The chief of Geronimo’s tribe, Mangus-Colorado, gave order to start silently for their homes in Arizona for they weren’t enough warriors. Geronimo hardly wished to fight, he did not pray, nor did he resolve to do anything in particular, for he felt he had no purpose left. On their way back Geronimo spoke to no one and no one spoke to him - there was nothing to say. “ No one had lost as I had, for I had lost all ” 3 (Geronimo). Whenever Geronimo saw anything to remind him of former happy days his heart would ache for revenge upon Mexico.


All the warriors of the Bedonheko Apaches (Geronimo’s tribe) were willing to take the war path against Mexico. Geronimo was selected to ask for the aid of other tribes in this war. He went to the Chokonen (Chiricahua) Apaches to ask Cochise, their chief, for help and he called a council to speak with his warriors and ask for their opinion. They all promised to help and so did the Nedni Apaches.

In the summer of 1859 the three tribes assembled on the Mexican border to go upon the war path. The Bedonheko Apaches were led by Mangus-Colorado, the Chokomen Apaches by Cochise, and the Nedni Apaches by Whoa, a good friend of Geronimo. The chieftains trusted him and since they found he had been more deeply wronged than others, they gave him the honor of directing the battle. Geronimo fought with fury, thinking of his murdered mother, wife and babies. The Indians won the battle, every single Mexican soldier was killed and Geronimo was made war chief of all the Apaches.

“ I could not call back my loved ones, I could not bring back the dead Apaches, but I could rejoice in this revenge. The Apaches had avenged the massacre of Kas-ki-yeh. ” 1 - Geronimo

Fighting the Mexicans

In the years after this Geronimo frequently persuaded other warriors of his tribe to attack the Mexicans and fight against them. They often lost their bravest warriors and the victory, if any at all, was not a great one. Some Apaches blamed Geronimo for the evil results of the expeditions, but he said nothing. Having failed, it was only proper remaining silent.

In the summer of 1861 Geronimo got wounded when Mexican troops attacked him and his warriors. A bullet struck him at the lower corner of his left eye and later on the was shot into the side. Many women and children were carried away at different times by Mexicans. Not many of them ever returned, and those who did underwent many hardships in order to be again united with their people. Those who did not escape were slaves to the Mexicans.

“ We never chained prisoners or kept them in confinement, but they seldom got away. Mexican men when captured were compelled to cut wood and herd horses. Mexican women and children were treated as our own people. ” 1 - Geronimo

Geronimo and his tribe fought the Mexicans very often and both sides are to blame for many dead men.

In 1880 the Bedonheko Apache tribe assembled at Casa Grande to make a treaty of peace with the Mexicans. Finally they shook hands and promised to be brothers. They started to trade and the Indians got mescal. Soon nearly all of them were drunk. While they were drunk two companies of Mexican troops, from another town, attacked them, killed twenty Indians, and captured many more.

Mexican troops were seen by scouts in several directions in 1884 and United States troops were coming down to Arizona from the north. Geronimo and his tribe started to move southward. One night they were camping close to the mountains when Mexican troops began firing on them. The fight lasted all day, they killed many Mexicans and in turn lost heavily. Geronimo heard an Mexican general talk to his officers about him as the red devil. He told them to exterminate this band at any cost. Geronimo and his warriors escaped to the mountains. This was the last battle Geronimo fought with Mexicans. United States troops were trailing them continually from this time until the treaty was made with General Miles in Skeleton Canyon.

“ I have killed many Mexicans; I do not know how many, for frequently I did not count them. Some of them were not worth counting. ” 2 -Geronimo

The White Men

About the time of the massacre of “Kas-ki-yeh” in 1858 Geronimo heard that some white men were measuring land to the south of them. In company with a number of other warriors he went to visit them. They could not understand them very well, for they had no interpreter, but they made a treaty with them by shaking hands and promising to be brothers. When they started to trade later on, the white men gave them money. They did not know the value of this money, but they kept it and later learned from the Navajo Indians that it was very valuable. Everyday the white men measured land with curious instruments and put down marks which the Indians could not understand.

“ They were good men, and we were sorry when they had gone on into the west. They were not soldiers. These were the first white men I ever saw.” 1 - Geronimo

The Last Treaty

When the US government decided to move the Apache out of their traditional lands in 1876, Geronimo and other leaders started to fight against the United States troops. By this time the Indians had already lost all their trust in the white men for they had made many bad experiences with their treaties.

“ After so much trouble all of the Indians agreed not to be friendly with the white men any more ” 2 - Geronimo.

US Army General George Cook caught up with Geronimo in May 1883 and convinced him to surrender. From February 1884 to May 1885 Geronimo remained on the San Carlos reservation, during which time he was the subject of numerous newspaper articles recounting his deeds, both real and contrived by imaginative writers. When he left the reservation in May 1885, it was front page news on a national scale. Crook located Geronimo in March 1886 and once again talked him into a surrender. The short-lived surrender brought Crook’s forced resignation and his replacement by General Nelson Miles. Geronimo met Miles at his request and made a treaty with him. Miles talked to him as a brother and promised to build him a house, fence him much land, give him cattle, horses, mules, and farming implements; he promised to let Geronimo live with his tribe and his family; he promised that while he (Miles) is living Geronimo will not be arrested. General Miles never fulfilled his promises and from then on Geronimo was a prisoner of war. He and his band of 340 were sent to Fort Marion, Florida where many of them died from marshfever, other diseases, and malnutrition. All the children were forced to leave their families and brought to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where more than thirty of them died from diseases. In October 1894 Geronimo and the remaining 296 of his band were sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he died in 1909.


A journalist that met Geronimo at Fort Sill describes him as very weak looking after those long years of chase and the terrible imprisonment in Florida. He can hardly imagine this old fellow being one of the most dangerous men of the American History until he looked into his glowing eyes, dark and full of hate.

I don’t want to give anybody the impression that I can accept and tolerate all his misdeeds, all those killings and raids. I found him actually being a bloody, dangerous man. But know I can understand his intention. Geronimo fought for his life and the lives of his family. He fought against the feeling of being wronged, to take revenge. His anger and hate against the Mexicans must have been very deep. The treaty with General Miles and the huge disappointment when he found out there was no white man to trust seemed to make him very weak after many years of fighting. Geronimo’s fight for his rights seems like a fight for nothing. He didn’t change anything for the Apaches, for his tribe. His life ended in chains, having failed. But I think he didn’t have any choice, he had to fight in order to keep his honor.

There is no excuse for killing, but there might be an understanding nod.

Geronimo, 17 fit for action men, and their families were hunted by 5000 American soldiers, thousands of civil men, 500 Apache-reconnaissance patrols, and 3000 Mexican volunteers.

When Geronimo finally gave up after years of persecution the United States had spent over one million Dollar on the campaign against him.


1 found in Brown, Vinson. Voices of earth and sky. 1976. Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph.

1 Arrowsmith, William. 1986. Meine Worte sind wie Sterne, Sie gehen nicht unter; Reden der Indianerhäuptlinge. München: Dianus Trikont. page 18

2 see id. page 18

3 see id. page 21

1 see id. page 21

1 see id. page 23

2 see id. page 19

1 see id. page 30

2 see id. page 33


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Titel: The Apaches-Geronimo`s fight for freedom and independence