Published on August 10, 2010 by Christian
Goyahkla (Geronimo) was born to the Bedonkohe band of the Apache, near Turkey Creek, a tributary of the Gila River in the modern-day state of New Mexico, then part of Mexico, but which his family considered Bedonkohe land. His grandfather (Mako) had been chief of the Bedonkohe Apache. He had three brothers and four sisters.
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Geronimo’s parents raised him according to Apache traditions; after the death of his father, his mother took him to live with the Chihenne (red paint people) and he grew up with them. He married a woman (Alope) from the Nedni-Chiricahua band of Apache when he was 17; they had three children. On March 6, 1858, a company of 400 Mexican soldiers from Sonora led by Colonel JosÃ© MarÃa Carrasco attacked Geronimo’s camp outside Janos while the men were in town trading. Among those killed were Geronimo’s wife, his children, and his mother. His chief, Mangas Coloradas, sent him to Cochise’s band for help in revenge against the Mexicans. It was the Mexicans who named him Geronimo. This appellation stemmed from a battle in which, ignoring a deadly hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked Mexican soldiers with a knife, causing them to utter appeals to Saint Jerome (“Jeronimo!”). The name stuck.
The first Apache raids on Sonora and Chihuahua appear to have taken place during the late 17th century. To counter the early Apache raids on Spanish settlements, presidios were established at Janos (1685) in Chihuahua and at Fronteras (1690) in northern Opata country. In 1835, Mexico had placed a bounty on Apache scalps. Two years later Mangas Coloradas or Dasoda-hae (Red Sleeves) became principal chief and war leader and began a series of retaliatory raids against the Mexicans. Apache raids on Mexican villages were so numerous and brutal that no area was safe.
While Geronimo said he was never a chief, he was a military leader. As a Chiricahua Apache, this meant he was one of many people with special spiritual insights and abilities known to Apache people as “Power”. Among these were the ability to walk without leaving tracks; the abilities now known as telekinesis and telepathy; and the ability to survive gunshot (rifle/musket, pistol, and shotgun). Geronimo was wounded numerous times by both bullets and buckshot, but survived. Apache men chose to follow him of their own free will, and offered first-hand eye-witness testimony regarding his many “powers”. They declared that this was the main reason why so many chose to follow him (he was favored by/protected by “Usen”, the Apache high-god). Geronimo’s “powers” were considered to be so great that he personally painted the faces of the warriors who followed him to reflect their protective effect. During his career as a war chief, Geronimo was notorious for consistently urging raids and war upon Mexican Provinces and their various towns, and later against American locations across Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas.
He married Chee-hash-kish and had two children, Chappo and Dohn-say. Then he took another wife, Nana-tha-thtith, with whom he had one child. He later had a wife named Zi-yeh at the same time as another wife, She-gha, one named Shtsha-she and later a wife named Ih-tedda. Some of his wives were captured, such as the young Ih-tedda. Wives came and went, overlapping each other, being captured and added to the family, lost, or even given up, as Geronimo did with Ih-tedda when he and his band surrendered. At that time he kept his wife She-gha but abandoned the younger wife, Ih-tedda. Geronimo’s last wife was Azul.
Though outnumbered, Geronimo fought against both Mexican and United States troops and became famous for his daring exploits and numerous escapes from capture from 1858 to 1886. One such escape, as legend has it, took place in the Robledo Mountains of southwest New Mexico. The legend states Geronimo and his followers entered a cave, and the U.S. soldiers waited outside the cave entrance for him, but he never came out. Later it was heard that Geronimo was spotted in a nearby area. The second entrance to the cave has yet to be found and the cave is still called Geronimo’s Cave. At the end of his military career, he led a small band of 36 men, women, and children. They evaded thousands of Mexican and American troops for over a year, making him the most famous Native American of the time and earning him the title of the “worst Indian who ever lived” among white settlers. His band was one of the last major forces of independent Native American warriors who refused to acknowledge the United States occupation of the American West.