SEVENTEEN

The Last of the Apache Chiefs

1880June 1, population of United States is 50,155,783.

1881March 4, James A. Garfield inaugurated as President. March 13, in Russia, nihilists assassinate Czar Alexander. July 2, Garfield shot by assassin; dies September 19; Chester A. Arthur becomes President.

1882April 3, Jesse James shot and killed at St. Joseph, Missouri. September 4, Edison switches on first commercial electric lights in New York Central Station. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn published.

1883March 24, first telephone connection between New York and Chicago. November 3, U.S. Supreme Court decides that an American Indian is by birth an alien and a dependent. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island published.

1884January, Russia abolishes poll tax, last relic of serfdom. March 13, in the Sudan, Siege of Khartoum begins.

1885January 26, Khartoum falls to the Mahdi; Governor General Charles George Gordon killed. March 4, Grover Cleveland becomes first Democratic President since Civil War.

1886May 1, general strikes spread across United States in demand for eight-hour day. May 4, anarchists bomb police in Haymarket Square, Chicago, killing seven, wounding sixty. October 28, Statue of Liberty erected on Bedloe’s Island. December 8, American Federation of Labor founded.

I was living peacefully with my family, having plenty to eat, sleeping well, taking care of my people, and perfectly contented. I don’t know where those bad stories first came from. There we were doing well and my people well. I was behaving well. I hadn’t killed a horse or man, American or Indian. I don’t know what was the matter with the people in charge of us. They knew this to be so, and yet they said I was a bad man and the worst man there; but what had I done? I was living peacefully there with my family under the shade of the trees, doing just what General Crook had told me I must do and trying to follow his advice. I want to know now who it was ordered me to be arrested. I was praying to the light and to the darkness, to God and to the sun, to let me live quietly there with my family. I don’t know what the reason was that people should speak badly of me. Very often there are stories put in the newspapers that I am to be hanged. I don’t want that anymore. When a man tries to do right, such stories ought not to be put in the newspapers. There are very few of my men left now. They have done some bad things but I want them all rubbed out now and let us never speak of them again. There are very few of us left.

—GOYATHLAY (GERONIMO)

AFTER THE DEATH OF Cochise in 1874, his oldest son, Taza, became chief of the Chiricahuas, and Taglito (Tom Jeffords) continued as agent on the Apache Pass reservation. Unlike his father, Taza was not able to secure the steadfast allegiance of all the Chiricahuas. Within a few months these Apaches were split into factions, and in spite of earnest efforts by both Taza and Jeffords, the raiding which Cochise had strictly forbidden was resumed. Because of the Chiricahua reservation’s proximity to Mexico, it became a way station and sanctuary for Apache raiding parties moving in and out of Arizona and Mexico. Land-hungry settlers, miners, and politicians wasted no time in demanding removal of all Chiricahuas to some other location.

By 1875 the United States government’s Indian policy was turning toward concentration of tribes either in Indian Territory or on large regional reservations. White Mountain, with its 2.5 million acres in eastern Arizona, was larger than all the other Apache reservations in the Southwest combined. Its agency, San Carlos, was already the administration point for seven Apache bands, and when Washington officials began receiving reports of trouble on the Chiricahua reservation, they saw this as an excellent excuse to move the Chiricahuas to San Carlos.

The agency, located at the junction of the San Carlos and Gila rivers, was considered by Army officers as a most undesirable hardship post. “A gravelly flat,” wrote one, “rose some thirty feet or so above the river bottoms and was dotted here and there by the drab adobe buildings of the agency. Scrawny, dejected lines of scattered cottonwoods, shrunken, almost leafless, marked the course of the streams. Rain was so infrequent that it took on the semblance of a phenomenon when it came at all. Almost continuously dry, hot, dust-and-gravel-laden winds swept the plain, denuding it of every vestige of vegetation. In summer a temperature of 110° in the shade was cool weather. At all other times of the year flies, gnats, unnamable bugs … swarmed in the millions.” 1

The agent at this post in 1875 was John Clum, who a few months earlier had rescued Eskiminzin and his Aravaipas from Camp Grant and helped them become virtually self-sufficient on irrigated land along the Gila River. In his stubborn way, Clum forced the military to withdraw from the vast White Mountain reservation, and he replaced the troops with a company of Apaches to police their own agency, as well as establishing an Apache courts system to try offenders. Although his superiors were suspicious of Clum’s unorthodox method of permitting Indians to make their own decisions, they could not quarrel with his success in keeping peace at San Carlos.

On May 3, 1876, agent Clum received a telegram from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, ordering him to proceed to the Chiricahua reservation to take charge of the Indians there, suspend agent Jeffords, and remove the Chiricahuas to San Carlos. Clum had no enthusiasm for this distasteful assignment; he doubted that the freedom-loving Chiricahuas would adjust to the regulated life on White Mountain reservation. Insisting that the Army keep its cavalrymen at a distance, Clum took his Indian police to Apache Pass to inform the Chiricahuas of their forced removal. He was surprised to find Jeffords and Taza cooperative. Taza, like his father, Cochise, wanted to keep peace. If the Chiricahuas must leave their homeland and go to White Mountain in order to keep the peace, they would do so. Only about half the Chiricahuas, however, marched overland to San Carlos. When the Army moved into the abandoned reservation to round up the recalcitrants, most of them fled across the border into Mexico. Among their leaders was a forty-six-year-old Bedonkohe Apache who had allied himself as a youth with Mangas Colorado, and then afterward followed Cochise, and now considered himself a Chiricahua. He was Goyathlay, better known to the white men as Geronimo.

Although the Chiricahuas who went voluntarily to San Carlos did not have the same warmth of feeling for agent Clum that some of the other Apache bands did, they caused him no trouble. Later in the summer of 1876, when Clum secured permission from the Indian Bureau to take twenty-two Apaches on a tour of the East, he invited Taza to go along. Unfortunately, while the party was visiting Washington, Taza died suddenly of pneumonia and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Upon Clum’s return to San Carlos, he was confronted by Naiche, a younger brother of Taza. “You took my brother away,” Naiche said. “He was well and strong, but you come back without him, and you say he is dead. I do not know. I think maybe you not take good care of him. You let him be killed by evil spirits of paleface. I have great pain in my heart.” 2

Clum attempted to reassure Naiche by asking Eskiminzin to give an account of Taza’s death and burial, but the Chiricahuas remained suspicious. Without Taglito Jeffords to advise them, they were not sure how far they could trust John Clum or any other white man.

During the winter of 1876–77, their relatives from Mexico occasionally slipped into the reservation with news of events below the border. They heard that Geronimo and his band were raiding their old enemies, the Mexicans, and were accumulating large herds of cattle and horses. In the spring Geronimo brought these stolen livestock up to New Mexico, sold them to white ranchers, and bought new guns, hats, boots, and much whiskey. These Chiricahuas settled down in a hideout near their Mimbres cousins at the Ojo Caliente agency, where Victorio was chief.

40. Geronimo. From a photograph taken by A. Frank Randall in 1886. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

In March, 1877, John Clum received orders from Washington to take his Apache police to Ojo Caliente and transfer the Indians there to San Carlos. In addition, he was to arrest Geronimo and any other “renegade” Chiricahuas found in the vicinity.

Geronimo told about it afterward: “Two companies of scouts were sent from San Carlos. They sent word for me and Victorio to come to town. The messengers did not say what they wanted with us, but as they seemed friendly we thought they wanted a council and rode in to meet the officers. As soon as we arrived in town soldiers met us, disarmed us, and took us both to headquarters where we were tried by court-martial. They asked us only a few questions and then Victorio was released and I was sentenced to the guardhouse. Scouts conducted me to the guardhouse and put me in chains. When I asked them why they did this they said it was because I had left Apache Pass.

“I do not think that I ever belonged to those soldiers at Apache Pass, or that I should have asked them where I might go. … I was kept a prisoner for four months, during which time I was transferred to San Carlos. Then I think I had another trial, although I was not present. In fact I do not know that I had another trial, but I was told that I had, and at any rate I was released.” 3

Although Victorio was not put under arrest, he and most of the Warm Springs Apaches were transferred to San Carlos in the spring of 1877. Clum made an effort to win Victorio’s confidence by assigning him more authority than the chief had ever had at Ojo Caliente. For a few weeks it seemed as if peaceable Apache communities might be developed on the White Mountain reservation, but then suddenly the Army moved a company of soldiers to the Gila River (Fort Thomas). The Army announced this as a precautionary move because of the concentration at San Carlos of “nearly all of the most refractory Indians in the Territory.” 4

41. Naiche and his wife. Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society.

Clum was furious. He telegraphed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, requesting authority to equip an additional company of Apache police to replace the soldiers, and asking that the military be removed. In Washington, newspapers learned of Clum’s bold demand and published it. The story aroused the ire of the War Department. In Arizona and New Mexico, civilian Army contractors, fearing a wholesale departure of soldiers and a loss of lucrative business, condemned the “brass and impudence” of the twenty-six-year-old upstart who thought he could do alone what several thousand soldiers had been unable to do since the Apache wars began.

The Army stayed at San Carlos, and John Clum resigned. Although simpático, Clum had never learned to think as an Apache, to make himself into an Apache, as Tom Jeffords had done. He could not understand the chiefs who resisted to the bitter end. He could not see them as heroic figures who preferred death to the loss of their heritage. In John Clum’s eyes, Geronimo, Victorio, Nana, Loco, Naiche, and the other fighters were outlaws, thieves, murderers, and drunkards—too reactionary to take the white man’s road. And so John Clum left the Apaches at San Carlos. He went to Tombstone, Arizona, and founded a crusading newspaper, the Epitaph.

Before summer’s end of 1877, conditions at San Carlos became chaotic. Although the number of Indians had increased by several hundred, additional supplies were slow in arriving. To make matters worse, instead of distributing rations at various camps, the new agent required that all the bands come to the main agency building. Some of the Apaches had to walk twenty miles, and if old people and children were unable to come, they received no rations. Miners also encroached upon the northeastern portion of the reservation and refused to leave. The self-policing system established by Clum began to break down.

On the night of September 2, Victorio led his Warm Springs band off the reservation and started back to Ojo Caliente. Apache police went in pursuit, recaptured most of the horses and mules that the Warm Springs Indians had taken from the White Mountain corrals, but let the people go. After engaging in several fights with ranchers and soldiers along the way, Victorio reached Ojo Caliente. For a year the Army let him and his people stay there under guard of soldiers from Fort Wingate, and then late in 1878 orders came to take them back to San Carlos.

Victorio begged the Army officers to let his people live in the country where they had been born, but when he realized that this was not to be, he shouted: “You can take our women and children in your wagons, but my men will not go!” 5

Victorio and about eighty of his warriors fled into the Mimbres Mountains to spend a hard winter away from their families. In February, 1878, Victorio and a few men came into the post at Ojo Caliente and offered to surrender if the Army would return their families from San Carlos. For weeks the Army delayed its decision, then finally announced that it would compromise. The Warm Springs Apaches could make their homes in New Mexico, but they would have to live with the Mescaleros at Tularosa. Victorio agreed, and for the third time in two years he and his people had to begin life over again.

In the summer of 1879 an old charge of horse stealing and murder was brought up against Victorio, and lawmen entered the reservation to put him under arrest. Victorio escaped, and this time he resolved that never again would he put himself upon the mercy of white men by living on a reservation. He was convinced that he had been marked for death, and that all Apaches were doomed unless they fought back as they had been doing in Mexico since the coming of the Spaniards.

Establishing a stronghold in Mexico, Victorio began recruiting a guerrilla army “to make war forever” against the United States. Before the end of 1879 he had a warrior band of two hundred Mescaleros and Chiricahuas. To obtain horses and supplies they raided Mexican ranches, and then made daring thrusts into New Mexico and Texas, killing settlers where they could find them, ambushing pursuing cavalry forces, and then dashing back across the border.

As the constant fighting continued, Victorio’s hatred deepened. He became a ruthless killer, torturing and mutilating his victims. Some of his followers considered him a madman and left him. A price of three thousand dollars was placed on his head. At last the United States and Mexican armies decided to cooperate in a concentrated effort to track him down. On October 14, 1880, Mexican soldiers trapped Victorio’s band in the Tres Castillos Hills between Chihuahua and El Paso. They slaughtered seventy-eight Apaches, including Victorio, and captured sixty-eight women and children. About thirty warriors escaped.

42. Victorio. Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society.

Among those who escaped was a Mimbres warrior who had already passed his seventieth birthday. His name was Nana. He had been fighting Spanish-speaking white men and English-speaking white men as long as he could remember. In Nana’s mind there was no doubt that the resistance must continue. He would recruit another guerrilla army, and the best source for warriors was the reservations, where hundreds of young men were penned up with nothing to do. In the summer of 1881 this scarred and wrinkled little Apache crossed the Rio Grande with his handful of followers. In less than a month they fought eight battles, captured two hundred horses, and escaped back into Mexico with a thousand cavalrymen on their heels. Nana’s raids were nowhere near White Mountain, but the Apaches there heard of his daring exploits, and the Army reacted by dispatching hundreds of troops to guard the reservation.

In September the Chiricahuas at San Carlos were alarmed by a cavalry demonstration near their camp. Rumors were flying everywhere; it was said that the Army was preparing to arrest all leaders who had ever been hostile. One night late in the month, Geronimo, Juh, Naiche, and about seventy Chiricahuas slipped out of White Mountain and raced southward for their old Sierra Madre stronghold in Mexico.

Six months later (April, 1882), well armed and equipped, the Chiricahuas returned to White Mountain. They were determined to free all their people and any other Apaches who wanted to return to Mexico with them. It was an audacious enterprise. They galloped into Chief Loco’s camp and persuaded most of the remaining Chiricahuas and Warm Springs Apaches to leave for Mexico.

In swift pursuit came six companies of cavalry commanded by Colonel George A. Forsyth. (He had survived the Battle When Roman Nose Was Killed; see chapter seven.) At Horse Shoe Canyon, Forsyth caught up with the fleeing Apaches, but in a brilliant rearguard action the Indians held off the troopers long enough for the main body to cross into Mexico. Here disaster struck from an unexpected source. A Mexican infantry regiment stumbled upon the Apache column, slaughtering most of the women and children who were riding in front.

Among the chiefs and warriors who escaped were Loco, Naiche, Chato, and Geronimo. Embittered, their ranks depleted, they soon joined forces with old Nana and his guerrillas. For all of them, it was now a war of survival.

Each recent outbreak at White Mountain had brought an increase in the number of soldiers. They swarmed everywhere—at Fort Thomas, Fort Apache, Fort Bowie—and each increase brought more unrest among the Apaches on the reservation, more flights to Mexico, with the inevitable raiding against ranchers along the escape routes.

To bring order out of chaos, the Army again called on General George Crook—quite a different man from the one who had left Arizona ten years earlier to go north to fight the Sioux and Cheyennes. He had learned from them and from the Poncas during the trial of Standing Bear that Indians were human beings, a viewpoint that most of his fellow officers had not yet accepted.

On September 4, 1882, Crook assumed command of the Department of Arizona at Whipple Barracks, and then hurried on to the White Mountain reservation. He held councils with the Apaches at San Carlos and Fort Apache; he searched out individual Indians and talked privately with them. “I discovered immediately that a general feeling of distrust of our people existed among all the bands of the Apaches,” he reported. “It was with much difficulty that I got them to talk, but after breaking down their suspicions they conversed freely with me. They told me … that they had lost confidence in everybody, and did not know whom or what to believe; that they were constantly told, by irresponsible parties, that they were to be disarmed, that they were to be attacked by troops on the reservation, and removed from their country; and that they were fast arriving at the conclusion that it would be more manly to die fighting than to be thus destroyed.” Crook was convinced that the reservation Apaches “had not only the best reasons for complaining, but had displayed remarkable forbearance in remaining at peace.”

43. Nana. Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society.

Early in his investigations he discovered that the Indians had been plundered “of their rations and of the goods purchased by the government for their subsistence and support, by rascally agents and other unscrupulous white men.” He found plenty of evidence that white men were trying to arouse the Apaches to violent action so that they could be driven from the reservation, leaving it open for land-grabbing. 6

Crook ordered immediate removal of all white squatters and miners from the reservation, and then demanded complete cooperation from the Indian Bureau in introducing reforms. Instead of being forced to live near San Carlos or Fort Apache, the different bands were given the right to choose any part of the reservation to build their homes and ranches. Hay contracts would be given to Apaches instead of to white suppliers; the Army would buy all the excess corn and vegetables the Indians could raise, paying for it in cash. They would be expected to govern themselves, to reorganize their police and hold their own courts, as they had done under John Clum. Crook promised that they would see no soldiers on their reservation unless they found it impossible to control themselves.

At first the Apaches were skeptical. They remembered Crook’s harsh ways in the old days when he was the Gray Wolf hunting down Cochise and the Chiricahuas, but they soon discovered that he meant what he said. Rations became more plentiful, the agents and traders no longer cheated them, there were no soldiers to bully them, and the Gray Wolf encouraged them to build up their herds and seek out better places to grow corn and beans. They were free again, so long as they remained within the reservation.

But they could not forget their relatives who were truly free in Mexico, and there were always a few young men slipping southward, a few returning with exciting news of adventures and good times.

Crook also gave much thought to the Chiricahuas and Warm Springs Apaches in Mexico. He knew it was only a matter of time before they would raid once again across the border, and he knew he must be ready for them. The United States government had recently signed an agreement with the Mexican government permitting soldiers of each country to cross the border in pursuit of hostile Apaches. He was preparing to take advantage of this agreement, hoping that by doing so he could keep the Arizona and New Mexico civilians from forcing him to start a war.

“It is too often the case,” Crook said, “that border newspapers … disseminate all sorts of exaggerations and falsehoods about the Indians, which are copied in papers of high character and wide circulation, in other parts of the country, while the Indians’ side of the case is rarely ever heard. In this way the people at large get false ideas with reference to the matter. Then when the outbreak does come public attention is turned to the Indians, their crimes and atrocities are alone condemned, while the persons whose injustice has driven them to this course escape scot-free and are the loudest in their denunciations. No one knows this fact better than the Indian, therefore he is excusable in seeing no justice in a government which only punishes him, while it allows the white man to plunder him as he pleases.”

The thought of another guerrilla war with the Apaches aroused the utmost abhorrence in Crook. He knew that it was practically impossible to subdue them in the rugged country where the fighting would have to be done. “With all the interests at stake we cannot afford to fight them,” he admitted frankly. “We are too culpable, as a nation, for the existing condition of affairs. It follows that we must satisfy them that hereafter they shall be treated with justice, and protected from inroads of white men. 7

Crook believed that he could convince Geronimo and the other guerrilla leaders of his good intentions—not by fighting them but by talking with them. The best place for this would be in one of their own Mexican strongholds, where there would be no unscrupulous promoters of Indian wars or rumor-spreading newspapers to stir up a profit-making, land-grabbing war.

While he waited for a border raid to give him an excuse to enter Mexico, Crook quietly put together his “expeditionary force.” It consisted of about fifty carefully chosen soldiers and civilian interpreters, and about two hundred young Apaches from the reservation, many of whom at one time or another had been raiders in Mexico. In the early weeks of 1883 he moved part of this force down to the tracks of the new Southern Pacific Railroad, which streaked across Arizona to within about fifty miles of the border. On March 21 three minor chiefs—Chato, Chihuahua, and Bonito—raided a mining camp near Tombstone. As soon as Crook learned of the incident he began final preparations for his Mexican entry. Not until after weeks of searching, however, did his scouts find the location of the Chiricahuas’ base camp in the Sierra Madres of Mexico.

In that Season When the Leaves Are Dark Green (May), Geronimo led a raid against Mexican ranchers to obtain cattle. Mexican soldiers pursued them, but Geronimo ambushed the soldiers, punished them severely, and escaped. As the Apaches were returning to their base, one of the men who had been left behind as a guard met Geronimo and told him that the Gray Wolf (Crook) had captured the camp and all the women and children.

Jason Betzinez, one of Geronimo’s cousins who was riding with the Apache party, afterward told of how Geronimo chose two of his older warriors to go down with a truce flag and find out what the Gray Wolf had come for. “Instead of returning to where Geronimo stood,” Betzinez said, “the two men came back halfway up the mountain and called for us all to come down. … Our warriors descended the mountainside, went up to General Crook’s tent, where, after a lengthy conference between the leaders, we all surrendered to the general.” 8

Actually Geronimo had three long parleys with Crook before they came to an agreement. The Apache leader declared that he had always wanted peace but that he had been ill-treated at San Carlos by bad white men. Crook agreed that this was probably true, but if Geronimo wanted to return to the reservation the Gray Wolf would see that he was treated fairly. All Chiricahuas who returned, however, would have to work at farming and stock-raising to make their own livings. “I am not taking your arms from you,” Crook added, “because I am not afraid of you.” 9

Geronimo liked Crook’s blunt manner, but when the general announced that he must start his column back to Arizona in a day or so, Geronimo decided to test him, to make certain that Crook truly trusted him. The Apache leader said it would require several months to round up all his people. “I will remain here,” he said, “until I have gathered up the last man, woman, and child of the Chiricahuas.” Chato would also remain to assist him. Together they would bring all the people to San Carlos. 10

To Geronimo’s surprise, Crook agreed to the proposition. On May 30 the column started northward. With it went 251 women and children and 123 warriors, including Loco, Mangas (Mangas Colorado’s son), Chihuahua, Bonito, even wrinkled old Nana—all the war leaders except Geronimo and Chato.

Eight months passed, and then it was Crook’s turn to be surprised. True to their word, Geronimo and Chato crossed the border in February, 1884, and were escorted to San Carlos. “Unfortunately, Geronimo made the mistake of driving along with him a large herd of cattle which he had stolen from the Mexicans,” Jason Betzinez said. “This seemed quite proper to Geronimo, who felt that he was only providing a good supply of food for his people. The authorities, taking a different view, pried the cattle loose from the chief.” 11 The honest Gray Wolf ordered the cattle sold, and then he returned the proceeds of $1,762.50 to the Mexican government for distribution to the original owners if they could be found.

For more than a year General Crook could boast that “not an outrage or depredation of any kind” was committed by the Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. Geronimo and Chato vied with each other in the development of their ranchos, and Crook kept a watchful eye on their agent to see that he issued adequate supplies. Outside the reservation and the Army posts, however, there was much criticism of Crook for being too easy on the Apaches; the newspapers that he had condemned for disseminating “all sorts of exaggerations and falsehoods about the Indians” now turned on him. Some of the rumor mongers went so far as to claim that Crook had surrendered to Geronimo in Mexico and had made a deal with the Chiricahua leader in order to escape alive. As for Geronimo, they made a special demon of him, inventing atrocity stories by the dozens and calling on vigilantes to hang him if the government would not. Mickey Free, the Chiricahuas’ official interpreter, told Geronimo about these newspaper stories. “When a man tried to do right,” Geronimo commented, “such stories ought not to be put in the newspapers.” 12

After the Corn Planting Time (spring of 1885), the Chiricahuas grew discontented. There was little for the men to do except draw rations, gamble, quarrel, loaf, and drink tiswin beer. Tiswin was forbidden on the reservation, but the Chiricahuas had plenty of corn for brewing it, and drinking was one of the few pleasures of the old days that was left to them.

On the night of May 17, Geronimo, Mangas, Chihuahua, and old Nana got fairly well drunk on tiswin and decided to go to Mexico. They went to see Chato to invite him to go along, but Chato was sober and refused to join the party. He and Geronimo had a bitter quarrel, which very nearly ended in violence before Geronimo and the others departed. In the group were ninety-two women and children, eight boys, and thirty-four men. As they left San Carlos, Geronimo cut the telegraph wire.

Many reasons were given by both white men and Apaches for this sudden exodus from a reservation where everything apparently had been running smoothly. Some said it was because of the tiswin spree; others said that the bad stories going around about the Chiricahuas made them fearful of being arrested. “Having been placed in irons once before when the band was shipped to San Carlos,” Jason Betzinez said, “some of the leaders determined not to undergo such treatment again.”

Geronimo later explained it this way: “Sometime before I left, an Indian named Wadiskay had a talk with me. He said, ‘They are going to arrest you,’ but I paid no attention to him, knowing that I had done no wrong; and the wife of Mangas, Huera, told me that they were going to seize me and put me and Mangas in the guardhouse, and I learned from the American and Apache soldiers, from Chato, and Mickey Free, that the Americans were going to arrest me and hang me, and so I left.” 13

The flight of Geronimo’s party across Arizona was a signal for an outpouring of wild rumors. Newspapers featured big headlines: THE APACHES ARE OUT! The very word “Geronimo” became a cry for blood. The “Tucson Ring” of contractors, seeing a chance for a profitable military campaign, called on General Crook to rush troops to protect defenseless white citizens from murderous Apaches. Geronimo, however, was desperately trying to avoid any confrontation with white citizens; all he wanted to do was speed his people across the border to the old Sierra Madre sanctuary. For two days and nights the Chiricahuas rode without making camp. Along the way, Chihuahua changed his mind about going to Mexico; he turned his band off the trail, intending to return to the reservation. Pursuing soldiers caught up with Chihuahua, forced him into a fight, and started him on a bloody trail of plundering before he could cross into Mexico. Every assault he committed was blamed on Geronimo, because few Arizonans had ever heard of Chihuahua.

Crook meanwhile was trying to avoid the vast military operation that the Tucson Ring and their political friends in Washington were demanding of him. He knew that personal negotiation was the only way to deal with three dozen Apache warriors. For the benefit of local citizens, however, he ordered a few cavalrymen to march out of each fort under his command, but he depended entirely on his trusted Apache scouts to find the resistant Chiricahuas. He was gratified that Chato and Cochise’s younger son, Alchise, both volunteered to search for Geronimo.

As autumn approached, it was clear that Crook once again would have to cross the border into Mexico. His orders from Washington were explicit: kill the fugitives or take their unconditional surrenders.

By this time the Chiricahuas had discovered that units of the Mexican Army were waiting for them in the Sierra Madres. Caught between Mexicans who wanted only to kill them and Americans who were willing to make prisoners of them, Geronimo and the other leaders finally decided to listen to Chato and Alchise.

On March 25, 1886, the “hostile” Apache chiefs met with Crook a few miles south of the border at Canon de los Embudos. After three days of emotional speech making, the Chiricahuas agreed to surrender. Crook then told them they must surrender without conditions, and when they asked what that meant, he told them frankly that they would probably be taken far away to the East, to Florida, to become prisoners. They replied that they would not surrender unless the Gray Wolf would promise that they would be returned to their reservation after two years of imprisonment. Crook thought the proposition over; it seemed fair to him. Believing that he could convince Washington that such a surrender was better than no surrender, he agreed.

“I give myself up to you,” Geronimo said. “Do with me what you please. I surrender. Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all.”

Alchise closed the council with a plea to Crook to have pity on his erring Chiricahua brothers. “They are all good friends now and I am glad they have surrendered, because they are all the same people—all one family with me; just like when you kill a deer, all its parts are of the one body; so with the Chiricahuas. … Now we want to travel along the open road and drink the waters of the Americans, and not hide in the mountains; we want to live without danger or discomfort. I am very glad that the Chiricahuas surrendered, and that I have been able to talk for them. … I have never told you a lie, nor have you ever told me a lie, and now I tell you that these Chiricahuas really want to do what is right and live at peace. If they don’t then I lie, and you must not believe me anymore. It’s all right; you are going ahead to Fort Bowie; I want you to carry away in your pocket all that has been said here today.” 14

Convinced that the Chiricahuas would come into Fort Bowie with his scouting troop, Crook hurried on there to telegraph the War Department in Washington the terms he had given the Chiricahua chiefs. To his dismay a reply came back: “Cannot assent to the surrender of the hostiles on the terms of their imprisonment East for two years with their understanding of their return to the reservation.” 15 The Gray Wolf had made another promise he could not keep. As a crowning blow, he heard the next day that Geronimo and Naiche had broken away from the column a few miles below Fort Bowie and were fleeing back into Mexico. A trader from the Tucson Ring had filled them full of whiskey and lies about how the white citizens of Arizona would surely hang them if they returned. According to Jason Betzinez, Naiche got drunk and fired his gun in the air. “Geronimo thought that fighting had broken out with the troops. He and Naiche stampeded, taking with them some thirty followers.” Perhaps there was more to it than that. “I feared treachery,” Geronimo said afterward, “and when we became suspicious, we turned back.” Naiche later told Crook: “I was afraid I was going to be taken off somewhere I didn’t like; to some place I didn’t know. I thought all who were taken away would die. … I worked it out in my own mind. … We talked to each other about it. We were drunk … because there was a lot of whiskey there and we wanted a drink, and took it.” 16

As a result of Geronimo’s flight, the War Department severely reprimanded Crook for his negligence, for granting unauthorized surrender terms, and for his tolerant attitude toward Indians. He immediately resigned and was replaced by Nelson Miles (Bear Coat), a brigadier general eager for promotion.

Bear Coat took command on April 12, 1886. With full support from the War Department, he quickly put five thousand soldiers into the field (about one-third of the combat strength of the Army). He also had five hundred Apache scouts, and thousands of irregular civilian militia. He organized a flying column of cavalrymen and an expensive system of heliographs to flash messages back and forth across Arizona and New Mexico. The enemy to be subdued by this powerful military force was Geronimo and his “army” of twenty-four warriors, who throughout the summer of 1886 were also under constant pursuit by thousands of soldiers of the Mexican Army.

In the end it was the Big Nose Captain (Lieutenant Charles Gatewood) and two Apache scouts, Martine and Kayitah, who found Geronimo and Naiche hiding out in a canyon of the Sierra Madres. Geronimo laid his rifle down and shook hands with the Big Nose Captain, inquiring calmly about his health. He then asked about matters back in the United States. How were the Chiricahuas faring? Gatewood told him that the Chiricahuas who surrendered had already been shipped to Florida. If Geronimo would surrender to General Miles, he also would probably be sent to Florida to join them.

Geronimo wanted to know all about Bear Coat Miles. Was his voice harsh or agreeable to the ear? Was he cruel or kind-hearted? Did he look you in the eyes or down at the ground when he talked? Would he keep his promises? Then he said to Gatewood: “We want your advice. Consider yourself one of us and not a white man. Remember all that has been said today, and as an Apache, what would you advise us to do under the circumstances?”

“I would trust General Miles and take him at his word,” Gatewood replied. 17

And so Geronimo surrendered for the last time. The Great Father in Washington (Grover Cleveland), who believed all the lurid newspaper tales of Geronimo’s evil deeds, recommended that he be hanged. The counsel of men who knew better prevailed, and Geronimo and his surviving warriors were shipped to Fort Marion, Florida. He found most of his friends dying there in that warm and humid land so unlike the high, dry country of their birth. More than a hundred died of a disease diagnosed as consumption. The government took all their children away from them and sent them to the Indian school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and more than fifty of their children died there.

Not only were the “hostiles” moved to Florida, but so were many of the “friendlies,” including the scouts who had worked for Crook. Martine and Kayitah, who led Lieutenant Gatewood to Geronimo’s hiding place, did not receive the ten ponies promised them for their mission; instead they were shipped to imprisonment in Florida. Chato, who had tried to dissuade Geronimo from leaving the reservation and then had helped Crook find him, was suddenly removed from his rancho and sent to Florida. He lost his land allotment and all his livestock; two of his children were taken to Carlisle, and both died there. The Chiricahuas were marked for extinction; they had fought too hard to keep their freedom.

But they were not alone. Eskiminzin of the Aravaipas, who had become economically independent on his Gila ranch, was arrested on the charge of communicating with an outlaw known as the Apache Kid. Eskiminzin and the forty surviving Aravaipas were sent to live with the Chiricahuas in Florida. Later, all these exiles were transferred to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama.

Had it not been for the efforts of a few white friends such as George Crook, John Clum, and Hugh Scott, the Apaches soon would have been driven into the ground at that fever-ridden post on the Mobile River. Over the objections of Bear Coat Miles and the War Department, they succeeded in having Eskiminzin and the Aravaipas returned to San Carlos. The citizens of Arizona, however, refused to admit Geronimo’s Chiricahuas within the state. When the Kiowas and Comanches learned of the Chiricahuas’ plight from Lieutenant Hugh Scott, they offered their old Apache enemies a part of their reservation. In 1894 Geronimo brought the surviving exiles to Fort Sill. When he died there in 1909, still a prisoner of war, he was buried in the Apache cemetery. A legend still persists that not long afterward his bones were secretly removed and taken somewhere to the Southwest—perhaps to the Mogollons, or the Chiricahua Mountains, or deep into the Sierra Madres of Mexico. He was the last of the Apache chiefs.

Listen, he said, yonder the buffalo are coming,

These are his sayings, yonder the buffalo are coming,

They walk, they stand, they are coming,

Yonder the buffalo are coming.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!