On this day September 4, 1886

After over 25 years of fighting against the United States Army and the armed forces of Mexico, Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apache surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona.

Indian chiefs headed by Geronimo at Roosevelt inauguration

Indian chiefs headed by Geronimo at Roosevelt inauguration

Geronimo (June 16, 1829 – February 17, 1909) was a prominent Native American leader and medicine man of the Chiricahua Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States and their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades.

In 1886, General Nelson A. Miles selected Captain Henry Lawton, in command of B Troop, 4th Cavalry, at Ft. Huachuca to lead the expedition that captured Geronimo.

For Lawton’s part, he was given orders to head up actions south of the U.S.–Mexico boundary where it was thought Geronimo and a small band of his followers would take refuge from U.S. authorities. Lawton was to pursue, subdue, and return Geronimo to the U.S., dead or alive.

Lawton’s official report dated September 9, 1886 sums up the actions of his unit and gives credit to a number of his troopers for their efforts. Geronimo gave credit to Lawton’s tenacity for wearing the Apaches down with constant pursuit. Geronimo and his followers had little or no time to rest or stay in one place. Completely worn out, the little band of Apaches returned to the U.S. with Lawton and officially surrendered to General Miles on September 4, 1886 at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona.

The debate still remains whether Geronimo surrendered with or without conditions. Geronimo pleaded in his memoirs that his people who surrendered had been misled: his surrender as a war prisoner was conditioned in front of uncontested witnesses (especially General Stanley.) General Howard, chief of Pacific US army division, said on his part that his surrender was accepted as a dangerous outlaw without condition, which has been contested in front of the Senate.

Geronimo and other Apaches, including the Apache scouts who had helped the army track him down, were sent as prisoners to Fort Pickens, in Pensacola Florida, and his family was sent to Fort Marion. They were reunited in May 1887, when they were transferred to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama for seven years. In 1894, they were moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

In his old age Geronimo became a celebrity. He appeared at fairs, including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and sold souvenirs and photographs of himself. However, he was not allowed to return to the land of his birth. He also rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade.

In 1905, Geronimo agreed to tell his story to S. M. Barrett, Superintendent of Education in Lawton, Oklahoma. Barrett had to appeal to President Roosevelt to gain permission to publish the book. Geronimo came to each interview knowing exactly what he wanted to say.

He refused to answer questions or alter his narrative. Barrett did not seem to take many liberties with Geronimo’s story as translated by Asa Daklugie. Frederick Turner re-edited this autobiography by removing some of Barrett’s footnotes and writing an introduction for the non-Apache readers. Turner notes the book is in the style of an Apache reciting part of his oral history.

Geronimo died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909 as a prisoner of the United States at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was buried there at the Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery.

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