Perhaps if he’d been born a few years earlier, Geronimo would have lived out his life as an Apache chief, adhering to tradition and ensuring the safety of his people. As it happened, one of the most famous Native Americans in history was born to a life of turmoil at the tail-end of America’s westward expansion. The life of Geronimo was fraught with heartache, true, but a life filled with pain didn’t stop the brilliant tactician and charismatic leader from making history.
Born in 1829 in what is now New Mexico, the man who would become the Apache’s most famous warrior was raised traditionally. His normal life came crashing down in 1858, however, when a horrible tragedy sent Geronimo on a thirty-year quest to right the wrongs assailing his people. Though he ended his life in 1909 as a prisoner of war, Geronimo’s legacy helped raise awareness for his people’s struggles in a way few others have ever done, before or since.
Legacy talk aside, this Apache warrior was someone you truly didn’t want to screw around with. In spite of the fact he spent his career outgunned and outmanned, the Native American hero was one of the most righteously feared and universally respected men ever to walk onto a battlefield.
Half of Geronimo’s Tribe Was Betrayed and Killed After a Deal Proposed at Apache TejoPhoto: Choate, J. N. (John N.), 1848-1902. / via Wikimedia
In the hopes of finding some way to live peacefully with the white men encroaching on their territory, the chief of Geronimo’s tribe, Mangus-Colorado (who wins points for having the dopest name ever) traveled to a seemingly peaceful white settlement called Apache Tejo in order to secure a deal. Mangus-Colorado returned with great news: the settlers had not only agreed to receive the Apaches, they had promised a bevy of supplies on their arrival.
The tribe was split as to how to proceed, so Mangus-Colorado led half the tribe to Apache Tejo - where they were subsequently killed by US soldiers. Geronimo led the remaining tribe in a retreat that lasted several weeks as their entire group was constantly besieged by troops.
When the dust finally settled, the Apaches named Geronimo the Tribal Chief.
With Only Three Other Warriors, Geronimo Secured Enough Supplies to Last His Tribe a YearPhoto: War Department / via Wikimedia
In the summer of 1863, Geronimo led a raid on a small village about forty miles west of Casa Grande. At high noon, Geronimo and his small band of soldiers stole into the town and sent its residents scattering. According to Geronimo, no one in the town put up a fight or even gave chase. They simply saw the Native Americans coming, turned tail, and got out of town.
Once the town was empty - only one person had been killed - the Apaches drove several ponies into the town and loaded up as much loot as they could carry. Upon his victorious arrival, Geronimo feasted for a full 24 hours and handed out various gifts to everyone in the tribe... and there was still enough supplies left over for his people to use for the following year.
Geronimo Wasn’t Originally Keen on Taking War to the White Men Who InvadedPhoto: Photoprint copyrighted by A.B. Canady. / via Wikimedia
Around 1868, American soldiers advanced on Apache territory. As was America’s MO, the initial settlers were largely peaceful, and Geronimo and the Apaches lived in harmony. Unfortunately, a year later, several prominent chiefs and warriors were invited to confer at Fort Bowie under the auspices of peace.
After being led into a tent, the gathered party was attacked by soldiers who cut down many men. In retaliation for the treachery, Geronimo - who had not been included in the talks - banded together with two tribes of Apache commanded by Cochise and attacked a freight train. The war party captured several prisoners whom they offered to trade in return for the captives from the attack at Fort Bowie.
The US Army refused the terms, so Geronimo and his men killed their prisoners and disappeared into the mountains.
Geronimo Killed a Mexican General Who Gave a Speech About the "Red Devil"Photo: Arizona Historical Society / via Wikimedia
In 1883, after more than a decade leading raids against the people of Mexico, it appeared as though Geronimo and his Apaches were facing defeat. Though surrounded on all sides by enemy troops, Geronimo himself managed to sneak into the enemy encampment in time for a speech from the Mexican general, who said:
Officers, yonder in those ditches is the red devil Geronimo and his hated band. This must be his last day. Ride on him from both sides of the ditches; kill men, women, and children; take no prisoners; dead Indians are what we want. Do not spare your own men; exterminate this band at any cost; I will post the wounded shoot all deserters; go back to your companies and advance.
Mere moments after this rousing speech, Geronimo took aim and killed the general where he stood, igniting a battle that allowed his Apache troops to escape into the nearby mountains.