Death of Apache Warrior Geronimo

U.S. #2869m – Geronimo stamp from the famed Legends of the West sheet.

After decades of fighting to return to his homeland, Geronimo died on February 17, 1909, never able to realize his wish.

Geronimo was born on June 16, 1829, in present-day Arizona, in a region claimed by both Mexico and the Apache Indians. A Chiricahua Apache, Geronimo’s given Native American name was Goyaalé – “the one who yawns.” A talented hunter, he claimed to have swallowed the heart of his first kill to guarantee a successful life on the run. Coming from a small tribe of just 8,000 Apaches, he was often surrounded by enemies and proved to be a talented raider – leading four successful raids by the time he was 17.

Item #4902068 – Geronimo First Day Proof Card

That same year, Geronimo married a woman named Alope and began a family. In 1851, while Geronimo and other men of his tribe were in town trading goods, a band of Mexicans attacked their camp. Geronimo’s mother, wife and all three of his children were killed – unleashing a fury that would drive him to destroy his enemies. When U.S. troops and settlers began moving in on Apache land, Geronimo fought back with the same vengeance. Although he was outnumbered, Geronimo fought for over thirty years, becoming famous for his bravery and cunning. He was described as having the “eye of a hawk, the stealth of a coyote, and the courage of a tiger.”

During one battle he repeatedly ran through a hail of bullets to kill Mexican soldiers with his knife. Seeing the warrior running towards them, the soldiers began to yell out “Geronimo!” – most likely a plea to St. Jerome to spare their lives, though possibly a mispronunciation of his given name.

In 1876, the Chiricahuas were moved to a reservation in San Carlos, Arizona. But Geronimo, refusing to give up his freedom, fled with 700 followers. One of the most feared and respected Indian warriors, Geronimo fought overwhelming odds in trying to win freedom for his people. He eluded the authorities for nearly ten years. During that time he faked surrender on three occasions, but fled at the last moment.

U.S. #UX190 – Geronimo First Day Postcard

But by the late 1880s, his band included only 38 men, women and children. After decades of fighting and years of running dozens of miles a day, Geronimo and his followers were tired. In September 1886, Geronimo surrendered for the fourth and last time, after more than 5,000 troops had been deployed against him. He was the last Indian warrior to do so, ending the major fighting in the Indian Wars in the Southwest.

U.S. #285-90 – Geronimo made his first of many public appearances at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, for which these stamps were issued.

Geronimo spent several years as a prisoner of war in Florida and Alabama. In 1894, Geronimo and his followers were moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and given farmland on the Kiowa Comanche Reservation. Four years later, he was part of a delegation that attended the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition in Nebraska. Americans had learned about Geronimo’s exploits during the Apache Wars and were curious to see the warrior in person. Geronimo quickly achieved celebrity status there and was frequently invited to subsequent fairs in the coming years. Among the largest were the Pan-American Expo in New York and the Louisiana Purchase Expo in Missouri. Geronimo attended these expos in his traditional warrior clothing, posed for pictures, and sold his crafts.

Geronimo met President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, and was among a group of Indian chiefs to ride in his inaugural parade. Geronimo asked the president to allow his people to return to their homeland in Arizona, but Roosevelt refused, as tensions were still high from casualties his people inflicted decades earlier. Five years later, Geronimo was thrown from his horse while riding home and spent the night out in the cold. Though a friend found him the next morning and brought him home, Geronimo was in poor health and he died six days later on February 17, 1909. In his final days he admitted, “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

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  1. So many of your articles throw me back to events or memories of my childhood. In the 50’s we had a game that involved attacking the other team and saving our teammates and we would yell out “Geronimo” as we were making our attack. It was part tribute and respect and 100% thrill yelling out that name as your teammates hooted while making their escape. It was truth, folklore and childhood imagination that created that game with a genuine warrior as the central figure.

  2. My grandfather was part of the wagon train drivers that took Geronimo to Florida. He told us about it many times before he passed on

  3. My Grandmother was part Cherokee. Our forefathers stole their land and put Native Americans on Reservations. for what?. The Spaniards came here and made slaves out of the Semines. How dare they come from a faraway country and steal and make slaves. Geronimo was a great leader. If I lived back then and was a president or general, I would not have allowed this to hapoen.

    1. “Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place” — Angie Debo’s 1976 biography remains the standard of historical research on Geronimo. Yet even Debo hesitated—-Ben

  4. Legend has it that when the Army’s first paratroopers were being trained around the start of WWII, a number of them went to see the Hollywood film about him on the eve of their first jump from a plane. That experience supposedly inspired them to shout “Geronimo” when they exited from the jump plane. May be just a historical legend.

  5. It is interesting to see that the United States also participated in genocide against a people, and nations. Andrew Jackson wanted not only slavery to encompass the entire U.S. He also spoke and promoted the enslavement of ALL Native Americans, from every state and territory at the time.

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