His life was changed in a day.
He grew up working and playing with his family in the mountains and valleys of what is now Arizona. His mother Juana placed him in a swing that rocked gently in the breeze as she worked. He played games of hide-and-seek with the other children. He worked cultivating and planting corn, beans, melons, and pumpkins with his family. He enjoyed hunting and evening get-togethers when the tribe played a campfire game where competing teams would take turns hiding a bone in a moccasin. He married his beloved delicate childhood sweetheart Alope and had three children.
He built a tepee for his dear family next to his widowed mother’s tepee so that he could care for her as well. His wife Alope drew beautiful pictures on the walls of their home. The tepee was made of buffalo hides and was very comfortable with many bear robes and lion hides. Alope drew pictures on buckskin which decorated the interior of the tepee. She made decorations of beads for the home as well.
In the summer of 1858, being at peace with the towns in Mexico and with all the neighboring Indian tribes, Geronimo’s entire tribe went from Arizona to Mexico to trade. They traveled into Sonora. They made camp for a few days in a rural area near a Mexican town. The men went to town to trade during the day and the women and children were left at the campsite with a small number of Indian guards. The tribe’s arms, supplies, food, and horses were left at the campsite as well. One day, when the men returned from their trading session with the people in town, they were met by a few women and children who told them that soldiers had killed the Indian guards, stolen all the tribe’s horses, taken all the arms, destroyed all the supplies, and killed many of the women and children.
The tribe quickly dispersed and went into hiding in the surrounding countryside to guard against additional slaughter. Before splitting up, they agreed to meet later at a thicket by the river under cover of darkness to assess the situation and to verify who had been killed.
After dark, the tribe stole into the rendezvous point, appearing one by one, moving silently to avoid detection by the plundering slayers. No fire was lit. At this eerie late night meeting occurring under the bushes at the river’s edge, Geronimo learned that his aged mother, his young wife, and his three children had all been killed by the soldiers. Geronimo wandered away from the whispers of the group meeting occurring in the concealing blackness of the brush and stood staring at the river. He remained there silent for a long time.
Later that night, a council was convened to decide on a course of action. Geronimo returned to the group and sat through the council meeting in silence. He did not vote for or against any of the options discussed. It was decided that the tribe would be unable to fight or survive in its present condition without food, arms, or horses and that attempts to retrieve the dead would expose the unarmed tribe to more danger. At the end of the council meeting, tribal chief Mangus Colorado announced the decisions to the tribe. He gave the order for all to walk silently and continually night and day for however many days it took to make it home. The long trek to their mountain home in Arizona would be difficult without horses or food. They were instructed to leave the dead where they were. Geronimo felt that he had no purpose left. He did not have a desire to do anything.
As the members of the tribe walked off into the night to begin their arduous march back home, he did not know what he would do. He stood there for a while and then eventually began to follow the soft sounds of the footsteps in the darkness ahead of him leaving the bodies of his entire family behind.
He didn’t speak at all during those days of marching. Not even at the brief stops to cook the game that was captured by others. He didn’t participate in the hunting of game during the first two days and three nights of marching and he chose to not eat the game killed by others during that time. For days, he didn’t feel like talking, eating, or fighting.
After several days of continual marching and after he decided to begin eating again, the tribe arrived at their home in Arizona. He went into his tepee and saw his children’s playthings and the art made by his wife. He couldn’t stand to look at them. He could find no pleasure in his quiet home. He burned his tepee and all his family’s possessions. He then burned his mother’s tepee and all of her possessions. At this point, he didn’t care if he lived or died.
He began to think only about the soldiers that had slaughtered his family. He did not even have family graves to visit or mourn over other than that of his father. He found an amount of solace and fortitude visiting his father’s grave hidden in a cave in the mountains where he swore an oath of vengeance on the soldiers that killed his entire dear family during that peaceful trading excursion. That grave was the only tangible remnant of family he had left.
Later as an old man and a prisoner of war he said, “In all the battle I thought of my murdered mother, wife, and babies – of my father’s grave and my vow of vengeance, and I fought with fury. Many fell by my hand…”
Although he tried to escape in his advanced years so that he could return to his Arizona tribal homeland and be buried near his father, he died a prisoner and is buried at the Apache P.O.W. cemetery in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
I wonder how many Geronimos are being created around the world today?