Geronimo (1829-1909), whose given name was Goyahkla, sometimes spelled Goyathlay, is one of the most famous figures in the history of the American Indian resistance effort. His name is virtually synonymous with that of a warrior, so much so that his name has been appropriated for a wide range of military (or simply adventuresome) endeavors. Geronimo’s reputation is well deserved, for his very name excited fear in settlers both north and south of the U.S-Mexican border.
For years, the Apaches had been both trading with and fighting Mexicans. As soon as he reached adulthood, at about the age of seventeen, Goyahkla, who was not yet known as Geronimo, was accepted as a warrior and entered into this dual relationship with Mexicans. About two years earlier, around 1844, Goyahkla’s father, Taklishim, had died of an illness, and Goyahkla assumed responsibility for his mother, Juana (Juanita).
Shortly after becoming a warrior, Goyahkla married a young Nednai Apache, Alope, giving a herd of ponies – a substantial sum – to her father, Noposo, for the privilege of wedding her, the price, according to his autobiography, set so high because she was a good daughter and her father perhaps wanted to keep her with him. Goyahkla and Alope had been lovers for some time, and he records in the autobiography that his greatest joy upon arriving at adulthood was that he could marry her. Goyahkla took Alope to live near his mother. His bride decorated their tipi with beads and pictures drawn on buckskin. She was a good wife, he notes, and they were happy together with their three children.
When Goyahkla crossed into Mexico again around 1850, he had no reason to suspect anything out of the usual. Traveling in a large group under Mangas Coloradas, the Apaches passed through Sonora on their way to Casas Grandes. They camped at what is generally believed to be Janos, and many of the men went into town to trade. This went on for several days, each time a guard of men staying behind to protect the women, children, and supplies.
One afternoon, however, as the men were returning to camp, they met some women and children fleeing from Mexican troops who had attacked the camp, killing the guards as well as many of the women and children, destroying supplies, and stealing the Apaches’ ponies. When Goyahkla reached the camp, he discovered his wife, mother, and three children all dead. He tells in his autobiography of going off by himself and standing by a river. Geronimo, so many years after the event, does not say what he was feeling at that river, but his understated description clearly speaks powerfully to a great grief and sense of loss.
Arriving at his home, Goyahkla gazed, certainly with great sorrow, at Alope’s decorations and their children’s toys before burning them, along with his tipi and his mother’s. Never again, Geronimo notes in his autobiography, would he feel content in his own home. Then, turning from his immediate grief, he vowed revenge on the Mexicans. A year later, Goyahkla returned to Mexico within a large war party and began to exact that revenge. It reportedly was during this excursion into Mexico that his enemies began calling him Geronimo, although no definitive explanation for the naming has ever been given. The name stuck, and Geronimo would continue his battles against Mexicans and, before long, settlers and soldiers of the United States who invaded his homeland, earning the warrior’s reputation that would stay with him throughout his life and into the twenty-first century, even into places that Geronimo could never have imagined.
Adapted from Edward Reilly, Geronimo: The Warrior @ 2011 by The Public Domain Review.
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