Geronimo, or Goyathlay ("one who yawns"), was born in 1829 in what is today western New Mexico, but was then still Mexican territory. Mexican soldiers reportedly gave him the name Geronimo, although few agree as to why. As leader of the Apaches at Arispe in Sonora, he performed such daring feats that the Mexicans singled him out with the sobriquet Geronimo (Spanish for "Jerome"). Some attributed his numerous raiding successes to powers conferred by supernatural beings, including a reputed invulnerability to bullets.
Geronimo was the leader of the last American Indian fighting force formally to capitulate to the United States. Because he fought against such daunting odds and held out the longest, he became the most famous Apache of all. To the pioneers and settlers of Arizona and New Mexico, he was a bloody-handed murderer and this image endured until the second half of this century.
To the Apaches, Geronimo embodied the very essence of the Apache values, aggressiveness, and courage in the face of difficulty.
These qualities inspired fear in the settlers of Arizona and New Mexico. The Chiricahuas were mostly migratory following the seasons, hunting and farming. When food was scarce, it was the custom to raid neighboring tribes. Raids and vengeance were an honorable way of life among the tribes of this region.
By the time American settlers began arriving in the area, the Spanish had become entrenched in the area. They were always looking for Indian slaves and Christian converts. One of the most pivotal moments in Geronimo's life was in 1858 when he returned home from a trading excursion into Mexico. He found his wife, his mother and his three young children murdered by Spanish troops from Mexico. This reportedly caused him to have such a hatred of the whites that he vowed to...