In 1874, a man named Taza became the chief of the Chiricahua tribe. Taza wasn’t a particularly good leader, and the Chiricahua split into many factions. Around this time, the U.S. government, recognizing the new weakness of the Chiricahuas, decided to move the tribe to a new reservation. Not all went peacefully. One man, a member of the Apache tribe who’d come to consider himself a Chiricahua, refused to submit to the U.S.’s authority. His name was Geronimo.
Brown returns to the Southwest, a region he’d discussed in the earlier chapters of the book. Geronimo is a famous American, often remembered as a violent, murderous man who killed innocent white settlers. As Brown will show, the truth is far more complicated.
In 1877, John Clum, the government agent for the Chiricahua tribe, received orders to capture Geronimo for refusing to move onto the new reservation. He summoned Geronimo to speak, and Geronimo, assuming he’d been summoned for a peaceful conference, came willingly, along with his ally, Victorio. The two men were captured and transferred to their new reservation on San Carlos.
Brown doesn’t give much background information about Geronimo, partly because little is known about Geronimo’s early life. Notice that Clum, like Sherman in the earlier chapter, betrayed the two Native Americans by capturing them after claiming to want to discuss peace.
Conditions on San Carlos were miserable—there were too many people packed into too little space. In September, Victorio led a group of followers off the reservation. They migrated into New Mexico, where they begged to be allowed to stay. The government granted Victorio’s request, but in 1879, Victorio was arrested on charges of horse stealing and murder. This time, Victorio escaped. He vowed that he’d never submit to a white man again.
Victorio is a good example of a Native American leader who became more radical over the course of his interactions with white men. Victorio tried to use peaceful means to deal with the U.S., but decided that peaceful means simply weren’t enough.
Victorio began recruiting an army to fight white settlers in the Southwest. He became increasingly ruthless, torturing anyone he captured. Even his own followers thought of him as a madman. In 1880, Mexican soldiers killed Victorio, and collected the three thousand-dollar bounty on his head.
Victorio’s use of torture certainly isn’t praiseworthy, but perhaps at the very least it’s understandable: Victorio was reacting to the deviousness and violence of the U.S. presence on his territory.
In 1882, a small army of Chiricahuas, including Geronimo, attacked a column of U.S troops. The attack was a failure, but Geronimo and his followers escaped with their lives. They began to use guerilla tactics against the larger, better-equipped American army.
Like most of the successful Native American resistors in the 19th century, Geronimo and his peers used guerilla tactics to fight the U.S. military, rather than pursuing direct, all-out battles.
In order to ensure order in the Southwest, the government sent General Crook to control the Chiricahua and Apache reservations. Crook, a gentler man than he’d been when he hunted down Cochise ten years ago, took care of the Native Americans under his control, providing them with good rations. But Crook knew that Geronimo’s forces would come back to fight him.
Brown suggests that years of violence and cruelty took a psychological toll on Crook himself. Indeed, Crook spent the final years of his life speaking out against unjust treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. military, which made him enormously unpopular among his former colleagues.
General Crook led his army into Mexico in search of Geronimo and his men. He and Geronimo met to negotiate peace. During the meeting, Geronimo claimed that he’d become a guerilla fighter because white Americans had treated him so badly. Crook acknowledged that this was probably true. He convinced Geronimo to round up the last of his people and bring them to the reservation. In 1884—much to Crook’s surprise—Geronimo honored his agreement and brought his people back from Mexico and into the United States. For the next year, there were no reported crimes between whites and Native Americans. Nevertheless, rumors circulated that Geronimo was a bloody, sadistic killer.
Geronimo’s statement about becoming a guerilla fighter sums up Brown’s central point about the Native American resistance to U.S. expansion: the Native Americans didn’t for the most part want a fight, but they resorted to violence when all other means of protecting themselves had run out. Geronimo’s sadism and cruelty, while horrifying, weren’t entirely irrational: rather, they reflected Native Americans’ rational desire to defend themselves.
On the new Chiricahua reservation, life was dull, and many chiefs turned to alcohol for comfort. Suddenly, on May 17, Geronimo led a group out of the reservation and back into Mexico. Afterwards, American newspapers began to portray Geronimo as a terrifying killer. This caused such an uproar that many in the area insisted that General Crook personally hunt down Geronimo and arrest him. In April 1886, however, Crook resigned.
Geronimo (much like the Battle of the Little Bighorn) wasn’t nearly as horrible as he’s often remembered being. The “yellow journalism” of the era exaggerated many of his deeds in order to sell more newspapers—and in doing so further justified the violence of the U.S. army (violence of which Crook no longer approved).
The manhunt for Geronimo continued. The new general in the Southwest, General Nelson Miles, made it known that if Geronimo surrendered to him, he’d send Geronimo to a new reservation in Florida. Geronimo decided to surrender to Miles. He was shipped to Florida, where he found many of his people starving or dying on their new reservation. At the end of his life, Geronimo returned to the Southwest, still a prisoner of war. He died in 1900, “the last of the Apache chiefs.”
Geronimo’s capture marked the “last gasp” of violent resistance to the U.S. military in the Southwest. Again and again, Native Americans turned to violent, often cruel chiefs because they felt that they had no other means of protecting themselves from U.S. expansion, which was often explicitly racist and genocidal.