On this day, September 04, in 1886:
Geronimo surrendered for the last time. His surrender, first to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood and later to General Nelson Miles, signalled the end of the decades-long Indian Wars in the southwestern part of the United States.
Geronimo (Goyaałé – ‘the one who yawns’) was not a chief. He was a medicine man, which in Apache tradition was a spiritual healer. He became a prominent leader and warrior after Mexican soldiers raided his village one day in 1858, and murdered his mother, his wife, and his children. The Mexican soldiers did this while the Apache men, including Geronimo, were in town, getting supplies. The Apaches waged war on Mexican, and later, American settlers to protect their lands. Geronimo was further motivated by revenge, especially against Mexicans.
The name ‘Geronimo,’ possibly a mispronunciation of his real name, became legend when the fierce warrior repeatedly went up against a hail of bullets to attack his enemy with a knife. For nearly three decades Geronimo led raids against Mexican and white settlers, as well as against Mexican and American military forces. Americans captured Geronimo at least three times, and each time they sent him to stay on a reservation. Each time he was captured, Geronimo escaped from the reservation and went back to fighting against the invading forces.
In the summer of 1886, it became clear to Geronimo and his followers that there was no road to victory or peace. More and more settlers kept coming. The U.S. military sent larger forces. On September 4, 1886, Geronimo surrendered to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood, who spoke Apache and had gained Geronimo’s respect years earlier. He was brought to General Nelson Miles, who was in charge of the military mission to fight the Indians. There Geronimo surrendered again, officially, for the last time.
Looking back, we may be tempted to be critical of Geronimo for capitulating and agreeing to live wherever the U.S. government told him to live. But that would be missing the bigger picture. Geronimo and his men made a pragmatic calculation. If they continued to fight, they would be overtaken and wiped out by the U.S. forces. By surrendering, their people had a chance to live on a reservation. And perhaps carry on the traditions of their ancestors.