Geronimo, Live at Fort Pickens

The young lady was visiting the Apache POW tourist attraction at Pensacola, Florida’s Fort Pickens and was in awe of the most famous (or infamous) Apache warrior, Geronimo, who was born with the name Goyahkla. She wanted to give the celebrity a gift and asked a soldier who was guarding him, “Can you tell me what is best for me to give Geronimo?”

His answer, “…the best thing you could give him would be an ounce of lead between the eyes.” (The Apache Rock Crumbles, Skinner)

Such were the feelings of Americans in 1886 about the relatively small group of Indians that caused so much death and destruction across the Southwestern United States. People either despised the Apaches or did not fully consider their well-documented acts of terror and embraced the legend. 

Apaches once roamed an area encompassing a large section of the Southwest U.S. and a part of northern Mexico known as Apacheria. The Apaches, although agriculturalists in times of peace, were known for their aggressive behavior, raiding neighboring bands of Apaches when low on food or other supplies.

When the Spanish appeared in the region some 500 years ago, they captured, killed and brutalized the Indians, causing a violent reaction among the Apaches. This hostility was later transferred to the Mexicans as well as American settlers.

The Apaches expected no mercy and gave none. Geronimo, a member of the Bedonkohe band and later a leader of the chiricahuas, became the most famous Apache because of an incident which led the warrior/priest to seek a lifetime of revenge against the Mexicans. His urge to fight extended to the growing number of Americans moving into Apacheria.

In the summer of 1850 a contingent of Apaches went on a trading foray into Mexico. The group, headed by Mangus Coloradas, included Geronimo and the families of the warriors. They stopped at a town called Janus and set up camp outside of town.

One day, while the men were in town, a force of Mexican troops attacked the lightly-guarded camp. They seized horses and supplies, then captured or killed the women and children. When Geronimo returned to the site, he found his mother, his first wife Alope, and his three children “…all dead, lying in a pool of blood.” (Geronimo, Debo)

Days later, Geronimo received the Power. A voice called out to him four times in his given name, Goyahkla. The voice said, “No gun can ever kill you. I will take the bullets from the guns of the Mexicans, so they will have nothing but powder. And I will guide your arrows.”

Geronimo’s ability to lead was recognized by his brothers-in-arms. He received a number of wounds over the years and survived them all. And with every bullet his confidence grew.

Goyahkla acquired his new name in the heat of battle with Mexican troops. One story is that Geronimo fought like a wild man, a  man with hatred as the driving force. He continually charged the enemy lines, each time killing a soldier and taking his rifle. When he made his charge, the Mexicans would shout, “Careful, Geronimo.”Or maybe Heronimo. But Geronimo won out over time as the accepted pronunciation.. (Debo)

Hostilities by the Apaches continued over the decades. Various bands were captured and placed on reservations. Sometimes they would escape and resume their warfare (and attrocities) in the area  and into Mexico,

Geronimo and his small group, the most restless and bellicose, surrendered for the final time in Skeleton Canyon, near the border with Mexico, on September 4, 1886. The prisoners, only eighteen in number, along with twenty women and children, were  then shipped to Florida on a special  train.

Crowds gathered at every stop to see the captured Apaches, especially Geronimo. Those who were allowed to visit on the train, including reporters,  eagerly sought souverneirs. Geronimo quickly became adept at modeling and selling every item he and his companions could offer. His new found love of capitalism remained with him the rest of his life.

When the train reached Pensacola on October 25, 1886, the women and children were sent on to Fort Marion at St. Augustine, Florida. There they joined other Indian P.O.W.s. Geronimo and sixteen Apaches who completed the trip, began serving their time at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island in Pensacola Bay.

This was all made possible by some influential citizens in Pensacola (businessmen) pulling strings in Washington. The goal being to establish a tourist attraction. And they succeeded.

The trip across the bay and later, living along the water’s edge, caused the Apaches to rethink some of their beliefs. They were religious and believed in many spirits. The Great Spirit, the Supreme Being, was named Essen. Its evil counterpart was called Che-din.

Apaches also believed that the spirits of bad  Apaches resided in animals living in water. For this reason, they refused to eat fish or even pork, since hogs ate snakes that swam in water. They were really confused when they saw porpoises cavorting for the first time and huge alligators lying on the shore.

The prisoners went right to work setting up housekeeping in the casemates along the interior wall of the fort. They did their chores, such as maintenance and gardening, without hesitation or complaints.

The Apaches became a “must see” for the local folks, conventioneers and tourists who made the trip across the bay. Visitors talked with the captives, bought souvenirs from them, and brought them gifts. Young women were enthralled with the notorious band and Geronimo, no longer a young man, was their favorite celebrity. (Today Geronimo would be a regular on Larry King Live and Oprah plus have his own website and a spot on Facebook.)

The Apache leader would greet visitors and try to find a way to extract money from his fans. He would lament, through his interpreter, George Wratten, how poor he was.

A writer from The Pensacolian gave this advice to the Apaches zealous admirers: “We think that the ladies who visit these savages indulge in too much gush, and we are certain they would not do it if they were to pause and reflect upon the barbarities practiced upon the people of their own race by these cutthroats.”(Skinner)

Geronimo had his interpreter Wratten write letters to his wifes at St. Augustine, telling them and his children how much he wanted to be reunited with them. His wish became a reality when the U.S. Government moved the prisoners from Fort Marion in April of 1887 to a military base at Mount Vernon, Alabama. But 31 women and children of the 384 transferees were diverted to Fort Pickens to rejoin their husbands and fathers.

The fort was closed to visitors while the new additions were given time to become acclimated. Then in June a “GRAND INDIAN WAR DANCE” was held and hundreds of Pensacola residents attended. The dance lasted well into the night without incident. The fact is that a “medicine dance” had been substituted since a war dance tended to drive the Apaches into a frenzy. Violence would erupt and people would be killed.

During his stay at Fort Pickens, Geronimo and his men adopted American customs and dress in varying degrees. Geronimo wore pants, a shirt and a straw hat. His changes became more dramatic as he moved to other prison camps and traveled around the nation, cashing in on his status as a celebrity. It was not unusual to find him in a suit and his hair cut in a civilized way.

The following impressions of Geronimo by reporters and visitors to the fort. (Skinner):

“Geronimo’s face is expressive of intelligence, but he has the coldest eye ever beheld in the face of a human being.”

“When one looks at this old villain and thinks of the desolate homes in Arizona and the murders committed by his hand, an involuntary wish escapes one that he might be made to endure some of the tortures he inflicted on others.”

“It is conceded on all sides that Geronimo’s is a BAD INDIAN’S FACE. He is the picture of diabolical impassiveness. There is a cold, cruel glitter in his eyes, and his mouth, cut straight across his face, is hard and pitiless.”

On May 13, 1888, Geronimo and the other prisoners were moved from Fort Pickens to Mount Vernon where they lived until October 2, 1894. Then a train took the combined POWs to their next stop at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.There are some real blemishes sneaking around in Windows 8 and Windows 10. One of these issues is mistake. Numerous clients who have moved up to Windows 8 or Windows 10, have confronted this issue in the early forms regularly where the web association would just drop and get back on haphazardly.During his last years at Fort Sill, Geronimo’s fame grew as he made public appearances around the country, speaking and engaging in commerce. On February 17, 1909, Geronimo took his last ride on the ghost pony, ending a long, strange, eventful life.

Want to visit Fort Pickens?

The fort has a lot to offer vacationers and the cost is reasonable. Included are camping, fishing, bird watching, a museum, beautiful beaches, nature hikes, photography, and special events for children and adults. For info and contacts.

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