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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Man who Held the US Army at Bay : Chief Geronimo

A Red Indian Warrior who Left a Mark

The recent operation to kill Osama Bin Laden was given the code name Geronimo. This had angered the Red Indian community of the United States, who would not like their hero to be linked to a terrorist. Who was Geronimo? He was a Red Indian warrior who held at bay the might of the United States Army and the Mexican Army for close to two decades. In this he was a master of evasion and a born guerrilla fighter.

Geronimo – Red Indian Warrior

Not many have heard of Geronimo, who was an Apache  warrior.  The Apache’s are a warrior tribe of the Red Indians and have a reputation of bravery. They won the respect of the United States Army. Geronimo was a nick name which he earned in his initial fights with the Mexicans. Geronimo picked up the battle against the US army when he found the traditional lands of the Apache tribes being systematically occupied by white settlers.

He thus led an armed band to try and get the Apache lands back. Perhaps Geronimo may not have taken up arms, but the Mexican army attacked the camp where he was residing and massacred his family, when the men folk were away. This was in 1858 and roused Geronimo to raise his band of fighters. The Mexicans were badly worsted by the Apache warriors and they had a grudging respect for the tribal chief. The area of operation of Geronimo was the southern states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

Geronimo and Spiritual Power

Geronimo was a man reputed to have spiritual powers. Whether these are true has never been verified. One incident is recounted that is a pointer to the legend built around him. It appears while fighting the US cavalry in New Mexico he entered a cave to escape from the US army. A vigil was mounted outside the cave, but Geronimo never came out. After a lapse of time the US soldiers entered the cave, but did not find the Apache warrior. Later he was observed fighting at a new location. This incident has of course never been verified.

The greatness of Geronimo lies in the fact that from 1858 to 1886 he gave the Mexican army and the US army a lesson in mountain warfare. He had only a small band of Apache warriors, but they eluded capture and hit back with lethal effect in the mountains. He was a master of the art of making use of the mountains to fight a protracted battle. It will surprise the reader that Geronimo in his battles had just 36 braves with him and they eluded capture by nearly 3000 troops deployed against him.

Geronimo finally Surrendered

In 1886, Congress authorized the US Army to try and negotiate surrender with Geronimo. Accordingly General Nelson A Miles selected Captain Henry Lawton to lead a cavalry force and capture Geronimo. Geronimo was pursued by Captain Lawton with tenacity. Finally the Apache chief tired and hungry surrendered to General Miles. Geronimo was made a prisoner of War till his death. But his imprisonment was quite lax and he was allowed to indulge in all his favorite sports like riding. But he was never allowed to go back to his own lands.

Geronimo is a much respected name in American History and his gun a Winchester is kept on display at the US military academy at West Point. The Apache chief has numerous films made on him by Hollywood and later he related his life to SM Barrett. He died in 1909 while riding a horse of which he fell off. Some records mention that he died of pneumonia. Lastly one facet of Geronimo’s life proved him to be a virile male as he married a number of wives and left some and married again. He will however be remembered as a last relic of an age that has come to be known as ‘the Wild West