Geronimo and the European Invasion

GeronimoLast year’s birthday post was really good. With interesting things to say about the painter John Linnell, novelist Erich Segal (but mostly the whole Al Gore thing), and economist Adam Smith. Humility has never been a great gift of mine, so I highly recommend clicking over. As you may remember, last year, I did a lot of different people for the birthday posts. And if I was into it, I could go into quite a bit of depth. Or I could do little more than a list of people. Well, on this day, I did the former. So rather than repeat myself, I’m going to do someone who probably wasn’t even born today.

During this month in 1829, Bedonkohe Apache leader Geronimo was born. He is best known for fighting against Texas and Mexico because of their expansion into Apache lands. Before getting more into Geronimo, I want to take a moment to talk about Ayn Rand. Almost two years ago, I wrote an article, Ayn Rand and Indians. It was about her claim that the European settlers were right to take the native people’s lands. She had a number of arguments, but the main one was that the natives did not have the concept of property rights. (Objectivists still make this same apologia.) If that is the case, what were the Apache’s fighting for? It’s just a ridiculous argument. Even other species have ideas of property rights. It’s just that people like Ayn Rand are racists with very little understanding of the various native cultures. If there had been CNN in the 19th century, it would have been reported as the genocidal land grab that it was. And now back to Geronimo.

The Apache people are actually made up of a number of groups, most notably the Navajo. They lived in what is now New Mexico. Geronimo was part of the Bedonkohe group. At 17, he married a woman from another Apache band. Four years later, while he and the rest of the men were away trading, a group of 400 Mexican soldiers attacked their village, even though the Mexican government was supposedly at peace with the Apache. Geronimo later described his experience:

Late one afternoon when returning from town we were met by a few women and children who told us that Mexican troops from some other town had attacked our camp, killed all the warriors of the guard, captured all our ponies, secured our arms, destroyed our supplies, and killed many of our women and children. Quickly we separated, concealing ourselves as best we could until nightfall, when we assembled at our appointed place of rendezvous—a thicket by the river. Silently we stole in one by one, sentinels were placed, and when all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain.

Not surprisingly, Geronimo hated the Mexicans for this. For the next 35 years, he was pretty much at war with the Mexicans and then later Texas and the United States. The story of this time is very much a model for the treatment of native peoples throughout America. It is the story of lies and aggression. This isn’t to make the natives out to be some perfect people, but they were greatly wronged for hundreds of years. Geronimo did finally surrender and spent the rest of his life at least nominally a prisoner of war.

Late in his life, Geronimo became a celebrity, even appearing at the 1904 World’s Fair and participating in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade. He died at the age of 79. He was riding home when he was thrown from his horse. I guess he broke some bones, because he was unable to continue on and spent the cold night out in the open. This led to his death from pneumonia a few days later. A fighter to the end, his last words are said to have been, “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

Happy birthday Geronimo!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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