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While Geronimo (1829–1909) was a famous Chiricahua Apache leader, especially among whites, he was never a chief. He never had more than fifty warriors with him. He was, however, a superb military strategist. He refused to be confined to the reservation. Between 1876 and 1886, he and his band left four times, using the mountainous terrain between Arizona and Mexico to elude capture. After his fourth breakout in 1886, it took five thousand soldiers under General Nelson Miles, aided by Indian police (Native Americans who served as law enforcement on reservations), to track Geronimo down. In captivity, Geronimo became a celebrity. He appeared at a World’s Fair and attended President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration. In this speech he explained the reasons for his continued resistance.
Executive Documents of the Senate of the United States, 51st Congress, 1st Session, 1889–1890, Exec. Doc. 88 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890), 11–13.
Conference held March 25 And 27, 1886, at Canon de Los Embudos (Cañon of the Funnels), 20 miles south-southeast of San Bernardino Springs, Mexico, between General Crook and the hostile Chiricahua Chiefs.1
General Crook: What have you to say? I have come all the way down from Bowie.2
Geronimo: I would like Concepcion to act as interpreter.
General Crook: All right, but all the other interpreters must stay to act as checks on each other.
Geronimo: I want to talk first of the causes which led me to leave the reservation. I was living quietly and contented, doing and thinking of no harm, while at the Sierra Blanca. I don’t know what harm I did to those three men, Chato, Mickey Free, and Lieutenant Davis.3 I was living peaceably and satisfied when people began to speak bad of me. I should be glad to know who started those stories. I was living peaceably with my family, having plenty to eat, sleeping well, taking care of my people, and perfectly contented. I don’t know where those bad stories first came from. There we were doing well and my people well. I was behaving well. I hadn’t killed a horse or man, American or Indian. I don’t know what was the matter with the people in charge of us. They knew this to be so, and yet they said I was a bad man and the worst man there; but what harm had I done? I was living peaceably and well, but I did not leave on my own accord. Had I left it would have been right to blame me; but as it is, blame those men who started this talk about me.
Sometime before I left an Indian named Wodiskay had a talk with me. He said, “they are going to arrest you,” but I paid no attention to him, knowing that I had done no wrong; and the wife of Mangus, “Huera,” told me that they were going to seize me and put me and Mangus in the guard-house, and I learned from the American and Apache soldiers, from Chato, and Mickey Free, that the Americans were going to arrest me and hang me, and so I left.
I would like to know now who it was that gave the order to arrest me and hang me. I was living peaceably there with my family under the shade of the trees, doing just what General Crook had told me I must do and trying to follow his advice. I want to know now who it was ordered me to be arrested. I was praying to the light and to the darkness, to God and to the sun, to let me live quietly with my family. I don’t know what the reason was that people should speak badly of me. I don’t want to be blamed. The fault was not mine. Blame those three men. With them is the fault, and find out who it was that began that bad talk about me.
I have several times asked for peace, but trouble has come from the agents and interpreters. I don’t want what has passed to happen again. Now, I am going to tell you something else. The Earth-Mother is listening to me and I hope that all may be so arranged that from now on there shall be no trouble and that we shall always have peace. Whenever we see you coming to where we are, we think it is God—you must come always with God. From this on I do not want that anything shall be told you about me even in joke.4 Whenever I have broken out, it was always been on account of bad talk. From this on I hope that people will tell me nothing but the truth. From this on I want to do what is right and nothing else and I do not want you to believe any bad papers about me. I want the papers sent you to tell the truth about me, because I want to do what is right. Very often there are stories put in the newspapers that I am to be hanged. I don’t want that any more. When a man tries to do right, such stories ought not to be put in the newspapers.
There are very few of my men left now. They have done some bad things but I want them all rubbed out now and let us never speak of them again. There are very few of us left. We think of our relations, brothers, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, etc., over on the reservation, and from this on we want to live at peace just as they are doing, and to behave as they are behaving. Sometimes a man does something and men are sent out to bring in his head. I don’t want such things to happen to us. I don’t want that we should be killing each other.
What is the matter that you don’t speak to me? It would be better if you would speak to me and look with a pleasant face. It would make better feeling. I would be glad if you did. I’d be better satisfied if you would talk to me once in a while. Why don’t you look at me and smile at me? I am the same man; I have the same feet, legs, and hands, and the sun looks down on me a complete man. I want you to look and smile at me.
General Crook: Let them finish their talk first.
Geronimo: I have not forgotten what you told me, although a long time has passed. I keep it in my memory. I am a complete man. Nothing has gone from my body. From here on I want to live at peace. Don’t believe any bad talk you hear about me. The agents and the interpreter hear that somebody has done wrong, and they blame it all on me. Don’t believe what they say. I don’t want any of this bad talk in the future. I don’t want those men who talked this way about me to be my agents any more. I want good men to be my agents and interpreters; people who will talk right. I want this peace to be legal and good. Whenever I meet you I talk good to you, and you to me, and peace is soon established; but when you go to the reservation you put agents and interpreters over us who do bad things. Perhaps they don’t mind what you tell them, because I do not believe you would tell them to do bad things to us. In the future we don’t want these bad men to be allowed near where we are to live. We don’t want any more of that kind of bad talk. I don’t want any man who will talk bad about me, and tell lies, to be there, because I am going to try and live well and peaceably. I want to have a good man put over me.
While living I want to live well. I know I have to die sometime, but even if the heavens were to fall on me, I want to do what is right. I think I am a good man, but in the papers all over the world they say I am a bad man; but it is a bad thing to say so about me. I never do wrong without a cause. Every day I am thinking, how am I to talk to you to make you believe what I say; and, I think, too, that you are thinking of what you are to say to me. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all children of the one God. God is listening to me. The sun, the darkness, the winds, are all listening to what we now say.
To prove to you that I am telling you the truth, remember I sent you word that I would come from a place far away to speak to you here, and you see us now. Some have come on horseback and some on foot. If I were thinking bad, or if I had done bad, I would never have come here. If it has been my fault, would I have come so far to talk to you? I have told you all that has happened. I also had feared that I should never see Ka-e-te-na5 again, but here he is, and I want the past to be buried. I am glad to see Ka-e-te-na. I was afraid I should never see him again. That was one reason, too, why I left. I wish that Ka-e-te-na would be returned to us to live with his family. I now believe what I was told. Now I believe that all told me is true, because I see Ka-e-te-na again. I am glad to see him again, as I was told I should. We are all glad. My body feels good because I see Ka-e-te-na, and my breathing is good. Now I can eat well, drink well, sleep well, and be glad. I can go everywhere with good feeling. Now, what I want is peace in good faith. Both you and I think well and think alike.
Well, we have talked enough and sat here long enough. I may have forgotten something, but if I remember it, I will tell you of it tonight, or tomorrow, or some other time. I have finished for today, but I’ll have something more to say bye and bye.
- 1. General George Crook (1828–1890; see Document 24) had a long career contending with and fighting Indians. He was in Mexico because the Mexican government had given permission for U.S. forces to pursue the Apache band when they crossed into Mexico. One of Crook’s effective tactics was to use Indians to track and fight Indians. He was able to find Geronimo in Mexico because he used Apache scouts.
- 2. Fort Bowie, in southeastern Arizona, not far from the Mexican border.
- 3. Chato and Mickey Free were Apache scouts for the U.S. Army. Lieutenant Britton Davis played an important role in bringing Geronimo in.
- 4. Sentence as in the source.
- 5. An Apache chief. Crook had arrested Ka-e-te-na in 1884. He was imprisoned in the federal prison on Alcatraz Island until early in 1886.