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Geronimo, His Own Story

His Own Story an Autobiography

Part I : The Apaches
Origin of the Apache Indians
Subdivisions of the Apache Tribe
Early life
Tribal Amusements, Manners, and Customs
The Family

Part II: The Mexicans
Fighting Under Difficulties
Raids That Were Successful
Varying Fortunes
Heavy Fighting
Geronimo's Mightiest Battle

Part III: The White Men
Coming of the White Men
Greatest of Wrongs
In Prison and on the Warpath
The Final Struggle
A Prisoner of War

Part IV: The Old and the New
Unwritten Laws of the Apaches
At the World's Fair
Hopes for the Future

Origins of the Apache Indians

In the beginning the world was covered with darkness. There was no sun, no
day. The perpetual night had no moon or stars.

There were, however, all manner of beasts and birds. Among the beasts were
many hideous, nameless monsters, as well as dragons, lions, tigers, wolves,
foxes, beavers, rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, and all manner of creeping
things such as lizards and serpents. Mankind could not prosper under such
conditions, for the beasts and serpents destroyed all human offspring.

All creatures had the power of speech and were gifted with reason.

There were two tribes of creatures: the birds or the feathered tribe and the
beasts. The former were organized wider their chief, the eagle.

These tribes often held councils, and the birds wanted light admitted. This
the beasts repeatedLy refused to do. Finally the birds made war against the

The beasts were armed with clubs, but the eagle had taught his tribe to use
bows and arrows. The serpents were so wise that they could not all be
killed. One took refuge in a perpendicular cliff of a mountain in Arizona,
and his eyes (changed into a brilliant stone) may be see in that rock to
this day. The bears, when killed, would each be changed into several other
bears, so that the more bears the feathered tribe killed, the more there
were. The dragon could not be killed, either, for he was covered with four
coats of horny scales, and the arrows would not penetrate these. One of the
most hideous, vile monsters (nameless) was proof against arrows, so the
eagle flew high up in the air with a round, white stone, and let it fall on
this monster's head, killing him instantly. This was such a good service
that the stone was called sacred. They fought for many days, but at last the
birds won the victory.

After this war was over, although some evil beasts remained, the birds were
able to control the councils, and light was admitted, Then mankind could
live and prosper. The eagle was chief in this good fight: therefore, his
feathers were worn by man as emblems of wisdom, justice, and power.

Among the few human beings that were yet alive was a woman who had been
blessed with many children, but these had always been destroyed by the
beasts. If by any means she succeeded in eluding the others, the dragon, who
was very wise and very evil, would come himself and eat her babes.

After many years a son of the rainstorm was born to her and she dug for him
a deep cave. The entrance to this cave she closed and over the spot built a
camp fire. This concealed the babe's hiding place and kept him warm. Every
day she would remove the fire and descend into the cave, where the child's
bed was, to nurse him; then she would return and rebuild the camp fire.

Frequently the dragon would come and question her, but she would say, I have
no more children; you have eaten all of them.

When the child was larger he would not always stay in the cave, for he
sometimes wanted to run and play. Once the dragon saw his tracks. Now this
perplexed and enraged the old dragon, for he could not find the hiding place
of the boy; but he said that he would destroy the mother if she did not
reveal the child's hiding place. The poor mother was very much troubled; she
could not give up her child, but she knew the power and cunning of the
dragon, therefore she lived in constant fear.

Soon after this the boy said that he wished to go hunting. The mother would
not give her consent. She told him of the dragon, the wolves, and serpents;
but he said, To-morrow I go.

At the boy's request his uncle (who was the only man then living) made a
little bow and some arrows for him, and the two went hunting the next day.
They trailed the deer far up the mountain and finally the boy killed a buck.
His uncle showed him how to dress the deer and broil the meat. They broiled
two hind quarters, one the child and one for his uncle. When the meat was
done they placed it on some bushes to cool. Just then the huge form of the
dragon appeared. The child was not afraid, but his uncle was so dumb with
fright that he did not speak or move.

The dragon took the boy's parcel of meat and went aside with it. He placed
the meat on another bush and seated himself beside it. Then he said, This is
the child I have been seeking. Boy, you are nice and fat, so when I have
eaten this venison I shall eat you. The boy said, No, you shall not eat me,
and you shall not eat that meat. So he walked over to where the dragon sat
and to where the meat back to his own seat. The dragon said, I like your
courage, but you are foolish; what do you think you could do? Well, said the
boy, I can do enough to protect myself, as you may bind out. Then the dragon
took the meat again, and then the boy retook it. Four times in all the
dragon took the meat, and after the fourth time the boy replaced the meat he
said, Dragon, will you fight me? The dragon said, Yes, in whatever way you
like. The boy said, I will stand one hundred paces distant from you and you
may have four shots at me with your bow and arrows, provided that you will
then exchange places with me and give me four shots. Good, said the dragon.
Stand up.

Then the dragon took his bow, which was made of a large pine tree. He took
four arrows from his quiver; they were made of young pine tree saplings, and
each arrow was twenty feet in length. He took deliberate aim, but just as
the arrow left the bow the boy made a peculiar sound and leaped into the
air. Immediately the arrow was shivered into a thousand splinters, and the
boy was seen standing on the top of a bright rainbow over the spot where the
dragon's aim had been directed. Soon the rainbow was gone and the boy was
standing on the ground again. Four times this was repeated, then the boy
said, Dragon, stand here: it is my time to shoot. The dragon said, All
right, your little arrows cannot pierce my first coat of horn, and I have
three other coats --shoot away. The boy shot an arrow, striking the dragon
just over the heart, and one coat of the great horny scales fell to the
ground. The next shot another coat, and then another, and the dragon's heart
was exposed. Then the dragon trembled, but could not move. Before the fourth
arrow was shot the boy said, Uncle, you are dumb with fear; you have not
moved; come here or the dragon will fall on you.His uncle ran toward him.
Then he sped the fourth arrow with true aim, and it pierced the dragon's
heart. With a tremendous roar the dragon rolled down the mountain
side---down four precipices into a canon below.

Immediately storm clouds swept the mountains, lightning flashed, thunder
rolled, and the rain poured. When the rainstorm had passed, far down in the
canon below, they could see fragments of the huge body of the dragon lying
among the rocks, and the bones of this dragon may still be found there.

This boy's name was Apache. Usen taught him how to prepare herbs for
medicine, how to hunt, and how to fight. He was the first chief of the
Indians and wore the eagle's feathers the sign of justice, wisdom, and
power. To him and to his people, as they were created, Usen gave homes in
the land of the West.

Subdivisions of the Apache Tribe

The Apache Indians are divided into six sub tribes. To one of these, the
Be-don-ko-he, I belong.

Our tribe inhabited that region of mountainous country which lies west from
the east line of Arizona, and south from the head waters of the Gila River.

East of us lived the Chi-hen-ne (Ojo Caliente), (Hot Springs) Apaches. Our
tribe never had any difficulty with them. Victoria, their chief (first
portrait), was always a friend to me. He always helped our tribe when we
asked him for help. He lost his life in the defense of the rights of his
people. He was a good man and a brave warrior. His son Charlie now lives
here in this reservation with us.

North of us lived the White Mountain Apaches. They were not always on the
best of terms with our tribe, yet we seldom had any war with them. I knew
their chief, Hash-ka-ai-la, personally, and I considered him a good warrior.
Their range was next to that of the Navajo Indians, who were not of the same
blood as the Apaches. We held councils with all Apache tribes, but never
with the Navajo Indians. However, we traded with them and sometimes visited

To the west of our country ranged the Chi-e-a-hen Apaches. They had two
chiefs within my time, Co-si-to and Co-da-hoo-yah. They were friendly, but
not intimate with our tribe.

South of us lived the Cho-kon-en (Chiricahua) Apaches, whose chief in the
old days was Cochise (second portrait), and later his son, Naiche. This
tribe was always on the most friendly terms with us. We were often in camp
and on the trail together. Naiche, Who was my companion in arms, is now my
companion in bondage.

To the south and west of us lived the Ned-ni Apaches. Their chief was Whoa,
called by the Mexicans Capitan Whoa They were our firm friends. The land of
this tribe lies partly in Old Mexico and partly in Arizona. Whoa and I often
camped and fought side by side as brothers. My enemies were his enemies, my
friends his friends. He is dead now, but his son Asa is interpreting this
story for me.

Still the four tribes (Bedonkohe, Chokonen, Chihenne, and Nedni), who were
fast friends in the days of freedom, cling together as they decrease in
number. Only the destruction of all our people would dissolve our bonds of

We are vanishing from the earth, yet I cannot think we are useless or Usen
would not have created us. He created all tribes of men and certainly had a
righteous purpose in creating each.

For each tribe of men Usen created He also made a home. In the land created
for any particular tribe. He placed whatever would be best for the welfare
of that tribe.

Usen created the Apaches He also created their homes in the West. He gave to
them such grain, fruits, and game as they needed to eat. To restore their
health when disease attacked them He made many different herbs to grow. He
taught them where to find these herbs, and how to prepare them for medicine.
He gave them a pleasant climate and all they needed for clothing and shelter
was at hand.

Thus it was in the beginning: the Apaches and their homes each created for
the other by Usen himself. When they are taken from these homes they sicken
and die. How long will it be until it is said, there are no Apaches?

Early Life

I was born in No-doyohn Canon, Arizona, June, 1829.

In that country which lies around the head waters of the Gila River I was
reared. This range was our fatherland; among these mountains our wigwams
were hidden; the scattered valleys contained our fields; the boundless
prairies, stretching away on every side, were our pastures; the rocky
caverns were our burying places.

I was fourth in a family of eight children-- four boys and four girls. Of
that family, only myself, my brother, Porico, and my sister, Nah-da-ste ,
are yet alive. We are held as prisoners of war in this Military Reservation
(Fort Sill).

As a babe I rolled on the dirt floor of my father's tepee, hung in my tsoch
(Apache name for cradle) at my mother's back, or suspended from the bough of
a tree. I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds, and sheltered by the
trees as other Indian babes.

When a child my mother taught me the legends of our people; taught me of the
sun and sky, the moon and stars, the clouds and storms. She also taught me
to kneel and pray to Usen for strength, health, wisdom, and protection. We
never prayed against any person, but if we had aught against any individual
we ourselves took vengeance. We were taught that Usen does not care for the
petty quarrels of men.

My father had often told me of the brave deeds of our warriors, of the
pleasures of the chase, and the glories of the war path.

With my brothers and sisters I played about my father's home. Sometimes we
played at hide-and-seek among the rocks and pines; sometimes we loitered in
the shade of the cottonwood trees or sought the shudock (a kind of wild
cherry) while our parents worked in the field. Sometimes we played that we
were warriors. We would practice stealing upon some object that represented
an enemy, and in our childish imitation often perform the feats of war.
Sometimes we would hide away from our mother to see if she could find us,
and often when thus concealed go to sleep and perhaps remain hidden for many

When we were old enough to be of real service we went to the field with our
parents: not to play, but to toil. When the crops were to be planted we
broke the ground with wooden hoes. We planted the corn in straight rows, the
beans among the corn, and the melons and pumpkins in irregular order over
the field. We cultivated these crops as there was need.

Our field usually contained about two acres of ground. The fields were never
fenced. It was common for many families to cultivate land in the same valley
and share the burden of protecting the growing crops from destruction by the
ponies of the tribe, or by deer and other wild animals.

Melons were gathered as they were consumed. In the autumn pumpkins and beans
were gathered and placed in bags or baskets; ears of corn were tied together
by the husks, and then the harvest was carried on the backs of ponies up to
our homes. Here the corn was shelled, and all the harvest stored away in
caves or other secluded places to be used in winter.

We never fed corn to our ponies, but if we kept them up in the winter time
we gave them fodder to eat. We had no cattle or other domestic animals
except our dogs and ponies.

We did not cultivate tobacco, but found it growing wild. This we cut and
cured in autumn, but if the supply ran out the leaves from the stalks left
standing served our purpose. All Indians smoked---men and women. No boy was
allowed to smoke until he had hunted alone and killed large game--wolves and
bears. Unmarried women were not prohibited from smoking, but were considered
immodest if they did so. Nearly all matrons smoked.

Besides grinding the corn (by hand with stone mortars and pestles) for
bread, we sometimes crushed it and soaked it, and after it had fermented
made from this juice a tis-win, which had the power of intoxication, and was
very highly prized by the Indians. This work was done by the squaws and
children. When berries or nuts were to be gathered the small children and
the squaws would go in parties to hunt them, and sometimes stay all day.
When they went any great distance from camp they took ponies to carry the

I frequentLy went with these parties, and upon one of these excursions a
woman named Cho-ko-le got lost from the party and was riding her pony
through a thicket in search of her friends. Her little dog was following as
she slowly made her way through the thick underbrush and pine trees. All at
once a grizzly bear rose in her path and attacked the pony. She jumped off
and her pony escaped, but the bear attacked her, so she fought him the best
she could with her knife. Her little dog, by snapping at the bear's heels
and distracting his attention from the woman, enabled her for some time to
keep pretty well out of his reach. Finally the grizzly struck her over the
head, tearing off almost her whole scalp. She fell, but did not lose
consciousness, and while prostrate struck him four good licks with her
knife, and he retreated. After he had gone she replaced her torn scalp and
bound it up as best she could, then she turned deathly sick and had to lie
down. That night her pony came into camp with his load of nuts and berries,
but no rider. The Indians hunted for her, but did not find her until the
second day. They carried her home, and under the treatment of their medicine
men all her wounds were healed.

The Indians knew what herbs to use for medicine, how to prepare them, and
how to give the medicine. This they had been taught by Usen in the
beginning, and each succeeding generation had men who were skilled in the
art of healing.

In gathering the herbs, in preparing them, and in administering the
medicine, as much faith was held in prayer as in the actual effect of the
medicine. Usually about eight persons worked together in make medicine, and
there were forms of prayer and incantations to attend each stage of the
process. Four attended to the incantations and four to the preparation of
the herbs.

Some of the Indians were skilled in cutting out bullets, arrow heads, and
other missiles with which warriors were wounded. I myself have done much of
this, using a common dirk or butcher knife.

Small children wore very little clothing in winter and none in the summer.
Women usually wore a primitive skirt, which consisted of a piece of cotton
cloth fastened about the waist, and extending to the knees. Men wore breach
clothes and moccasins. In winter they had shirts and legging in addition.

Frequently when the tribe was in camp a number of boys and girls, by
agreement, would steal away and meet at a place several miles distant, where
they could play all day free from tasks. They were never punished for these
frolics; but if their hiding places were discovered they were ridiculed.

Tribal Amusements, Manners, and Customs

To celebrate each noted event a feast and dance would be given. Perhaps only
our own people, perhaps neighboring tribes, would be invited. These
festivities usually lasted for about four days. By day we feasted, by night
under the direction of some chief we danced. The music for our dance was
singing led by the warriors, and accompanied by beating the esadadedne
(buck-skin-on-a-hoop). No words were sung--only the tones. When the feasting
and dancing were over we would have horse races, foot races, wrestling,
jumping, and all sorts of games (gambling).

Among these games the most noted was the tribal game of Kah (foot). It is
played as follows: Four moccasins are placed about four feet apart in holes
in the ground, dug in a row on one side of the camp, and on the opposite
side a similar parallel row. At night a camp fire is started between these
two rows of moccasins, and the players are arranged on sides, one or any
number on each side. The score is kept by a bundle of sticks, from which
each side takes a stick for every point won. First one side takes the bone,
puts up blankets between the four moccasins and the fire so that the
opposing team cannot observe their movements, and then begin to sing the
legends of creation. The side having the bone represents the feathered
tribe, the opposite side represents the beasts. The players representing the
birds do all the singing, and while singing hide the bone in one of the
moccasins, then the blankets are thrown down. They continue to sing, but as
soon as the blankets are thrown down the chosen player from the opposing
team, armed with a war club, comes to their side of the camp fire and with
his club strikes the moccasin in which he thinks the bone is hidden. If he
strikes the right moccasin, his side gets the bone, and in turn represents
the birds, while the opposing team must keep quiet and guess in turn. There
are only four plays; three that lose and one that wins. When all the sticks
are gone from the bundle the side having the largest number of sticks is
counted winner.

This game is seldom played except as a gambling game, but for the purpose it
is the most popular game known to the tribe. Usually the game lasts four or
five hours. It is never played in daytime.

After the games are all finished the visitors say, We are satisfied, and the
camp is broken up. I was always glad when the dances and feasts were
announced. So were all the other young people.

Our life also had a religious side. We had no churches, no religious
organizations, no sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshiped. Sometimes
the whole tribe would assemble to sing and pray; sometimes a smaller number,
perhaps only two or three. The songs had a few words, but were not formal.
The singer would occasionally put in such words as he wished instead of the
usual tone sound. Sometimes we prayed in silence; sometimes each one prayed
aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us. At other times one
would rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen. Our
services were short.

When disease or pestilence abounded we were assembled and questioned by our
leaders to ascertain what evil we had done, and how Usen could be satisfied.
Sometimes sacrifice was deemed necessary. Sometimes the offending one was

If an Apache had allowed his aged parents to suffer for food or shelter, if
he had neglected or abused the sick, if he had profaned our religion, or had
been unfaithful, he might be banished from the tribe.

The Apaches had no prisons as white men have. Instead of sending their
criminals into prison they sent them out of their tribe. These faithless,
cruel, lazy, or cowardly members of the tribe were excluded in such a manner
that they could not join any other tribe. Neither could they have any
protection from our unwritten tribal laws. Frequently these outlaw Indians
banded together and committed depredations which were charged against the
regular tribe. However, the life of an outlaw Indian was a hard lot, and
their bands never became very large; besides, these bands frequently
provoked the wrath of the tribe and secured their own destruction.

When I was about eight or ten years old I began to follow the chase, and to
me this was never work.

Out on the prairies, which ran up to our mountain homes, wandered herds of
deer, antelope, elk, and buffalo, to be slaughtered when we needed them.

Usually we hunted buffalo on horseback, killing them with arrows and spears.
Their skins were used to make tepees and bedding; their flesh, to eat.

It required more skill to hunt the deer than any other animal. We never
tried to approach a deer except against the wind. Frequently we would spend
hours in stealing upon grazing deer. If they were in the open we would crawl
long distances on the ground, keeping a weed or brush before us, so that our
approach would not be noticed. Often we could kill several out of one herd
before the others would run away. Their flesh was dried and packed in
vessels, and would keep in this condition for many months. The hide of the
deer soaked in water and ashes and the hair removed, and then the process of
tanning continued until the buckskin was soft and pliable. Perhaps no other
animal was more valuable to us than the deer.

In the forests and along the streams were many wild turkeys. These we would
drive to the plains, then slowly ride up toward them until they were almost
tired out. When they began to drop and hide we would ride in upon them and,
by swinging from the side of our horses, catch them. If one started to fly
we would ride swiftly under him and kill him with a short stick, or hunting
club. In this way we could usually get as many wild turkeys as we could
carry home on a horse.

There were many rabbits in our range, and we also hunted them on horseback.
Our horses were trained to follow the rabbit at full speed, and as they
approached them we would swing from one side of the horse and strike the
rabbit with our hunting club. If he was too far away we would throw the
stick and kill him. This was great sport when we were boys, but as warriors
we seldom hunted small game.

There were many fish in the streams, but as we did not eat them, we did not
try to catch or kill them. Small boys sometimes threw stones at them or shot
at them for practice with their bows and arrows. Usen did not intend snakes,
frogs, or fishes to be eaten. I have never eaten of them.

There were many eagles in the mountains. These we hunted for their feathers.
It required great skill to steal upon an eagle, for besides having sharp
eyes, he is wise and never stops at any place where he does not have a good
view of the surrounding country.

I have killed many bears with a spear, but was never injured in a fight with
one. I have killed several mountain lions with arrows, and one with a spear.
Both bears and mountain lions are good for food and valuable for their skin.
When we killed them we carried them home on our horses. We often made
quivers for our arrows from the skin of the mountain lion. These were very
pretty and very durable.

During my minority we had never seen a missionary or a priest. We had never
seen a white man. Thus quietly lived the Be-don-ko-he Apaches.

The Family

My grandfather, Maco, had been our chief. I never saw him, but my father
often told me of the great size, strength, and sagacity of this old warrior.
Their principal wars had been with the Mexicans. They had some wars with
other tribes of Indians also, but were seldom at peace for any great length
of time with the Mexican towns.

Maco died when my father was but a young warrior, and Mangas-Colorado became
chief of the Bedonkohe Apaches. When I was but a small boy my father died,
after having been sick for some time. When he passed away, carefully the
watchers closed his eyes, then they arrayed him in his best clothes, painted
his face afresh, wrapped a rich blanket around him, saddled his favorite
horse, bore his arms in front of him, and led his horse behind, repeating in
wailing tones his deeds of valor as they carried his body to a cave in the
mountain. Then they slew his horses, and we gave away all of his other
property, as was customary in our tribe, after which his body was deposited
in the cave, his arms beside him. His grave is hidden by piles of stone.
Wrapped in splendor he lies in seclusion, and the winds in the pines sing a
low requiem over the dead warrior.

After my father's death I assumed the care of my mother. She never married
again, although according to the customs of our tribe she might have done so
immediately after his death. Usually, however, the widow who has children
remains single after her husband's death for two or three years; but the
widow without children marries again immediately. After a warrior's death
his widow returns to her people and may be given away or sold by her father
or brothers. My mother chose to live with me, and she never desired to marry
again. We lived near our old home and I supported her.

In 1846, being seventeen years of age, I was admitted to the council of the
warriors. Then I was very happy, for I could go wherever I wanted and do
whatever I liked. I had not been under the control of any individual, but
the customs of our tribe prohibited me from sharing the glories of the war
path until the council admitted me. When opportunity offered, after this, I
could go on the war path with my tribe. This would be glorious. I hoped soon
to serve my people in battle. I had long desired to fight with our warriors.

Perhaps the greatest joy to me was that now I could marry the fair Alope,
daughter of No-po-so. She was a slender, delicate girl, but we had been
lovers for a long time. So, as soon as the council granted me these
privileges I went to see her father concerning our marriage. Perhaps our
love was of no interest to him; perhaps he wanted to keep Alope with him,
for she was a dutiful daughter; at any rate he asked many ponies for her. I
made no reply, but in a few days appeared before his wigwam with the herd of
ponies and took with me Alope. This was all the marriage ceremony necessary
in our tribe.

Not far from my mother's tepee I had made for us a new home. The tepee was
made of buffalo hides and in it were many bear robes, lion hides, and other
trophies of the chase, as well as my spears, bows, and arrows. Alope had
made many little decorations of beads and drawn work on buckskin, which she
placed in our tepee. She also drew many pictures on the walls of our home.
She was a good wife, but she was never strong. We followed the traditions of
our fathers and were happy. Three children came to us-- children that
played, loitered, and worked as I had done.