Geronimo's Story of His Life


Preview: Issue 1 of 12


Because he has given me permission to tell my story; because he has read that story and knows I try to speak the truth; because I believe that he is fair-minded and will cause my people to receive justice in the future; and because he is chief of a great people, I dedicate this story of my life to Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States.



I first met Geronimo in the summer of 1904, when I acted for him as interpreter of English into Spanish, and vice versa, in selling a war bonnet. After that he always had a pleasant word for me when we met, but never entered into a general conversation with me until he learned that I had once been wounded by a Mexican. As soon as he was told of this, he came to see me and expressed freely his opinion of the average Mexican, and his aversion to all Mexicans in general.

I invited him to visit me again, which he did, and upon his invitation, I visited him at his tepee in the Fort Sill Military reservation.

In the summer of 1905 Dr. J. M. Greenwood, superintendent of schools at Kansas City, Missouri, visited me, and I took him to see the chief. Geronimo was quite formal and reserved until Dr. Greenwood said, "I am a friend of General Howard, whom I have heard speak of you." "Come," said Geronimo, and led the way to a shade, had seats brought for us, put on his war bonnet, and served watermelon a l'Apache (cut in big chunks), while he talked freely and cheerfully. When we left he gave us a pressing invitation to visit him again.

In a few days the old chief came to see me and asked about "my father." I said "you mean the old gentleman from Kansas City--he has returned to his home." "He is you father?" said Geronimo. "No," I said, "my father died twenty-five years ago, Dr. Greenwood is only my friend." After a moment's silence the old Indian spoke again, this time in a tone of voice intended to carry conviction, or at least to allow no further discussion. "Your natural father is dead, this man has been your friend and adviser from youth. By adoption he is your father. Tell him he is welcome to come to my home at any time." It was of no use to explain any more, for the old man had determined not to understand my relation to Dr. Greenwood except in accordance with Indian customs, and I let the matter drop.

In the latter part of that summer I asked the old chief to allow me to publish some of the things he had told me, but he objected, saying, however, that if I would pay him, and if the officers in charge did not object, he would tell me the whole story of his life. I immediately called at the fort (Fort Sill) and asked the officer in charge, Lieutenant Purington, for permission to write the life of Geronimo. I was promptly informed that the privilege would not be granted. Lieutenant Purington explained to me the many depredations committed by Geronimo and his warriors, and the enormous cost of subduing the Apaches, adding that the old Apache deserved to be hanged rather than spoiled by so much attention from civilians. A suggestion from me that our government had paid many soldiers and officers to go to Arizona and kill Geronimo and the Apaches, and that they did not seem to know how to do it, did not prove very gratifying to the pride of the regular army officer, and I decided to seek elsewhere for permission. Accordingly I wrote to President Roosevelt that here was an old Indian who had been held a prisoner of war for twenty years and had never been given a chance to tell his side of the story, and asked that Geronimo be granted permission to tell for publication, in his own way, the story of his life, and that he be guaranteed that the publication of his story would not affect unfavorably the Apache prisoners of war. By return mail I received word that the authority had been granted. In a few days I received word from Fort Sill that the President had ordered the officer in charge to grant permission as requested. An interview was requested that I might receive the instructions of the War Department. When I went to Fort Sill the officer in command handed me the following brief, which constituted my instructions:

Lawton, Oklahoma, Aug. 12th, 1905.

Geronimo, --Apache Chief--

S. M. Barrett, Supt. Schools.

Letter to the President stating that above-mentioned desires to tell his life story that it may be published, and requests permission to tell it in his own way, and also desires assurance that what he has to say will in no way work a hardship for the Apache tribe.

1st Endorsement.

War Department, The Military Secretary's Office, Washington, August 25th, 1905.

Respectfully referred, by direction of the Acting Chief of Staff, through headquarters, Department of Texas, to the Officer In Charge of the Apache prisoners of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, for remark and recommendation.

(Signed) E. F. Ladd, Military Secretary.

2d Endorsement.

Headquarters Department of Texas, Military Secretary's Office, San Antonio, August 29th, 1905.

Respectfully transmitted to 1st Lieut. George A. Purington, 8th Cavalry, In Charge of Apache prisoners. (Thro' Commanding Officer, Fort Sill, O. T.)

By Command of Brigadier General Lee.

(Signed) C. D. Roberts, Captain, 7th Infantry, Acting Military Secretary.

3d Endorsement.

Fort Sill, O. T., Aug. 31st, 1905.

Respectfully referred to 1st Lieut. G. A. Purington, 8th Cavalry, Officer in Charge of Apache prisoners of war, for remark and recommendation.

By Order of Captain Dade.

(Signed) James Longstreet, 1st. Lieut & Sqdn. Adjt., 13th Cavalry. Adjutant.

4th Endorsement.

Fort Sill, O. T., Sept. 2d, 1905.

Respectfully returned to the Adjutant, Fort Sill, O. T. I can see no objection to Geronimo telling the story of his past life, providing he tells the truth. I would recommend that Mr. S. M. Barrett be held responsible for what is written and published.

(Signed) Geo. A. Purington, 1st. Lieut. 8th Cavalry, In Charge of Apache prisoners of war.

5th Endorsement.

Fort Sill, O. T., Sept. 4th, 1905.

Respectfully returned to the Military Secretary, Dept. of Texas, San Antonio, Texas, inviting attention to 4th endorsement hereon. It is recommended that the manuscript be submitted before publication to Lieut. Purington, who can pass upon the truth of the story.

(Signed) A. L. Dade, Captain, 13th Cavalry, Commanding.

6th Endorsement.

Headquarters Dept. of Texas, San Antonio, September 8th, 1905.

Respectfully returned to the Military Secretary, War Department, Washington, D. C., inviting attention to the preceding endorsement hereon, which is concurred in.

(Signed) J. M. Lee, Brigadier General, Commanding.

7th Endorsement.

War Department, Office of the Chief of Staff, Washington, September 13th, 1905.

Respectfully submitted to the Honorable the Secretary of War, inviting attention to the foregoing endorsements.

(Signed) J. C. Bates, Major General, Acting Chief of Staff.

8th Endorsement.

War Department, September 15th, 1905.

Respectfully returned to the Acting Chief of Staff to grant the necessary authority in this matter, through official channels, with the express understanding that the manuscript of the book shall be submitted to him before publication. Upon receipt of such manuscript the Chief of Staff will submit it to such person as he may select as competent to make a proper and critical inspection of the proposed publication.

(Signed) Robert Shaw Oliver, Acting Secretary of War.

9th Endorsement.

War Department, The Military Secretary's Office, Washington, September 18th, 1905.

Respectfully returned, by direction of the Acting Chief of Staff, to the Commanding General, Dept. of Texas, who will give the necessary instructions for carrying out the directions of the Acting Secretary of War, contained in the 8th endorsement. It is desired that Mr. Barrett be advised accordingly.

(Signed) Henry P. McCain, Military Secretary.

10th Endorsement.

Headquarters Dept. of Texas, Military Secretary's Office, San Antonio, September 23, 1905.

Respectfully referred to the Commanding Officer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, who will give the necessary instructions for carrying out the direction of the Acting Secretary of War contained in the 8th endorsement hereon.

This paper will be shown and fully explained to Mr. Barrett, and then returned to these headquarters.

By order of Colonel Hughes.

(Signed) Geo. Van Horn Moseley, 1st. Lieut. 1st Cavalry, Aide-de-Camp, Acting Military Secretary.

Early in October I secured the services of an educated Indian, Asa Deklugie, son of Whoa, chief of the Nedni Apaches, as interpreter, and the work of compiling the book began.

Geronimo refused to talk when a stenographer was present, or to wait for corrections or questions when telling the story. Each day he had in mind what he would tell and told it in a very clear, brief manner. He might prefer to talk at his own tepee, at Asa Deklugie's house, in some mountain dell, or as he rode in a swinging gallop across the prairie; wherever his fancy led him, there he told whatever he wished to tell and no more. On the day that he first gave any portion of his autobiography he would not be questioned about any details, nor would he add another word, but simply said, "Write what I have spoken," and left us to remember and write the story without one bit of assistance. He would agree, however, to come on another day to my study, or any place designated by me, and listen to the reproduction (in Apache) of what had been told, and at such times would answer all questions or add information wherever he could be convinced that it was necessary.

He soon became so tired of book making that he would have abandoned the task but for the fact that he had agreed to tell the complete story. When he once gives his word, nothing will turn him from fulfilling his promise. A very striking illustration of this was furnished by him early in January, 1906. He had agreed to come to my study on a certain date, but at the appointed hour the interpreter came alone, and said that Geronimo was very sick with cold and fever. He had come to tell me that we must appoint another date, as he feared the old warrior had an attack of pneumonia. It was a cold day and the interpreter drew a chair up to the grate to warm himself after the exposure of the long ride. Just as he was seating himself he looked out of the window, then rose quickly, and without speaking pointed to a rapidly moving object coming our way. In a moment I recognized the old chief riding furiously (evidently trying to arrive as soon as the interpreter did), his horse flecked with foam and reeling from exhaustion. Dismounting he came in and said in a hoarse whisper, "I promised to come. I am here."

I explained to him that I had not expected him to come on such a stormy day, and that in his physical condition he must not try to work. He stood for some time, and then without speaking left the room, remounted his tired pony, and with bowed head faced ten long miles of cold north wind--he had kept his promise.

When he had finished his story I submitted the manuscript to Major Charles W. Taylor, Eighteenth Cavalry, commandant, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, who gave me some valuable suggestions as to additional related information which I asked Geronimo to give. In most cases the old chief gave the desired information, but in some instances he refused, stating his reasons for so doing.

When the added information had been incorporated I submitted the manuscript to President Roosevelt, from whose letter I quote: "This is a very interesting volume which you have in manuscript, but I would advise that you disclaim responsibility in all cases where the reputation of an individual is assailed."

In accordance with that suggestion, I have appended notes throughout the book disclaiming responsibility for adverse criticisms of any persons mentioned by Geronimo.

On June 2d, 1906, I transmitted the complete manuscript to the War Department. The following quotation is from the letter of transmission:

"In accordance with endorsement number eight of the 'Brief' submitted to me by the commanding officer of Fort Sill, which endorsement constituted the instructions of the Department, I submit herewith manuscript of the Autobiography of Geronimo.

"The manuscript has been submitted to the President, and at his suggestion I have disclaimed any responsibility for the criticisms (made by Geronimo) of individuals mentioned."

Six weeks after the manuscript was forwarded, Thomas C. Barry, Brigadier General, Assistant to the Chief of Staff, sent to the President the following:

"Memorandum for the Secretary of War.

"Subject: Manuscript of the Autobiography of Geronimo. The paper herewith, which was referred to this office on July 6th, with instructions to report as to whether there is anything objectionable in it, is returned.

"The manuscript is an interesting autobiography of a notable Indian, made by himself. There are a number of passages which, from the departmental point of view, are decidedly objectionable. These are found on pages 73, 74, 90, 91, and 97, and are indicated by marginal lines in red. The entire manuscript appears in a way important as showing the Indian side of a prolonged controversy, but it is believed that the document, either in whole or in part, should not receive the approval of the War Department."

The memorandum is published that the objections of the War Department may be made known to the public.

The objection is raised to the mention on pages seventy-three and seventy-four of the manuscript of an attack upon Indians in a tent at Apache Pass or Bowie, by U. S. soldiers. The statement of Geronimo is, however, substantially confirmed by L. C. Hughes, editor of The Star , Tucson, Arizona.

On pages ninety and ninety-one of the manuscript, Geronimo criticised General Crook. This criticism is simply Geronimo's private opinion of General Crook. We deem it a personal matter and leave it without comment, as it in no way concerns the history of the Apaches.

On page ninety-seven of the manuscript Geronimo accuses General Miles of bad faith. Of course, General Miles made the treaty with the Apaches, but we know very well that he is not responsible for the way the Government subsequently treated the prisoners of war. However, Geronimo cannot understand this and fixes upon General Miles the blame for what he calls unjust treatment.

One could not expect the Department of War to approve adverse criticisms of its own acts, but it is especially gratifying that such a liberal view has been taken of these criticisms, and also that such a frank statement of the merits of the Autobiography is submitted in the memorandum. Of course neither the President nor the War Department is in any way responsible for what Geronimo says; he has simply been granted the opportunity to state his own case as he sees it.

The fact that Geronimo has told the story in his own way is doubtless the only excuse necessary to offer for the many unconventional features of this work.

Read Geronimo's Story of His Life today
in Serial Reader

Mastodon Mastodon