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Geronimo, The Warrior



Bedonkohe, Apache

by Jody Bresch

Geronimo was born in June of 1829 near the headwater of the Gila River near the present-day city of Clifton, Arizona. His birth name was Goyakla which means to yawn. He was born into the Bedonkohe band of Apache. His grandfather, Mahko, was an Apache chief, a peace-loving man. Geronimo's father was Taklishim, and his mother was Juana.

Taklishim took a serious illness and died while Goyakla was yet a teen-ager, but Geronimo stepped up and became the head of his mother's home, her protector. His sister, Nah-des-te, was older and already married when their father died. At the time Geronimo dictated his biography to S.M. Barrett in 1906, he claimed to have only himself his brother, Porico (White Horse), and his sister, Nah-da-ste, still alive, and held with him as prinsoners of war on the Fort Sill Military Reservation.

(There is a lot of controversy among historians about how many brothers and sisters Geronimo had. Many say he had none. Some say he had one, his sister, Nah-des-te. He, himself, claimed to be the 4th child in a family of 8 in his biography he dictated to S.M. Barret, in GERONIMO'S STORY OF HIS LIFE, pub. in New York: Duffield & Company, 1907. Some historians claim he was counting cousins as siblings at the time. However, if what he said was factual, there were four boys and four girls in his family, and he was a fourth born child. Some historians claim the Apache practiced birth control and so, had small family groups. However, Geronimo had at least eight children of his own. In Brenda Haugen's book, GERONIMO, she said he had eleven children of his own.)

Geronimo was 17 years old when he fell in love with a young girl named Alope from the Nedni band of Apache. He built a separate teepee from his mother, Juana's, for them to live in. He had made her acquaintance through his favorite cousin, Ishton, who married Geronimo's best friend, Juh, a Nedni Apache. Then he asked her father for her hand. Geronimo paid many ponies for the right to marry Alope. They were blessed with 3 children. Geronimo was perhaps as happy as he was ever to be in his whole life at this time. That happiness was short-lived.

Chihuahua, in Mexico, was trading with the Nednai tribe, but a Sonoran leader, Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco was convinced the Nednai were raiding into Mexico. While Chihuahua had a trade agreement with the Apache, Carrasco planned an attack on a poorly defended camp of women and children outside of Janos, Mexico. Geronimo's family were among those slain, his mother Juana, his wife, Alope, and their three young children.

Geronimo's grief became a life-long hatred of Mexicans. His numerous raids into Mexico became the stories that legends are made of. It was in one such battle, truthfully, nobody quite knows why, that Geronimo's valor, villany, and voracity were so fierce against the Mexican soldiers that they were heard shouting something all who heard it thought was 'Geronimo.' There has been plenty of speculation since what the Mexicans meant, and only one idea seems to have a lot of merit. The Mexicans revered a Saint named Jerome who was a doctor and priest. General thought is that they might have been pleading to Saint Jerome for his help in the heat of the battle.

Geronimo now had two wives, Chee-hash-kish and Nana-tha-thtith. Chee-hash-kish was the mother of Chappo, a son, and Dohn-say, a daughter. Nana-tha-thtith was the mother of a third child. Geronimo's second wife and her child were killed by Mexican troops. Since he already had a deep hatred for the Mexicans, this only increased his fervor against them.

Later, when Geronimo had been imprisoned at San Carlos for several months and then released, a small band of Apache were chased by Mexicans, and his wife, Chee-hash-kish was taken hostage. This led to Geronimo taking another wife named Zi-yeh, a Nednai.

Geronimo and his small band successfuly fled from U.S. troops for many months, but Geronimo was finally persuaded to surrender. The band was low on ammunition and food at the time, and weary of the chase. Geronimo should not have trusted General Miles, however.

Unfortunately, the President of the United States did not trust Geronimo. He had a history of staying for short periods of time on the reservation, and then organizing raiding parties across the Mexican border. The U.S. government had spent an estimated $12 Million dollars over several years pursuing him.

On September 8, 1886, the Apache were boarded on trains and transported to Florida where they fell victim to many illnesses,tuberculosis being one,in addition to almost starving to death.

Geronimo was finally reunited with his family at Fort Pickens. His wife Ih-tedda, had had a baby girl at Fort Marion, and she and her son and daughter joined Geronimo at Fort Pickens at this time. His wife, She-gha, also joined him there but then she shortly succumbed to turberuclosis.

Eventually, Geronimo gave his wife, Ih-tedda, permission to return to New Mexico with the Mescalero Apache, taking their son and daughter with her. These two children, Robbie and Lenna, according to some historians, are the only surviving children of Geronimo who grew up to have families of their own.

The Apache were sent to Fort Sills, Oklahoma on October 4, 1894. They were still captive, but they were given land to farm and a small home of their own. Geronimo kept house for a daughter, Eva, at Fort Sills. He also became a celebrity of sorts, and was given permission to attend events such as the St. Louis World Fair, with a guard escort, where he sold photographs and autographs of himself.

Photo of Ta-ayz-slath, wife of Geronimo and one child.

Geronimo’s last wife was Azul. Throughout his life Geronimo had some eleven children, though less than half of them survived to adulthood. Geronimo believed that Usen had created the Southwestern United States for the Apache, and that they sickened and died when they were removed from their homeland. He believed the only way for the Apache to survive was for them to be returned to the only place on earth they could thrive. However, Geronimo died at Fort Sills, Oklahoma, a prisoner of war. Except for Robbie and Lenna, the two children who were returned to New Mexico with their mother, Ih-tedda, none of his children survived to have children of their own. The Apache were only released following Geronimo's death. Geronimo died on February 17, 1909, and was buried in the Apache Cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

When I was twelve years old, my seventh grade Home Ec teacher assigned a Family Tree project. So I asked Pansy Minerva Stivers Miller, my maternal grandmother about her side of my family tree. She told she was one-quarter Indian. Then she took a handwritten piece of paper from her Bible with names she said were one side of her family tree that her father was descended from. She never really explained her Indian heritage to me though. When I asked my mother if she knew what tribe her grandfather belonged to, she told me it was something that sounded like Cherokee, but that wasn't the name of it. Years later, mom's cousin, LeRoy Stivers said that he grew up around the Indian Medicine man he called great-grandfather, that his name was White Horse. Both LeRoy and I came to the same conclusion separately and then together, that the Indian name my mother thought sounded like Cherokee but wasn't, that name was actually Chiricauhua for Chiricauhua Apache Indians. LeRoy was the first one to tell me he believed his and my mother's grandfather was White Horse and a brother to Geronimo.

For years I looked for information about the Chiricauhua Apache Indians, searching for the name White Horse. Finally, I found it in GERONIMO'S STORY OF HIS LIFE by Geronimo as told to S.M. Barrett. Very clearly, Geronimo called a Bedonkohe Indian he called Porico (White Horse) his brother, his only surviving brother. The man LeRoy had called grandfather, if he was the same man, had actually existed, and Geronimo claimed him as family. I have two other clues in this puzzle.

One of them was that my Uncle, Robert Carl MIller, who told his younger sister, Mary, and my mother that we had a notorious historical figure in our family tree, but he would never name him. Years ago Geronimo was considered to have been a hunted criminal who should have been hanged instead of being treated like a celebrity in a lot of peoples' opinions.

Thirdly, if looks count for anything, my grandmother could have been Geronimo's daughter rather than a great neice. She looks like an attractive female version of him.

However, except for family folklore that has been handed down I have found no solid evidence linking our family tree to Geronimo's so it's a fun story to tell but a challenging one to substantiate. Meanwhile, I've had the pleasure of coming to know quite a bit about Geronimo and his family tree, which I'm happy to share.

In Barrett's book, GERONIMO, he says Geronimo claimed to have 4 full-blooded Bedonkohe Apache wives, and 4 that were part Bedonkohe Apache.

Geronimo's Wives: (probably incomplete)

Alope (mother of 3 children who died at Janos, Mexico attack.)

Chee-hash-kish (mother of Choppa and Dohn-say, taken hostage by Mexicans.)

Nana-tha-thtith (and one child killed by Mexican troops.)

She-gha (lived with Geronimo at Fort Sill, Florida, for a short period of time, but died of tuberculosis there.)


Ta-ayz-slath (mother of at least one child.)

Zi-yeh (mother of Eva)

Ih-tedda (Mescalaro Apache, mother of Robbie and Lenna.)

Sousche (married December 25,1905.)

Azul (Geronimo's last wife.)

While Geronimo had several children, only the names of a few are known: Chappo, Dohn-say, Fenton, Eva, Lenna, Lulu, and Robbie (Robert Geronimo).

Chappo died in Alabama. Fenton died as a young boy at Fort Sills. Eva married Fred Golene, and gave birth to a daughter, Evaline, who died at 2 mo. Eva died a year later of tuberculosis. Zi-yeh, Eva and Evaline are buried by Geronimo's grave. Lulu and her family are buried nearby. One of Lulu's sons, Thomas, survived to age 18, and then died.

Unless further information is brought forward, at the present time, only two of Geronimo's children are believed to have survived long enough to raise families of their own, Lenna and Robert, the children Geronimo sent back to the south west with their mother, Ih-tedda,from Fort Sills.

*Anybody who has contact contact information for Ned Anderson (former chairman of the San Carlos Apache) or Phillip G. Romero ( AIM activist who made claims against Skulls and Bones) I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. Please contact me, or ask either of these two men to contact me. Thank you.

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