June 16 – Happy Birthday, Geronimo

Posted on June 16, 2015

Most of us have heard of Geronimo, and we know that he was a Native American.

But most of us don't know much more than that...

Like, for example: Geronimo was a name given to today's birthday honoree by Mexican soldiers. His Chiricahua name, Goyathlay, means “the one who yawns.”

Born on this date in 1829, Geronimo was an important leader of the Chiricahua (Bedonkohe) Apache Indians. He fought back when Mexico and Arizona tried to expand into Apache tribal lands. He fought back when Mexicans attacked his tribe and killed his family. He finally surrendered to Arizona “authorities” and ended up becoming a celebrity who rode in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade and appeared at the St. Louis World's Fair.

In 1905, Geronimo agreed to tell his life story to a man named S. W. Barrett. Apparently, Geronimo told his story exactly as he wished; he refused to answer any of Barrett's questions or to veer from his own storyline. Barrett had to get permission from President Roosevelt in order to publish the book!

Geronimo has been honored – for example, three towns in the U.S. are named after him, and a 1994 stamp was issued with his face and name. He has been misrepresented – in movies and books and TV shows. His name has been used and misused. U.S. paratroopers traditionally shout “Geronimo” as they jump out of airplanes, as a rallying cry to express “I'm not afraid!” Actually, the tradition of yelling “Geronimo!” before doing ANY courageous act is what the Sheppard song “Geronimo” refers to. The 2011 U.S. military raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had the code-name “Geronimo”; when Geronimo's great-grandson complained about that, the operation was apparently renamed “Operation Neptune's Spear.”

By the way, the spot where Geronimo was born was located in Mexico, in 1829, but is now in Arizona, United States. I love – love -love Chiricahua National Monument, which probably is located in or near the Chiricahua Apaches' traditional lands.

Check out the We Shall Remain episode on Geronimo, or The Real Wild West episode on this leader. 

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