- Historic Sites
It took five thousand American troopers a year and a half to run down the great Apache raider and his lethal band. They did it by tough persistence and skill—or was it guile?
June 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 4
On the first day of spring, 1890, George Crook died of a heart attack. But he had managed, against much public opposition in which Nelson Miles played a leading hand, to lay the groundwork for the Apaches’ transfer to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where the climate and terrain would be somewhat more like that of their beloved Southwest. It was another four years before the plan went through. Then the western trek took place, and by the turn of the century the remaining Chiricahuas, including the now-aging Geronimo, were more or less contentedly installed at Fort Sill. By that time the old renegade had become aware that he was something of a national celebrity, and he liked it. Though still nominally a prisoner of war, he was allowed to travel to various fairs and exhibitions, where he filled his pockets with change by crudely signing his autograph and looking fierce for snapshot portraits at a quarter or half dollar a snap. As much as possible of this legitimate loot he spent on liquor—and one day in February, 1909, riding back to the army post from a spree, he fell off his horse into some weeds, lay there all night, and contracted a mortal case of pneumonia. The most elusive of Indians had finally been caught by the most relentless of pursuers.
Yet it may be that even in death Geronimo was true to his reputation. An interested group of people at Fort Sill raised a simple but dignified monument over his supposed grave, and there it still stands on Cache Creek, part of the Fort Sill reservation. But one day in 1943 a soldier reporter for the Fort Sill Army News happened to interview an elderly Apache who had been commemorating old times with a bottle of whiskey. Out came an intriguing story. Geronimo was not where they said he was, the old Apache claimed. No: One night, not long after his burial, a small band of his former warriors went to the grave and spirited his remains away to a secret place, clear of the white man’s reservation. When this story was published, fervid denials came from several sources. But the elderly Apache just smiled and nodded. Geronimo, he insisted, got away in the end.