November 9, 2012
When he was born he had such a sleepy disposition his parents named him Goyahkla—He Who Yawns. He lived the life of an Apache tribesman in relative quiet for three decades, until he led a trading expedition from the Mogollon Mountains south into Mexico in 1858. He left the Apache camp to do some business in Casa Grandes and returned to find that Mexican soldiers had slaughtered the women and children who had been left behind, including his wife, mother and three small children. “I stood until all had passed, hardly knowing what I would do,” he would recall. “I had no weapon, nor did I hardly wish to fight, neither did I contemplate recovering the bodies of my loved ones, for that was forbidden. I did not pray, nor did I resolve to do anything in particular, for I had no purpose left.”
He returned home and burned his tepee and his family’s possessions. Then he led an assault on a group of Mexicans in Sonora. It would be said that after one of his victims screamed for mercy in the name of Saint Jerome—Jeronimo in Spanish—the Apaches had a new name for Goyahkla. Soon the name provoked fear throughout the West. As immigrants encroached on Native American lands, forcing indigenous people onto reservations, the warrior Geronimo refused to yield.
Born and raised in an area along the Gila River that is now on the Arizona-New Mexico border, Geronimo would spend the next quarter-century attacking and evading both Mexican and U.S. troops, vowing to kill as many white men as he could. He targeted immigrants and their trains, and tormented white settlers in the American West were known to frighten their misbehaving children with the threat that Geronimo would come for them.
By 1874, after white immigrants demanded federal military intervention, the Apaches were forced onto a reservation in Arizona. Geronimo and a band of followers escaped, and U.S. troops tracked him relentlessly across the deserts and mountains of the West. Badly outnumbered and exhausted by a pursuit that had gone on for 3,000 miles—and which included help from Apache scouts—he finally surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona in 1886 and turned over his Winchester rifle and Sheffield Bowie knife. He was “anxious to make the best terms possible,” Miles noted. Geronimo and his “renegades” agreed to a two-year exile and subsequent return to the reservation.
In New York, President Grover Cleveland fretted over the terms. In a telegram to his secretary of war, Cleveland wrote, “I hope nothing will be done with Geronimo which will prevent our treating him as a prisoner of war, if we cannot hang him, which I would much prefer.”
Geronimo avoided execution, but dispute over the terms of surrender ensured that he would spend the rest of his life as a prisoner of the Army, subject to betrayal and indignity. The Apache leader and his men were sent by boxcar, under heavy guard, to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida, where they performed hard labor. In that alien climate, the Washington Post reported, the Apache died “like flies at frost time.” Businessmen there soon had the idea to have Geronimo serve as a tourist attraction, and hundreds of visitors daily were let into the fort to lay eyes on the “bloodthirsty” Indian in his cell.
While the POWs were in Florida, the government relocated hundreds of their children from their Arizona reservation to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. More than a third of the students quickly perished from tuberculosis, “died as though smitten with the plague,” the Post reported. Apaches lived in constant terror that more of their children would be taken from them and sent east.
Geronimo and his fellow POWs were reunited with their families in 1888, when the Chiricahua Apaches were moved to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. But there, too, the Apaches began to perish—a quarter of them from tuberculosis— until Geronimo and more than 300 others were brought to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1894. Though still captive, they were allowed to live in villages around the post. In 1904, Geronimo was given permission to appear at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which included an “Apache Village” exhibit on the midway.
He was presented as a living museum piece in an exhibit intended as a “monument to the progress of civilization.” Under guard, he made bows and arrows while Pueblo women seated beside him pounded corn and made pottery, and he was a popular draw. He sold autographs and posed for pictures with those willing to part with a few dollars for the privilege.
Geronimo seemed to enjoy the fair. Many of the exhibits fascinated him, such as a magic show during which a woman sat in a basket covered in cloth and a man proceeded to plunge the swords through the basket. “I would like to know how she was so quickly healed and why the wounds did not kill her,” Geronimo told one writer. He also saw a “white bear” that seemed to be “as intelligent as a man” and could do whatever his keeper instructed. “I am sure that no grizzly bear could be trained to do these things,” he observed. He took his first ride on a Ferris wheel, where the people below “looked no larger than ants.”
In his dictated memoirs, Geronimo said that he was glad he had gone to the fair, and that white people were “a kind and peaceful people.” He added, “During all the time I was at the fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.”
After the fair, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West show brokered an agreement with the government to have Geronimo join the show, again under Army guard. The Indians in Pawnee Bill’s show were depicted as “lying, thieving, treacherous, murderous” monsters who had killed hundreds of men, women and children and would think nothing of taking a scalp from any member of the audience, given the chance. Visitors came to see how the “savage” had been “tamed,” and they paid Geronimo to take a button from the coat of the vicious Apache “chief.” Never mind that he had never been a chief and, in fact, bristled when he was referred to as one.
The shows put a good deal of money in his pockets and allowed him to travel, though never without government guards. If Pawnee Bill wanted him to shoot a buffalo from a moving car, or bill him as “the Worst Indian That Ever Lived,” Geronimo was willing to play along. “The Indian,” one magazine noted at the time, “will always be a fascinating object.”
In March 1905, Geronimo was invited to President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade; he and five real Indian chiefs, who wore full headgear and painted faces, rode horses down Pennsylvania Avenue. The intent, one newspaper stated, was to show Americans “that they have buried the hatchet forever.”
After the parade, Geronimo met with Roosevelt in what the New York Tribune reported was a “pathetic appeal” to allow him to return to Arizona. “Take the ropes from our hands,” Geronimo begged, with tears “running down his bullet-scarred cheeks.” Through an interpreter, Roosevelt told Geronimo that the Indian had a “bad heart.” “You killed many of my people; you burned villages…and were not good Indians.” The president would have to wait a while “and see how you and your people act” on their reservation.
Geronimo gesticulated “wildly” and the meeting was cut short. “The Great Father is very busy,” a staff member told him, ushering Roosevelt away and urging Geronimo to put his concerns in writing. Roosevelt was told that the Apache warrior would be safer on the reservation in Oklahoma than in Arizona: “If he went back there he’d be very likely to find a rope awaiting him, for a great many people in the Territory are spoiling for a chance to kill him.”
Geronimo returned to Fort Sill, where newspapers continued to depict him as a “bloodthirsty Apache chief,” living with the “fierce restlessness of a caged beast.” It had cost Uncle Sam more than a million dollars and hundreds of lives to keep him behind lock and key, the Boston Globe reported. But the Hartford Courant had Geronimo “getting square with the palefaces,” as he was so crafty at poker that he kept the soldiers “broke nearly all the time.” His winnings, the paper noted, were used to help pay the cost of educating Apache children.
Journalists who visited him depicted Geronimo as “crazy,” sometimes chasing sightseers on horseback while drinking to excess. His eighth wife, it was reported, had deserted him, and only a small daughter was watching after him.
In 1903, however, Geronimo converted to Christianity and joined the Dutch Reformed Church—Roosevelt’s church—hoping to please the president and obtain a pardon. “My body is sick and my friends have thrown me away,” Geronimo told church members. “I have been a very wicked man, and my heart is not happy. I see that white people have found a way that makes them good and their hearts happy. I want you to show me that way.” Asked to abandon all Indian “superstitions,” as well as gambling and whiskey, Geronimo agreed and was baptized, but the church would later expel him over his inability to stay away from the card tables.
He thanked Roosevelt (“chief of a great people”) profusely in his memoirs for giving him permission to tell his story, but Geronimo never was permitted to return to his homeland. In February 1909, he was thrown from his horse one night and lay on the cold ground before he was discovered after daybreak. He died of pneumonia on February 17.
The Chicago Daily Tribune ran the headline, “Geronimo Now a Good Indian,” alluding to a quote widely and mistakenly attributed to General Philip Sheridan. Roosevelt himself would sum up his feelings this way: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
After a Christian service and a large funeral procession made up of both whites and Native Americans, Geronimo was buried at Fort Sill. Only then did he cease to be a prisoner of the United States.
Articles: “Geronimo Getting Square With the Palefaces,” The Hartford Courant, June 6, 1900.” “Geronimo Has Cost Uncle Sam $1,000,000,” Boston Daily Globe, April 25, 1900. “Geronimo Has Gone Mad,” New York Times, July 25, 1900. “Geronimo in Prayer,” The Washington Post, November 29. 1903. “Geronimo Seems Crazy,” New York Tribune, May 19, 1907. “Geronimo at the World’s Fair,” Scientific American Supplement, August 27, 1904. “Prisoner 18 Years,” Boston Daily Globe, September 18, 1904. “Chiefs in the Parade,” Washington Post, February 3, 1905. “Indians at White House,” New York Tribune, March 10, 1905. “Savage Indian Chiefs,” The Washington Post, March 5, 1905. “Indians on the Inaugural March,” by Jesse Rhodes, Smithsonian, January 14, 2009. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/heritage/Indians-on-the-Inaugural-March.html “Geronimo Wants His Freedom,” Boston Daily Globe, January 28, 1906. “Geronimo Joins the Church, Hoping to Please Roosevelt,” The Atlanta Constitution, July 10, 1907. “A Bad Indian,” The Washington Post, August 24, 1907. “Geronimo Now Good Indian,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 18, 1909. “Chief Geronimo Buried,” New York Times, February 19, 1909. “Chief Geronimo Dead,” New York Tribune, February 19, 1909. “Native America Prisoners of War: Chircahua Apaches 1886-1914, The Museum of the American Indian, http://www.chiricahua-apache.com/ “’A Very Kind and Peaceful People’: Geronimo and the World’s Fair,” by Mark Sample, May 3, 2011, http://www.samplereality.com/2011/05/03/a-very-kind-and-peaceful-people-geronimo-and-the-worlds-fair/ “Geronimo: Finding Peace,” by Alan MacIver, Vision.org, http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=12778
Books: Geronimo, Geronimo’s Story of His Life, Taken Down and Edited by S. M. Barrett, Superintendent of Education, Lawton, Oklahoma, Duffield & Company, 1915.
July 17, 2012
The telegram arrived in New York from Promontory Summit, Utah, at 3:05 p.m. on May 10, 1869, announcing one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the century:
The last rail is laid; the last spike driven; the Pacific Railroad is completed. The point of junction is 1086 miles west of the Missouri river and 690 miles east of Sacramento City.
The telegram was signed, “Leland Stanford, Central Pacific Railroad. T. P. Durant, Sidney Dillon, John Duff, Union Pacific Railroad,” and trumpeted news of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. After more than six years of backbreaking labor, east officially met west with the driving of a ceremonial golden spike. In City Hall Park in Manhattan, the announcement was greeted with the firing of 100 guns. Bells were rung across the country, from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Business was suspended in Chicago as people rushed to the streets, celebrating to the sounding of steam whistles and cannons booming.
Back in Utah, railroad officials and politicians posed for pictures aboard locomotives, shaking hands and breaking bottles of champagne on the engines as Chinese laborers from the West and Irish, German and Italian laborers from the East were budged from view.
Not long after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, railroad financier George Francis Train proclaimed, “The great Pacific Railway is commenced.… Immigration will soon pour into these valleys. Ten millions of emigrants will settle in this golden land in twenty years.… This is the grandest enterprise under God!” Yet while Train may have envisioned all the glory and the possibilities of linking the East and the West coasts by “a strong band of iron,” he could not imagine the full and tragic impact of the Transcontinental Railroad, nor the speed at which it changed the shape of the American West. For in its wake, the lives of countless Native Americans were destroyed, and tens of millions of buffalo, which had roamed freely upon the Great Plains since the last ice age 10,000 years ago, were nearly driven to extinction in a massive slaughter made possible by the railroad.
Following the Civil War, after deadly European diseases and hundreds of wars with the white man had already wiped out untold numbers of Native Americans, the U.S. government had ratified nearly 400 treaties with the Plains Indians. But as the Gold Rush, the pressures of Manifest Destiny, and land grants for railroad construction led to greater expansion in the West, the majority of these treaties were broken. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s first postwar command (Military Division of the Mississippi) covered the territory west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains, and his top priority was to protect the construction of the railroads. In 1867, he wrote to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, “we are not going to let thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress” of the railroads. Outraged by the Battle of the Hundred Slain, where Lakota and Cheyenne warriors ambushed a troop of the U.S. Cavalry in Wyoming, scalping and mutilating the bodies of all 81 soldiers and officers, Sherman told Grant the year before, “we must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children.” When Grant assumed the presidency in 1869, he appointed Sherman Commanding General of the Army, and Sherman was responsible for U.S. engagement in the Indian Wars. On the ground in the West, Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan, assuming Sherman’s command, took to his task much as he had done in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, when he ordered the “scorched earth” tactics that presaged Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Early on, Sheridan bemoaned a lack of troops: “No other nation in the world would have attempted reduction of these wild tribes and occupation of their country with less than 60,000 to 70,000 men, while the whole force employed and scattered over the enormous region…never numbered more than 14,000 men. The consequence was that every engagement was a forlorn hope.”
The Army’s troops were well equipped for fighting against conventional enemies, but the guerrilla tactics of the Plains tribes confounded them at every turn. As the railways expanded, they allowed the rapid transport of troops and supplies to areas where battles were being waged. Sheridan was soon able to mount the kind of offensive he desired. In the Winter Campaign of 1868-69 against Cheyenne encampments, Sheridan set about destroying the Indians’ food, shelter and livestock with overwhelming force, leaving women and children at the mercy of the Army and Indian warriors little choice but to surrender or risk starvation. In one such surprise raid at dawn during a November snowstorm in Indian Territory, Sheridan ordered the nearly 700 men of the Seventh Cavalry, commanded by George Armstrong Custer, to “destroy [Indian] villages and ponies, to kill or hang all warriors, and to bring back all women and children.” Custer’s men charged into a Cheyenne village on the Washita River, cutting down the Indians as they fled from lodges. Women and children were taken as hostages as part of Custer’s strategy to use them as human shields, but Cavalry scouts reported seeing women and children pursued and killed “without mercy” in what became known as the Washita Massacre. Custer later reported more than 100 Indian deaths, including that of Chief Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, shot in the back as they attempted to ride away on a pony. Cheyenne estimates of Indian deaths in the raid were about half of Custer’s total, and the Cheyenne did manage to kill 21 Cavalry troops while defending the attack. “If a village is attacked and women and children killed,” Sheridan once remarked, “the responsibility is not with the soldiers but with the people whose crimes necessitated the attack.”
The Transcontinental Railroad made Sheridan’s strategy of “total war” much more effective. In the mid-19th century, it was estimated that 30 milion to 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. In massive and majestic herds, they rumbled by the hundreds of thousands, creating the sound that earned them the nickname “Thunder of the Plains.” The bison’s lifespan of 25 years, rapid reproduction and resiliency in their environment enabled the species to flourish, as Native Americans were careful not to overhunt, and even men like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to hunt the bison to feed thousands of rail laborers for years, could not make much of a dent in the buffalo population. In mid-century, trappers who had depleted the beaver populations of the Midwest began trading in buffalo robes and tongues; an estimated 200,000 buffalo were killed annually. Then the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad accelerated the decimation of the species.
Massive hunting parties began to arrive in the West by train, with thousands of men packing .50 caliber rifles, and leaving a trail of buffalo carnage in their wake. Unlike the Native Americans or Buffalo Bill, who killed for food, clothing and shelter, the hunters from the East killed mostly for sport. Native Americans looked on with horror as landscapes and prairies were littered with rotting buffalo carcasses. The railroads began to advertise excursions for “hunting by rail,” where trains encountered massive herds alongside or crossing the tracks. Hundreds of men aboard the trains climbed to the roofs and took aim, or fired from their windows, leaving countless 1,500-pound animals where they died.
Harper’s Weekly described these hunting excursions:
Nearly every railroad train which leaves or arrives at Fort Hays on the Kansas Pacific Railroad has its race with these herds of buffalo; and a most interesting and exciting scene is the result. The train is “slowed” to a rate of speed about equal to that of the herd; the passengers get out fire-arms which are provided for the defense of the train against the Indians, and open from the windows and platforms of the cars a fire that resembles a brisk skirmish. Frequently a young bull will turn at bay for a moment. His exhibition of courage is generally his death-warrant, for the whole fire of the train is turned upon him, either killing him or some member of the herd in his immediate vicinity.
Hunters began killing buffalo by the hundreds of thousands in the winter months. One hunter, Orlando Brown brought down nearly 6,000 buffalo by himself and lost hearing in one ear from the constant firing of his .50 caliber rifle. The Texas legislature, sensing the buffalo were in danger of being wiped out, proposed a bill to protect the species. General Sheridan opposed it, stating, ”These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. And it is a well known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle.”
The devastation of the buffalo population signaled the end of the Indian Wars, and Native Americans were pushed into reservations. In 1869, the Comanche chief Tosawi was reported to have told Sheridan, “Me Tosawi. Me good Indian,” and Sheridan allegedly replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” The phrase was later misquoted, with Sheridan supposedly stating, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Sheridan denied he had ever said such a thing.
By the end of the 19th century, only 300 buffalo were left in the wild. Congress finally took action, outlawing the killing of any birds or animals in Yellowstone National Park, where the only surviving buffalo herd could be protected. Conservationists established more wildlife preserves, and the species slowly rebounded. Today, there are more than 200,000 bison in North America.
Sheridan acknowledged the role of the railroad in changing the face of the American West, and in his Annual Report of the General of the U.S. Army in 1878, he acknowledged that the Native Americans were scuttled to reservations with no compensation beyond the promise of religious instruction and basic supplies of food and clothing—promises, he wrote, which were never fulfilled.
“We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this they made war. Could any one expect less? Then, why wonder at Indian difficulties?”
Books: Annual Report of the General of the U.S. Army to the Secretary of War, The Year 1878, Washington Government Printing Office, 1878. Robert G. Angevine, The Railroad and the State: War, Politics and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America, Stanford University Press 2004. John D. McDermott, A Guide to the Indian Wars of the West, University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Ballard C. Campbell, Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History: A Reference Guide to the Nation’s Most Catastrophic Events, Facts on File, Inc., 2008. Bobby Bridger, Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull: Inventing the Wild West, University of Texas Press, 2002. Paul Andrew Hutton, Phil Sheridan & His Army, University of Nebraska Press 1985. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States Since 1865, Vol. 2, Wadsworth, 2010.
Articles: “Transcontinental Railroad,” American Experience, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/tcrr-intro/ ”Buffalo Hunting: Shooting Buffalo From the Trains of the Kansas Pacific Railroad,” Harper’s Weekly, December 14, 1867. : “Black Kettle,” New Perspectives on the West, PBS: The West, http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/blackkettle.htm ”Old West Legends: Buffalo Hunters,” Legends of America, http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-buffalohunters.html “Completion of the Pacific Railroad,” Hartford Courant, May 11, 1869.
March 21, 2012
Year after year, he packed his camera and supplies—everything he’d need for months—and traveled by foot and by horse deep into the Indian territories. At the beginning of the 20th century, Edward S. Curtis worked in the belief that he was in a desperate race against time to document, with film, sound and scholarship, the North American Indian before white expansion and the federal government destroyed what remained of their natives’ way of life. For thirty years, with the backing of men like J. Pierpont Morgan and former president Theodore Roosevelt, but at great expense to his family life and his health, Curtis lived among dozens of native tribes, devoting his life to his calling until he produced a definitive and unparalleled work, The North American Indian. The New York Herald hailed as “the most ambitious enterprise in publishing since the production of the King James Bible.”
Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Edward Sheriff Curtis took to photography at an early age. By age 17, he was an apprentice at a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his life seemed to be taking a familiar course for a young man with a marketable trade, until the Curtis family packed up and moved west, eventually settling in Seattle. There, Curtis married 18-year-old Clara Phillips, purchased his own camera and a share in a local photography studio, and in 1893, the young couple welcomed a son, Harold—the first of their four children.
The young family lived above the thriving Curtis Studio, which attracted society ladies who wanted their portraits taken by the handsome, athletic young man who made them look both glamorous and sophisticated. And it was in Seattle in 1895 where Curtis did his first portrait of a Native American—that of Princess Angeline, the eldest daughter of Chief Sealth of the Duwamish tribe. He paid her a dollar for each pose and noted, “This seemed to please her greatly, and with hands and jargon she indicated that she preferred to spend her time having pictures made than in digging clams.”
Yet it was a chance meeting in 1898 that set Curtis on the path away from his studio and his family. He was photographing Mt. Rainier when he came upon a group of prominent scientists who’d become lost; among the group was the anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, an expert on Native American cultures. Curtis quickly befriended him, and the relationship led to the young photographer’s appointment as official photographer for the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, led by the railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman and including included the naturalist John Muir and the zoologist C. Hart Merriam. For two months, Curtis accompanied two dozen scientists, photographing everything from glaciers to Eskimo settlements. When Grinnell asked him to come on a visit to the Piegan Blackfeet in Montana the following year, Curtis did not hesitate.
It was in Montana, under Grinnell’s tutelage, that Curtis became deeply moved by what he called the “primitive customs and traditions” of the Piegan people, including the “mystifying” Sun Dance he had witnessed. “It was at the start of my concerted effort to learn about the Plains Indians and to photograph their lives,” Curtis wrote, “and I was intensely affected.” When he returned to Seattle, he mounted popular exhibitions of his Native American work, publishing magazine articles and then lecturing across the country. His photographs became known for their sheer beauty. President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Curtis to photograph his daughter’s wedding and to do some Roosevelt family portraits.
But Curtis was burning to return to the West and seek out more Native Americans to document. He found a photographer to manage his studio in Seattle, but more important, he found a financial backer with the funds for a project of the scale he had in mind. In 1906 he boldly approached J.P. Morgan, who quickly dismissed him with a note that read, “Mr. Curtis, there are many demands on me for financial assistance. I will be unable to help you.” But Curtis persisted, and Morgan was ultimately awed by the photographer’s work. “Mr. Curtis,” Morgan wrote after seeing his images, “I want to see these photographs in books—the most beautiful set of books ever published.”