I had that poster on my walls for years. Yes, that poster. The one of Geronimo on one knee, holding a rifle. His face stern. His gaze steady. He became a treasured symbol. I lost that poster and have kept an eye out for another ever since.
I originally bought that poster because of an account of his life that I read years before. It ran counter to every Hollywood stereotype about Geronimo, of the Apache, of the great white myth of western settlement. He was a man who as a youth could run at a trot nearly all day. He survived on the land in the arid southwest with only a knife. He was a traditional man who had honour.
When the U.S. government herded his and other Apache peoples onto the San Carlos reservation, he went along… for awhile. After putting up with the degrading treatment of the U.S. government, he left the reservation along with 35 men and 80 women and children. The U.S. sent 5,000 troops to haul Geronimo and the others back onto the reservation. They avoided capture for five months, until Geronimo surrendered.
The story I read spoke to the dehumanizing, insulting treatment that he endured; of lies and broken promises. While Geronimo may have died of pneumonia, some said he really died of a broken heart.
This image was light years from Hollywood’s, and American pop culture’s portrayal of a savage renegade. To me, he represented all that was proud, heroic and good about the traditional Apache.
Indian Country Today has a story on ceremonies that mark the 100th year since Geronimo’s death.