By Ann Haver-Allen
I am not Apache, but an Apache warrior has been honored and respected by
my family for as long as I can remember. My mother’s family is Creek and
Cherokee, which means I am, although my father was Irish.
My great-grandparents were from northern Alabama. They ended up in
northwestern Florida thanks to Andrew Jackson’s questionable “treaty” with
the Cherokees, which he signed and pushed through Congress in 1836. It
was Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren, however, who actually ordered
the forced removal of Cherokees from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina
In May 1838 about 17,000 Cherokees—along with approximately 2,000
black slaves owned by wealthy Cherokees—were removed at gunpoint from
their homes over three weeks and gathered together in camps, often with
only the clothes on their backs. This was the federal government’s first
“gathering” of Cherokees ordered to walk almost 2,000 miles to Oklahoma.
Estimates put deaths at between 4,000 and 8,000. This forced relocation
march became known as the Trail of Tears.
My great-grandparents decided not to cooperate with the federal government
and instead fled south. I grew up in the panhandle of Florida, about an hour
northwest of Pensacola. We literally lived in the woods and it was a big
event to go down to Pensacola on Sunday afternoons after church.
It was on one of these trips that I learned of Geronimo. How the Apaches
ended up in Pensacola is a tale of broken promises and local business
Geronimo had surrendered in Arizona to Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles
upon the conditions that they would not be harmed, that they would be able
to rejoin their families, which had been sent to Ft. Marion in St. Augustine,
Fla., and that after two years in exile they would be given a reservation
somewhere outside of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Miles said the
Apaches would be forgiven for past crimes and allowed to start a new life.
Almost immediately following their surrender, Miles put Geronimo and his
band on a train headed to Florida.
Only problem, President Grover Cleveland intervened and said Miles did not
have permission to negotiate surrender terms, so the train was stopped and
held in San Antonio until the government could figure out what to do with
Geronimo. President Cleveland wanted Geronimo tried and executed.
But the media came to his rescue. The New York Times wrote that the
government had to honor the terms of surrender, but that it would be
acceptable to keep the Indians prisoners indefinitely.
That’s when Pensacola’s business community stepped forward and
petitioned the federal government to have Geronimo and his men brought to
Ft. Pickens, instead of Ft. Marion.
The businessmen claimed that Geronimo and his men would be better
guarded at Fort Pickens than at the overcrowded Ft. Marion, where more
than 400 other Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches were imprisoned. It
gave the government a way out of its dilemma, so the business community—
with some help from their congressman—was successful in their efforts to
have the Apaches held at Ft. Pickens.
The imprisioned Apaches included: Geronimo, Naiche, Mangus, Perico,
Fun, Ahnandia, Napi, Matsos, Chappo, Yanoyha, Tinsnothtoes, Lazieyah,
Kilthdega, Ahzhonne, Beshe, Hunlona and Goso.
Almost immediately upon their arrival in Pensacola in October 1886,
Geronimo and his fellow Apaches were celebrities. An editorial in the
Pensacola newspaper congratulated a congressman for bringing such a great
tourist attraction to the city.
The city even postponed its first major convention for a month so that
conventioneers would be able to visit the Apaches. Delegates came from
many states and paid 50 cents each for the boat ride out to Ft. Pickens.
Railroads began offering excursions to Pensacola, where visitors would then
take a boat out to Santa Rosa Island. The Governor of Florida was among
those visitors, which seldom numbered fewer than 20 a day, and one day
topped more than 450. Weekends drew larger crowds. The Rockefeller
family yacht, The Alva, called at Ft. Pickens, as did the Duke of
Sutherland’s yacht, the Sans Puer. The Duke visited with Geronimo for
some time and brought news to him of his wife and children, still being held
in Ft. Marion.
In Geronimo: His own story, Geronimo writes this about his arrival at Ft.
“In forty days they took me from there [San Antonio] to Fort Pickens
(Pensacola), Florida. Here they put me to sawing up large logs. There were
several other Apache warriors with me, and all of us had to work every day.
For nearly two years we were kept at hard labor in this place and we did not
see our families until May 1887. This treatment was in direct violation of
our treaty made at Skeleton Canyon.”
Shortly after the Duke’s visit, the wives and children were brought from Ft.
Marion to Ft. Pickens. The Apaches decided to hold a celebration in
appreciation to everyone for the reuniting the families.
The local business community went all out promoting and advertising the
event as a “war dance.” Estimates put the number of spectators for that
dance at about 500. The dance was held on the fort’s parade ground and
spectators were packed into every corner, including standing atop the fort’s
Geronimo was schooled in how to write his name, which he would affix to
seashells, paper or cards. He received 25 cents or more for his signature.
Visitors frequently brought gifts—ranging from cigars to ribbons—to
Geronimo. One man gave Geronimo a ring and Geronimo gave him his
prized leather thongs that he wore around his wrists.
One of Geronimo’s wives died of Bright’s Disease while at Ft. Pickens and
one baby was born during that time.
With no warning, on a Saturday night in May 1888, the Apaches were
removed to Ft. Pickens and relocated to the Mount Vernon Barracks in
The local newspaper wrote, “Uncle Sam is a sly old fox in many of his many
of his movements…. This is a severe blow at a certain summer industry and
excursions to Ft. Pickens will likely be less numerous.”
At Fort Pickens, the casemate where Geronimo lived was marked with a
plaque. We visited it several times as I grew up. That casemate, and the
entire wing of the fort where the Apache warriors were held, has since been
destroyed by a hurricane, but other parts of the old fort still stand.
My relatives told tales of the Apache warriors digging a tunnel from the
island where Ft. Pickins was located to the mainland. As an adult, I know
this to be completely impossible, but it made great stories to listen to as a
child. In those stories, Geronimo was always the hero; doing the noble thing
fighting for his family, land and way of life.
Geronimo and his fellow Apaches were moved from Ft. Pickins in the
middle of the night in May 1888. They were sent to the Mount Vernon
Barracks north of Mobile where they were held for about five years. Here,
they were just as popular as they had been at Ft. Pickens, sometimes
entertaining more than 1,000 visitors a day at “Apache Village.”
While imprisioned there, Geronimo’s son Chappo, his cousin Fun and
Ahnandia died. Geronimo served as Justice of the Peace at Apache Village.
“We had no property, and I looked in vain for General Miles to send me to
that land of which he had spoken,” Geronimo wrote. “I longed in vain for
the implements, house, and stock that General Miles had promised me.
During this time one of my warriors, Fun, killed himself and his wife.
Another one shot his wife and then shot himself. He fell dead, but the
woman recovered and is still living. We were not healthy in this place, for
the climate disagreed with us.”
The disagreeable climate was part of the government’s overall strategy of
dealing with the Apaches, who had won sympathy and admiration from
many who had visited with them.
The New York World reported the following:
“The President has examined the case very carefully and has come to the
conclusion that the life of continement (restrictive movement) for all those
Indians in Florida, where they can do no harm, will be the most thorough
punishment that can be visited upon them. As a matter of fact, the Indians
transferred to Florida have been sentenced to a lingering death. They have
been brought up in a mountain country, accustomed to freedom in the pure,
cold air in a high latitude. Their transfer to confinement in the warm
climates of Florida will simply result in their dying off like so many sheep.
Experienced army officers do not think that there will be one of them alive
in the next five years.”
The climate of Florida and Southern Alabama is essentially the same and
although the government moved the Apaches from Ft. Pickens, some say in
fear of a Yellow Fever outbreak, they were deposited in essentially the same
Major-General Oliver Otis Howard had met Geronimo years earlier in the
Dragoon Mountains of Southern Arizona. He wrote in his memoirs that he
became friends with Geronimo and went to visit him at the Mount Vernon
“Here they were fed and clothed and guarded,” Howard wrote. “Their
children were sent to school and they were all treated kindly, but they were
prisoners and could not go away.
“In 1889 I went to Mount Vernon Barracks, and the first man I saw as I got
out of the train was Geronimo,” Howard wrote. “He had a bundle of canes of
different sorts of wood, which he had peeled and painted and was selling
them one by one. When he caught sight of me he passed his canes to another
Indian and ran to meet me. I could not understand his Apache, but he
embraced me twice and called his Mexican name, "Geronimo," "Geronimo,"
many times so that I should be sure to know who he was.
“But though Geronimo tried his best to be happy and contented, he was
homesick for Arizona and begged me to speak to the President for him.
"Indians sick here," he said, "air bad and water bad." I told him that there
would be no peace in Arizona if the Indians went back to the Chiricahua
Mountains, for the Great Father at Washington could not control the
Mexicans and white people there and make them do what was right; and
Geronimo tried to understand.”
In 1894 the Apaches were moved to Fort Sill, Okla., where they were given
more than 50,000 acres of land, a promise that had been made by Brigadier
General Nelson A. Miles at the time of Geronimo’s surrender in 1886.
In time their cattle herd numbered more than 10,000 and Geronimo became
a national celebrity. He was called the greatest living American General and
was compared to Napoleon.
Geronimo visited the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, where he made a great
deal of money selling photographs and autographs.
“I sold my photographs for 25 cents, and was allowed to keep 10 cents of
this for myself,” Geronimo wrote of his World’s Fair experience. “I also
wrote my name for 10, 15, or 25 cents, as the case might be, and kept all of
that money. I often made as much as $2 a day, and when I returned [to Ft.
Sill] I had plenty of money—more than I had ever owned before.”
Geronimo enjoyed his time spent at the World’s Fair. He wrote, “I am glad I
went to the Fair. I saw many interesting things and learned much of the
white people. They are a very kind and peaceful people. 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. I
wish all my people could have attended the fair.”
Major-General Oliver Otis Howard, who had known Geronimo many years,
wrote that the last time he saw Geronimo was at the St. Louis Exposition
with the “Wild West Show.”
“He stayed in St. Louis for many months, for people wanted to see him as
much as they did the Filipinos from Manila, the Boers from South Africa, or
the Eskimos from Alaska, and hardly anyone went away without asking to
see Geronimo, the great Apache war chief,” Howard wrote. “His
photographs were in great demand and he had learned to write his name, so
he sold his autographs and made a good deal of money. He wanted to see
other Indians, too, especially Indians who were not Apache. He was very
much interested in other people from all over the world, the strange things
that showmen did, the animals he had never seen before—bears from the icy
north, elephants from Africa, learned horses and other things new and
strange. Nothing escaped him, and everything he saw was full of interest to
As years passed, stories of Geronimo’s warrior ferocity made him into a
legend that fascinated non-Indians and Indians alike. As a result, his
appearances at public events generated much interest, and in 1905 he was
quite the sensation when he appeared in President Theodore Roosevelt's
But Geronimo longed to return to Arizona.
“There is no climate or soil which, to my mind, is equal to that of Arizona,”
he wrote. “It is my land, my home, my fathers' land, to which I now ask to
be allowed to return. I want to spend my last days there, and be buried
among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my
people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than
diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct.
“I know that if my people were placed in that mountainous region lying
around the head waters of the Gila River they would live in peace and act
according to the will of the President,” he continued. “They would be
prosperous and happy in tilling the soil and learning the civilization of the
white men, whom they now respect. Could I but see this accomplished, I
think I could forget all the wrongs that I have ever received, and die a
contented and happy old man. But we can do nothing in this matter
ourselves—we must wait until those in authority choose to act. If this cannot
be done during my lifetime—if I must die in bondage—I hope that the
remnant of the Apache tribe may, when I am gone, be granted the one
privilege which they request—to return to Arizona.”
Geronimo never saw his homeland again. He died on Feb. 17, 1909, near Ft.
Sill after he laid in the middle of a road all night, drunk, in a freezing rain.
The Chiricahuas, one of the most feared tribes of the Southwest, lived as
prisoners of war of the United States for 27 years, the longest captivity of a
Native American tribe in United States history. They were freed in 1913.
To read more of Geronimo’s writings, see Geronimo: His own story at
Geronimo: His Own Story, part of the “From Revolution to
Reconstruction—an .HTML project” by the Department of Humanities,
University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. Text prepared by
Jeroen Daanen, Peter Meindertsma, Else-Kirsten de Schiffart, Elfie Theijs
and Carlo Tinschert. Online at:
Howard, Major-General O.O. Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known. With
illustrations by George Varian. Century Co., NY: 1908.
Skinner, Woodward B., Geronimo at Fort Pickens. Skinner Publications,
Pensacola, Fla., 1981.