The tragic death of Geronimo

Sometime in the 1820s, according to History, a man named Goyahkla, or "The One Who Yawns," was born in the Southwest. In time, he would grow to become the legendary Apache leader Geronimo, a key figure in American history, after the Mexican army murdered his wife, mother, and children. Following this, Geronimo led his followers into war against the oppressive forces of both Mexico and the United States, frequently breaking free from reservations, and waging acts of resistance against the Caucasian settlers that attempted to steal Apache land. Throughout the history of North America, as so many indigenous populations have been battered by genocidal actions and movements like the Trail of Tears, Manifest Destiny, and the recent Standing Rock protests, it's easy to see why Geronimo's legacy continues to be so celebrated to this day. 

While many people are familiar with Geronimo's battles, though, fewer know the details of his death. While most would presume that Geronimo may have perished in battle, or perhaps been executed by the U.S. government, the great Apache hero's final years actually took a very different turn.

Geronimo's final days

Geronimo was finally captured by U.S. troops in 1886, according to Biography, and spent the last few decades of his life as a prisoner of war, forced to perform hard labor, and shuffled between prisons in Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. Around the same time that Geronimo published his autobiography in 1905, though, a surprising phenomenon occurred: the great leader, who had once been so vilified by the U.S. government, suddenly exploded into a huge celebrity, and a potent political figure. He was allowed occasional appearances at Wild West Shows — drawing huge crowds, wherever he went — and permitted to sell his crafts and materials at exposition events, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. He also received a private meeting with President Teddy Roosevelt to appeal for his freedom. Unfortunately, Roosevelt declined, meaning that the promise that Geronimo and his followers would one day be released back to Arizona, made to them at the time of their surrender, ended up being broken. 

Tragically, Geronimo died as a prisoner. On February 16th, 1909, the then-79 year old leader fell off a horse and spent a night in the cold, on the ground of Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The following day, according to the British Newspaper Archive, he died of pneumonia. It is believed that his final words were, "I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive."