The Promise of Non-Retribution

Geronimo and the Apache’s surrender to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona in 1886 brought an end to organized armed resistance by Native American Indians. Though never a chief, Geronimo’s legendary exploits had led the U.S. Army to deploy over five thousand troops in pursuit of the Chiricahua band that numbered no more than thirty-six when the end finally came.

After his capture Geronimo made only one request:

Today we are few. All but the warriors in my band have either been killed in battle, brought down by the white man’s diseases, or grown to old to fight. The women and children are tired. There is neither time nor place to bear more children or raise the few that survive. The women wail and shed tears. The children also cry. They have neither food to eat nor time to play. No child should grow up constantly in fear and with no permanent place to call their home. So we have come to Skeleton Canyon; not with heads bowed; not to plead or beg for life itself; but, in the realization that you represent our future. It is not the future envisioned by my ancestors, nor is it the future I want for my people. It is however, the only future left to the Apache. I ask only that you keep your promise and allow us to live out our days in the land of our ancestors. Just as the bones of our forefathers are buried in this canyon and in the land surrounding it, let my bones and those of my people join them at a location of your choosing, but within what has always been our homeland. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

The other Southern Plains tribes had already been forced into submission. Each had received assurances that there would be no retribution for past actions. Like so many of the promises made to the Indians, the promise of non-retribution proved false. In all, the U.S. Army imprisoned seventy-two Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Caddo Indians at Fort Marion, Florida. They were imprisoned without the benefit of a trial.

Geronimo’s fate was no different. Over the next twenty-two years the Apache were incarcerated at various locations in Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. Geronimo would never set foot in Arizona again. He died of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma at age 80. In his autobiography he wrote, “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

Author: maxknight73

Retired Army Officer and Counterintelligence Specialist. Currently living in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Gray. Cancer survivor. Avid history buff and writer.

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