The People of Geronimo vs. the United States, by Michael Lieder and Jake Page, Random House, New York, 1997, $25.95.
The people of Geronimo are also the people of Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, Victorio and Juh, of course. Mainly because of such strong leaders and their determination to resist the inroads made by non-Indians in the 19th-century Southwest, the Chiricahua Apaches became known to most Americans. Geronimo became the best known. Almost all Chiricahuas, whether they had been hostile or not, became prisoners in Florida in 1886. Wild Justice, however, is not really about Geronimo (whose name barely comes up at all in the last 250 pages of the 318-page book) and only summarizes the Chiricahuas’ 27 years of captivity. The focus of the book is what happened after an Indians Claims Commission was formed in 1947 to redress grievances that would be brought by 176 tribes. The authors say this tribunal was “unique in the history of European colonization” and that the attempt to make financial amends for wrongful acts showed “a certain nobility of spirit.” And in 1979, following a long legal odyssey, the Chiricahuas were awarded a $22 million settlement for loss of land. But by then the commission, which the authors say had become “little more than a sideshow in Indian affairs,” had been abandoned. The authors also argue that the tribe should have received more than $1 billion. “Gambling has had a more positive impact on the quality of life on reservations than did the Indian Claims Commission Act,” they suggest. To that, perhaps Geronimo would have added, “You bet!”