Geronimo & Naiche

The last of the Apache wars, the final surrender of the Chiricahuas in September 1886 and their long captivity—all these dramatic events remain as closely associated with Geronimo as his people once were with the rugged ranges of what became southeastern Arizona. Geronimo got the headlines then and continues to get them today. He was frequently photographed, including several March 1886 shots in the field by C.S. Fly, and while a prisoner of war at the turn of the 20th century he sold photos of himself for as much as $2. By contrast there are no fully accepted photos of other such famous Chiricahuas as Cochise (who died of natural causes on June 8, 1874) or Victorio (slain in battle in Mexico on Oct. 14, 1880). Apache plundering and raiding continued after Victorio’s death, and Geronimo definitely earned his reputation as a cold-blooded killer. But Geronimo was never a chief, and the last Apache wars in the 1880s also involved other Chiricahua leaders, such as Nana, Juh, Chatto, Ulzana, Chihuahua and Naiche.

Geronimo is well remembered for having surrendered twice, six months apart, in 1886. But both occasions also encompassed the technically more significant surrenders of Naiche, a son of Cochise and the last hereditary chief of the Chiricahuas. In the first instance, Brig. Gen. George Crook accepted their surrenders on March 27 at Cañon de los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico. “It was Naiche who negotiated surrender terms in March 1886 at Embudos Canyon for what is mistakenly known as ‘Geronimo’s band,’” writes Alicia Delgadillo in her 2013 book From Fort Marion to Fort Sill. Crook was first to leave the canyon, and once back at Fort Bowie in Arizona Territory he telegraphed news of the surrender to his superiors. Only trouble was, in his absence the two Apache leaders drank up a storm and remained south of the border instead of returning to the States.

That great intoxicated escape led to another long, hard search for Naiche, Geronimo and their followers, this time under the direction of Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles (see “Geronimo’s Final Surrender,” by Bill Cavaliere, in the August 2021 issue). On September 3, at Skeleton Canyon in southeast Arizona Territory, the loud and boisterous Geronimo surrendered to Miles. But the general knew only the surrender of the quiet and stoic Naiche would make the capitulation of the Chiricahua holdouts official. That happened the next day, ending the Apache wars. When a cautious Miles left for Fort Bowie on the 5th, he traveled with the sober Naiche and Geronimo, and they didn’t dawdle, making the journey in just 11 hours.

What followed is also well documented but far more controversial. The Apache POWs were first sent from Bowie Station to imprisonment in Florida. So too were the loyal Apache scouts who had served Crook and Miles and helped corral Geronimo and Naiche, as were the peaceful Chiricahuas rounded up at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona Territory. “It remains today a national betrayal and an egregious disgrace unworthy of a country founded on the democratic ideals of liberty, equality and justice for all,” wrote the Apache wars expert Edwin R. Sweeney. Florida turned out to be an unhealthy place for many of the Chiricahuas, as were the Mount Vernon Barracks near Mobile, Ala., to which they were relocated in 1887–88. According to Sweeney, by October 1894 the Chiricahuas had lost half their numbers to sickness. Next stop was Fort Sill in Oklahoma Territory, where Geronimo gained notoriety as a celebrity rather than a murderer. Yes, Naiche was there, too, though the public hardly noticed.

On Feb. 17, 1909, the 79-year-old Geronimo died of pneumonia while still in captivity at Fort Sill. The surviving Chiricahuas, perhaps paying for the past sins of Geronimo, remained prisoners of war until 1913. Upon release, all 257 of them were given a choice of where to settle, though a return to Arizona wasn’t among the options. It was either stay at Fort Sill (67 elected to do that) or move to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in south-central New Mexico (190 chose that option). For more see Ron J. Jackson Jr.’s “The Parting.” Naiche, who had converted to Christianity while at Fort Sill, was among the former POWs who opted to move to Mescalero, where he fell ill and died on March 16, 1919, at about age 63. After 27 years of imprisonment Naiche was at least able to enjoy a half dozen more years as a free man. Said to have been levelheaded and honest like his father, he probably deserves more recognition. Regardless, as you can see, he doesn’t stand alone on our cover. Geronimo still rules. WW

Wild West editor Gregory Lalire’s latest historical novel is Man From Montana (2021). His earlier novels include 2019’s Our Frontier Pastime: 1804–1815 and 2014’s Captured: From the Frontier Diary of Infant Danny Duly. His short story “Halfway to Hell” appears in the 2018 anthology The Trading Post and Other Frontier Stories. This article was published in the August 2021 issue of Wild West.