The Geronimo Campaign

The Geronimo Campaign

The Geronimo Campaign

The Geronimo Campaign

Synopsis

The surrender of the great Apache leader Geronimo to U.S Army Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood in August of 1886 brought to an end a struggle that had begun in the early years of the century, and had figured prominently in the western campaign of the Civil War. The words addressed by Gatewood to Geronimo as they met along the banks of Mexico's Bavispe River echoed those spoken in many such a meeting between victorious American commander and vanquished Native American. "Accept these terms or fight it out to the bitter end," said Gatewood. The terms were forced relocation to Florida and the ceding of the ancestral homeland of the Apaches to white settlers; the bitter end was, quite simply, annihilation. In The Geronimo Campaign, Odie B. Faulk, a leading historian of the American Southwest, offers a lively and often chilling account of the war that raged over the deserts and mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico in the mid 1880's, and traces its legacy well past the ultimatum delivered to Geronimo on August 25, 1886. Faulk is especially concerned with the campaign's wider historical setting and significance, and with the sad record of betrayal of the Native American by the U.S. Government. In a very real sense, it is the stuff of Greek tragedy. Here among the mesas of the Southwest was inevitable conflict and inevitable defeat, with both sides losing and yet surviving their loss. The Apaches were forced to endure years of captivity and humiliation, and--like the Sioux, Comanche, and Nez Perce before them--the obliteration of their traditional way of life. The Army, seemingly the winner, was torn by conflicting claims of glory by its hubristic leaders. And Americans lost much that Apache culture might have contributed to their country, as well as more than a measure of American self-respect. Few emerge from Faulk's riveting account with their dignity and stature intact: only the titanic figure of Geronimo, and to a lesser extent the two men he knew and trusted among his opponents, Gatewood and General George Crook, retain a semblance of honor. Faulk shows that neither side wanted war, that both sides believed in the righteousness of their cause, and that the real instigators of the conflict were rapacious American settlers--the "Tucson Ring" of merchants--who sold grain, hay, and other provisions to the troops as well as to those living on the Indian reservations. Faulk's realistic and colorful narrative highlights many of the campaign's ironies as well as its dangers and vicissitudes. In addition, it vividly recreates life in an Army command post on the western frontier, offers an exceptionally clear and sympathetic life history of Geronimo, and sheds new light on the conflict through many hitherto unknown documents originally collected by Gatewood's son. Also included is a brief history of the Apache people, a full bibliography and notes, and many vintage photographs which lend a rare immediacy to this tragic story. The Geronimo Campaign ends with the great chief hundreds of miles away from his ancestral home, Crook relieved of his command, and Gatewood largely forgotten in the honors and awards bestowed by the Army in recognition of Geronimo's capitulation. A true American saga, this is a book for anyone who wishes to understand the roots of, and the reasons for, the tragic Indian Wars of the nineteenth century, a tragedy whose repercussions are still felt today.

Excerpt

The meeting of Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood and the Apache war leader Geronimo on the banks of the Bavispe River in Sonora on the morning of August 25, 1886, recapitulated almost every meeting of Indian and American in the West. Geronimo asked what terms he and his followers could expect if they surrendered. Gatewood told him that they would be exiled to Florida, giving up their ancient homeland entirely to the Americans. "Accept these terms or fight it out to the bitter end," said Gatewood, repeating the message sent by General Miles. This was the substance of what almost every Indian was told at every such meeting; there was no alternative but total surrender or a fight to the death. The cultures of the two civilizations were in direct conflict, and one had to give way totally. Because the Americans were more numerous and more technologically advanced, it was the Indians who lost. Yet neither the Army nor the civilians won either.

The great theme of Greek tragedy is the inevitability of defeat and the triumph of surviving it. Robert Louis Stevenson restated this principle when he declared, "Our business in this world is not to succeed but to continue to fail in good spirits." The final Geronimo campaign was such a tragedy. There was inevitable conflict and inevitable defeat, both sides losing in the process, but both survived. The Indians were forced to undergo decades of captivity and humiliation, and their culture was subverted. The Army, which seemingly had won the war, was torn by conflicting claims to glory. The winner was the man most shrewdly capable of playing politics, and thus he rose to become com-

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