Peacefully living in the quiet village of Kaskiyeh, things were going well for young Goyathlay of the Chiricahua Apache in 1858. He had a hot young wife, three kids, and was surrounded by a compassionate and loving tribe. Then, one day, while he was out in town trading for some much-needed supplies, a company of jackass Mexican soldiers marched on his home for no reason at all and started wantonly slaughtering the Apache women and children, destroying their food supplies, and capturing their weapons, horses, and medicine. Goyathlay returned to find his home in flames, his mother murdered, and his wife and children slain.
Goyathlay, the 27-year old Apache brave, did what any badass worthy of that moniker would have done. He clenched his fists, buried his family, shed a single tear, and swore Frank Castle-style justice on the men who had brutally laid waste to his people, his family, and his home. They would soon learn that they had screwed with the wrong man.
Donning his bitchin' war-paint, Goyathlay ventured out to the other Apache tribes in the region and recruited support for his personal vendetta against Mexico. The women and children of his people were re-located and hidden deep in a vast cave network in the Arizona wilderness to protect them from any vengeful Mexican soldiers, and the united Apaches went on the warpath. Traveling on foot, the revenge-hungry Indian braves covered over forty-five miles a day, stopping only to sleep and hunt, and crossed the border from Apache territory into Mexico. When they reached the outskirts of the settlement of Arispe, the Mexican garrison sent eight soldiers out under a white flag to negotiate a truce with the Apache. These men were killed and scalped on the spot.
The next morning, eight companies of Mexican Infantry marched forth to do battle with Goyathlay and the Apache. When Goyathlay saw that some of these soldiers were from the same company that perpetrated the massacre at Kaskiyeh, he got even more violently angry. This time, instead of having the sheltered luxury of viciously slaughtering defenseless civilians, these soldiers now found themselves up against a man so incredibly pissed off that he made the Incredible Hulk look like Ned Flanders on Quaaludes. Goyathlay, being the one who had suffered the greatest loss in the massacre, was chosen to lead the Apache into battle. He charged balls-out at an entire company of riflemen, ignoring the deadly bullets zinging all around his head (many Mexican soldiers later swore that he was actually impervious to all forms of gunfire), and hurling himself into their ranks armed only with a goddamned hunting knife. In the midst of the enemy, Goyathlay proceeded to go Jason Vorhees on the confused and terrified soldiers, slashing and shivving more people than a screwed-up mix between Oz and West Side Story. Their screams and helpless pleas to Saint Jerome to save them from this crazy, knife-wielding psycho only fueled Goyathlay's rage, and from that day forth, just to prove to everyone in the world how over-the-top insane-o badass he was, he later took the death-cries of his slain victims – "Jeronimo!" – as his new name.
At the end of the battle, every enemy soldier had been slain. Geronimo stood alone on the battlefield, knee-deep in the dead, holding a dull knife, the shaft of a spear he had broken-off in the body of another soldier, and a crimson-stained saber he had pried from the hands of an enemy cavalryman. The Apache warriors, who saw how furiously he battled in his quest for vengeance asked him to be the war leader of their people. His first order was to scalp the dead. The legend of Geronimo was born.
However, simply amassing a towering pile of mutilated corpses wasn't enough to satiate Geronimo's blood-lust, and he dedicated the rest of his life to battling his hated enemies. Between 1858 and 1868 he led dozens of war parties on daring, balls-out raids into Mexican territory. These small assault teams, usually ranging somewhere between five and thirty braves, killed soldiers wherever they could find them and pillaged border settlements and supply trains for weapons, guns, horses, cattle, and food before escaping back to Apache territory with their captured booty.
Geronimo's daring acts of badassitude helped him capture some booty on the home front as well, and during his career he had eight different wives. He was usually married to two women at the same time – he claimed that he was always too busy killing Mexicans to have been able to handle more than that (which is kind of understandable). He became notorious to the Mexicans, who posted a generous bounty on Apache scalps and launched raids of their own into Arizona in unsuccessful attempts to crush the Natives, most of which resulted in them having their faces busted up with the realness.
Geronimo's fighting style can best be exemplified in his victory at the Battle of White Hill in 1879, when two companies of Mexican cavalrymen went up against a war party of about fifty Indian warriors. Geronimo simply ducked behind cover, firing his rifle intermittently at his enemies, and waited for the Mexicans to run out of ammunition. Once their bullets were exhausted, the Apache just leapt out and closed on them with lightning speed, engaging the enemy in brutal hand-to-hand combat and massacring the riflemen with spears, tomahawks, and knives.
Of course, the Apache weren't just at war with our NAFTA partners to the south – they also had to deal with the encroachment of U.S. forces into their territory as well. From the time that the war-chief Cochise was betrayed under a flag of truce in 1861, Geronimo and his tribe were in the business of beating the hell out of the United States. War parties and skirmishes broke out across the Southwest for over two decades as Geronimo refused to observe the arbitrary boundaries of the bullcrap "reservation" the Americans had set up for his people. On four separate occasions between 1872 and 1887, he led parties of warrior braves off the reservation and on the warpath, launching raids from hidden bases deep in the Sierra Madres Mountains. His name soon struck terror into the hearts of soldiers and settlers across the American Southwest and Northern Mexico, who feared his uncontrollable wrath.
This reputation was well-deserved – Geronimo was hardcore. During his wars, he was shot six times, hit in the leg with a saber, and knocked unconscious by a rifle butt. He was also fearless, daring, an expert marksman, and his raids accumulated large herds of cattle, horses, food, guns, boots, and whiskey for his people. Under his command, the Apache traveled rapidly over vast distances without leaving any trace of their presence. They would ambush cowboys seemingly out of nowhere, and when pursued, every warrior would run off in a different direction, making it impossible to catch them. Then the braves would rendezvous at a predetermined location after they had each successfully evaded capture. They knew all the ravines, mountains and caves of Arizona like the back of their hands, and were better at hiding out than Osama bin Laden with a Klingon cloaking device attached to his chest.
Unfortunately for Geronimo, the Apache were ultimately fighting a losing battle. No matter how many bastards they killed, how many battles they won, and how much plunder they accumulated, they were simply unable to replace their fallen warriors. Their numbers dwindled over time, and when the 58 year-old Geronimo surrendered to the Americans for the fourth and final time in 1887 he was leading a tribe of only 35 braves. He had resisted the armies of two powerful westernized nations for over thirty years, but the Last of the Apache, and the last of the Native American chiefs to surrender to the United States, lived out the rest of his life in Fort Still, Oklahoma, passing away in 1909 at the age of 85. As he died, he whispered the names of the brave warriors who had fought alongside him during his struggle.
Brown, Dee Alexander. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Macmillan, 2001.
Geronimo, and Barrett, Stephen Melvil. Geronimo's Story of His Life. Duffield & Co., 1906.
Hoxie, Frederick E. Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Houghton Mifflin, 1996.