Balanced as­sess­ment of a brave

Geron­imo

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald

By Robert M. Ut­ley Yale Univer­sity Press, 384pp, $39.95 (HB)

IN the US, and the West in gen­eral, the name of the Apache war­rior and charis­matic leader Geron­imo re­mains dom­i­nant in folk me­mory.

But why is it that Geron­imo is the Na­tive Amer­i­can name lodged more deeply in the pub­lic mind than any other? Geron­imo, bizarrely, was the co­de­name of the op­er­a­tion that killed Osama bin Laden, a fact that an­gered some Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

In his en­thralling nar­ra­tive of Geron­imo’s life, Robert M. Ut­ley al­ter­nates be­tween the per­spec­tives of white Amer­i­cans and Apaches to cre­ate a highly nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of the char­ac­ter and mo­ti­va­tion of a war­rior whose fe­roc­ity as a fighter and abil­i­ties as a shaman were leg­endary.

Un­like Sit­ting Bull, Crazy Horse and Pon­tiac, Geron­imo, who was born in 1823, was never a chief but rather an unof­fi­cial but ex­tremely in­flu­en­tial leader who boasted eight wives and many chil­dren.

Mus­cu­lar, squat, fierce-look­ing, stub­born, af­flicted with a mild form of syphilis and, at least to his fol­low­ers, seem­ingly pos­sessed of the pow­ers of heal­ing and prophecy, Geron­imo was above all an Apache fight­ing-man par ex­cel­lence.

It was not un­til his cap­ture in 1886, when he was 63, that he came to wide­spread pub­lic at­ten­tion. This is de­spite the fact that for years he had been raid­ing and mak­ing war on Mex­i­cans and white Amer­i­cans.

As Ut­ley makes clear, Geron­imo had ev­ery good rea­son not to trust Amer­i­can and es­pe­cially Mex­i­can troops, who were piti­less in their pur­suit of him and other lesser-known In­dian raiders.

The cor­re­spond­ing re­al­ity is that, be­sides steal­ing stock and other forms of plun­der, Geron­imo’s raids on Mex­i­cans and white Amer­i­cans of­ten in­volved butcher­ing large num­bers of peo­ple. In­deed, 30 years of such sys­tem­atic and bar­baric slaugh­ter of men, women and chil­dren, of­ten in­volv­ing tor­ture and mu­ti­la­tion, Ut­ley co­gently ar­gues, form a

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