Fighter with fa­tal flaws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald

ma­jor char­ac­ter­is­tic cated per­sona.

His promi­nence among his en­e­mies and fol­low­ers alike came not just from his prow­ess and brav­ery in bat­tle, but from the great abil­i­ties he was thought to pos­sess to proph­esy vic­tory in com­bat and es­pe­cially to fore­see when and where en­emy sol­diers would ap­pear. Th­ese ‘‘ pow­ers’’ meant that many of his fol­low­ers — as well as his op­po­nents — were afraid of him.

Ut­ley re­veals that it wasn’t the clev­er­ness of their op­po­nents that most of­ten brought the Apaches — in­clud­ing Geron­imo — un­done, but the hugely dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects of their ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol and, to a lesser ex­tent, to mescal. In­tox­i­ca­tion of­ten ren­dered them help­less in coun­ter­ing their white op­po­nents. This meant that from time to time, when their de­fences were down, Geron­imo and his fol­low­ers were taken by sur­prise.

One of my favourite pho­to­graphs of many re­mark­able il­lus­tra­tions that grace this highly



com­pli- read­able and vis­ually ap­peal­ing book is one taken in 1884. It shows a weath­er­beaten Geron­imo, then 61, bear­ing arms.

An­other is that of Geron­imo’s great ad­ver­sary, Ma­jor Gen­eral Ge­orge Crook, re­plete with flow­ing beard, taken near Fort Bowie in 1886, rid­ing his favourite form of trans­porta­tion — a mule — and car­ry­ing, as al­ways, a shot­gun.

Crook knew more about Apaches and their war­fare than any other se­nior of­fi­cer. Specif­i­cally, Crook un­der­stood that of­ten only Apaches, turned by him to work for the government, could catch other Apaches.

It was two Apache scouts who, in 1886, helped in­duce Geron­imo to sur­ren­der. Two years later, in May 1888, he be­came a pris­oner of war at Mount Ver­non Bar­racks in Alabama — where, like many other Apaches, he suf­fered from malaria.

In Oc­to­ber 1894, he and his two sur­viv­ing wives and chil­dren were trans­ferred to Fort Still in Ok­la­homa, which was to be his fi­nal home. In March 1905, he was in­vited to Washington to at­tend the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt, who thought very highly of him.

Sadly it was the ef­fects of chronic drunk­en­ness, cou­pled with al­co­holic binges, that on Fe­bru­ary 17, 1909, cost him his life. He had been a pris­oner for 23 years. Geron­imo was buried in the Apache grave­yard on Cache Creek at Fort Still.

Avoid­ing pre­vi­ous stereo­types that have tended to paint Geron­imo ei­ther as a down­right thug or an ab­so­lute hero, Ut­ley’s bi­og­ra­phy re­veals that, within the con­straints of Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture, this brave, yet some­times vac­il­lat­ing Apache war­rior had as many strengths as weak­nesses. The fas­ci­na­tion with this man who be­came a sym­bol of Na­tive Amer­i­can re­sis­tance, and of a con­quered cul­ture, re­mains.

Apache leader Geron­imo pho­tographed with a ri­fle in 1887, a year af­ter his cap­ture

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