2018-06-01 / Features

A bit of historical perspective

After the Civil War, the attention of the U.S. government was focused on the native peoples of the West. Troubles there provided a ready task that could be assigned to the military, and the government was quick to deploy forces with little else to occupy their services to the area.

The Apaches were not always at peace with each other, but as the government forced them into proximity on dwindling lands and constantly shrinking reservations, they sometimes found common cause and a common enemy.

By the 1880s, the Chiricahua Apache reservation had shrunk from 7,200 square miles to 2,600 square miles.

For his own part, Geronimo had “surrendered” three times between 1876 and 1886 and had finally accepted life on the Apache reservations in Arizona, but resentment was rife in that setting.

During his years as a warrior, the Chiricahua medicine man took on not only the United States, but also Mexico, successfully evading 5,000 U.S. soldiers and 3,000 Mexican soldiers at one time.

Desperate to stop his successful raids, protect settlers and keep expanding the reach of land-hungry immigrants to the West, the U.S. government eventually hired 500 Apache scouts to track the hostile bands like Geronimo’s.

When he and his raiders were contacted by two of these scouts, he agreed to a meeting in Skeleton Canyon, Ariz., and entered into negotiations with General Nelson Miles. Those negotiations resulted in the removal of the entire Chiricahua tribe, including the former Apache Army scouts and the Apaches who had remained on the reservations during the troubled times. All were exiled to Florida and held as prisoners.

While the families of Geronimo and his band were originally housed at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, public pressure forced the government to reunite husband and wives and fathers and children at Fort Pickens on April 27, 1887. Here, they were housed in officers’ quarters.

Fear of yellow fever led to the removal of the prisoners and their families to Mount Vernon Barracks, north of Mobile, Ala., on May 12, 1888. In 1894, they were finally placed on a 50,000 acres reservation at Fort Sill, Okla., where Geronimo died in 1909.

Much of the information included in this article comes from documents and exhibit information at Fort Pickens. For more details about ranger programs, visit https://www.nps.gov/guis/ planyourvisit/calendar.htm. Information about visiting the Fort Pickens area is available at https://www.nps.gov/guis/ planyourvisit/fort-pickens-area.htm.

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