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Geronimo: An American Indian Legend


The exhibit Geronimo: An American Indian Legend, which examines this historic American Indian primarily through popular culture, opened April 1, 2004 at Fenimore Art Museum. This exhibition features photographs of Geronimo as well as Apache artifacts, and popular culture memorabilia, which depict Geronimo's iconic status as portrayed in films, t-shirts, playing cards, and board games. Objects featured in the exhibition were drawn from the New York State Historical Association's Thaw Collection of North American Indian Art and the Kopp Collection of American Indian Imagery in Advertising. The exhibit will be on view through December 31, 2004. (right: publicity poster and game cover depicting Geronimo)

Geronimo, whose name became the war cry of World War II American paratroopers, was born Goyahkla, "The One Who Yawns," to the Bedonkohe people, a branch of the Eastern Chiricahua Apache from present day Arizona and New Mexico. Both his name and legendary war tactics were formed in skirmishes with Mexican troops, who in 1850 killed Geronimo's mother, wife, and children when he was approximately 25 years of age. The Mexican soldiers that encountered his wrath were heard to appeal to St. Jerome, and thus the moniker of "Geronimo' was born.

Though he did possess admirable "American" traits -- such as leadership, perseverance, and independence -- those qualities were most fiercely displayed in opposition to U.S. troops. He surrendered for good on September 4, 1886, after a series of capitulations, betrayals by the U.S., and subsequent escapes. Between 1898 and his death, Geronimo participated in numerous expositions and fairs, including an appearance in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade. Many of the popular cultural objects in the exhibit date back to the early part of the 20th century.


Wall text panels


Geronimo (born ca. 1823, died 1909) Apache

"Geronimo has been captured!" "End to the Apache Wars!" read the headlines on September 5, 1886. National newspapers were full of stories of the surrender. Geronimo, the most legendary Apache war leader, along with seventeen warriors, fourteen women, and six children had evaded capture despite pursuit by 5,000 U.S. troops, 3,000 Mexican soldiers, and numerous Indian scouts for more than six months. To the U.S. Army and the settlers in the area, the supremely resilient and determined Geronimo had personified the Apache problem and every raid on a village or wagon train was attributed to him.

In the years following his surrender, Geronimo came to personify resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. His leadership skills, courage and determination became greatly admired, and Americans eagerly sought out the opportunity to meet him and buy artifacts made or sold by him. In accommodating his admirers, Geronimo proved to be an astute businessman who played a major role in enhancing his image and encouraging the thriving trade in objects associated with him.

In the decades since his death in 1909, Geronimo's status as a cultural symbol has grown dramatically. His name has been shouted by American Paratroopers as they step into the sky and his image made into an American icon by Andy Warhol. Likewise, a profusion of commercial products has carried Geronimo's name and image, including everything from toys and games to movie posters and postage stamps. In many ways, Geronimo represented qualities thought to be essentially American; fierce independence, ingenuity, fighting prowess, and self-reliance. These attributes ­ based in reality and accentuated by commercial forces ­ have resulted in Geronimo's emergence as an icon of American popular culture.


Geronimo led his people's defense of their homeland against the might of the U.S. army. Although not a chief, he was the leader of the last American Indian fighting force to formally capitulate to the United States. Beginning in the early 1870s, the federal government instituted a new policy that placed the traditionally nomadic Apache in specific areas called reservations. Unwilling to submit, Geronimo fought the U.S. army for the Apaches' right to their hereditary land until his final surrender in 1886. Geronimo embodied the very essence of Apache martial values ­ aggressiveness and courage in the face of difficulty. Because Geronimo fought against overwhelming odds and held out the longest, he became the most famous Apache. He displayed great leadership skills, courage and a fierce independence. His struggle had made him a most hated foe and a romanticized symbol of Indian resistance. Finally on September 4, 1886 he surrendered. The Apaches became prisoners of war and were sent to Florida, Alabama, and finally in 1894 to Fort Sills, Oklahoma. There, Geronimo took up farming and eventually joined the Dutch Reformed church.

On Exhibit

Geronimo's warrior feats made him a legend that fascinated non-Indians and Indians alike. As the prisoners of war traveled east by train to Florida, attitudes of the population changed and the Apache prisoners were welcomed with open arms. Their presence brought swarms of tourists and, of course dollars, to Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Florida, where they spent their first year as prisoners of war. The following year they were moved to Mount Vernon Barracks, located near Mobile, Alabama, and in 1894 to Fort Sills, near Lawton, Oklahoma. Geronimo quickly understood commercialism and he became his own best PR man as he realized the value of all things connected with him. His appearance generated much interest at the Omaha Exposition of 1898, the Pan American Exposition at Buffalo in 1901, the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration parade in 1905, numerous Wild West shows, and other public events. Promoters of these events had to appeal to the War Department to obtain permission for his appearance. At many of the events Geronimo would sell his autograph, photographs of himself as well as bows and arrows. In his autobiography, Geronimo talks about his experience at the St. Louis World's fair, "I often made as much as two dollars a day, and when I returned I had plenty of money ­ more than I had ever owned before. I am glad I went to the Fair." Contrary to this supposed life of leisure Geronimo and the Apache people suffered both physically and mentally. During their stay in Florida and Alabama many Apaches died of tuberculosis and other diseases. Throughout the time spent as a prisoner of war, Geronimo never stopped asking to be allowed to return to his homeland in the Southwest. He died a prisoner of war at Fort Sills.

Iconic Geronimo

Many of the qualities that made Geronimo famous in his own time, bravery, courageousness, a fierce independence and the ability to make money, are evident in the products that bear his name. Geronimo is one of the worlds' most recognizable names out of the American past. His name has traveled around the world from the Geronimo Shot Bar in Tokyo, Japan, to the French word apache, which denotes a Parisan street thug. Geronimo's name has been shouted by U.S. paratroopers in defiance of fear as they leap from planes; his image has been painted, carved and sung about, and his life made into fictional plots in books, comics and film. His name and image has been used to sell anything from toys and phone cards to t-shirts and movies. Objects from popular culture convey powerful messages about those cultures who produced them. None of the objects on display intrinsically have anything to do with Geronimo, but they speak of a continuing fascination with him.


ca. 1823-25
Geronimo is born near the upper Gila River in present-day New Mexico. His childhood name, Goyahkla, means "The One Who Yawns."
Early 1840s
Geronimo is admitted into the council of warriors after rigorous training and proven dependability on four raids as an apprentice. He marries his first wife, Alope.
The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War. The U.S. claims the Spanish Southwest, which includes part of Apache territory.
Geronimo's mother, wife and children are killed by Mexican troops, while on a trading expedition near Janos, Mexico. After this tragedy, Geronimo receives the Power, the life force of the universe, which enables him to see into the future, walk without making footprints, hold off the dawn, and repel bullets.
Seeking revenge, Geronimo goes to battle against the Mexicans. According to tradition, Geronimo fights so fiercely during a battle that his Mexican adversaries cry out "Geronimo!," calling for the help of Saint Jerome. Thus, Goyahkla acquires the name Geronimo by which he becomes widely known and feared.
The U.S. Government establishes the Chiricahua Apache Reservation in southern Arizona and Geronimo moves there with other Chiricahua Apache.
Citing economic reasons, the U.S. relocates Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona and places their homeland in the public domain. Not wanting to yield to the will of the U.S. government, Geronimo leaves the Chiricahua Reservation. Instead of going to the San Carlos Reservation, he leads a group of Apache into the mountains of Mexico. They conduct raids to secure provisions and horses. Geronimo is branded a renegade.
John Philip Clum, agent on the San Carlos Reservation, summons Geronimo to a conference. Clum captures Geronimo and brings him to the San Carlos Reservation.
Dissatisfied with the conditions at San Carlos, Geronimo breaks away from the reservation with a group of Apaches. They flee into the Sierra Madre Mountains. From there, they conduct raids on wagon trains and ranches.
Exhausted from pursuit, Geronimo returns willingly to the San Carlos Reservation.
Unhappy with life on the reservation, Geronimo leaves the San Carlos Reservation with a group of seventy-six warriors and their families. While pursued by the army, they conduct raids to secure supplies and horses on their way back to their camp in the Sierra Madres.
Weary of being pursued by U.S. Army troops and Mexican soldiers, Geronimo surrenders to General George Crook and once again returns to the San Carlos Reservation.
Unhappy with imposed regulations on the reservation and fearing retribution for a night of drinking tizwin (a traditional alcoholic beverage), Geronimo leads a group of more than one hundred men, women, and children in an escape from the reservation.
Pursued by soldiers, they make it into the mountains of Mexico. In their wake are at least seventeen dead settlers, and 150 horses and mules worn out, killed, or abandoned.
Geronimo surrenders to General George Crook at Cañon de los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico. Fearing for his life, he escapes with twenty-one men, fourteen women, and six children a few days later. On September 4, Geronimo surrenders for the last time to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon, in southern Arizona. Together with other Apache, Geronimo is sent to Florida as a prisoner of war.
Geronimo and other Apaches held at Fort Pickens and Fort Marion, Florida, are moved to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama.
Geronimo is moved with other Apaches to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Geronimo appears at the Omaha Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska.
Geronimo appears at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.
Geronimo appears at the St. Louis World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
Geronimo rides in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade. He tells the story of his life to S. M. Barrett who writes Geronimo: His Own Story.
Geronimo dies of pneumonia at Fort Sill.


Geronimo on the San Carlos Reservation in 1884. This is the earliest known photograph of Geronimo.
A. Frank Randall, photographer
Arizona Historical Society
Geronimo during surrender negotiations with General Crook, March 25, 1886.
C.S. Fly, photographer
Arizona Historical Society
Apache Prisoners of war on their way to Florida, September 11, 1886 near Nusces River, Texas. Geronimo is in the center foreground.
A.J. Mc Donald, photographer
Arizona Historical Society
September 25, 1886
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
Edward Curtis, photographer
National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C.
Andy Warhol

Object labels

The custom of paratroopers yelling "Geronimo!" is attributed to Aubrey Ebenhart, a member of the U.S. Army's test platoon at Fort Benning, Georgia. One evening in 1940, before testing a new type of parachute jump, the members of the test platoon went to the movies to see Geronimo (1939 with Andy Devine and Gene Lockhart). After the movie, private Ebenhart's fellow platoon members teased him for being nervous about the next day's jump. To prove that he was not nervous, he told his friends he would "yell Geronimo loud as hell when I go out that door tomorrow!," which he did. The call of the U.S. airborne troops was born.
T-shirt 2000
Patch 1990s
Magazine Ad
Geronimo: An American Legend 1993
Columbia Pictures
Jason Patric, Robert Duval, Gene Hackman, Wes Studi
Even though the title is Geronimo: An American Legend, this movie depicts the adventures of military men who fought Geronimo and their experiences in Apache country. In the final scene, Geronimo sits with other defeated members of his band on the train bound for Florida. He says, "For many years, the One God made me a warrior. No guns, no bullets could ever kill me. That was my power. Now my time is over. Now maybe the time of our people is over."
Geronimo 1993
Turner Pictures (made for TV)
Joseph Runningfox, Nick Ranus, Michelle St. John, Michael Greyeyes
This movie features an all-Native cast. The story of Geronimo's life unfolds as the aging man reminisces about the past while in Washington to participate in President Roosevelt's inauguration parade in 1905.
Geronimo! 1962
United Artists Corporation
Chuck Connors, Kamala Devi
Chuck Connors stars as Geronimo in this historical drama. Set in 1883 on the San Carlos Reservation, the film tells the story of the United States' betrayal of the Apache. Promises of land, food, and respect are broken. Geronimo leads a group of people in a break-out from the reservation and flees into the mountains of Mexico where they declare outright war on the U.S.
Indian Uprising: Geronimo on the Warpath Again! 1951
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
George Montgomery, Miguel Inclan
The plot in this movie is fictional. In 1885 Captain Case McCloud and his cavalry capture Geronimo. They urge him to sign a peace treaty that guarantees the Apache their territory. Corrupt mine workers and local officials try to kill a group of Indians. McCloud orders his men to fire on them and is court-martialed. But when Geronimo traps McCloud's successor with his company, McCloud persuades Geronimo to surrender peacefully. The court-martial is dropped and McCloud is promoted.
Starting in the late 19th century, American Indians began to participate in Wild West shows, fairs, and expositions. At these events they staged battles, reenacted outlawed ceremonies, and participated in buffalo hunts and mock attacks. For many people, the Wild West shows were the first and only time they saw American Indians. These shows and fairs thrilled audiences and excerpted a powerful influence upon hundreds of thousands of spectators in the U.S. and Europe. They cheered for their heroes, sneered at the defeated, or recoiled in horror at staged battles. Many of these events portrayed American Indians either as noble savages or reinforced other stereotypes of American Indians as ruthless warriors. As movies gained popularity in the early 1900s, the stereotypes created by the Wild West shows and fairs were transferred to the screen. Images of American Indians in the movies have ranged from sympathetic or empathetic to hostile.
Poster 1962
United Artists Corporation
Geronimo! 1994
Original release 1962
Chuck Connors, Kamala Devi
Lobby Card 1949
Lobby card for the 1939 movie, Geronimo.
Geronimo 1960s
Castle Films
Original release 1939
Preston Foster, Ralph Morgan, Gene Lockhart
Geronimo: An American Legend 1993
Columbia Pictures
Jason Patric, Robert Duval, Gene Hackman, Wes Studi
Geronimo 1993
Turner Pictures (made for TV)
Joseph Runningfox, Nick Ranus, Michelle St. John, Michael Greyeyes
Indian Uprising: Geronimo on the Warpath Again! 1951
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
George Montgomery, Miguel Inclan
Sheet Music 1917
"Apache Chief Geronimo's Own Medicine Song"
Published by Henry Grobe, San Francisco, California
The photo of Geronimo in the center of this sheet music cover was taken during the surrender negotiations with General Crook in 1886. In the upper left corner is a swastika, an ancient symbol found in American Indian cultures as well as in ancient China, Japan, India, Egypt, and Europe. Through time, the swastika has represented life, sun, power, strength, and good luck. In the 1920s, the swastika became the official symbol of the Nazi party and today this ancient symbol has come to represent the evils of Nazi Germany, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups.
Lobby Card 1993
This is a German lobby card for Geronimo: An American Legend.
The Apache are an Athapascan-speaking people who left the sub-arctic region of northwestern Canada and chose the Southwest as their new homeland between the 13th and 16th centuries. After Francisco Vasquez de Coronado introduced the horse to the region in the 1540s, the Apache adopted the horse and quickly became an equestrian culture. They were primarily nomadic and their economy was heavily dependent on hunting and gathering as well as raiding activities. The objects in this case represent traditional Apache culture.
Awl case ca. 1900
Western Apache
Hide, glass, beads, tin cones, brass buttons
An awl case was used to store an awl, a sharp-edged tool commonly used for working hides and making baskets.
Fiddle ca. 1920-1935
Attributed to Amos Gustina (1858-1945)
Northern Arizona
Agave flower stalk, pigments, baling wire, gut strings
Stringed instruments were extremely rare in American Indian cultures and the Apache fiddle was likely copied from Spanish or American examples. Apache men made fiddles from sections of yucca stalk, which was split, hollowed, tied together with buckskin or wire, and plugged at the ends. A single string of sinew was attached on the bottom and to a tuning peg on top. Men played the fiddle for pleasure and entertainment.
Saddlebag ca. 1880
Hide, trade cloth, ochre, pigment, metal, cord
Saddlebags are among the most impressive and striking pieces of horse equipment made by the Apache. The makers of these saddlebags emphasized their bold design work by placing red trade cloth underneath the cut-work patterns in the hide. On the lobby card for the German version of the movie Geronimo: An American Legend, Geronimo's horse is wearing a saddlebag much like this one.
Water Jar ca. 1900
Possibly sumac
To make a jar waterproof, it was first caulked with paste from ground juniper leaves and then sealed with pitch from the piñon tree that was melted and applied with a brush.
Wall case
Quiver, Bow, and Arrows 1904
Made by Geronimo
Hide, beads, cloth, wood, feathers, metal, pigments
This quiver case, bow, and arrows were purchased from Geronimo at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair by August A. Busch and donated to the Fenimore Art Museum by his grandson Adolphus B. Orthwein. Geronimo began making quivers and bows for sale while he was held a prisoner of war in the late 1880s.
Belt Buckle 1980s
Small freestanding Case
Images of American Indians have been widely used in tobacco advertisements for several centuries, owing to the European association of the Indian with the discovery of the New World. The most recognizable form of this phenomenon is the Cigar Store Indian figure that was popular in the late 19th century.
Cigarette Card 1930s
Heroes of History Series
Royal Bengals Little Cigars
Bubble Gum Card 1933
Goudey Gum Company
Matchbook ca. 1980
Telephone Card 1994
Go! Phone!, ACMI
Cigarette Premium ca. 1920s
Tokio Cigarettes
Commemorative Coin 2001
Premium ca. 1950
Nabisco Cereal Premium
Souvenir Gambling Chip 1990s
Jerry's Nugget, North Las Vegas, Nevada
Souvenir Gambling Chip 2000
Souvenir Gambling Chip 1990s
Harrahs, Las Vegas
Was Geronimo a hero or a villain? On some of these objects, he is described as the "cruel vicious Apache chief" who, with his "murderous band," caused death to settlers. On other items, he is "the great war chief(who) led rebellions against the injustices of the reservation system." The depictions of Geronimo also differ. On some objects he has a fearsome scowl, while on others he has a thoughtful, calm demeanor.
Post Card 2002
Photo by Edward Curtis
Post Card before 1917
Photo by Ed Erwin
First Day Cover 1993
Envelope September 4, 1982
Wall Case
T-shirt 1990's
Geronimo Shot Bar
Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
Geronimo Doll 1974
Louis Marx & Co, Inc.
Deck of Playing Cards 1996
Indian Chiefs of the Old West Card Game
U.S. Game Systems, Inc.
On this deck of cards, Geronimo is the king. Other famous Apaches include Cochise, leader of the central Chiricahuas and Victorio, leader of the Mimbrenos Apache.
Belt Buckle 1994
The Gap
Game 1995
The Avalon Hill Game Company
Indian Players fight for survival in the face of growing U.S. expansion in this board game. The U.S players strive for manifest destiny. Their aim is to expand their presence in each territory in order to turn the territories into states. Players change sides throughout the game to "experience both the thrill of empire building and the agony of inevitable defeat in equal proportions." Geronimo is described as the most famous and infamous of all Native Americans.
Comic Magazine November, 1964
"Two Gun Kid against Geronimo"
Marvel Comics Group
In this comic, Geronimo is portrayed as a man of his word. The villain is an Indian named Howling Wolf who murders Geronimo's nephew and plants false evidence that implicates a "PALEFACE." Even in his anger, Geronimo remains reasonable and becomes the hero of the story. Eventually with the help of Two-Gun Kid, peace and justice is restored. Geronimo bears a striking resemblance to Chuck Connors, the actor who portrays him in the 1962 film, Geronimo.
Promotional Card 1999
Team Geronimo

rev. 7/21/04

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