Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Will Geronimo come home to the Gila?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — The 100th anniversary of the death of legendary Chiricahua Apache leader and warrior Geronimo will be marked with an attempt to return “bring him home.”
Carlos Melendrez of Las Cruces said efforts to “repatriate” Geronimo’s remains from Ft. Sill, Okla., to a site in the Gila Wilderness will be announced today. 2/16/09 Feb. 17
“Tuesday Feb. 17 will mark the one hundred year anniversary of the death of Geronimo yet he remains imprisoned, in spite of presidential promises to the contrary. At 10 a.m. EST (Feb. 17), former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Harlyn Geronimo and Carlos (Charlie) Melendrez will hold a press conference in Washington D.C. to announce the filing of a lawsuit under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The lawsuit is to force compliance and repatriate Geronimo to his birthplace,” according to an e-mail from Melendrez.
Melendrez, a Las Cruces native and long-time activist who worked with Cesar Chavez and on a variety of environmental courses in California before his return to New Mexico, said the lawsuit is the result of extensive research and consultation with Geronimo’s descendants and with Clark, who played a crucial role in the American Civil Rights movement as U.S. Attorney General during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration and has since handled a variety of high-profile and often controversial international cases.
“This campaign has taken 4 and 1/2 years to reach this point,” Melendrez said. He said he expects the press conference to be broadcast on C-SPAN at about 10 a.m. EST (8 a.m. Las Cruces time) on Feb. 17.
In a May 1, 2007, interview with the Las Cruces Sun-News, Harlyn Geronimo of Mescalero identified himself as the great-grandson of Geronimo and said he wants to see the return of Geronimo’s remains from his “burial in captivity” in Fort Sill, Okla., and to “complete a cycle” by establishing a final resting place in his New Mexico homeland.
A properly consecrated final burial is a crucial and sacred part of Apache spiritual beliefs and traditions, he said.
“When a baby is born, there is a blessing ceremony and the afterbirth is buried there, and that’s where my great-grandfather should be buried, under the juniper trees where he was born. This area is sacred to tradition. In order to complete the cycle, we must bring his remains to the birth area to have his spirit complete and join to the next world. We hope that we could have a fitting memorial in these ancestral lands.”
Geronimo wants to create a 12-foot bronze of his great-grandfather to be placed at the warrior’s Gila Wilderness birthplace.
After decades of eluding capture, Geronimo surrendered to Gen. Nelson Miles on Sept. 4, 1886, officially becoming “the last American Indian force formally to capitulate to the United States,” according to a history provided by Melendrez and Geronimo’s family members.
The government transported Geronimo and nearly 450 Apache men, women, and children to Florida for confinement in Forts Marion and Pickens. Many of the group were relocated to the Mt. Vernon barracks in Alabama, where about one quarter died from tuberculosis and other diseases. In 1894, they were removed to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. On Feb. 17, 1909, Geronimo “died as a prisoner of war, unable to return to his homeland,” and was buried in Fort Sill, Okla.
Harlyn Geronimo, who is also a medicine man, an artist, sculptor, actor and filmmaker, has focused on accurate portrayals of his people and their traditions. He was a consultant for a History Channel documentary on “The Apache Wars,” and other films and documentaries.
In his 2007 Sun-News interview, Geronimo said he would like the world to know that his relative was not only a warrior, but also was a healer and spiritual leader and he wants to share the oral history cherished by a family of descendants that includes his siblings, his cousins and their children and grandchildren.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com
dmoore 2/16/09

ONLINE EXTRA: An interview with Harlyn Geronimo explaining the reasons for the lawsuit appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on May 13, 2007

About Geronimo
(Sources: Carlos Melendrez of Las Cruces and Geronimo’s descendants, including Harlyn Geronimo of Mescalero)
1829: Geronimo was born near the headwaters of Gila River in what is now New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness
1858: Returning home from a trading excursion into Mexico, he found his first wife, his mother and his three young children had been murdered by Spanish troops from Mexico.
1875: All Apaches west of the Rio Grande were ordered to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Geronimo escaped from the reservation three times and although he eventually surrendered, he always managed to avoid capture.
1876: The U.S. Army tried to move the Chiricahuas onto a reservation, but Geronimo fled to Mexico, eluding U.S. troops for over a decade. Historians say the last few months of the campaign to track down Geronimo and his band required over 5,000 soldiers, one-quarter of the entire Army at the time, along with 500 scouts, and about 3,000 Mexican soldiers. He finally agreed to spend the last part of the 1870s at the Arizona reservation.
1881: An Apache prophet was killed and Geronimo and his group escaped to a secret camp in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
1882: Apache scouts working for the U.S. Army persuaded Geronimo to return with his people to the reservation.
1885: Persecution and arrests of Apaches prompted Geronimo to flee on May 17, 1885, with 35 warriors and 109 women, children and youths.
1886: Geronimo surrendered to Gen. Nelson Miles on Sept. 4, 1886, and became the last American Indian force formally to capitulate to the United States. The government breached its agreement and transported Geronimo and nearly 450 Apache men, women, and children to Florida for confinement in Forts Marion and Pickens. Many of the group were relocated to the Mt. Vernon barracks in Alabama, where about one quarter died from tuberculosis and other diseases.
1894: They were removed to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Geronimo became a rancher, appeared (1904) at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade.
Feb. 17, 1909: Geronimo died as a prisoner of war, unable to return to his homeland. He was buried in Fort Sill, Okla.

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Harlyn Geronimo grew up with a proud heritage and he’s concerned about its preservation ... and the peace of a famous relative’s soul.
He is the great-grandson of the famed Geronimo and would like the world to know that the internationally renowned Chiricahua Apache warrior was also a healer and spiritual leader. He wants to share the oral history cherished by a family of descendants that includes his siblings, his cousins and their children and grandchildren.
And he longs to “complete a cycle” by bringing his great-grandfather’s final resting place to his New Mexico homeland.
He wants to create a 12-foot bronze of his great-grandfather to be placed at the warrior’s Gila Wilderness birthplace, and he would like to see the return of Geronimo’s remains from his “burial in captivity” in Fort Sill, Okla.
A properly consecrated final burial is a crucial and sacred part of Apache spiritual beliefs and traditions, he explained.
“When a baby is born, there is a blessing ceremony and the afterbirth is buried there, and that’s where my great-grandfather should be buried, under the juniper trees where he was born. This area is sacred to tradition. In order to complete the cycle, we must bring his remains to the birth area to have his spirit complete and join to the next world. We hope that we could have a fitting memorial in these ancestral lands.”
He remembers hearing stories about his great-grandfather from Geronimo’s wife, his great-grandmother Kate.
“I was a child then. My mother Manuella used to take me to Kate’s place and I would sit there and listen. I heard about the times Geronimo went down into Mexico,” said Harlyn, whose father Juanito was the son of Juan, who was the son of Kate and Geronimo.
He also heard stories about the meeting of his great-grandparents.
“Kate told me that she and 18 other people came from the Mescalero area into Black Range, looking for wild deer and berries, they heard some noise and horses and got into camp and found Geronimo and his band coming back and met a war party. My great-grandmother and great-grandfather were both members of the eastern band of the Chiricahua.”
Like other kids of his era — he turns 60 in November — dmoore 2/16/09 this would be 62 now he also grew up hearing his great-grandfather’s name invoked in connection with acts of bravery and derring-do ... and also recalls hearing shouts of “Geronimo!” during his two tours of duty with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
He wants the world to know more about his great-grandfather.
“Yes, he was a great warrior. At one time a quarter of the entire United States Army was after him, along with 500 scouts and 3,000 men from the Mexican Army. And they still couldn’t find him. They had their top athletes involved in tracking him but they couldn’t keep up. He was a great military strategist. But many people don’t know about his spiritual side. He was also a medicine man, a prophet and a great leader. People are still studying what he knew and they should,” said Harlyn, who believes the warrior’s stamina under duress is linked to his knowledge as a medicine man. “Like the food they ate when the army was after them: jerky is 100 percent protein. They were on the Atkins diet,” he quipped. “They also knew a lot about medicinal herbs.
Harlyn would like to see a new biography of Geronimo that incorporates sound historical research and also mines the wealth of information still available from living family members.
“We have a lot of oral history that has been passed down to us that has never been published,” he said.
He also wants what he feels is an appropriate and dignified final resting place for his famed relative, who, he said, was buried in exile, “still being held prisoner” in a grave in Fort Sill, Okla., in 1909.
After decades of eluding capture, Geronimo surrendered to Gen. Nelson Miles on Sept. 4, 1886, officially becoming “the last American Indian force formally to capitulate to the United States.”
What historians have failed to note is that a love story was involved in the surrender.
The government breached its agreement and transported nearly 450 Apache men, women, and children from their Southwestern homelands to Florida for confinement in Forts Marion and Pickens.
“First the women were sent. Geronimo had married my great-grandmother Kate around that time, and he wanted to be with her, so he had to go to Florida,” Harlyn said.
In 1894, Geronimo and other survivors were transferred to Oklahoma.
“He died there without ever being allowed to return to his homelands.”
Geronimo, he said, should have been laid to rest at a site near the headwaters of the Gila River in the Gila Wilderness, where he was born in 1829.
Harlyn, who is also a medicine man, an artist, sculptor, actor and filmmaker, has focused on accurate portrayals of his people and their traditions.
He was involved in the Discovery Channel documentary “Lozen,” about the Apache woman warrior and prophetic spiritual leader.
“She is one of the masters of military tactics and was the sister of the Apache chief Victorio.”
He portrayed the Cheyenne Chief One-Eye in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning “Into the West” series for TNT and was a consultant for a History Channel documentary on “The Apache Wars.” He is currently working with a French film company on a project that will take him this summer to Europe and then to Mongolia to study migrations of indigenous peoples through land passages from Asia to the North American continent.
“My wife Karen is a teacher who teaches Apache,” he said, and they have found intriguing similarities between Apache and ancient Asia dialects. Like Harlyn and his great-grandfather, Karen Geronimo is a healer, a medicine woman knowledgeable about traditional herbal remedies.
Legends abound in his homeland about Geronimo’s knowledge of the healing arts. Several sites in Southern New Mexico claim to host healing springs frequented by the famous leader. Truth or Consequences has named Geronimo Springs Museum for him and devotes a room to exhibits and artifacts focusing on his life and times.
Harlyn, who has also been actively involved as a leader with the Mescalero Apache Tribal Council, now lives with his wife in the mountains of Mescalero. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.
For their sake, he wants to help pass on a clear picture of their heritage.
In online searches, he said he has found as many as 15 million references to his famed ancestor, who has been the subject of numerous movies, books, short stories, song and poems.
“There is a lot that is negative. My family has so much oral history that should not be lost. We want to pass on the truth about Geronimo and the Apache culture,” he said.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com

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