Jun 162013

Geronimo3    geronimo1

Today is the birthday of the Apache leader Goyaałé “the one who yawns”(1829), commonly known by his adopted name Geronimo.  In his oral autobiography he states that he was born into the Bedonkohe-Apache, one of six sub-groups of the Apache now subsumed under the Chiricahua.  He was born near Turkey Creek, a tributary of the Gila River in the modern-day state of New Mexico, at the time claimed by Mexico. His grandfather (Mahko) had been chief of the Bedonkohe Apache. After the death of his father, his mother took him to live with the Chihenne-Apache and he grew up with them. He married a woman named Alope from the Nedni- Apache when he was 17 and they had three children. On March 6, 1858, a company of 400 Mexican soldiers from Sonora led by Colonel José María Carrasco attacked Geronimo’s camp outside Janos while the men were in town trading. Among those killed were his wife, children, and mother. The loss of his family led Geronimo to hate all Mexicans for the rest of his life.  From that point until he surrendered in 1886, Geronimo was arguably the fiercest and most persistent enemy of Mexicans, making frequent raids on their towns, and on U.S. settlers who steadily encroached on Apache ancestral lands.

Geronimo’s obituary in the New York Times, is surprisingly laudatory for the times:

“As the leader of the warring Apaches of the Southwestern territories in pioneer days, Geronimo gained a reputation for cruelty and cunning never surpassed by that of any other American Indian chief. For more than twenty years he and his men were the terror of the country, always leaving a trail of bloodshed and devastation. The old chief was captured many times, but always got away again, until his final capture, in 1886, by a small command of infantry scouts under Capt. H.W. Lawton.”

The obit. also tells this story told by Gen. Wood who was in charge of Fort Sill when Geronimo was a prisoner there:

“About 2 o’clock in the afternoon the old Indian came to me and asked to see my rifle. It was a Hotchkiss, and he said he had never seen its mechanism. When he asked me for the gun and some ammunition I must confess I felt a little nervous, for I thought it might be a device to get hold of one of our weapons. I made no objection, however, and let him have it, showing him how to use it. He fired at a mark, just missing one of his own men who was passing. This he regarded as a great joke, rolling on the ground and laughing heartily and shouting, ‘Good gun.’ ”

Gen Miles said of Geronimo in his memoirs (also quoted in the obit.):

“He was one of the brightest, most resolute, determined-looking men that I have ever encountered. He had the clearest, sharpest dark eye I think I have ever seen, unless it was that of Gen. Sherman.”

Geronimo died in captivity in 1909 of pneumonia following a fall from a horse.  On his deathbed, he confessed to his nephew that he regretted his decision to surrender. His last words as reported by his nephew were, “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

Traditional Apache cooking is fairly typical of the North American Southwest, staples being boiled or roasted meats, boiled corn, and stone baked flatbreads.  Such dishes are still very common throughout the region (with the addition of some herbs and spices of European origin, as well as domesticated meats).   Most of the traditional recipes are very basic, along the lines of “take a piece of meat and boil it in water until cooked.” Here is a recipe from a modern Apache collection that is slightly more complex.  Deep frying has become common in Southwest cooking, fry bread being now a classic.  These sunflower cakes can be served with any meat dish.

Apache Sunflower Cakes


1 lb (.5 k) peeled sunflower seeds
pinch of salt
2 tbsp (15 g) all purpose flour
Oil for deep frying


Put the sunflower seeds and salt in a pan and just cover with water.

Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.

Take half the seeds and finely chop them in a blender or food processor.

In large mixing bowl mix the chopped seeds with flour, then add the whole seeds and mix thoroughly. The mixture should be sticky.

Scoop out the mixture into 1 inch (2.5 cm) balls and flatten them with your hands.

Heat the oil to 350°F/175°

Drop the cakes a few at a time into the hot oil until the edges turn slightly brown (flipping at least once). Do not overcook them.

Take out the cooked cakes with a slotted spoon and drain them on a wire rack.

Serves 6 to 8 (with other dishes)