Inside the Capitol

Sunday, February 22, 2009

3-2 Geronimo Brings National Attention to State

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The bones of famed Apache warrior Geronimo may return to his southwestern New Mexico home as the result of a lawsuit filed by his great-grandson, Harlyn Geronimo.
Readers who have seen my Billy the Kid columns know of my disinclination toward digging up graves. But this would be done for long-held cultural reasons. That softens my feelings about grave desecration a little, but not much.
Nevertheless, returning Geronimo to the homeland from which he was forcibly taken and held captive in Oklahoma and Florida for the next 23 years until his death has a certain appeal.
Geronimo died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909 and was buried in the Apache prisoner of war cemetery. For many years there has been a story that members of the secret Skull and Bones Society at Yale University broke into the grave in 1918 and stole Geronimo's skull and some bones for their clubhouse
On the 100th anniversary of Geronimo's death, 20 of his direct descendents filed suit against the federal government and the Order of Skull and Bones for the return of Geronimo's remains because he will not be at peace until he is back in his homeland.
The Geronimo family is not just grasping at straws. The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act gives lineal descendents a priority claim.
In 1913, four years after Geronimo's death, the government finally released the Apache POWs and gave them the choice of staying in Oklahoma or returning to the Mescalero Apache tribe in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico.
Most chose to stay in Oklahoma but about a quarter of them returned. Among them were the ancestors of Harlyn Geronimo, an artist and former Tribal Council member.
Five years ago, the Geronimo family dedicated a rock monument near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument to their famous ancestor. Presumably this is the area of the Gila Wilderness, near Turkey Creek, to which they would return Geronimo's remains.
The Apaches from that area were members of the Bedonkohe Band of Chiricahua Apaches. When Geronimo was a young warrior, Mangas Coloradas was the chief.
In 1851, Geronimo's mother, wife and two children were slain by Mexican troops attempting to put down uprisings in the area. Enraged, Geronimo went to Cochise, the famous chief of a neighboring band of Chiricahuas across the border in southeastern Arizona for help in revenge against the Mexicans.
It was the Mexicans who gave him the name Geronimo. During an attack on a Mexican encampment, he repeatedly stabbed the soldiers with a knife, despite a hail of bullets. Legend says the soldiers began loudly appealing to San Jeronimo for protection. The name stuck.
During the next 35 years, Geronimo ranged from southeastern Arizona, throughout southern New Mexico and into west Texas, forming alliances with other bands of Chiracahua Apaches, such as Victorio, chief of the Hot Springs Apaches.
But southwest New Mexico was his home base. Recently the Fort Sill Apaches, who remained in Oklahoma, sought permission to open a casino at Akela, on Interstate 10 halfway between Las Cruces and Deming. They claimed a right to the territory because it was their original homeland. They have made little headway with New Mexico government officials.
The national media has picked up on the Geronimo story in a big way. The fierce Apache has become the gold standard for bravery. His name is shouted as troops jump out of planes or head into battle. This lawsuit may put his name on even more lips.
Increasing the interest in the Geronimo story is the tie to three generations of the Bush family. Prescott Bush reportedly was one of the Skull and Bones members who stole Geronimo's skull and bones from his Fort Sill grave. Bush's son and grandson who both became president also were members of that secret society and haven't been willing to shed any light on the situation.
MON, 3-02-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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