“The Worst Indian Who Ever Lived”

Geronimo (1829-1909)

  • Geronimo was an Apache war leader and medicine man.
  • Although he was highly feared and respected, he was too unpopular to ever be made a chief.
  • He fought the Mexican and U.S. Armies over Apache land.
  • His hatred for Mexicans came after they murdered his mother, young wife, and three children.
  • Although he later had eight other wives, Geronimo’s legendary aggression was fuelled by this horrific crime.
  • He became one of the most brutal warriors on record and committed several infamous atrocities.
  • White settlers called him “the worst Indian who ever lived.”  In one raid he “pillaged ranches, swept up livestock, and killed randomly, torturing men in every conceivable way, roasting women alive, and tossing children into nests of needle-crowned cacti” (Cozzens, 385).
  • Geronimo’s followers believed he had supernatural powers, including prophecy and magical protection.  Rifles jammed when trying to shoot him, and anyone riding with him was also protected from bullets.  It was said he could make rain, and stop the sun from rising.
  • During the Apache wars he “surrendered” three times and was sent to a reservation in Arizona.  Each time he escaped.
  • After his third breakout in 1885 he was exiled to Florida.
  • In later life the war leader became a celebrity, appearing in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade, and signing autographs at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
  • He died in the Fort Sill hospital of pneumonia following a riding accident.
  • Chatto (an Apache leader) said, “I have known Geronimo all my life up to his death and have never known anything good about him.”
  • Lieutenant Britton Davis (U.S Army) called him a “thoroughly vicious, intractable, and treacherous man,” whose only redeeming qualities were “courage and determination” (Cozzens, 380).


Cozzens, Peter. The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West (New York: Knopf, 2016)

History Lists, “7 Things You may Not Know About Geronimo,” at http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-geronimo

Wikipedia, “Geronimo,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geronimo


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