Imagining Geronimo: An Apache Icon in Popular Culture

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: 27-1: Tribal College Communities, Media Reviews

imagining-geronimo-clementsBy William M. Clements
University of New Mexico Press (2013)
305 pages

Review by Edwin R. Sweeney

William M. Clements has written an engrossing and insightful study of one of the American West’s most iconic figures. He recounts how Geronimo has “remained alive in the mainstream American imagination and beyond.” The author points out that the image of Geronimo has “wavered between highly negative portrayals casting him as the consummate incarnation of savagery and positive depictions in which he embodies freedom, courage, and principled defiance against overwhelming odds.”

Clements covers the historical Geronimo through the shaman’s raiding and his relationships with American military figures Generals George Crook and Nelson Miles. He discusses the turning point of Geronimo’s life, when he lost his family in a massacre by Sonoran soldiers at Janos, Chihuahua, in 1851. This emotional heartbreak led him to hate most Mexicans and was the principal reason for his waging war against Mexico for the rest of his days while a free Apache.

Some of the most interesting new anecdotal material came as a result of Geronimo attending three World Fairs and also President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural reception. It was his presence that attracted a large attendance at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. His most important wish was to return to his ancestral homes in Arizona or New Mexico. But the citizens of Arizona still remembered his days as a raider and wanted no part of his return.

Clements’ book also adds to our historical knowledge of Geronimo. He includes an impression of Geronimo from the recollections of Father Albert Braun, who had heard stories from another priest who knew Geronimo at Fort Sill. Geronimo told him that White men “had fired a cannon into an Apache encampment and killed his sister.” This description is a clear reference to the Johnson slaughter of Apaches on April 22, 1837, in the Animas Mountains of southwestern New Mexico. Another revealing interview uncovered by Clements was a talk that Geronimo had with Francis E. Leupp, Commissioner of Indian Affairs at the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1905, in which the Apache tried to set the record straight about his position as a medicine man, not a chief, among the Chiricahuas.

Clements has accomplished his goal of fleshing out the man from the cultural icon. This book should be in the library of anyone interested in the American West or American Indians.

Edwin R. Sweeney is author of several books on the Apaches, including the epic From Cochise to Geronimo.

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