Geronimo is portrayed by Wyatt as a leader. At the time of this book’s writing, many people, upon hearing the name “Geronimo,” would think of a murderous savage. Wyatt seeks instead to present the individual, his motivation, the world of the Native American, and the reasons that the wars between whites and Native Americans occurred.
Probably the most basic theme impressed upon the young reader is that the Apache nation took what it needed, exactly as other Americans bought or made what they needed. The tribe hunted animals to use their meat and hides. It simply did not occur to the Apaches that taking could be perceived as wrong—it was the way in which they lived. Whites criticized the Apache way of life and tried to destroy their livelihood. This point, while not stated directly, is evident in several passages.
Apache customs, especially colorful ones, will intrigue the young mind. For example, to find out if his sweetheart will marry him, a warrior ties some horses to her family’s wickiup, or hut. The father then comes out and casually examines the horses, to see if they meet with his approval. If he leaves the horses, then he is signifying his blessing. The woman will then come out and, if she likes the suitor, will take the horses to the creek for water. The young warrior waits in the bushes to discover whether his suit is successful.
The emotional level of the biography is suitable for the 1950’s young reader because the action, while in reality extremely violent, takes on a detached feeling. Consequently, some readers may find the narrative a trifle bland. In the course of this chronological story, the reader first empathizes with Geronimo as a young boy, then worries over his mistakes as an adolescent, and then follows his story when he becomes a...
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Wyatt’s study of Geronimo was probably one of the earliest attempts to focus attention on Native American rights, especially with regard to land. Yet it was not until the next decade that the wrongful treatment of Native Americans began to be examined, recognized, and acknowledged publicly. Nevertheless, this book was an early part of the movement to focus attention on Native American history from the perspective of Native Americans themselves.
The earlier chapters of Geronimo are fictionalized, as they constitute a composite of Geronimo’s autobiographical data from that era, both for effect and because of text space and the audience. This portrayal of Apache life was obviously intended to gain the sympathy of young readers, as well as to educate them. Three autobiographies are cited in the bibliography, including Geronimo’s, as well as ten nonfiction books that were published during Geronimo’s lifetime or within twenty years of his death.
Wyatt’s biography was published twenty years after a time period in which many books had been written about Geronimo that expressed the keen public interest in the legendary Apache war chief. It is interesting that Wyatt uses the proper terminology for the different Apache peoples long before the era in which their names became generally known. This biography, written especially for young people, is important in juvenile literature because of its empathy with Native Americans.