Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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Summary and Analysis Chapter 17: The Last of the Apache Chiefs

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539

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Geronimo: Apache chief who was made notorious through rumors of his atrocities and was forced onto a reservation in 1894.

Victorio: Apache chief, leader of Warm Spring band, who was killed in 1880 after making raids in Mexico and the U.S..

Cochise’s death in 1874 leads to divisions within the Apache tribe, and the Apaches, split into factions, take to raiding white settlements. The government then receives “reports of trouble on the Chiricahua reservation.” The Chiricahua Apaches resist ensuing government efforts to remove them from their White Mountain reservation to the San Carlos agency. They flee to Mexico and take to raiding the Mexicans for their cattle and horses in order to buy supplies from whites in New Mexico. Agent John Clum transfers Victorio and most of the other Warm Springs Apaches to the San Carlos agency, but conditions there disintegrate over the summer of 1877 due to insufficient rations and the invasion of a corner of the reservation by miners. Victorio leads his band off the reservation and flees to the Mimbres Mountains with 80 warriors in order to escape capture by the Army. His growing band of warriors take to killing and torturing settlers in 1879, and after the U.S. and Mexico make a joint effort to hunt him down, he and much of his band are killed on October 14, 1880, by Mexican soldiers. Geronimo and roughly 70 other Chiricahuas, afraid of their possible arrest, flee the White Mountain reservation in September 1881 and return to the reservation with substantial arms and equipment in April 1882, intent on freeing as many Apaches as possible. Although their band is caught by the Army’s cavalry at Horse Shoe Canyon, many chiefs and warriors successfully escape to Mexico. General Crook then takes command of the reservation and introduces reforms while planning to negotiate with Geronimo and the other Apache guerrillas in Mexico. A negotiated return of Geronimo and his band leads to them arriving at San Carlos in February 1884. However, a group of 132 Apaches flee the reservation on May 17, 1885, perhaps because they are drunk, or perhaps because of renewed fears of their arrest. The steady spread of invented atrocity stories about Geronimo, combined with anger over his band’s flight from the reservation, leads to orders for Crook to demand surrender from him, which he does on March 25, 1886. Geronimo takes flight again, though, and is captured by General Miles’ soldiers in summer 1886. He and his Chiricahuas are taken first to Florida, then, in 1894, to Fort Sill.

Geronimo, like the Utes, fell victim to media propaganda. It seems probable that the wild rumors about his savagery came from both the plain fact that his escape from his reservation scared whites and from the true savageries committed by Victorio. Brown writes that some whites, such as General Crook, John Clum, and Hugh Scott, aided the Apaches. Brown, though, appears to present those whites as exceptions. Most whites, Brown asserts, were irrevocably hostile to the idea of freedom for the Apaches. Whatever the case, Geronimo was, as Brown writes, “the last of the Apache chiefs.” The ongoing themes of separating an Indian tribe from its homeland, ruthless pursuit of the Indians, and steady invasion of a tribe’s land are all prevalent in this chapter.

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