May 16, 2009

Alternatives in Geronimo

Continuing the discussion of Geronimo, the fourth episode of PBS's We Shall Remain series:

It's always interesting to me to think of how history could've been different, and the We Shall Remain series has provided a lot of fodder for this.

Geronimo's story happened much too late to stem the tide of US history. But it's possible he and the Chiricahuas could've preserved most or all of their Apacheria homeland. Let's see how it could've happened.

  • First, there's the scenario in Jake Page's Apacheria, which I've mentioned before:In this riveting, action-packed alternate history, the Apaches forge their own bold nation and enter the world of racketeering and politics--all the while maintaining their traditional ways--as a new neighbor to a United States that will never be the same again....

    In 1884 only one thing stood in the way of United States expansion: the Apaches. The U.S. Army believed it could easily defeat this ragtag band of savages who viewed one another more as rivals than allies. But one of those "savages" was a military genius: Juh, "He Who Sees Ahead." It was Juh's vision that persuaded the various tribal leaders to set aside their differences and work together, thus turning the disconnected bands of warring Apaches into the most cohesive fighting force the West had ever seen--and crushing the invading army.

    Thus was born Apacheria--the Apache Nation--and a world where Juh and his son, Little Spring, matched wits and weapons with a cast ranging from Teddy Roosevelt and Carrie Nation to Al Capone and J. Edgar Hoover. A world where it was best to stand with the Apaches, and never against them....
    In short, Arizona in the 1880s was up for grabs like the Ohio Valley in the 1810s. Apacheria postulates that Juh could've played a role similar to Tecumseh's, who almost led his confederacy to victory.

    In reality, Juh died just before the events of this novel. I don't know if he had the "vision thing" or could've united the disparate bands. But the Apacheria scenario itself is plausible. If not Juh, someone could've done it. Perhaps another Apache leader whose life was cut short.

  • The Chiricahuas' first agreement with the Americans fell apart after Cochise died. If he had lived a few years longer, the outcome might've been different.

  • Dreaming away the whites

  • Nochaydelklinne (called the Dreamer in Geronimo) was leading an Apache revival similar to Tenskwatawa's when he was killed in an Army attack. If he had survived, he could've been a unifying force. His movement was spiritual, but a military leader like Tecumseh could've wielded the bands as a weapon.

  • A website describes Nochaydelklinne's effect on the Apaches:For ten years, Nochaydelklinne dreamed his way into the subconscious of his people, arousing them to a fervor of devotion and trust. He was probably of the White Mountain band, although different scholars tell different ancestry. It is know that he stayed among the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations, and he had become the center of revival-type Apache gatherings which preached that the whites would soon be driven away and that two chiefs would soon return from the dead. This caused great excitement among the bands and led to the Ghost Dance, which caused so much worry to the Army.

    The Apaches were not one tribe as in other cultures. They were independent bands, and some of them were bitter enemies. The government refused to recognize this distinction, and when it forced a number of bands from Arizona and New Mexico together onto the San Carlos Reservation, it was only a matter of time before hostilities erupted. As the Apache watched in growing desperation, they became crowded with their enemies, whites overran their lands, and dishonest agents sold their rations, forcing them to go hungry. Apaches everywhere accepted the promises of Nochaydelklinne.

    By 1881, Nochaydelklinne was a full-fledged prophet attracting larger and larger crowds. ... Already, Apaches who had previously been mortal enemies were beginning to fraternize. Scouts, who received passes from the Army to attend the revivals, overstayed their time and returned to camp exhausted, surly, and insubordinate, which was totally out of character because they had been completely loyal and trustworthy.
  • Geronimo was corralled the second time because Tzoe ("Peaches") returned to San Carlos and told the Army his position. Geronimo could've prevented this by killing Tzoe--or, better yet, by treating him kindly.

    More to the point, or if Gerinomo hadn't forced Chief Loco's people to accompany him, he wouldn't have had to worry about betrayal by disgruntled Chiricahuas. He might've been able to go on fighting and fleeing for years.

  • Finally, Geronimo probably doomed his chances with his death-dealing tactics. It doesn't seem likely that the US ever would've let a "vicious killer" roam free.

    But what if Geronimo had done the opposite a la Robin Hood? Robbing the rich and giving to the poor, fighting the tyrannical government while helping the suffering settlers, acting nobly and never killing people unnecessarily. He probably would've gained more support as a folk hero than a villain--perhaps enough to earn a measure of freedom.

  • For more possible scenarios, see Was Native Defeat Inevitable? For more on Geronimo, see American Views in Geronimo and Review of Geronimo.

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