A Gallery of Images From Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience

A Gallery of Images From Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience

Lee Allen

Geronimo—it’s a name that looms large in Native American legacy and the history of the West based on colorful narratives of popular culture that made the man a representative figure.

Geronimo (Goyathlay, ‘one who yawns’) was the leader of the last American Indian fighting force to formally capitulate to the United States,” according to indigenouspeople.net.  “Because he fought against such daunting odds and held out the longest, he became the most famous Apache of all.”

His image became unprecedented in scope and depth, overshadowing other individuals of importance involved in the Apache conflict.  Following his final surrender in 1886, he became the focus of media attention.

“More photos were taken of him than any other Native American during that period—he became a symbol, the icon that is internationally recognized,” said Janet Cantley, curator of the year-long Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience exhibit opening February 11 at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

“He was astute in terms of playing on that theme of recognition and when the Chiricahua Apaches were removed from Arizona to Florida, crowds showed up along the train route to see who these people were that they had read about. Geronimo recognized that interest and capitalized on it, stepping forward at each stop to become the focal point of popularity.”

Using the legend’s life story as a window into the overall Apache experience, the exhibit promises to “tell the story of the strength and endurance of the Apache people” through public and private collections pulled in from across the United States and put together for the first time. “Combining these examples of photography, culture, and fine art, the exhibit includes historic artifacts never before seen by the general public,” says museum spokesman Alan di Perna.

The display combines personal objects and works of art from the Heard’s world-class collection with exemplary pieces from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian, the Autry National Center, other loan institutions, and a number of private lenders.

“We are fortunate to bring together these diverse collections that include historical and ethnographic artifacts as well as contemporary artists’ works,” added Cantley.  Beyond Geronimo will also portray other significant Apache events and leaders such as Alchesay, Naiche, Daklugie, and Cochise.

There is a certain amount of irony in discovering aspects of the man behind the myth. Born a Bedonkohe Apache in 1829, Geronimo the medicine man became Geronimo the fearless and infamous warrior during the Arizona Indian Wars of the 1880s.

While he was portrayed as a savage warrior with a blood lust image, “He was not a hereditary leader,” reports indigenouspeople.net. “He appeared so to outsiders because he often acted as spokesman for Chiricahua Chief Juh, his brother-in-law who had a speech impediment.”

Once he stopped fighting, Geronimo spent the remainder of his life as a prisoner of war and made the best of his fate by becoming a showman. He played on his fame by becoming an entrepreneur selling bows and arrows and other trinkets. He took center stage in Wild West shows, appeared publicly in the 1904 World’s Fair, and in President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade.

“We want to illuminate a dramatic and often misunderstood chapter in American history and culture,” said Cantly. “We want to tell the story that has not been told in terms of trying to dispel some of the myths of the Geronimo image by focusing on who he was as an individual.”

The Geronimo exhibit, an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project commemorating the 100th anniversary of Arizona statehood, will run through mid-January 2013 at the Heard Museum, 2301 North Central Ave., in Phoenix, Arizona, as part of its dozen long-term exhibit galleries.

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