About the Author
Mike Leach is a legendary college football coach and New York Times bestselling author of Swing Your Sword. He has appeared on 60 Minutes and has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, and USA TODAY. He is the only college coach ever featured by NFL Films.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Buddy Levy is the author of Conquistador, River of Darkness, and American Legend. He is co-star of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on H2 (History Channel), and has been featured or reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.
Geronimo CHAPTER ONE
The Making of a Warrior (Discipline)
They Called Him Geronimo: What’s in a Name?
GERONIMO WAS BORN in 1823 at the headwaters of the Gila River east of the border of present-day Arizona and New Mexico.I His Bedonkohe (pronounced Bed-on-koh-hey) Apache name was Goyahkla, meaning “One Who Yawns.” But he wasn’t bored or boring. He was defiant, independent, and exceptional. The story of how he got his later name is a good one. In a revenge attack against the Mexicans, the young warrior Goyahkla fought like a fiend, rushing in repeatedly from cover, killing an enemy with every charge, and stealing the dead man’s rifle. Each time he came at them, the Mexicans cried out in terror, “Look out, Geronimo!”—mispronouncing his given name or calling out for the help of Saint Jerome (which translates in Spanish to “Geronimo”). His Apache people took up the battle cry, and “Goyahkla” became “Geronimo.”1
During his raids and escapes across the American Southwest, the mention of his name had the power to enrage the highest brass of the U.S. military—including presidents—and to terrify white settlers who bolted their doors and windows and scribbled frantic letters to the White House begging for protection. Over time, Geronimo’s name has come to symbolize courage, daring, wild abandon, and leadership. Revering his courage, World War II paratroopers shouted “GERONIMO!” as they leaped from airplanes into battle.
The first time I ever heard the name “Geronimo” was as a small child watching Bugs Bunny. I think it involved Yosemite Sam yelling “GERONIMO!” as he was preparing to pull one of his courageous and daring stunts. The last significant time I heard the name Geronimo was when U.S. Navy SEALs moved in to kill Osama bin Laden. The mission was code-named “Geronimo,” which caused considerable controversy. I can’t think of another historical figure whose name has withstood the test of time and been used in as many contexts as Geronimo’s. His name is consistently associated with courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.
THE CHIRICAHUA APACHE BANDS AND THEIR RANGE
Geronimo was a member of the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache. The Chiricahua—the most warlike of all the Apache tribes—were split up into local bands, each band following one or more chiefs. Before the whites came, the Chiricahua range included what is today called southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and the northern parts of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.
Geronimo’s Bedonkohe band was flanked by three other Chiricahua bands. Farthest south, below the border that in 1848 would divide the United States and Mexico, dwelled the Nednhi (Ned-nee) band. They inhabited the harsh, rugged terrain of the Sierra Madre in northern Sonora—a place Geronimo would come to deeply love and where he would spend much time. Southwest of the Bedonkohe—comprising the Dragoon and Chiricahua mountains and valleys in southeastern Arizona—lived the Chokonen (Cochise’s band—he would become their greatest chieftain). The Chihenne (Chee-hen-ee) band lived to the east, between the Mimbres River and the Rio Grande. They were called the “Red Paint People.”
The main bands were allies, and if necessary, they banded together in wartime when large numbers of warriors were needed. There were also subgroups within these main groups, with the Warm Springs band the most prominent of many Chihenne subgroups. All of the bands had similar life-ways, cultural practices, and language.
Not all the Apache tribes were friendly, however. The White Mountain Apache to the west—the largest division of the Western Apache—sometimes scrapped with the Chiricahua Apache; they raided each other’s lands and even stole each other’s women.
But throughout most of Geronimo’s life, these groups all got along peacefully. During Geronimo’s lifetime, the entire Chiricahua tribe at its height—including all bands—numbered just three thousand people. (There were probably never more than ten to twelve thousand Apache living at any one time in their entire history.) The population in Geronimo’s day became severely depleted due to warfare, and later, as they succumbed to incarceration and disease.
Sources: Mails, The People Called Apache, 11–17, 207–210. Opler, An Apache Life-Way, 1–4. Sweeney, Cochise, 4–6. Utley, Geronimo, 7. There’s also a great summary from remaining Fort Sill Apache members on their tribal history: http://www.fortsillapache-nsn.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5&Itemid=6.
WARRIOR TRAINING—ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE
>>Pre–Warrior Training and Apprenticeship
GERONIMO GREW UP on the middle fork of the Gila River, near the famous Gila cliff dwellings in southwestern New Mexico. Geronimo and his people camped there, protected by towering canyon walls. By now the buffalo were all but gone, and the Apache had become mountain people, tough and adaptable, able to thrive in mountains other humans found unlivable. In winter they’d move to the lower valleys to hunt. Though nomadic, the Apache did tend small tracts of beans, corn, melons, and pumpkins, stashing their harvest in secret caves for the lean, harsh winters. Geronimo’s family lived in clusters of dome-shaped brush houses called wickiups, roofed with yucca-leaf strands. They also sometimes slept in taller, peak-shaped tepees like those used by Plains Indians.
Geronimo recalled his childhood fondly: “As a babe I rolled on the dirt floor of my father’s tepee, hung in my tsoch [Apache name for cradleboard] at my mother’s back, or suspended from the bough of a tree. I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds, and sheltered by the trees as other Indian babes.”2 His mother taught him the legends of his people, stories about the sky and stars; his father told him of the brave deeds of their warriors, about hunting, and about the “glories of the warpath.”3
From Geronimo’s earliest memories he was a warrior. He and the other boys played hide-and-seek among the rocks and cottonwoods along the river, pretending to be warriors. They practiced sneaking up on made-up enemies—rocks or trees—and hid for many hours, utterly silent, practicing the stealth and patience they would need when they became warriors. This early practice would pay dividends later.
Geronimo’s entire boyhood was a long and rigorous apprenticeship in hunting, gathering, physical fitness, mental toughness, horsemanship, and warfare. To develop their deadly accuracy, the boys cut willow branches, then rolled little mud pellets in their hands and stuck them on the ends for spear points; these were whipped at birds on branches and rodents on the ground. They made slingshots from animal hide and sinew, and they shot bows and arrows from an early age, practicing hours on end for distance and accuracy. They were so into shooting their arrows that they sometimes stayed out all day, never stopping, not even to eat.4
LESSON: Serve an apprenticeship to develop excellence and a useful set of skills.
Geronimo could shoot a bow and arrow with skill by age five. He learned to hunt from his father and elder warriors, who taught him to crawl silently along the ground, snatching prey with his hands. To celebrate his first kill, he ate the animal’s raw heart, showing it respect and gaining his adversary’s strength. To stalk larger game like deer and antelope, he learned how to crawl along the ground for hours wearing the hide, head, and antlers of a deer or antelope as a disguise. He studied his prey’s habits, knew what they ate and where they grazed, knew their different tracks. He hunted rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, and grouse too. Geronimo learned to build small fires at night to lure bats, then heave his moccasins at the creatures in flight with enough accuracy to knock them to the ground—he’d then pounce on them and kill them with his bare hands.5
I really like the Apache technique for hunting ducks—it’s innovative. In early winter, when ducks tend to flock in huge numbers on lakes, the Apache would take hundreds of gourds—dried and hollowed-out pumpkins and big squash—and set them afloat on the lakes. The gourds would blow across the lake and the Apache would go over and retrieve them, then repeat the process. At first the gourds would startle the ducks and they’d fly off. But over time the ducks would get used to the gourds bobbing along the water and floating past. Once the ducks had learned not to fear the gourds, the Apache would take gourds and cut holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Then they’d wade neck deep into the water, with only their gourd-head poking out above the surface. They’d sneak up on the ducks while imitating the bobbing gourd motion with their heads; when close enough, they’d drag the ducks under water by their feet and stuff them in a bag. It was ingenious and highly effective.6
LESSON: Be physically better than others and take pride in your physical and mental well-being.
WARRIOR TRAINING WAS brutal. Geronimo had to wake up well before dawn and run up to the top of a mountain and back before sunrise. The goals were discipline, a strong mind, and legs and lungs so developed that no enemy could outrun the Apache warrior. These goals were realized. One elder put it this way to his young son: “Your mind will be developed. . . . Getting up early in the morning, running to the top of that hill and back will give you a strong mind, a strong heart, and a strong body.”7
Running was essential for the Apache way of life, and they worked at it endlessly. They were on foot more than on horseback because there were rarely enough horses to go around, and because they could sneak up on enemies better on foot. As they trained, the runs got longer and more difficult. Sometimes they had to carry heavy packs on their backs and, to prove their endurance and mental tenacity, remain awake continuously for a day and a night or even longer, without food. Part of this training included running many miles before daylight, then an icy morning plunge in a frozen stream in only their breechcloths, all before they were allowed to build a fire.
One of the training tactics I found most interesting was this: Young boys had to run more than ten miles, up and down mountains, carrying water or rocks in their mouths the entire time; they could spit out the rocks or water only at the end of the run. This proved their endurance and toughness. The exercise also taught them to breathe through their noses.8 If they failed, they had to do it again—and again, and again—until they got it right. Geronimo did not fail. Later, as a trainer, he would teach this skill to others.
LESSON: The best are those who know they are tougher than their competition.
The Apache were tougher—much tougher—than we are today. Apache warrior training was often a matter of life or death, and only the strongest survived. Besides running for miles and miles in the heat and cold with a mouthful of water or rocks, apprentice warriors were encouraged to fight until they bled. Teams of four stood across from each other in rock-slinging competitions. It was like playing dodgeball with stones. The object was to teach quickness and evasiveness—boys had to duck and dodge to keep from being hit. There were casualties. If a rock hit you in the head, you were often severely injured or died. If one hit you in the arm, the bone often broke. Such training developed nimble, evasive warriors.9
Rock slinging progressed to arrow shooting in the training regimen. The trainer placed teams of boys about fifty feet apart. On the trainer’s command, they started shooting. The arrows were too small and light to be fatal, but sometimes they’d become embedded in their bodies. I like this quote from anthropologist Morris Opler, who lived among the Apache and studied their way of life and training: “I tell you they have fun too! They hardly ever hit each other. But I remember one boy who had been shot in the eye, and it put his eye out.”10 You just have to admire and revere such training, commitment, and dedication—especially at such a young age. Even this early, training was life or death.
BEFORE THEY GOT modern firearms, warriors used traditional weapons. They made five-foot-long bows from flexible wood like mulberry. The strings were stretched and dried deer sinew. They made arrows from three-foot cane shafts and fletched them with eagle or hawk feathers. The tips were sharpened and fire-hardened, then armed with obsidian or flint arrowheads. The Apache sometimes used poisoned arrowheads. There were a few ways of doing this. One was by cutting the heads off of rattlesnakes and squeezing venom from the fangs. Or they’d get poison juice from insects. My favorite is this one: They’d take a deer’s stomach, fill it with a mixture of animal blood and poison plants, and then bury it long enough for the contents to ferment and become toxic.11 The Apache were so well trained that warriors could fire up to seven arrows at an enemy before the first hit its target—at a range of more than 150 yards.12 You did not want to be hit with one of these. An informant noted, “A man hit with an arrow dipped in poison turns black.”13 He also died a horrible death.II The poisoned arrows were so toxic that the Apache had to be very, very careful handling them, making sure not to stick themselves while riding or running into battle. They usually waited until they were stationary and settled before busting out the poison and applying it.
LESSON: Always have the right tools for the job and know how to use all of them precisely.
THE NOVICE COMPLEX
Before an Apache could become a full-fledged warrior, he had to participate in four raids under the strict guidance of elders. It was a vital initiation period. There were very particular rules about the novice’s conduct and treatment. He had to learn specific warpath language that only warriors knew, and on his novice raids he was ...
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