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The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo

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My Life as a Teenage Warrior

I was at the point of utter exhaustion, but we had to keep going. We were on the run from the United States Government. You may think that we were fugitives, but all we were fighting for was our right to live in our own homeland.

I am a Chiricahua Apache and this is my story.

The Chiricahua landscape

For me, it all started back in 1876. This was the year the U.S. decided to move my people to a reservation at San Carlos. Under the leadership of Cochise, we had fought hard against the white man to maintain a reservation in southeastern Arizona that included our traditional homeland. But the U.S. once again deprived us of our tribal rights and drove about four thousand of my Apache kin to a barren wasteland in east central Arizona. It was hot and disease-ridden. I was only eleven at the time, but I was old enough to know how terribly wrong this situation was. Seeing the pain in my mother's heart, the homesick look in my sister's eyes, I grew very angry. When the chance to revolt came about, I seized it eagerly.

Remains of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, where hundreds were held by the U.S. Army

Since Cochise had died a few years earlier, our leader was a Chiricahua man by the name of Geronimo. Any anger that I felt against the white man could not compare to what lay in Geronimo's heart. About 15 years earlier, he had returned home from a trading excursion to find his village destroyed and his wife, mother and three young children murdered by white troops. From that day on, he vowed that he would get revenge.


Lindsay / Since I have the best friends in the galaxy...

Geronimo was not a chief, but he was a medicine man, a seer and a spiritual leader for my people. He was aggressive and courageous, embodying the very essence of our Apache values. To the U.S. government, though, he was trouble.

Under his leadership, hundreds of Apaches left the reservation to resume their war against the whites. We fled to the Sierra Madres Mountains in northern Mexico and began our reign of warfare in the border region.

A marker for Geronimo's son in the Chiricahua Mountains

Colonel George Crook, who had fought against Cochise, was called back to Arizona to conduct a campaign against us. Fort Bowie was used as the military center of those fighting against us. And believe me, we would fight. Some of us would be captured and returned to San Carlos. But the conditions at that reservation were so awful it would make anyone want to find a way out. So we would escape and start over again.

And this is how I spent my teenage years--alternating a quiet life on the reservation with the wartime activities at our secret camp in the Sierra Madres.

After Geronimo's surrender, Fort Bowie became a place of leisure.

Yes, it was grueling. My entire body would burn with exhaustion. But I would never complain and never give up. I would think of those back on the reservation. I would think of the injustice. I would remember stories of earlier times, such as the tragedy of Bosque Redondo.

Bosque Redondo had functioned as a trading post in New Mexico for a hundred years until a US general decided it would serve better as a placement site for Mescalero and Apache Indians in his campaign to drive them from their homelands.

Colonel Kit Carson was ordered to kill any Apache man who resisted capture and take all women and children prisoner. Five hundred Apaches were eventually brought to Fort Sumner at Bosque Redondo. Colonel Carson then went to Navajo land in Arizona with the order, "Surrender or Die." His troops cut down all the peach trees as well as all the wheat and corn in the area. They pillaged settlements and killed livestock. Though they resisted intensely, the Navajos were thus starved into submission.

Neda on a rampage in southern Arizona

After gaining control, Carson then forced thousands of Navajo people to march to Bosque Redondo. This meant they had to march across the entire state of New Mexico, or a distance of over 350 miles! The march itself must have been so dreadful, but those who survived the "Long Walk" did not find any relief once they reached their destination. The U.S. officials called it a reservation, but Bosque Redondo was really a miserable prison camp for the nearly 9,000 Apache and Navajo captives. Disease was everywhere, particularly intestinal problems from the dirty water supply. Worms destroyed the crops and the wood supply was soon depleted. Living conditions were terrible. And so it continued for nearly four years, until the government finally allowed the people to return to their homeland.

Geronimo: feared warrior and Apache leader

These were the things I would think about as the warfare persisted, as we continued to evade capture. These were the things that moved me to carry on the fight.

Over the next ten years, Geronimo himself surrendered several times, only to bolt off again and continue the fight. Colonel Crook was always in pursuit, his troops growing larger and larger while our band of Apaches grew smaller. The press was pretty sensational (even back then!), exaggerating Geronimo's activities until he became the most infamous and feared Apache. During the last few months of the campaign, over 5,000 soldiers (one-fourth of the entire Army!) and 500 Native American scouts were used to track down our small group.

The fateful day was September 3, 1886. This was the day we surrendered for the last time. At this point, our group consisted of 12 women, 6 children and 15 other warriors like myself. Geronimo met with a U.S. general in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona and surrendered only after he was promised that he would be allowed to return to Arizona after a period of exile in Florida.

Neda checks out a thatched Apache wickiup

This never happened. Along with hundreds of our fellow Chiricahuas, we were sent to Florida, where we were put to hard labor. Geronimo was then sent to Oklahoma, where he died a few years later, in 1909. He was never allowed to set his eyes on Arizona again.

As for me, I am still waiting. I am no longer the young boy looking into my mother's pained eyes. I am no longer the teenage warrior fighting for our rightful land. I am now 46 years old. I am getting older, but the fire is still alive. My soul still fights on and I wish to return to my home. But I am in the United States; I live in a land of broken promises. And all I can do is hope.


Please email me at: neda@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Teddy - The heroic and fateful quest of the Nez Perce
Nick - Massacres and mayhem: manifest destiny at its worst
Nick - Sitting Bull wins one for the Lakota Indians!
Steph - Potatoes, beans and cornbread. It's the life of a cowboy
Irene - East Meets West in the Construction of the Transcontinental Railroad