The most feared Native American leader of the 19th century was a yawning man. At least, that’s what his name meant. Born on June 16, 1829, in what is now Turkey Creek, New Mexico, the baby was named Goyaałé. In the Chiricahua language, it means “The One Who Yawns.” This yawning baby of the Bedonkohe band of the Apache tribe would come to be known by another name — one that would inspire anything but yawning: Geronimo.
Geronimo rose to be a prominent leader and medicine man of the Apaches. For sixteen years, his name inspired terror as he led numerous raids and fought against U.S. and Mexican forces in what is now New Mexico and Arizona.
On May 17, 1885, Geronimo and some 135 Apache men, women, and children took flight from their reservation for the final time. Although in his mid-60s, his boundless energy and charismatic leadership rallied his people to cover as 70 miles per day to avoid the American cavalry and Apache scouts on their trail.
For over a year, Geronimo led countless raids against American and Mexican settlements. At one point, in March 1886, he agreed to surrender, but escaped under the cover of darkness, instead.
Pulling out all stops, President Grover Cleveland authorized 5,000 U.S. soldiers to join with some 3,000 Mexican troops to capture the fugitive. Fully 25% of the total army of the United States was committed to this single effort.
For five months, Geronimo avoided capture. Finally, on September 4, 1886, he surrendered to General Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. In laying down his arms, he became the last Indian leader to formally surrender to the United States military.
Geronimo lived out the rest of his days as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He became a tourist attraction and was permitted to travel to events such as fairs and the 1905 inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt, although always under guard. He died in 1909 at the age of 79. His last words were reported to be said to his nephew, “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”