Taz-ayz-slath, Geronimo’s fifth or sixth wife, and child.
Geronimo was a prominent leader of the Apache Indians. His battles against Mexico and Arizona for their expansion into Apache Tribal lands is well-known. What is not well-known is the deep love he had for his first wife, Alope. They had planned to spend a lifetime together but a senseless murder deprived Geronimo of his spouse. Her memory was all he had to keep him going. He would have other wives, but no one like Alope.
Geronimo was seventeen when he married Alope. He and his bride made their home near his mother Juanita’s wickiup near Clifton in southern Arizona. According to Geronimo, Alope was “slender and fair, loyal and dutiful.” The two had been lovers for a long time, and he considered marrying her to be the “greatest joy offered to him.” The pair wed in 1846 and resided in a wickiup made of buffalo hides. The interior of their home was filled with bear and lion robes, spears, bows, and arrows. Alope decorated their dwelling with beadwork and elaborate drawings made on buckskin. Her artistry extended onto the canvas walls of the wickiup as well. Geronimo boasted in his autobiography entitled “Geronimo, His Own Story”, that Alope was a good wife. They followed the traditions of their forefathers and were very happy. During the first few years of their married life, Alope bore Geronimo three sons. “Children that played, loitered, and worked as I had done,” Geronimo later recalled of his family.
In 1858, Geronimo took his wife and sons and traveled from his camp with other Apache tribesmen and their families to Chihuahua to trade items for supplies that were needed. The journey from Janos into the Mexican state was something the Apache Indians did once a year. The tribe set up camp outside the town of Janos, and the men made the trip to the northern Mexico location to do business with general stores willing to trade with them. It was during one of the visits to Janos that the Apache encampment was attacked by Mexican troops who considered the Indians to be intruders in their territory. Many of the Apache women, children, and elderly were slaughtered and scalped. In addition to the murders of the defenseless Indians, Mexican soldiers seized all the supplies and weapons from the wickiups.
Geronimo and the other members of the council of warriors with him were horrified by the sight. Among the dead were Alope, Geronimo’s sons, and his mother. The Mexicans had cut off the victims’ hair, and the ground was saturated with their blood. “I stood hardly knowing what I would do,” Geronimo shared in his autobiography. “I had no weapon, nor did I hardly wish to fight, neither did I contemplate recovering the bodies of my loved ones, for that was forbidden. I did not pray, nor did I resolve to do anything in particular for I had no purpose left.”
Geronimo grieved over the loss of his family as he followed his tribe out of the area. He didn’t eat, sleep, or speak to anyone for three days. When he finally talked, he spoke only of the massacre and the Mexican troops who were now his enemies. He returned to the home he and Alope had shared with their boys and was quickly assaulted by the memory of them all around him. “There were decorations that Alope had made,” he recalled later in his life, “and there were playthings of our little ones.” Geronimo burned the wickiup that belonged to him and his wife along with all their personal items. He did the same thing to his mother’s home and possessions. He vowed revenge upon Mexico and the troopers who had wronged him. Thus began the rise of the man some historians refer to as a “savage of the worst stripe.”
Geronimo married seven women, but the loss of his first wife had a profound effect on him. His first act of retaliation for the murder of his family occurred in mid-1859 when he joined the Chiricahua tribe of Apaches in a series of deadly raids on Sonora. “I could not call back my loved ones, but I could rejoice in revenge,” he noted in his autobiography.
Geronimo was born on June 16, 1829, and was crowned chief of the Chiricahuas before he turned twenty. He became one of the most feared and tenacious of the North American Indians. His boldness in battle and sharp intellect made for admirable qualities in not only a leader, but a husband. He was offered the hand of many Apache women. He selected a beautiful Bedonkohe woman named Chee-hash-kish to be his second wife. Geronimo and Chee-hash-kish had two children, Dohn-say and Chappo.
It is not known how long after Alope was slain that Geronimo wed Chee-hash-kish, but in times of war it was considered acceptable by the Apache to marry quickly and often. The concern that warriors would die in battle without an heir was great. Indian maidens required strong men to provide for them as well. They needed items, such as food and horses, retrieved from raids on various settlements to survive.
Nana-Tha-Thtith became Geronimo’s third wife. She was killed by Mexican soldiers in 1861. Geronimo was recovering from a gunshot wound when the renegade troops rushed into his camp. He had little time to arm himself before the troops descended upon him and members of his tribe. Even with his injury, he managed to kill many soldiers, but it came too late to save Nana-Tha-Thtith and the child she had. No mention is made in Geronimo’s autobiography that the child belonged to him. Speculation is that her husband had died in a previous battle and Geronimo assumed the role of father.By the time Geronimo married again, white settlers had invaded Apache land, and he was warring against the intrusion. She-gha was Geronimo’s fourth wife. She was related to Cochise, chief of the Chokonen band of Chiricahua Apache. Not long after marrying She-gha, he wed another Bedonkohe woman named Shtsha-she.
In 1863, Mangas Colorado, chief of the Warm Springs Chiricahua and the leader Geronimo served under as a warrior, was killed, and Geronimo became head of the tribe. Mangas Colorado had believed he could peacefully persuade white settlers to leave Apache land. Geronimo disagreed. Mangas Colorado was taken captive by United States troops, shot, and then decapitated. The inhumane treatment of the respected chief further outraged Geronimo and added another slain person to the list he sought to avenge. He led several warriors into battle, which resulted in the death of many more Apache Indians, pioneers, and US soldiers. His resentment of Mexicans was unrelenting. He continued to lead raiding parties on Mexican villages and camps more than twenty years after Alope was murdered.
In 1882, Chee-hash-kish was taken by Mexican troops who hated the Apache Indians and Geronimo. She was sold as a slave and no one ever heard from her or about her again. After losing Chee-hash-kish, Geronimo took another wife. Her name was Zi-yeh. Her mother was a Nednai Indian, and her father was a white man. Zi-yeh had been raised by a white family. She had a son named Fenton whom Geronimo helped to raise, and together he and Zi-yeh had two children, a son and a daughter.
Frustrated with the fact that Geronimo would not surrender and agree to live on a reservation, the US government decided to crush the Indian leader for good in 1883. The rebel force he led was dedicated to fighting against anyone who tried to force them off their ancestral land and committed to vindicating the death of any Apache killed by Mexican troops. Mexican troops were blamed for the death of Shtsha-she and Geronimo’s son. They died after a raid on a Mexican ranch in early 1883. Among Geronimo’s principle followers were twenty-six warriors and seventy women and children. Although unquestionably loyal to Geronimo, many of the Apache Indians with him were weary and demoralized. A full year would pass before he would relent and allow US soldiers to escort him to the reservation in Arizona’s White Mountains. During that time his wives Zi-yeh and She-gha and five of his children had been captured by US troops. He was later reunited with them at the government run camp.Geronimo tried for a year to live in peace on the reservation, but tensions were mounting within the Apache settlement. Food rations designated for the Apache were not delivered or were rotten and moldy when they arrived. Indian warriors who had provided for their families by hunting game were forced to become farmers.
On May 17, 1885, Geronimo left the reservation with 145 others. Among that number were Geronimo’s wives and his children. On their escape into Mexico, Geronimo’s band killed seventeen white people. The battle to recapture the Apache chief was bitter. Geronimo’s wife and her daughter were recaptured on September 22, 1885, and brought back to the White Mountain reservation.
Geronimo then married a woman traveling with him named In-tedda, also known as Kate Cross Eyes, and adopted her eleven-year-old son. As they fled from the soldiers and camped in the Sierra Madre Mountains, Geronimo taught the youngster how to be a warrior. Geronimo and his adopted son defended themselves and their camp from US and Mexican troops hoping to overtake them.
After more than a year on the run, the Apache fugitives were desperate to see their families and relatives again. This prompted Geronimo to surrender on September 4, 1886.
An article that appeared in the July 2, 1886, edition of the Spirit Lake, Iowa, newspaper, the Spirit Lake Beacon, described how the Apaches who had chosen not to follow Geronimo had been living under government authority at the White Mountain reservation. “Women and children have happily partaken of the United States hospitality,” the article read. “All are blessed with sufficient freedom. The youngsters romped outside at will and the squaws adorned the porch of the guard house daily. They are a rather industrious set and turn many a proper peso by weaving handsome baskets of bear-grass, making moccasins for the soldiers, and constructing toy models of their unique candles. They were also given some light work to do around the post, which helped to keep them healthy and happy.” Geronimo disputed claims that the Indians were happy and healthy on a reservation. He longed to be with his wives and children only mildly more than he longed to be free. The federal government did not extend any of the amenities to Geronimo and his followers they boasted were given to other captives. For their intransigent resistance, the Chiricahua chief and his loyal few were punished as no other US Indian had been. All of them, even women and children, ultimately served thirty years as prisoners of war—first in Florida and Alabama, then at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Geronimo was considered an old man by the time he was transported by government officials to Florida. The fifty-seven-year-old was described by the September 27, 1886, edition of the Galveston, Texas, newspaper Galveston News, as a “5’9″ man weighing one hundred eighty-six pounds. . . . His figure is straight as the barrel of his own Winchester and were his face not considerably drawn he would show no signs of age,” the article continued. “His eyes are small, black, and bright. His hair is long, black, and glossy. It is carefully combed down on each side of his face. Many Apache Indian women, even those he had been married to for a long period of time, looked at him with admiration.”
While riding home from the town of Lawton, Oklahoma, on a wintry night in 1909, Geronimo fell off his horse and lay in a ditch until the morning. By the time friends found the aged chief, he was suffering with a bad chest cold. He died on February 17, 1909, from pneumonia. On his deathbed, he spoke the names of his warriors who had stayed loyal to the end, of his children, and his wife Alope.
With the exception of Alope, all of Geronimo’s wives died in captivity. Kate Cross Eyes survived the longest. She passed away in July 1950. She had been captured by US soldiers in 1886 and imprisoned at St. Augustine, Florida, and Mount Vernon, Alabama. She was later moved to the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico. She was ninety-four when she died.
Love Lessons Learned by Geronimo’s Wives
- No one can fully take the place of that first, true love. Geronimo had several wives, but none he loved as much as his first, Alope. He spent much of his life trying to avenge her death.
- Be willing to live and die for the man you love. Women who married the defiant Geronimo after he had lost other wives in raids on Apache encampments must have believed the risk was worth it.
- Learn to love an intrepid life. Geronimo warred against the men who killed his family and threatened to destroy his way of life. Often times his family was with him as he chased his enemy from Western location to Western location.
- Surrender to escaping with your husband. Geronimo eventually resolved to go to a reservation, but he didn’t stay. Wives and children often went with him when he’d had enough of captivity.
- Keep his memory alive. The wives of Geronimo passed on to their children stories of their life with the charismatic Apache warrior who refused to give in against all odds. His memory lives on today.
Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit chrisenss.com for more information on her books.