FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – The story of a legendary Apache warrior who is said to have walked without leaving footprints as he evaded thousands of Mexican and U.S. soldiers easily overshadows that of other Apaches who were trying to protect their people and way of life from encroachment.
But a new exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, “Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience,” draws on that warrior's fame while also exploring less familiar stories of other Apaches. The exhibit runs through January.
The story of Geronimo, who was born in 1829 and came to be seen as a freedom fighter, still stirs emotions. He evaded capture repeatedly but eventually surrendered to U.S. authorities and died in 1909 as a prisoner of war, but he endures as a symbol of American Indian resistance with a fierce fighting style. His image is portrayed in everything from souvenir spoons, dime novels, T-shirts and postcards, to board games and movies.
“All of those things are fodder for great stories – about the little man who stands up against the big guy against all odds,” said Dustinn Craig, an artist and filmmaker. “American writers have always subscribed to that concept; it is very intriguing. I enjoy the story, but at the same time, there are equally courageous decisions being made, ones that require humility, ones that require acknowledging that people in the community cannot live on the run.”
A piece that Craig has on exhibit is a tribute to the Apache scouts who spent years looking for Geronimo throughout the Southwest. The canvas shows an Apache man wearing the ammunition belt issued by the U.S. military but carrying a drum instead of a weapon in a moment of calmness. It is surrounded by four skateboard decks – two with identical images of an Apache man with his eyes tightly closed, and the other two with an Apache man wielding a gun and walking through a meadow.
Craig points to his ancestors with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, who volunteered as scouts, as accomplishing a great feat in never being forced from their homeland, unlike Geronimo.
“We can visit the same streams, mountains, lakes, sacred places that our ancestors did,” he said. “And that was all due to the political strategies of leaders in the 1860s who no books are written about.”
After the families of Geronimo and other warriors were captured and sent to Florida, Geronimo and 35 warriors surrendered to Gen. Nelson A. Miles near the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1886. Geronimo was sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where he died years later.
The exhibit isn't all weapons and military history. Visitors will see that Geronimo also was a family man and a showman who capitalized on his name recognition. He was permitted to make public appearances, selling the buttons off his shirt at train stops where people gathered to see Apaches, and autographed postcards, bows and other items at parades and the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.
Geronimo, also a known medicine man, rode in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade in 1905 where the crowds cheered, “Hooray for Geronimo!” said Janet Cantley, the exhibit's curator. And two Florida cities fought over which would receive Geronimo and other warriors because he was thought of as a great tourist attraction, she said.
Just last year, Geronimo's name was used as a code word during the U.S. military mission that left Osama bin Laden dead.
Navy SEALs radioed that bin Laden had been killed by simply saying “Geronimo.” But the use of the name angered Native American tribal leaders and advocates, who felt that Geronimo – a hero – was being compared to a terrorist.
The exhibit hardly makes mention of the raid of bin Laden's compound, Cantley said. It is a mix of historical and contemporary pieces that combines the Heard's collections with those of other museums and private lenders. One piece that generally has stayed out of the public's eye is a hide painting done by Naiche, a Chiricahua Apache chief.
Also on display are a bow and arrow used by Naiche's son, Cochise, and a basket made by the wife of another Apache chief, Victorio. Other Apache leaders like Daklugie and Alchesay are portrayed through personal objects, photographs and art.
If You Go...
HEARD MUSEUM: 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix; http://www.heard.org or 602-252-8840. “Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience,” through Jan. 20, 2013. Open Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $15, children 6-12, $7.50.