Apache Tears

Hoof prints, and footprints,
deep ruts the wagons made.
The victors and the losers came by here.
No headstones, but these bones,
rend Mescalero death moans..
See the smooth black nuggets,
by the thousand lying here?
Petrified, but justified,
are these Apache Tears...

Dead grass, dry roots,
hunger crying in the night...
Ghosts of broken hearts and laws are here..
....And who saw, the young squaw,
they judged by their whiskey law...
Tortured, she died of pain and fear...
Where the soldiers laid her back
are the black Apache Tears..

The young men, the old men,
the guilty and the innocent,
bled red blood and killed alike, with fearó
The Red man, the White man,
no fight ever took this land,
so don't raise the dust as you pass by...
They're sleeping and in My keeping,
are these Apache Tears...

The above is "Apache Tears" from the record by Johnny Cash, "Bitter Tears".


This small tribe that was brought to a reservation in this area, were not as free as the Kiowa and Comanche who finally had to make their homes in this area. This band of Chiricahua Apache were prisoners of the U.S. Army at Fort Sill. Their chief, Geronimo, was a captive in their prison.

The Apache of the southwest were a fierce and awesome people. The names of some have lived on long after they were gone, in books and movies. These Apache, Ulzana, Chochise, Mangu, Geronimo, and Victorio, live on forever. The main operating area of these people in the 1880's were Northern Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico.

Geronimo had only a small band of Apache, seventeen men. These seventeen men eluded 5000 men of the U.S. Army for many years. Not only them, but also 2500 Mexican soldiers - 7500 well armed, well trained, well equipped men against 17, that they regarded as "naked savages". The odds were 500 to one against Geronimo, but they still could not whip him or capture him.

When on the warpath, the Apache were under strict rules. Even words for common things were different. Women could go with their husbands, but they could not live together, and no unmarried women were allowed. The only other woman permitted to go was Lozen. She was regarded as a Holy Woman and was treated as one. She was the sister of Victorio, a good fighter and a very good shot. Geronimo would send her on missions to military officers to arrange for meetings or to carry messages.

Geronimo was fighting, not only to avenge the murders of his mother, wife and children, but for his people and for his tribe. He knew it was hopeless, but that did not stop him. He was fighting against enormous odds and nobody ever captured him. The U.S. Armies, under Crook and Miles had their needs supplied. But, Geronimo had to provide for his men. When they were hungary, he had to obtain food. When they were cold, he provided blankets and clothing. When they had no bullets, he got ammunition.

When finally, Geronimo surrendered, Miles told him his band would only be going to Florida, where Chihuahua's group had been sent, for two years. But they did not go there. Chihuahua was in St. Augustine and Geronimo's band was sent to Pensacola. On April 7, 1886, The Chiricahua were loaded onto a train and sent to Florida. This was the beginning of 27 years of captivity for Geronimo and his band.

Band of Apache Indian prisoners at rest stop beside Southern Pacific Railway, near Nueces River, Tex., September 10, 1886. Among those on their way to exile in Florida are Natchez (center front) and, to the right, Geronimo and his son in matching shirts. By A. J. McDonald.

From Florida later, they were sent to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. The damp swampy area of Florida and Alabama took their toll on these desert people. Between April 13 and November 7, 1886, out of the 498 Chiricahua sent, 119 died. Finally after much discussion, Aigust 6, 1894, Congress allowed the removal of the Chiricahua to Fort Sill in Oklahoma Territory.

When they arrived at Fort Sill, they could see the mountains, not as tall as their mountains, but there were mountains. There were trees, but they didn't have to climb them to see the sun, clear sparkling water in the creek and mesquite beans, that they had not seen since they had left home. And, best of all, at night they could hear the coyote sing and the call of the quail. They adapted, built homes, tended crops, sent the children to school at Carlisle, married and raised families.

Older Geronimo

Geronimo never made it back to his home. In 1909, he contracted pneaumonia. Geronimo had been wounded several times, sometimes severly, but he had not died. Now, instead of giving his life for his people as Victorio had, the brave old warrior was dying, like a woman, in a hospital. He was buried as a chief, in the custom of his people.

Finally, in 1913, the Chiricahua Apache were given back their freedom. After negotiations for their cattle, horses, and homes at Fort Sill, and with the Mescalaro Apache in New Mexico, once again the prisoners of war were moved. This time it was different. All were moving to freedom in permanent homes, most to join their brothers at the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. Others were staying on individual lots in the vicinity of Apache, OK, on lands purchased from the Comanche and Kiowa-Apache holdings there. The Chiricahua were never to have to move again. In a way, Geronimo did give his life for his people, because with his death, the wheels were put in motion for the Chiricahua to regain their freedom.


For additional information on Geronimo, click here.
Apache Tribes

Information on Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache was taken from the book, "An Apache Odyssey, Indeh" by Eva Ball, Brigham Young University Press, 1980.

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April 15, 2002

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