Despite the turbulence associated with his last days as a warrior, his early
life was tranquil. To his birthplace Geronimo gave the apache name of No-doyon
Canyon and located it near the headwaters of the Gila River in what is now southeastern
Arizona, then a part of Mexico. Born in the mid 1820's, he was given the name
Goyahkla, with the generally accepted meaning "One Who Yawns". It was as an adult
he became known by the Mexicans as Geronimo. His father was Taklishim "The Gray
One", the son of Chief Mahko of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe. His mother, although
a full blooded Apache, had the Spanish name Juana. He was the grandson of Chief
Mahko of the Nedni Apache.
When Goyahkla's father married and joined Juana"s tribe, he forfeited his hereditary
right as leader and opened the way for Mangas Coloradas to become chief.
When Goyahkla was an adolescent, his father died. Goyathlya took his mother to
live with his relatives among a band of Nedni that would later be led by his friend
Goyathlay performed four novice raids and completed other required activities
to gain admittance to the council of warriors when he was 17. Soon afterward he
married Alope, who bore him three children.
At Janos, Goyahkla's entire family, including his wife, three children, and mother,
were slain during an 1850 massacre by Mexican soldiers while the Apache men were
absent from their camp in Chihuahua, Mexico. Stunned by his loss, Goyathlay sought
vengeance. "My feelings toward the Mexicans did not change - I still hated them
and longed for revenge. I never ceased to plan for their punishment."
At this point, Goyahkla, previously known as more of a medicine man than a fighter,
gained prominence as a resourceful and merciless warrior. The following year,
he led a charge against Mexicans who began to scream, “Geronimo!” They were appealing
to their patron saint, Jerome, or Geronimo in Spanish. Goyathlay's warriors soon
picked up the cry and vanquished the Mexican army. Overcome with jubilation, the
warriors bestowed the name of Geronimo on their fearless leader. The name Geronimo
would soon become infamous throughout the southwest.
Contrary to popular belief, Geronimo was not a chief. He led war parties numbering
as few as three braves into Mexico. Sometimes walking hundreds of miles to steal
Mexican horses and cattle. Then, he would ride back to the mountains of Arizona
with his booty. He willingly followed the leadership of such great chiefs as Juh,
Mangas Coloradas, and Cochise. He was a ceaseless warrior. Although he stood only
five feet eight inches tall, he was barrel-chested and possessed seemingly limitless
stamina. He took several wives and sired several more children during his life,
but he could never abandon the warrior's life for long.
On a privately owned ranch, wagon remains, provision cans, an unmarked grave
and an assortment of cartridge cases, among them 1879 dated Spencers, comprise
an intriguing discovery cache north on the ranch. Discovered nearby, in tree cover,
was a batch of 50 caliber cases, of 1870's Springfield-rifle origin, showing signs
of a rare firing-pin misalignment. This was the infamous Geronimo era; he was
known to raid in the area and known to possess a 50-caliber Springfield with a
misaligned firing pin.