BY TOM HORN
Originally published in 1904
We found Geronimo camped in one of the most lovely places one could imagine. He sent several men to show us where to camp, but we picked a camp to suit our- selves.
Geronimo, Ju, and old Loco came during the evening and paid their respects to General Crook and arranged for a big talk on the following morning.
A big talk it was, sure enough. General Crook had for his interpreters two Mexicans named Antonio Dias and Montoyo. Geronimo started the war talk by saying that these interpreters were of Mexican blood and that no Mexican was a man of word, meaning they could not speak true. He said that he wanted only peace and harmony in the big talk that was coming off, and that there would be many days of it, and that some of it would be of such a nature that only Geronimo and General Crook should know, and it would necessarily have to go through the mouth of an interpreter, and he much preferred that I should be the one to do the interpreting.
He then went on and told of all the preliminary work that led up to this meeting, the part I had taken in all of it, and of the confidence the Government must have in me to have me attempt such an undertaking; that the “old mad white man” (meaning Sieber) had raised and trained me; that he knew Sieber to be a man of war and a man of truth, a man who could always be found in a peace council or leading a war party, and that I, as a pupil of such a man, must be a good man and a truthful one, and that I had come to his camp with Sieber on a former occasion to see and talk to him; and he said Antonio Dias was of the Apaches who were not truthful, and he finally wound up his harangue by saying that I was the only one who could do the inter- preting.
This was not what we had figured on, for General Crook had instructed me this way: When the talk got started, I was to circulate around among the women and warriors who were not in the council and use my influence to get all of them to go to the Reservation. We knew that old Geronimo would talk to General Crook all day and to his own people all night, and we knew also that Geronimo was popular as a chief, because, while he would make a big bluff of a talk, that he would wind up by doing as the majority of the most influential In- dians should decide.
In other words, some of the Indians did as they pleased, regardless of Geronimo or any one else, and on our side there were certain things that General Crook wanted the Indians to know, and he did not want to talk it to them or to promise it to them in council, and my duty was to let the Indians know these things. We talked these things over and our councillor, Sieber, said that old Geronimo was onto our job, and that he did not want me going around among the younger men and women to do any talking so as to influence them to go back with us; but as Geronimo had requested that I do the interpreting, the only thing that General Crook could then do was to say that Antonio was an old man in council and had been engaged in interpreting for twenty-five years; that I was a young man and not as experienced in such things as was Antonio and for that reason he had brought Antonio to do the interpreting.
General Crook also told Geronimo that I was being raised by Sieber as a warrior and that a warrior was not supposed to be an interpreter.
Geronimo replied that Sieber was the one white man he knew who always represented the Government. He said: “Sibi is always with a Government council or Government war party. White soldiers come and go, and I have seen many of them for many years come and go, but Sibi, the mad white man, is always here.” He added that “Sibi” was not a good man to be with, as he was a man of iron and nothing would turn him, and that he did not care to talk, but that his words were all from his heart; that there was no room in his heart for anything that he did not think was right, that his words were as wise as those of any chief, white or red; that he was respected by the Indians, though as iron he was, and that being raised by him was of itself a guarantee of faithfulness in war or in council.
I was all puffed up by the time Geronimo and General Crook got through discussing me. Antonio was then set aside and I took the interpreter’s place.
What Will Geronimo Decide?
General Crook was the first man to do any talking, as he had taken the first steps to bring about this talk.
He told Geronimo that eleven years before, when he was in command of the Department, he had left all the Indians on the Reservation at peace, drawing their rations and seemingly content; that when he left he had no idea that any of the Indians would ever go on the war path again. Then he had been called away by his Government to go to another part of the country, and that from time to time he had heard of the Apache outbreaks as they occurred. He said he did not know what made men with as much sense and judgment as Geronimo do such things, and leave a place where everything was given them that was given to the white soldiers. He knew that they had a grievance of some kind, and that he wanted to hear what it was, and he wanted to adjust the grievance in any way that he could that would not hurt Geronimo or the people with him, and that before he left the Sierra Madres he wanted to get Geronimo and every Indian in the mountains to go back with him, and he wanted the influence of Geronimo to help him do this; that the time for war was past, and it was now time to leave the war path and its hardships and go and settle down on the Reservation. He told Geronimo that the Chiricahuas had committed many depredations which laid them liable to arrest and prosecution by the Government, but that if they all went back that he would see that none of them were taken away and tried by the civil courts, and that if they would go back to the Reservation and be counted regularly and draw their rations he would locate them on any part of the Reservation (that was not occupied by any other Indians) that Geronimo might choose.
“There is always more or less trouble in a big Indian camp,” continued General Crook, “and I will make soldiers of your men to keep peace in the camp. I will keep a company of twenty-five men all the time, that may be selected by the long-nosed, ugly soldier (Lieutenant Gatewood was so called. Gatewood was, perhaps, the homeliest man in the service). “This officer will have no other duty than to look after you and your interests, and to adjust your troubles. He will see that you get your rations and clothing, and everything that you are entitled to by the Government. Now, you know what it is that the Government has done, and will do, and all that it can do I promise to do for you.
“I have just came back from the place called Washington, which, you know, is the head of our Government, and there I met officers high in rank belonging to the Mexican Government, and I made arrangements with them to permit of my crossing the line in pursuit of Indi- ans committing depredations in the United States. I have come to you as a brother and as a personal friend, to tell you all this and to conduct any and all who want to go back in safety. When I leave here, I must be informed by you if you want war or if you want peace.
Formerly conditions were such that we could only pursue renegade Indians as far as the Mexico line. Now I can follow them to the end of the earth. If you do not go back now, and if I can not persuade you to go back, then must I say ‘War!’ I am an old man, and would be at peace with all the world, but my people living in New Mexico and Arizona must have protection, and I am there to protect them. I could not do so while our laws would not allow me to cross the Mexico line with my soldiers. Your young men could live here in the Sierra Madres and raid up into our country, and it was seldom we could run onto them while up there.
The Chiricahuas are very clever, and can easily dodge the cavalry when they have only to dodge them long enough to get back across the line of Mexico; but from now on, Mexico will not protect you. I am telling you all this so that you will know how we are fixed, and so you will know what a refusal to go with me means.
It means war, and if you do not go with me now peaceably, I will return as I came to this country, but I will go with a heavy heart. I will then organize a war party and send it to this country and will make several divisions of it, so as to be able to operate all over the mountains at once. Then will the Chiricahuas be doomed, and I, an old man, will go with a heavy heart to my grave, for the war will be long and bitter, and my days will be passed in restlessness, and my nights without sleep. I can not go out myself, for the hardships will be too great for me, so I will have to remain at home; but, as I said, without rest or sleep. Geronimo, you will go from this council to a council of your own people, and you may think that I have spoken too severely to you. I can talk to you only as I have, for about this talk there must be no misunder-standing. This is a council of great importance to me, as I could not be- gin a war on you without giving you a chance for peace.
I will listen to what you have to say, tomorrow.”
That ended the big talk for this day. Of course there was a great deal more talk than I have written down here, but this was all there was said of much importance.
There must have been two hundred warriors in the council, and every one of them got up and went back to their camp as silent as shadows. General Crook’s talk had made a deep impression on them. General Crook himself was very grave, and went to his tent and stayed out of sight of every one. All the officers that heard the talk went back to their camps and began to make preparations for a fight. They thought that Geronimo would resent such talk as the general made to them.
Sieber also went off to one side of a hill and sat by himself. Anyone who knew Sieber knew that he wanted to be alone.
We had started the talk very early in the morning, and it was now close to noon. The whole camp looked more like a funeral party than it did like a war party or peace commission.
Micky Free came up to me and said: “Tom, what do you think Geronimo will do?” Of course, I could only guess, and I guessed that we would take a big lot of renegades to the Reservation, but I knew there were warriors with Geronimo that Geronimo himself could not control, and I did not think they would return with us to live in peace on the Reservation, for they were not men of peace. I asked Micky how some of the bad ones, whom each of us knew personally, could go and live in peace. “There,” said I, “is Mas-say. How can you expect a man like him to give a serious thought to peace? Mas-say loves the war path, and many of the more restless ones will follow him. They are, every one of them who follows such a devil as Mas-say, men who want the excitement of the war path, and for peace they care not.”
Micky asked me if I had known beforehand that General Crook w as going to make such a talk to the renegades as he had just made. I told him I certainly did not know what General Crook intended to say until he said it. “Then why did you go and put on your big white-handled six-shooter before you went into the council?” asked Micky. I told him I did so because Sieber had told me to.
I saw Sieber had his pistol, too,” continued Micky.
“I could see it where it pushed up his hunting shirt. And when it came around to the part of the talk where General Crook said: ‘War or peace, I will have,’ I saw Sieber slip his hand up under his shirt and put it on his pistol.
It would have been a sad day for Geronimo if he had made any kick at that point, for it would have meant a General row right there. I could see Sieber was watching Geronimo like a hawk. Look up there. Do you see him now?” asked Micky, “When Sieber goes off by himself like that he knows that there may be serious trouble, and Sieber can tell when trouble is liable to come. He can smell it as easy as I can smell smoke. Well, we will just watch him, and do as he does. He is never wrong and he won’t be wrong this time.”
Micky could not keep still, and I did not feel very easy myself.
All the soldiers were close to camp, and close to their guns. All the renegades were as silent as mutes. Not a dog nor a child in the entire camp was making any noise. We could not visit any one for every one seemed to want to tend to his own business.
Presently Sieber called to us to come up to where he was and we got our rifles and went up there. Sieber began to laugh at us, and said we were standing around like a couple of lost squaws. He said we need not look so solemn as the talk the General made was all right, and he felt sure that the worst of the campaign was over; that when the renegades did nothing in the first twenty minutes after the council was over there would be no danger from them afterward.
We could see many Indians gathering around Geronimo and he stood talking to them. We could see his gestures, and could hear the hum of his voice, but could not distinguish a word he said. None of our party were allowed in Geronimo’s council. We watched them for a long time and finally saw him turn and point at us.
Sieber said to me that he and I would be sent for by Geronimo before night. “And if you are not with me when he sends, you must come and leave your pistol and take only your knife,” said Sieber.
Along in the middle of the afternoon, after I had had something to eat, a small girl came to me and said Sieber would talk with me. I went up to his camp, and he said: “Well, Tom, the summons has come. We are to go to Geronimo. Now you watch me all the time, and that will keep your nerves steady. You tell Geronimo for me, exactly as I tell you to tell him, when I am asked to talk.
Stand while you are talking, forget that you may not live one more minute and think only of the talk. No one but Geronimo knows what he will say to us for this is a very critical period, and anything of the least importance may start the war or may prevent it. So don’t you say anything at all except as I tell you to say it.”
We then went over to Geronimo’s council. I had felt a little nervous ever since General Crook’s council broke up, but now that we were stepping right into the lion’s jaws, I did not feel near so shaky. As we were getting up close to the council Sieber looked at me and smiled, asked me how I felt. I told him I was not much scared.
The first time Sieber and I had gone into Geronimo’s camp, entirely alone in the Terras Mountains, I was not scared or shaky at all, and the Indians all seemed not to pay much attention to us, but it was the actions of the Indians here that made one feel the gravity of the situation. Not a smile on the face of any one, and, in place of not being noticed as in the Terras Mountains, here every Indian of the two hundred was looking at us and watching our eyes and faces as though they would read our very thoughts.
A place was made for Sieber on a blanket and he was motioned to sit down. Then everybody sat but me. I was left standing as was my place to be, for there is etiquette in a hostile Indian camp just as there is in a ball room of the “Four Hundred” in New York.
Who was it that said the silence of an Indian chief is eloquent? It might have been on this occasion, but if it was I did not appreciate the eloquence of it. I am sure as I stood there amid that silent eloquence I was the most uncomfortable man in Mexico. Oh, how I did want some one to say something. At last, Sieber said to Geronimo :
You would talk with me?”
“Yes,” said Geronimo, “I would talk with you and I have asked you into my council to give me advice and to talk with you, not as a warrior of one nation talks to a warrior of another nation, but as two warriors talk as friends and brothers when a question of gravest importance confronts them in their respective positions.
You heard the words of General Crook. You may have known what he would say before he came here. They were words that make a man feel sad to hear and I know that it made General Crook feel bad to say them. I had no idea he would speak so straight, and I can not now realize that such words have been spoken. General Crook said that I must say if it is to be peace or if it is to be war.
When a man like General Crook says that to a man like me, it does not leave anything for me to do but say “war” or “peace.”
General Crook knows what war is, and he is a man of peace. I, Geronimo, the war chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, for the first time in my life feel that I am getting cornered. True, only the men belonging to my tribe know these mountains well, but with a man like you, a man of iron, as war chief of the white scouts, you will soon know these mountains as does the wolf. Yours is an Indian’s knowledge, with the brains of the white man.
You are without fear, and, although an old man you have never felt yourself tired. Sieber, man of war, man of peace, man of council, tell me what you think of my posi-tion.”
“Geronimo, I can not answer the questions you have asked me in one minute. I will go to my camp and think well over them and will come again tonight and you and I will talk this over. It will not be well for these men to be present when I talk to you and when I do talk it will not be General Crook nor the Government that talks, it will be myself and my advice will be from no mouth but my own. Send some one for me tonight when you get ready and I will come.
Sieber did not wait for an answer, but went back to his camp alone.
After Sieber had gone, Geronimo said to me, “What do you say, boy? Do you like peace or do you like war?”
I can say only,” replied I, “that I can merely act as interpreter for men who have grown old in war. I am a young man yet and have not had experience enough to act as councilor.”
Ah,” said Geronimo, “you are cautious. You are being well fitted. Your teacher, the iron man, is raising you to suit himself. He has an apt pupil, and you a chief for a teacher. You are in good hands, but you were nervous when you came with Sieber a while ago. Were you afraid of Geronimo?”
Yes, I told him I had felt nervous. That I was embarrassed also to have to translate the words of such great men as himself and General Crook and Sieber in a case of this kind.
Well, talk and visit with my men here. You will always be safe in my camp,” said he, “though if we meet in battle, then every one must look out for himself.”
I did not feel much like visiting and soon returned to camp. I was going to Sieber’s tent, but he told me not to stop, but to go on to my own tent. “Geronimo’s people are watching us, and we will not talk together until after we talk to him to-night.”
An Indian council, I will say here, is not a regular discussion of any question, but only by one side at a time. If General Crook talked no one else was permitted to talk at that meeting. So it was when Geronimo sent for Sieber; only Geronimo could talk then; and, accord- ing to the custom of the Indians, one must deliberate before speaking. Consequently Sieber, instead of answering Geronimo at the time he was in the camp to listen to what he had to say, could not make an answer only by appointing a meeting with Geronimo so he could answer him.
It was close to 10 o’clock at night when an Indian kid came and told me to get Sieber and to go to Geronimo, which I did.
Geronimo was alone, with the exception of one woman who was there to build the council fire and keep it going. (Such work as building up a council fire was beneath the dignity of such men as Geronimo and Sieber.)
All three of us sat down in a circle on some skins and Sieber said to Geronimo: “Now we will not be in council, but will just talk to each other as brothers and warriors, as you said in council this evening.”
Sieber then began: “Geronimo, you asked me for my advice. You must have known what it was when you asked me to give it. I am for peace all the time when peace can be made to answer. I am in favor of war only when I know there can be no peace. You, Geronimo, do not like peace, else you would never have left the Reservation years ago when you were there. The last time I talked to you in the Terras Mountains I told you that the time was not far off when the Americans could come into Mexico in pursuit of you and your men. You see that I knew how things were bound to come out, for we are here. Now I say to you in all faith and honor that the Chiricahuas can not resist the white man successfully since we can come to this country. If you continue to war with the white man now and under these circumstances, you and all your people will be exterminated. It takes you ten years to make a warrior out of a 10-year-old boy. General Crook can make many hundreds of soldiers in a single day. The white man can not be exterminated. You and I have seen this country when it was an Indian country. We have seen it when there was no business here except getting in rations for the soldier and his horse. We have seen it from that day to this when there are towns everywhere, and ranches and settlements where once there were only Indians.
Now we see the railroad and the telegraph and with this command is a corps of men who can signal words with a sun glass as the Indian can send a signal. Here I see you Geronimo, the proud and able war chief of the Chiricahuas, surrounded by the last of your tribe and they num- ber about six hundred souls. You are driven to these mountains as the last place of refuge. Here now are two hundred men or more in the very heart of the country you have come to as a place of refuge and these two hundred men are Americans and can find their way here again. I ask of you now what can you do?
You must go to the Reservation now or else make up your mind to die on the war path and see the last remnant of your tribe die with you. Your men are brave and fearless, and your influence with them is as you want to make it. Not one of them is afraid to die, but all men who are used to facing death every day of their lives like to get the best of any fight that they are compelled to make. I have fought and know what the feeling is when I know that I can not win the fight. My heart gets heavy when I know that I have to lie close in the rocks all day and creep away when the darkness comes and can only take my rifle with me and can not tell when I may get something to eat and at times something to bind up my wounds. I can not tell you how I feel then, but this I can say: that it is not well for any man to be so, be he white or red.
I never walk into a trap that I can see and still I have walked into more than one trap. Among all the warriors in the Chiricahua tribe not one knows more of the mountains or of war than I. While you have been growing weaker in men day by day and week by week, my position has become stronger and stronger, until now.
I know that the white man will rule. Can I make you believe that? Yes, I will answer that question. I can make you believe it, for you know I speak only the truth.
I am an old man. You know when I was a young man. Twenty-five years of my life have been spent with the Government, and during all of that time my one business has been to hunt down the Indians who were marauders and enemies to my people. Some men never get killed, and I must be one of them. You know if my words have ever been words of wisdom and truth. I always do my best. Sometimes I have made mistakes, but never have I told an Indian a deliberate lie. Geronimo, I say to you. Take my advice and tell General Crook tomorrow that you and your people will go with him to San Carlos. Now you know that you can not hold out and from here there is no further place for you to go. How can I say more?”
Geronimo sat for a long time and did not say a word.
At last, after a long sigh, he said:
“Sibi, your words have touched me. They have struck deep into my heart. I will consider well what you have said, for I know it is the truth; but I am and always have been a proud man, and such words from you make my heart heavier than even the words of General Cook. When I talk to the General in the morning, you, of course, will be there. I will not forget what advice you have given me.”
It was past midnight and we all started to our camps.
The woman who was to keep up our fire had gone to sleep; our fire had nearly gone out. Geronimo gave her a slight kick and told her to go to her tent. So ended our first day in the Chiricahua camp.
To be continued…