Geronimo, Chief Naiche and Lozen


Geronimo’s final band pictured in front of the train car taking them to prison in Florida. Geronimo is in the front row, third from the right. Immediately to his left is Chief Naiche. In the back row, third from the right is Lozen, the famous woman warrior. This is the only known photograph of her. C. 1889
National Archives


The origins of his name are disputed.

The man who would become the most feared Indian leader of the 19th century was born sometime in the 1820s into the Bedonkohe, the smallest band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe that inhabited what is now New Mexico and Arizona. His given name was Goyahkla (“The One Who Yawns”), but as a young man he earned the moniker “Geronimo” after distinguishing himself in Apache raids against the Mexicans. The source of the name remains the subject of debate. Some historians believed it arose from frightened Mexican soldiers invoking the Catholic St. Jerome when facing the warrior in battle, while others argue that it was simply a Mexican nickname or a mispronunciation of “Goyahkla.”

Geronimo’s wife and children were murdered when he was a young man.

Geronimo came of age during a period of bitter conflict between the Chiricahua Apaches and the Mexicans. In response to the Apaches’ penchant for staging raids to gather horses and provisions, the Mexican government had begun ambushing Apache settlements and offering lucrative bounties for their scalps. In 1851, while Geronimo and several other warriors were in the town of Janos on a trading mission, Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco and a detachment of around 400 Mexican soldiers ransacked his Bedonkohe encampment and slaughtered many of its inhabitants. When Geronimo returned later that night, he found that his mother, his wife and his three young children had all been murdered. “I had lost all,” he said in his autobiography. Following the massacre, Geronimo swore vengeance against Mexico and led a series of bloody raids on its soldiers and settlements. “I have killed many Mexicans,” he later wrote. “I do not know how many…some of them were not worth counting.”

He broke out of U.S. Indian reservations on three different occasions.

In the 1840s and 1850s, the Mexican-American War and the Gadsden Purchase placed the Chiricahua Apaches’ domain within the boundaries of the expanding United States. Geronimo and the Apaches violently resisted the influx of white settlers, but following several years of war with the U.S. Army, they reluctantly negotiated a peace. By 1876, most of the Chiricahuas had been shipped to San Carlos, an arid and inhospitable reservation located in Arizona.

Geronimo avoided the reservation until 1877, when he was captured by Indian agents and brought to San Carlos in chains. He tried his hand at farming, but like many of the Chiricahua, he longed for the freedom of the frontier. Geronimo and his allies would eventually stage three escapes from the reservation between 1878 and 1885. Each time, the renegades fled south and disappeared into the mountains, only resurfacing to conduct marauding expeditions on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. During his second breakout in 1882, Geronimo even staged a daring raid on the Apache reservation and forced several hundred Chiricahuas to join his band—some of them at gunpoint. By the time of his final breakout in 1884, Geronimo had earned an unparalleled reputation for cunning, and stories of his ruthlessness—both real and imagined—were front-page news across the United States.

Geronimo’s followers credited him with supernatural powers.

While he often exerted considerable influence over the Apaches, Geronimo was never a tribal chief. Among the Chiricahua, he was better known for his skills as a shaman, or medicine man. Those who followed Geronimo credited him with a variety of supernatural powers including the ability to heal the sick, slow time, avoid bullets, bring on rainstorms and even witness events over great distances. In one incident described by Apache Jason Betzinez, a few warriors were sitting around a campfire during a raiding expedition when Geronimo suddenly had a premonition that U.S. troops had attacked their base camp. After arriving at the site several days later, they found that Geronimo’s vision had been correct—the Americans had already captured the encampment. “I cannot explain it to this day,” Betzinez later wrote, “but I was there and I saw it.”

Nearly a quarter of the U.S. Army took part in the final hunt for Geronimo.

On May 17, 1885, Geronimo and some 135 Apache men, women and children took flight from their reservation for the final time. The famed warrior was then in his 60s, but he remained as determined as ever, often pushing his group to cover as much as 70 miles per day to avoid the American cavalry and Apache scouts on their trail. Over the next several months, Geronimo’s fugitives raided countless Mexican and American and settlement, killing several civilians. They nearly surrendered in March 1886, but Geronimo and 40 followers reneged on the agreement at the last minute and escaped under cover darkness. Soon, the Indians were being pursued by 5,000 U.S. soldiers—nearly a quarter of the standing army—as well as some 3,000 Mexicans. Geronimo was able elude both forces for over five months, but by August, he and his followers had grown weary of life on the run. On September 4, 1886, he finally gave himself up to General Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. In laying down his arms, he became the last Indian leader to formally surrender to the United States military.

He spent the last 23 years of his life as a prisoner of war.

Following their surrender, Geronimo and the Chiricahuas—including the Apache army scouts that had helped catch him—were condemned to manual labor at army camps in Florida. The Indians were later moved to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, and then Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but despite their repeated pleas for a reservation in the West, they remained prisoners of war for the rest of Geronimo’s life. As the years passed, Geronimo busied himself with farming and cashed in on his growing celebrity by selling autographs and peddling walking sticks, bows and other items to American tourists. His captors also granted him permission to appear in occasional World’s Fairs and Wild West Shows, where he was often billed as the “Apache Terror” and the “Tiger of the Human Race.”

Geronimo participated in Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential inauguration.

Geronimo’s most famous public appearance came on March 4, 1905, when he took part in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in Washington, D.C. Flanked by five other Indian leaders, the elderly warrior rode a pony down Pennsylvania Avenue, eliciting cries of “Hooray for Geronimo!” from spectators. Five days later, the Indians got a chance to speak to Roosevelt in person at the White House. Geronimo—still a prisoner of war—took the opportunity to plead with the President to send the Chiricahuas back to their native lands in the West. “I pray you to cut the ropes and make me free,” he said. By then, nearly 20 years had passed since Geronimo’s surrender, but Roosevelt turned down the request out of fear that war would once again break out if the Apaches returned home. The federal government wouldn’t free the Chiricahuas until 1913—four years after Geronimo’s 1909 death from pneumonia.
US History – Native Americans –

Naiche – the last Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches

“Naiche (Nachi, Nache, Natchez, meaning “mischief maker” or “meddlesome one”) was the last hereditary leader of the Chiricahua Apache. As a young man, Naiche, a son of Cochise, led many Apache raids in Arizona. He became chief after his older brother, Taza, died in 1876.

During 1880, opposing relocation to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, Naiche entered Mexico with Geronimo’s band. While living in the Sierra Madre Mountains, the Chiricahua attacked Mexican and American settlements. Although Naiche was the chief, he submitted to the leadership of his elder, Geronimo, during these forays. The U.S. Army pursued the Chiricahua until Naiche surrendered to Gen. George Crook in 1883.

The Apaches were assigned to the San Carlos Reservation. In 1885, however, Naiche and Geronimo escaped with some one hundred supporters. During September 1886 Apache scouts aiding the U.S. Army forced the Chiricahua to capitulate in northern Mexico. Soon after, Naiche and his followers were imprisoned at Fort Marion, Florida, then moved to Alabama’s Mt. Vernon Barracks.

Apache requests to return to Arizona were denied. Invited by Kiowa and Comanche leaders to share their reservation, Naiche and approximately 295 other Apaches relocated at Fort Sill in October 1894. Naiche stayed in Oklahoma until 1913, and then he returned to the Southwest and lived out his life on the Mescalero Reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico. He died at Mescalero, New Mexico, on March 16, 1919.”
Oklahoma History and Culture


Native American warriors like Sitting Bull (Lakota), Tecumseh (Shawnee) and Geronimo (Apache) have long been celebrated as defenders of Indigenous territories. Their courageous resistance to foreign invaders helped to ensure cultural survival.

One lesser-known warrior was Lozen, an Apache, or Nde, woman who also resisted European domination. Known for her bravery, military prowess and dedication to her people’s safety during a tumultuous period in Apache history, Lozen was a warrior shaman and humanitarian who fought against Mexican and American forces for 30 years, earning the nickname “Apache Joan of Arc.”

Lozen could ride a horse and shoot; she also is said to have used supernatural powers to locate the enemy. She was a trusted ally of the famed Apache Chief Geronimo and sister to Apache Chief Victorio. Although these men are better known to historians, Lozen remains a legend to her people today.

“Lozen is my right hand,” Victorio once said of his sister. “Strong as a man, braver than most and cunning in strategy. She is a shield to her people.”

Lozen’s Early Life

Lozen was born around 1840 into the Chihenne Apache band near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. At the time, there were at least seven Apache bands and numerous clans spread across a vast area known as Apacheria in what is now northern Mexico, eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

The Chihenne band, also known as the Eastern Chiricahua or “red paint people,” were recognized by the red band of clay worn across their faces during ceremonies. Known for raiding, Apache bands often warred with one another and were always on the move. “Traditionally, the Apache were nomads,” says Joey Padilla, a medicine man and museum curator at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. “We never stayed in one place.”

Lozen’s name, which means “dexterous horse thief,” reflects the skill she acquired that enabled her to sneak behind enemy lines undetected, round up horses and steal them away. Her stealth and courage would become valuable qualities during a time of near constant conflict. “Lozen began fighting Mexican soldiers and scalp hunters, eternal enemies of her band, when she came of age… After Americans arrived in 1849 to lay claim to her homeland, she battled then as well,” wrote Peter Aleshire in Warrior Woman: The Story of Lozen, Apache Warrior and Shaman.

Becoming a Warrior Woman

Born into a matriarchal culture with a deity called “White Painted Woman” at the center of her creation story, Lozen understood from a young age that women played an important role.

“She was a warrior woman in her time. The Apaches always had a woman with them, she stood right behind the man with a knife or gun,” Padilla says. “If the man went down, you had to deal with the woman too. Women also hid the children from enemies.”

In 1848, New Mexico became a territory of the U.S. under the Treaty of Hidalgo. A California gold rush that year brought streams of miners through Apacheria. When Lozen was 12, she underwent puberty rites in which she went alone into the mountains and, according to oral history, gained a supernatural power to locate enemies. Harlyn Geronimo, the great-grandson of Geronimo, said Lozen would lift her hands and walk in a circle until the veins in her arms turned dark blue, indicating the direction from which the enemy would approach.

Lozen’s Role in the Apache Wars

Portrait of Apache Chief Cochise
After Chiricahua Chief Cochise, pictured here, was falsely accused of kidnapping a white boy, the conflict escalated into two decades of warfare between the United States and multiple Apache nations.Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1861, the Chokonen Chiricahua Chief Cochise was falsely accused of kidnapping a rancher’s son, sparking a series of conflicts that would embroil the U.S. and various Apache nations in conflict for 24 years. In 1862, Cochise and another chief went to battle at Apache Pass with 200 warriors, but were pushed into retreat and scattered by howitzer cannons.

Lozen fought at Apache Pass, was welcomed into council as a warrior and fought on for years with her brother Victorio in the struggle for their homeland. Lozen was likely involved at a horse raid at Fort Craig where Apaches armed with bows and arrows took horses from soldiers. In 1869, she joined Victorio and other Apache leaders for a meeting to establish a reservation at Ojo Caliente, but they were instead moved to harsher conditions at the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.

In 1877, Victorio, Lozen and other Chihenne fled San Carlos, eventually choosing war rather than return. They disbanded to evade capture, and Lozen later escorted a group of women and children to Mexico across the raging Rio Grande river. James Kaywaykla, a child at the time, remembered riding behind his grandmother as the Chihenne band fled American forces. Kaywaykla said he saw a “magnificent woman” on a beautiful horse, holding a rifle above her head. After the group reached Mexico, cold and wet but alive, Lozen then rode back across the Rio Gande and returned to the fight.

At one point, Lozen left the band to help a young pregnant woman cross the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico back to her family on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, equipped with a single rifle, a cartridge belt, a knife and a three-day supply of food. While in route, she hid the mother and assisted her in delivering the child, killed and butchered a longhorn cow and captured two horses for their journey.

Victorio was ambushed and died at Tres Castillos, where many other Apaches also died. Some believed that if Lozen had been present, Victorio would not have been ambushed.

Lozen’s Time With Geronimo

Close up portrait of Geronimo
Apache leader Geronimo Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After Victorio’s death, Lozen rode with Geronimo. In 1882, she joined him in a raid that freed 600 people from San Carlos and supported him again in 1885 during his final escape from the reservation. According to his descendants, Geronimo decided to surrender in 1886 to ensure the safety of his remaining followers.

Lozen, Geronimo and many others were then taken to Florida prisons. She later died in Alabama at the age of 50 from tuberculosis, but some of her relatives made it back west.

“After the wars, we brought many of the Chiricahuas from Florida,” says Joey Padilla. He says his community at the Mescalero Reservation continues the women’s coming-of-age traditions that Lozen participated in more than 180 years ago. The community also continues to celebrate the legacy of Lozen.

“The descendants of Lozen’s family are here with us today in our community,” Padilla says.


Sources:Ball, Eve, with Nora Henn and Lynda Sanchez. Indeh: An Apache Odyssey. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1980. Ball, Eve, with James Kaywayla. In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970. Ball, Eve, with Lynda Sanchez. “Legendary Apache Women.” Frontier Times 54 (October/November 1980): 8–12. Boyer, Ruth McDonald, and Narcissus Duffy Gayton. Apache Mothers and Daughters: Four Generations of Family. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. Buchanan, Kimberly Moore. Apache Women Warriors. Southwestern Studies Series, no. 79. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1986. Cole, D.C. The Chiricahua Apache, 1846–1876: From War to Reservation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988. Etulain, Richard W. and Glenda Riley eds. Chiefs and Generals: Nine Men Who Shaped the American West. Notable Westerners Series. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 2004. Robinson, Sherry. Apache Voices: Their Stories of Survival as Told to Eve Ball. American Indian Biography Series. University of New Mexico Press, 2000 Stockel, H. Henrietta. “Lozen: Apache Warrior Queen.” Real West 25 (December 1982): 20–22. Stockel, Henrietta H. Shame and Endurance: The Untold Story of the Chiricahua Apache Prisoners of War. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004. Stockel, H. Henrietta. Survival of the Spirit: Chiricahua Apaches in Captivity. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 20–22. _______. Women of the Apache NationVoices of Truth. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1991.  

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