Unless you live under a rock, you no doubt have heard that the U.S. military evoked the name of a former (albeit transient) Sierra County, New Mexico, resident in its designs to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. "Operation Geronimo" was the tag given to the recent Navy Seal operation. President Obama confirmed in a recent 60 Minutes interview that when bin Laden was shot it was communicated by, "Geronimo - EKIA," code for "enemy killed in action."
The original "operation Geromino" went down in southern New Mexico 126 years ago, with there being significant U.S. Army and Apache activity at Kingston, Lake Valley, and Hillsboro. The threat of loss of life and property by Apaches was significant on a number of occasions from 1877 until 1886, such that commerce and travel were conducted at great risk. Observers at the time commented that Apache depredations prostrated the mining industry. Hillsboro was the first of the three towns to be founded, in 1877, followed by Lake Valley and Kingston in the early '80s.
|The Apache, Geronimo, as he appeared before surrender in 1886. Geronimo and his band attacked outlying ranches near Lake Valley a few months before this image was taken. Library of Congress.|
The U.S. Army put considerable resources on the ground to capture or kill the Apache paladin and his lieutenant so to speak, Naiche, the son of Cochise. Geromino's last outbreak from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation occurred in 1885 and lasted until his surrender in the fall of 1886. Some of those U.S. Army resources were at Camp Hillsboro/Camp Boyd, about a mile north of today's Hillsboro post office.
|Naiche, seen here a prisoner of war circa 1898, was with Geronimo to the last. Library of Congress.|
|The national media carried news about the Indian campaign. The 1885 Harper's Weekly shows Ft Bayard soldiers in a training exercise. Ft Bayard is roughly 25 miles from where Geronimo last struck near Lake Valley. Library of Congress.|
But one cannot ignore the historical significance that Geronimo had locally--and nationally. Thousands of soldiers, both American and Mexican, were put on the ground in his pursuit. Hundreds of people died in the Geronimo campaign and other notable conflicts with Apache men, both his contemporaries, and in the years before him: Ulzana, Chihuahua, Victorio, Nana, Cochise, Mangas. Civilians, soldiers, and Apaches were victims of the violence.
Chief Loco: Apache Peacemaker, written by a descendant of the Apache leader. Geronimo lamented late in life that he had no friends among his own people.
|Geronimo, a prisoner of war, taken circa 1898. Library of Congress.|
Geronimo evaded capture, but surrendered a year later, the last to give in to the concentration policies of the U.S. government. The McKinn boy remarkably survived and was returned to his parents when Geronimo surrendered. You can learn more about how the young McKinn lived his life in this story by Jerry Egan, called The Captive in Desert Exposure. The original "operation Geronimo" came to a close in September 1886. Many lives lost, many lives ruined. The Chiricahuas--the entire tribe--became prisoners of war and were removed from the Southwest.
These events are well documented in scholarly works, and among the best resources is the book, From Cochise to Geronimo by Edwin R. Sweeney. Members of the Hillsboro Historical Society have written a book, titled, Around Hillsboro, due to be released in August. In this book, you'll see rare images related the Apache wars--and a whole lot more.