History is often too strange for its own good. Exhibit A: When Geronimo became a cowboy.
And if you don't believe me, here is a photograph of him riding drag:
The Fort Sill Cowboy
So where did this amazing photograph come from and what does it mean? I asked author Michael Farmer and got this reply:
"The picture you have was found in the personal effects of General Hugh Lenox Scott who was Chief of Staff of the Army at the beginning of WWI.
"In October of 1894 when the Chiricahua were taken to Fort Sill, Scott was a first Lieutenant stationed at Fort Sill and was widely respected by the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache (he was known as Sign Talker because he understood and used the sign language used universally by the plains tribes). In early 1894 General Miles, who was in charge of the district that included Fort Sill, called Scott to his headquarters and asked his opinion about bringing the Apaches to Fort Sill. Quanah Parker and Comanches and Kiowa didn’t like the Apaches but had heard something was in the wind about them moving to Fort Sill. They had a deal with the army to get the Fort Sill land back when the army left, but in a meeting with Scott told him they would accept the Chiricahuas coming to Fort Sill if they stayed there. Scott told them that would be the case, and told General Miles there should be no problems with the Comanche and Kiowa if the Apaches came. After Lieutenant Scott and Captain Maus interviewed the Apaches at Mount Vernon it was clear the Apaches wanted to go to Fort Sill. The army finally worked out a way to get around the Dawes Act and get the Chiricahuas to Fort Sill. The colonel commanding Fort Sill was outraged that the Chiricahua were being sent there and planned to keep them penned up in a stockade. Scott knew if that happened there would be war again and told General Miles about the colonel’s plans. Miles transferred the colonel to a post in the east and put Scott in charge of the Apaches. By January of 1895, Scott was a captain.
"As a part of moving the Chiricahuas from Mount Vernon to Fort Sill, Congress had appropriated money to buy a herd of cattle for their use. But, for budgetary reasons, the money had to be spent before January and the reservation wasn’t fenced. If the cattle drifted on to Comanche-Kiowa range there would be bad feeling on both sides––the cattle were eating Comanche-Kiowa grass and the Comanche-Kiowa were eating Apache cattle. This meant the Chiricahuas had to herd the cattle to keep them within Fort Sill land. Although the Apaches were superb horsemen, they weren't prepared to do what they needed to do as cowboys in handling and managing cattle, and neither was Scott. However, Scott had troopers in his command who had been cowboys. The experienced troopers helped train the Apaches, Scott, and his segundo, Lieutenant Capron, who had been the Apaches’ commander at Mount Vernon, how to rope and flank cattle. That meant Scott and Capron were kept on constant duty supervising the men controlling the herd. Scott and Capron were told that if they slept in the Apache’s camp they would have their throats cut but they had to do be there to manage the herd and they slept there safely without problems. That first winter some of the Apaches didn’t even have horses and ran on foot herding the cattle. In referring to Naiche, Scott described him as “a straightforward reliable person. When he was in charge of the cattle herd I could depend on him completely in every weather, and he never disappointed me.” However, Scott said of Geronimo, “…an unlovely character, cross-grained, mean, selfish old curmudgeon, of whom . . . I never heard recounted a kindly or generous deed.”
"By the time Asa Daklugie, Geronimo’s nephew, arrived at Fort Sill from Carlisle in 1895, the herd was well established but in poor shape. He had studied cattle husbandry at Carlisle and lived on cattle farms there in the summers. When he saw the condition of the cattle he went to Scott and nearly got into a fight. Scott talked to George Wratten, the long time interpreter for the Chiricahuas who ran the trading store, about who the ruffian was who wanted to take over Fort Sill. Wratten told him Daklugie just wanted a job so he could marry Ramona Chihuahua, was widely respected among Chiricahuas, and knew what he was doing with cattle. Scott put Daklugie in charge of the herd and Daklugie did a superb job of getting the herd in shape, taking care of things like black leg and ring worm the other Apache cowboys did have a clue about. The herd became the prime money maker for the Chiricahuas within a very few years.
"The Apaches worked through the first winter cutting timber to be sawed for their houses and smaller trees for fence posts. They strung over fifty miles of barbed wire to keep their herd on Fort Sill land and out of their villages. They had to ride the fence and keep a watchful eye for rustlers. Nearly all the older men and some of the younger ones farmed. Geronimo was a farmer, but occasionally, I suspect, although there is no record that I know of, rode to help move the herd. Naiche spent most of his time farming too after the fence was up and not as many “cowboys” were needed for the herd.
"When the Chiricahuas left for Mescalero in 1913 the herd was sold to prevent the chance spreading of tick fever. The Fort Sill herd was considered one of the best in the state. It made enough money that the Chiricahuas in Mescalero were able to buy excellent stock and reestablish themselves as prime cattlemen in NM."
And here is Towana Spivey's take on the Apache Cowboys
And here is Towana Spivey's take on the Apache Cowboys
"The Apache POWs were encouraged to get involved in both agriculture and ranching operations upon their arrival at Fort Sill in Oct 1894 and they took to it readily. Unlike the other tribes (Comanche, Kiowa, Plains Apache, etc.) who were administered under the Indian Agency at Fort Sill and Anadarko, the Apache POWs were enlisted into the army as soldiers and scouts at the same time as they worked as blacksmiths, cowboys, farmers, etc. under the authority of the army instead of the civilian agents. They introduced Kafir Corn to the region that was more resistant to the heat; constructed soil conservation ponds, etc across the Fort Sill area; and did most of the fencing of the reservation to impound their herd of 10,000 head of cattle. They conducted breeding programs to upgrade the quality of the cattle and regular roundups were held to brand and treat the cattle. One Apache cowboy was killed during one of the roundups from a bucking bronc. This was a communal herd owned by the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache as a whole, not by individuals.
"Many of the Native American ranchers from the other tribes had their own brand such as Quanah Parker (circle within a circle) and some tribes also worked herds using the ID brand of the “Indian Department” or “Interior Department.” The Apache sometimes used the ID brand but they also mostly used the US brand. I have one of three Quanah Parker brands known to exist and also one of the ID brands used by the Indian cowboys.
"Both the military quartermaster and the civilian Indian Agent at Fort Sill bought cattle off the Chisholm Trail immediately east of the post. I identified a peculiar jog in the trail many years ago that was the rendezvous point of the TX cattlemen and the government agents to purchase the cattle. The Indian agent bought to provide beef for the tribes under the agency and the QM bought to provide beef for the soldiers. After the arrival of the Apaches, the QM also bought cattle from TX ranchers for their herd. During the 1880s, cattle were being used by the agencies to replace the buffalo as a primary source of meat. I have examples of commercial trade cards depicting efforts by the government to “convert” the Indians from buffalo to beef as their primary staple. Cattle were issued to the Kiowa, Comanche, etc once a month at the beef issue pens on Fort Sill. At first, there was an effort to maintain some semblance of the old buffalo hunt by releasing the wild steers one or two at a time and the hunters would engage in the chase to slay the animals as they had done with the buffalo.
"However, after complaints were received in Washington, DC from the army wives about this “barbaric” activity, the government changed their approach, butchering the steers in advance and issuing the Indians beef tokens good for pound increments (1, 2, 5, 10 or 20 lbs.) of beef redeemable at the agency. This was a cultural blow to the Indians who could no longer “hunt” for their meat as they had done for generations. Indian ranchers on the reservation and later on their own allotments of land, could act more like independent ranchers-buying, selling, branding, butchering, etc their own beef but with agency oversight.
"Quanah Parker himself entered into a cooperative agreement with a Chickasaw rancher (Montford Johnson) who had vast holdings on the east side of the Chisholm Trail to permit the cattle drives from TX to pass through a one mile corridor along the trail unmolested if no TX cowboys were used by Johnson as outriders to protect the Indian herds on either side. Johnson agreed to hire only Indian, Mexican, or black cowboys to patrol the trail on his side but no TX cowboys were permitted. If Johnson broke that agreement, all agreements were off for Quanah and his Comanche warriors / cowboys.
"The Apache were different since they were wards of the Army not the civilian government. They had 12 villages under various leaders or chiefs who could act on behalf of their village and their tribe but under the direct authority of their military unit (commanders of Troop L, 7th Cavalry or the US Scouts) within the boundaries of the Fort Sill Military Reservation. The success of the Apache breeding experiments, roundups, herd improvements, etc became a justification for Texas ranchers to push for the government to open up the grasslands of OK for TX ranching operations and many Texans took advantage of this to lease huge grasslands from the Indian Agency to give relief for their over-grazing problems in TX.
"At the same time, the farmers from outside the region, used the Apache successes in introducing various heat resistant crops, soil conservation and harvesting techniques, etc to justify their political pressures to open up the area to farmers. Both the farmers and ranchers had their own biased perspectives of course. This brought about a direct conflict between ranchers and farmers in TX, etc who all wanted access to the Indian lands in OK. The Apache successes in both arenas were used in the political arguments for the potential success of non-Indian farmers and ranchers. Official reports were produced along these lines.
"As a direct result of WWI beginning in 1914, the Apache POWs were given their freedom in that year and had to move off of Fort Sill, taking up individual allotments as all other Indians had done before statehood in 1907. However, there was not enough land to provide those Apaches who stayed in OK with the standard 160 acres apiece (each man, woman and child). Other tribes had taken much of the available land or it was given to white settlers during the land openings of 1901 and in the “Leased District” in SW OK in 1905. Improper allotments to “captives” were largely withdrawn; deceased Indians with no heirs provided some land for the Apache; but there was still not enough land to meet the 160 acre standard. The sale of the 10,000 head of cattle became the method of acquiring more land than was already available. The proceeds from the cattle sale provided cash to purchase land back from White settlers to help provide allotments to the Apache. In the end, no Apache received a full 160 acres. The most any Apache received was 158 acres and the least, around 58 acres per person. This was largely possible by the sale of the Apache cattle herd.
"Many Apache did not realize how this was handled and for years the question kept arising, “What happened to our cattle?” In addition to purchasing land for one third of the Apache who chose to stay in the vicinity of the town of Apache, OK, the monies were also used to pay the relocation expenses of the remaining portion of the tribe who chose to move to the Mescalero Reservation in NM. This included shipping buildings, wagons, supplies, family possessions, and some livestock by railroad. So the cattle herd played an important role in the history of the Apache. There are many photos of the former Apache warriors, now soldiers, ranchers and farmers, conducting roundups, branding, harvesting, blacksmithing, etc. as a regular occupation in addition to being soldiers.
"Mama, don't let your Apache babies grow up to cowboys. . ."
—Old Apache Saying
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