It is a well worn cliche that the Old West was a dangerous place. But, somehow in our current rush to politicize history—scrub it clean over here, dump all the evil over there—we forget just how dangerous it was for EVERY person who was out on the deserts of the Southwest, from Taos to Tucson, from Yuma to Baja. The edict, kill or be killed, loomed like a dark cloud over all the landscape.
Doing research on the Geronimo story can be so daunting because of the incessant killing, over and over, on and on. And, it comes from every race: Mexicans against the Spanish, the Spanish against the Americans, the Americans against the Apaches, often tribe against tribe, sometimes all of the above against everyone else, and it is relentless. I sometimes have to take a break and go for a walk to clear my head from all the death and brutality.
Still, if you dig deep enough, out of that overwhelming violence comes a faint, but sweet, brotherhood that can be breathtaking. When Lt. Britton Davis of the U.S. Army said that the Apache Chatto was "one of the finest men, red or white, I have ever known," it strikes a chord of harmony sweeter than any music I have ever heard.
In fact, it's the ones who see the humanity in all of this ugly violence who are the true heroes. Captain John G. Bourke, going to bat for the Apaches imprisoned in Florida and losing his career over it. Alchesay, who rose above the petty politics of the White Mountain Reservation wars, and who had a school named for him, these are the ones we should remember and celebrate.
Instead, we put halos on killers and give them powers and virtues they never had. I don't think I can change that, but I can cast a light on it.
"Music is healing."