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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Geronimo died on this day in 1909 - history, quotes, and why we yell his name when we jump out of planes

Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you, and that is all. 

Geronimo (wiki) (surrendering to General Crook, 25 March 1886) 

It [Arizona] is my land, my home, my father's land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return. I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct. 

~Geronimo (letter to President McKinley from the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897) 

If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of ground, and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented, nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the great white chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They can not tell me.

Chief Joseph (wiki) (ca. 1840-1904)* (North American Review, April 1879) 

February 17th is the anniversary of the death in 1909 of that legendary Chiricahua Apache chieftain, Geronimo (born ca. 1829), whose actual Indian name was Goyathlay ("One Who Yawns"). The name by which Geronimo is remembered was supposedly bestowed on him by a detachment of Mexican soldiers so stunned by the ferocity of his resistance that they repeatedly invoked the name of St. Jerome against him. 

Born along the Gila River in what is now Arizona during a time when his people were fighting both U.S. and Mexican settlers for their lands, Geronimo became a raider after his own family was killed in 1858. He was captured several times and confined to a reservation, but he escaped repeatedly to continue his campaign of guerilla warfare, most notably during 1885-86, when 5,000 U.S. soldiers were arrayed against his small band. 

Finally recaptured and imprisoned, first in Florida and then in Alabama, Geronimo and his family were allowed to 1894 to settle on an Indian reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he spent the rest of his life as a prosperous farmer and minor celebrity. (He appeared at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and rode in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade a year later. In his autobiography, he remarked,

"I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds, are all listening to what we have to say.")

* N.B. Chief Joseph (Hinmatóowyalahtq’it) was the greatest latter-day chief of the Nez Perce Indians of northwestern Oregon. 

The reason that U.S. airborne troops yell "Geronimo!" when they jump out of airplanes has to do with a 1939 movie entitled Geronimo (a 1993 movie by the same title is also availablewhich was viewed by a group of early paratroopers (the Parachute Test Platoon in Fort Benning, Georgia) in 1940. The concept of jumping from planes with parachutes was nerve-racking, and in order to demonstrate his bravery one of them planned to yell:
The other soldiers gave him a hard time. They were all scared. Of course he was scared, too. He should just admit it.
"All right, dammit!” Eberhardt finally shouted. “I’ll tell you jokers what I'm gonna do! To prove to you that I'm not scared out of my wits when I jump, I'm gonna yell ‘Geronimo’ loud as hell when I go out that door tomorrow!"
The next day, he made good on his promise. Out the plane he went and everyone heard “Geronimooooooo!” The rest of the platoon wasn’t about to let Eberhardt show them up, so on subsequent jumps the rest of the soldiers took up his battle cry and a tradition was born. The next year, the Army’s first official parachute unit, the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion, made “Geronimo” the motto on their unit insignia after their commander tracked down descendants of the real Geronimo to ask for their permission to use his name.

A short video biography:

Part of the text above is adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.


  1. I thought parachutists yelled "Geronimo" because it made them spread their mouths so wide that their eustachian tubes opened and they wouldn't pop their eardrums before their 'chutes deployed. Both could be true, of course.

  2. If he was "Born along the Gila River in what is now Arizona during a time when his people were fighting both U.S. and Mexican settlers for their lands" in 1829, it would be at least 20 (more like 25) years before "his people" had an axe to grind against Americans.

    God, I hate how PC turns people into idiots.

  3. About a year after I quit sport skydiving, I realized that I had never once heard somebody shout "Geronimo!" when exiting the plane. I was disappointed.

  4. Five dope ropes, 23 free falls, and 2 HALOs. Never once yelled "Geronimo." Was too scared! Afraid that if I opened my mouth, I'd scream like a little girl!

  5. "According to James L. Haley, "About two weeks after the escape there was a report of a family massacred near Silver City; one girl was taken alive and hanged from a meat hook jammed under the base of her skull."

    Yeah, he was a real hero, that Geronimo. He could torture a little girl to death.

    1. What part of Apache Indian did you not understand?

    2. If I read Haley correctly (Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait, pp.380-1), he implies that the massacre was the work of Chihuahua, not of Geronimo - in that section Haley is talking about is talking about the army's unsuccessful pursuit of Chihuahua, and then introduces the story of the massacre.

  6. Paratroopers who are pacifist yell, "Ghandi!" when they jump.

  7. So now there will be a connection in my mind between Geronimo and Hieronymus Bosch and of course Harry Bosch via Jerome

  8. Allegedly, Skull & Bones Society {see: Geo. H.W. Bush; Geo. W. Bush}, has the skull of Geronimo, from grave theft. Has that skull ever been DNA tested? Why has the skull not been returned to the family of Geronimo?

    Another insult from the crud in Washington, DC, for allowing it.

  9. 11th Airborne song starts out "Down from heaven came eleven and there's hell to pay below shout Geronimo!!!!! Geronimo!