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Geronimo in his own words

He was called the “greatest warrior” and the “worst Indian who ever lived.” He brought hope to his people and terror to his enemies. And he survived the most bloody of conflicts in the settling of the Arizona Territories of the late 1800’s – to tell his story “in his own words.”

When he surrendered in 1886 to General Miles he and his band of 16 warriors were the last Apaches to do so bringing a close to the Apache Wars which stretched for nearly ten bloody years throughout the Arizona Territory and parts of Mexico.

“ Once I moved like the wind,” he told General Miles.

“Now I surrender to you and that is all.”

Yet, unlike so many of the conquered, Geronimo’s voice was not silenced with his surrender. Although it would be twenty years before he got to tell the story in his own words a book would be published in 1906 “in his own words.”  It was not without a good deal of controversy and a string of objections from the U.S. War Department. Had it not been for the persistence of a young Superintendent of Schools in Lawton Oklahoma who befriended the old warrior at Ft. Sill the words of Geronimo may never have made it to paper.

The year was 1904 and S.M. Barrett was acting as an interpreter between English and Spanish. Geronimo took a liking to him after Barrett confided that he had once been wounded by a Mexican. Geronimo, whose family had been killed by Mexican soldiers when he was barely twenty, maintained his hatred of Mexicans his entire life.

The two struck up a friendship and Geronimo suggested to Barrett that “ if he would pay him and if the officers in charge did not object, he would tell Barrett the whole story of his life.” Barrett agreed to the proposal, saying he was intrigued at the prospect “…of giving the public an authentic record of the private life of the Apache Indians and of Geronimo.”

The U.S. War Department was not so intrigued.Geronimo 1909

Coming just twenty years after the conflict, the wounds of war, they said, were still too fresh and the depredations too costly.” They argued that the Apaches did not deserve so much attention, and one lieutenant went so far as to tell Barrett “…that the Apache might better be hanged than spoiled by so much attention from civilians.”

Despite these obstacles, Barrett continued to push his case for the book to be published reaching out to President Roosevelt directly.  Roosevelt had recently invited Geronimo to ride at the front of his Inaugural Parade in 1905 much to the chagrin of those who fought and lost against him. The newly elected president was amenable to allowing Geronimo to write his story.

Yet the War Department persisted in trying to edit the final manuscript, writing this:

‘’ The manuscript is an interesting autobiography of a notable Indian, made by himself. There are a number of passages which, from the departmental point of view are decidedly objectionable. …The entire manuscript appears in a way important as showing the Indian side of a prolonged controversy, but it is believed that the document, either in whole or in part, should not receive the approval of the War Department”

They went on to note several pages where Geronimos’ accounting of the facts were at odds with official reports including his account of an attack upon Indians in a tent at Apache Pass and several criticisms of General Crook, who he felt had acted in bad faith.

Yet, it would be Barrett who would persist and prevail in having the manuscript published without interference. He pointed out that Geronimo’s account of Apache Pass was substantially confirmed by L.C.Hughes, editor of The Star in Tucson Arizona and noted that Geronimo’s criticisms of General Crook were simply one man’s private opinion of the General.

In the end the U.S. War Department gave their permission for “In My Own Words” to be printed as written. The only edits and caveats in the book would be those that Barrett himself felt necessary to include.

The book “ Geronimo’s Story of His Life,” taken down and edited by S.M. Barrett, was released in 1906.

Photograph of Geronimo being interviewed by Lawton.
Photograph of Geronimo being interviewed by Lawton.


*A second release in 1909 is still in print today and available at the Pickle Barrel Trading Post. It includes an introduction and further notes by Frederick Turner who writes that Geronimo’s story is “a preliterate and essentially a prewhite narrative.” Nearly a hundred years later, author David Roberts who would write eloquently about the Apache wars and its leaders in his book, “Once They Rode Like the Wind,” has also said that there is a bit of Barrett himself in the pages of his manuscript where he has added his own words at times and used Apache interpreters for the imprecise adaptation of Apache language to English. He further notes that Geronimo appeared to be using the book to reach out to President Roosevelt to gain his freedom to return to Arizona – perhaps coloring some of the accounts to put himself in a better light. He points out the possibility that with the U.S. War Department having final say over the content and the books release Barrett perhaps was influenced in what he chose to include or not include in the final book.

Published June 2013


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  1. I was born and raised in Globe and was always told stories about Geronimo. We were told that he was tried in the old Globe court house and escaped to the mountains around Safford. I am looking for information on that part of his life. Do you know if that is mentioned in this book. I do know the Pickle Barrel and will try to order this book. Do you know if there is a more comprehensive book about Geronimo? Thank you

    • We are unaware of other books on Geronimo, but good sources for additional information would include the Gila County Historical Museum, Bullion Plaza Museum, and the Arizona Archives. Good luck.

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