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Geronimo was born in southern Arizona, present-day Clifton, and given the name Goyathlay, meaning "one who yawns." The Mexicans later gave him the name Geronimo, which is Spanish for Jerome. After his mother, wife and children were massacred by Mexicans in 1858, he joined in the raids of Cochise, Victorio, and other Apache leaders against Mexican and American settlers. He did not inherit his status as chief, having risen to leadership through the ranks.

Geronimo was chief of the southern Chiricahua tribe of Apache Indians.* In 1876, when the Chiricahua reservation was dismantled by the U.S. government and the Apaches were relocated to the dry San Carlos reservation in New Mexico, Geronimo led his followers into Mexico. He established hideaways for his followers in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The camps were well concealed to avert capture.

From this secure base, Geronimo began a decade of sporadic forays against white settlements alternating with periodic surrender, then peaceful farming on the San Carlos reservation. Once while on the warpath in March 1886, he surrendered to General George Crook, who imposed a "treaty" that would have relocated the Chiricahua to Florida, but Geronimo escaped with his band two days later. In September of that year, he and his force surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles, Crook's replacement.

The Apache warriors were deported to incarceration in Florida without their families — an agreement broken — then Alabama and finally to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory. Initially Geronimo repeatedly attempted to escape and tried to convince the government that they should relocate him to Arizona, but he would spend the remainder of his days at Fort Sill where he became a successful farmer. He converted to Christianity and in 1903 enrolled in the Dutch Reformed Church. Geronimo's pacification capped the Apache resistance struggle, with few others carrying on the fight.

Geronimo became a national figure when he made an appearance at the 1904 2793:St. Louis] World’s Fair and was included in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural procession in 1905. Geronimo died on February 17, 1909. His followers who were still living in 1913 were set free. A few stayed in Oklahoma, but the rest elected to settle on southern New Mexico's Mescalero Apache reservation.

*Cochise was chief of the central band.
See Indian Wars Time Table.