Top of page

Head and shoulders photograph showing the famous Apache leader Geronimo, photographed during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo., in 1904
Geronimo, Gerhard Sisters, photographer, circa 1904. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Of Note: Geronimo: His Autograph and His Legacy

Share this post:

Of Note is an occasional series in which we share items that have caught our eye.

This June marks Geronimo’s 197th birthday. The Bedonkohe Apache leader declared that he was born in June 1829, although we do not have a specific date.[1] The image below shows a Geronimo-related item from the collections of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. This illustration of a horse was a gift to the Library from L. N. D. Mixsell in 1914 and is purported to include Geronimo’s autograph. Mixsell had placed the item in the hands of Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane as a gift to the government, and Lane subsequently transferred it to the Library. Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam acknowledged the gift, writing to Mixsell, “I hasten to assure you that it is most welcome here, and that it will be a valued addition to our collection.”[2] The creator of the drawing is not identified. Beyond these details, not much is known about the item, but we can infer some information from Geronimo’s later years.

Geronimo's presumed autograph above a pencil drawing (inverted) of a tan horse with an orange saddle.
Geronimo’s presumed autograph on a pencil drawing of a horse, undated. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Although the autograph has not been authenticated, it is known that Geronimo participated in expositions while a prisoner of war of the U.S. Army. He capitalized on his fame by signing many autographs for income. He recounted some of these experiences, specifically at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, in the autobiographical Geronimo’s Story of His Life, an oral history that he dictated to an Apache translator, Asa Dakugie, and to Stephen M. Barrett, an acquaintance he met during his captivity. Since 1886, Geronimo and other Apaches who had resisted living on reservations and the federal invasion of their lands were held as prisoners of war. Barrett, the Superintendent of Education in Lawton, Oklahoma, became the editor of Geronimo’s autobiography and endeavored to have it published. Geronimo attended the St. Louis fair, officially known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, with the permission of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the following year, Roosevelt requested Geronimo’s participation in his inaugural parade on March 4, 1905, where Geronimo rode on horseback alongside five American Indian chiefs.[3]

Monochrome stereograph image (two similar images placed side by side) of inauguration parade with Indian chiefs on horseback at the front of the image.
[American] Indian chiefs headed by Geronimo, passing in review before President Roosevelt, Inauguration Day, 1905, Washington, D.C., U.S.A., Keystone View Company, circa 1905. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Several days later, Geronimo met with President Roosevelt at the White House where he appealed for freedom for himself and for the other Apache prisoners, and for them all to be allowed to return to their traditional homeland in Arizona. Roosevelt declined, stating “We must wait a while before we can think of sending you back to Arizona.” The meeting was described in some detail in the New-York Tribune in what today would be considered a patronizing and racially insensitive way.[4]  Roosevelt’s motivations for including Geronimo and the five chiefs in the parade, and likewise, the Native Americans’ motivations for participating, remain complex.[5]

Barrett was initially denied permission to record Geronimo’s story in 1905 by the military authorities at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Geronimo and other Apaches were confined. At the time, Geronimo was (and remains) a controversial figure due to his appearance in the many public reports of violent raids, counter-offensives, and warfare involving American Indians, Mexicans, westward settlers, and the U.S. and Mexican governments. However, Barrett was ultimately granted permission to pursue the autobiography by President Roosevelt himself. Barrett compiled the accounts through interviews with Geronimo, whose interest, as the title suggests, was in telling his story in his own words, but it remains difficult to know how much Barrett, as the editor, may have influenced the narrative. Roosevelt was also involved in the project through to publication, offering advice to Barrett on its writing, and corrections to the publisher, Duffield and Company of New York.[6] Geronimo, possibly as a shrewd diplomatic move, dedicated the autobiography to Roosevelt “because I believe that he is fair-minded and will cause my people to receive justice in the future.”[7]

Geronimo never returned to Arizona. He died in February 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, having spent the previous 22 years as a prisoner of war. His life continues to resonate today as a compelling figure of Native American history, and his presumed autograph remains in the Library’s collections as a reminder of his story.

Do you want more stories like this? Then subscribe to Unfolding History – it’s free!

[1] Geronimo, Geronimo’s Story of His Life, ed. Stephen M. Barrett (New York: Duffield & Co., 1906), 17.

[2] Herbert Putnam to Franklin K. Lane, June 6, 1914, and Herbert Putnam to L. N. D. Mixsell, June 6, 1914, Secretary’s Office Letters, Volume 174, June-July 1914, pages 32 and 46, Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

[3] The five chiefs included “Quanah Parker (Comanche), Buckskin Charlie (Ute), American Horse (Sioux), Little Plume (Blackfeet), and Hollow Horn Bear (Sioux)” according to Jesse Rhodes, “Indians on the Inaugural March,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 14, 2009. Rhodes also identifies Geronimo as a chief, although most sources do not.

[4] “Indians at White House, Want to Return Home,” New York Tribune, March 10, 1905, 7.

[5] See Rhodes, “Indians on the Inaugural March.”

[6] Theodore Roosevelt to S. M. Barrett, Series 2, Vol. 61, p. 491, March 3, 1906, and William Loeb Jr. to Duffield and Co., Series 1, September 5, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

[7] Geronimo, Geronimo’s Story of His Life, iii.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.