Theodore Roosevelt, often referred to simply as TR, was a highly successful American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer … this latter much to the chagrin of the rich and powerful; particularly J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller; and Andrew Carnegie … not to mention the political bosses of his day.
As President McKinley’s Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States of America in 1901 when McKinley was assassinated. TR was a man of enormous energy and foresight. For instance, we have him to thank for our National Parks. As with all great men, he was also a man of many faults; chief of which was unbounded arrogance and the uncanny ability to hold a grudge over the slightest disagreement, as he did with his (former) best friend, Howard Taft (TR’s successor and future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).
However, among those faults was not a lack of showmanship or stagecraft. President Roosevelt won the presidency on his own merit in the election of November 1904. His inauguration occurred in March, 1905. His presidency lasted until 1909.
It was TR’s capacity as showman, the ability to strike a serious point on a grand scale, that resulted in the most extraordinary Presidential Inaugural Parade ever before or since. Participating in the Parade were 35,000 individuals, but the size of the procession was not what made it so unique.
It was this. At the head of his parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, TR placed 6 incredible individuals who represented a conquered people … the American Indian.
- Quanah Parker; Comanche
- Buckskin Charlie; Ute
- Hollow Horn Bear; Brulé Sioux
- American Horse; Oglala Lakota
- Little Plume, Blackfeet
And leading them all on his finest war-pony was the 76-year-old Chiricahua Apache medicine man from Arizona; well-known throughout the nation as “the worst Indian who ever lived”… the indomitable Geronimo. Along the Parade route, as the Indians approached, gasps of surprise and awe were heard from the huge crowd, then uproarious applause and cheers.
Of all the North American tribes that fought the White-Eyes to secure their land and their freedom, Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apache warriors, women & children, 39 in all, were the last to surrender to the United States.
In the end, September 1886, it took General Miles’ army, 5,000 strong, plus hundreds of Army Indian scouts; and thousands of Mexican soldiers and their Tarahumara scouts; not to mention dozens of civilian militias, to run Geronimo to ground.
For their stubborn resistance … for embarrassing the armies of two nations and militias of four states for a quarter-century … the Chiricahua Apaches were given the most severe punishment of any American Indian tribe … exile to hellholes called Fort Marion and Fort Pickens, Florida, and Mount Vernon, Alabama. There, the last remnants of the Chiricahua people began dying from disease, malnutrition, and hopelessness. Prisoners of the United States government for 27 years, the survivors were never allowed to return to Southeastern Arizona, their ancestral homeland.
None of the six Indians at the head of the great procession had any love for the White-Eyes. They were all participating in the Inaugural Parade for their own purposes. Each wanted access to high-government officials to argue for better treatment of their people.
After receiving a roar of applause during the parade, Geronimo later visited the president in his office and pleaded with Roosevelt to let his people go back to their home in Arizona.
“The ropes have been on my hands for many years and we want to go back to our home,” he told the president. Roosevelt responded through an interpreter, “When you lived in Arizona, you had a bad heart and killed many of my people. . . We will have to wait and see how you act.”
Geronimo tried to object but he was silenced by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Francis Leupp, who led him out of the president’s office. “I did not finish what I wished to say,” he told Leupp, according to an article in the New York Tribune.
Leupp told Geronimo that he and his people were “better off” in Oklahoma. Certainly the people of Arizona did not want the Chiricahuas back. And had the Chiricahuas returned to Arizona, White mobs would have hung Geronimo. Of this TR was well aware.
Though he patronizingly described Geronimo as an example of a “good Indian,” Leupp remained unsympathetic to his requests.
When Geronimo died in 1909 he was still a prisoner-of-war at Fort Sill, OK. In his obituary, the New York Times wrote:
“Geronimo gained a reputation for cruelty and cunning never surpassed by that of any other American Indian chief.”
True, Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache warriors he led, were responsible for the deaths of a couple thousand American and Mexican civilians; not to mention several hundred American and Mexican soldiers. But it was war-to-the-death and everybody knew it.
Even today, Americans and Mexicans seldom consider that in Geronimo's time, we were the invaders and aggressors, not the Apaches. Before it was our land, it was their land. Like all American Indian lands, our forefathers of European stock took it by conquest.
In the New York Times obituary, there was no mention of Geronimo's celebrity at various international expositions; or his role in the recent inauguration; or his strenuous efforts as a medicine man to heal his sick and injured people; or the dedication in his 1906 autobiography that reads:
“Because he has given me permission to tell my story; because he has read that story and knows I try to speak the truth; because I believe that he is fair-minded and will cause my people to receive justice in the future; and because he is chief of a great people, I dedicate this story of my life to Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States.”
No Native American warrior worked so tirelessly, or fought so long, for the dignity and freedom of his people in the only way he knew how until the end of his days.
To read excerpts from Geronimo's autobiography, click on this link.
For more information on the Apaches and the history surrounding the Apache Wars, see our page on the Local History of the Apaches.