Geronimo’s Decades-Long Hunt for Vengeance
In Mexico’s state of Chihuahua, some 115 miles from the U.S. border, there is a seemingly unremarkable grassy hill just north of the town of Galeana. Look closely, though, and you might see century-old bullet casings rusting in the grass, and a slight depression at the top where a historic act of revenge is carved into the ground.
In 1882, years after an Apache encampment was massacred by Mexican troops, this is where the tribe’s legendary leader Geronimo and his men came to avenge the killings, burning Mexican commander Juan Mata Ortiz alive in a pit at the top of the hill. “They told the Mexican commander, Juan Mata Ortiz, ‘no bala, no cuchillo, no lance, pero lumre,” says Nelda Whetten, a lifelong resident of Chihuahua. “As in, you’re not going to have a quick death—no bullet, no arrow, no lance, but fire.”
Geronimo’s quest for revenge began decades earlier, sometime during 1858, when an unprovoked attack launched the 29-year-old Apache (then known as Goyaałé) into a lifetime of war. While he and others were gathering supplies in Janos—a town just down the road from what would become the Mormon colony of Colonia Dubán—a company of 400 Mexican soldiers attacked their unguarded encampment. Recounting the raid in his 1905 autobiography, Geronimo wrote, “When all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain.” More than 100 Apache women and children were killed, but only Geronimo’s family was destroyed so thoroughly.