Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Geronimo at Yale

Years ago, I remember several saloons having a framed photograph of Geronimo, the one above was taken by Ben Wittick in 1887. I am not sure why he had that popularity. There is a limited number of famous indian warriors who posed for pictures. Geronimo was a free wild man into the twentieth century, he was an example of a type of noble savage. It is easy to roll off the tongue, alternating soft consonants and vowels. A movie with Chuck Connors was released in 1962, but the photo was always of the indian, and not the actor.

Goyaałé (*1829) was a Chiricahua Apache born in what was, then, Mejico. The Apache and the mexicans were in a state of war. Goyaałé was a fearless, effective and charismatic warrior, who seemed immortal in battle and impossible to capture. Jeronimo was an appellation given by the mexicans. The US military found the same situation, for more than a full generation, Geronimo continued. He surrendered in 1886. He became a prisoner in Florida, Alabama and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. As an aged man he became a national celebrity. In 1905 he told his story in an autobiography.

An hundred years, and a week ago he died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma,and was buried in the Indian Prison Cemetery. During WWI, while millions died in battle on the fields of europe, three yalies, all being members of the secret society ‘Skull and Bones’ were fighting the kaiser and keeping America free at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. They, depending on interpretation, liberated bones or desecrated indian graves in 1918. They took the relics or souvenirs to their clubhouse at Yale.

One of these bold adventurers was Prescott Bush. The same, Prescott Bush, who planned a coup against Franklin Roosevelt. The same, Prescott Bush, whose son and grandson occupied the White House. On the hundredth anniversary of Geronimo’s death, his relatives have sued, in federal court, for return under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. They have gotten Ramsey Clark as counsel.

One can speculate, that, this is the sort of thing the entitled, presumptuous elite do as sport, or the thing drunken fratboys falsely claim, and enshrine, as inherited folklore. Mankind has for millenia taken body parts as trophies of war, and those, whom, have not gone to war have felt the need to invent heroics. It would not be the first time wasps have enjoyed a degradation of an indian, or drunken clubhouse juveniles enjoy fantasies.
Postsriptum: After viewing the 1962 version, Geronimo, with Chuck Connors, for the first time since it was on ABC’s Sunday Movie, it still holds. There were many comments about the silly incongruity of a blue eyed indian. The deep set stare of determination worked well. It was a petty complaint. The writer, Pat Fielder, had written for Connors in The Rifleman. Geronimo was an historical figure just leaving living memory. As Shakespeare, and other writers, take a known personage and plot, and then spin their own tale, and message, so did Ms. Fielder.

The tropes of filmdom were there in giving familiarity to many a movie: man and woman meet in tension and make a family, the best friend dramatically dies, fathers proud of their children, the value of education and the female civilising influence. Beyond that, it was shown that the indians were cheated, that agreements made by the US with indians were never meant to be respected. The government agents and preachers were not interested in justice.

The indians, Geronimo in particular, wanted their dignity recognised. Fielder wrote sympathetic and telling dialogue that would rile busheviks and american imperialists if they were written, to-day, and especially five or six years ago.
[I did not transcribe, this is approximation]
“We are not savages. We are Apache.”

“I’m not an animal that has to be branded!”

“Show me which hand signed the paper ”, before the crooked agent’s hand is fixed to the table.

“I am a soldier, not a philosopher.

“You will be fighting the whole United States. You can not win.”
“I know. We will fight and not surrender. Then people will ask, why are they fighting still? And we continue, and they will stop. ” [This was in 1962, before the heavy Viet Nam involvement.]

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