Who was Geronimo? Much has been made of the fact that his name was used as a code word for Osama bin Laden. The very phrase, “Geronimo-EKIA” (Enemy Killed in Action), is what informed President Barack Obama that the feared Al Qaeda leader had been slain. The resulting firestorm that the unfortunate epithet has inspired in Indian country raises many questions, among them: Can we learn more about this hero and reacquaint ourselves with why he is one? And what books can best get that across to non-Natives, who clearly need a primer?
Geronimo’s legacy has also left a mark in school curricula, with textbooks, nonfiction books, an activity book or two and even some young-adult fiction.
Geronimo: Apache Renegade (Sterling, 2010) details many battles for readers ages 9 to 12; the activity book Geronimo: Fierce Apache Warrior, by Carole Marsh (1,000 Readers, 2003) is a fill-in-the-blanks picture book. And then there is Joseph Bruchac’s Geronimo: A Novel (Scholastic, Inc., 2006), a fact-based tale told from the standpoint of Geronimo’s adopted grandson.
Unlike the infamous bin Laden, whose agenda seemed centered on killing, the notorious but celebrated Geronimo craved only closure.
“It is my land, my home, my father’s land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return,” he said. “I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct.”
He never got his wish. He died imprisoned on a reservation in Florida. As for the name becoming extinct? In this instance, the phrase “be careful what you wish for” might spring to mind."