Saturday, March 1, 2008


Geronimo and Fort Pickens
Preview: The Fort Pickens area is located at the western end of Santa Rosa Island; it is the most visited of the Gulf Islands National Seashore facilities on Santa Rosa Island. It is about eight miles west of Pensacola Beach, Fla., and about 15 miles from my home at Gulf Breeze. This end of the island has a long and varied past stemming back to before the time of early Spanish exploration. A tiny Spanish outpost, probably the first European settlement on the island, was established circa 1723 and was demolished by a hurricane in 1754. Archeological studies have shown that even before that, the island was home to many Native American villages. Shell middens that were unearthed indicate that these aboriginals survived on a diet of shellfish, such as mollusks, oysters, and clams. The abundant evidence of human intrusion notwithstanding, this small park still offers amazing opportunities for the solitary enjoyment of nature. Blackbird Marsh Nature Trail and the Dune Nature Trail are short, but the longer trail running from the campground to the fort offers more possibilities. This trail is open to bicycles and passes through the lovely Battery Worth picnic area, which has individual and group facilities.

An Unwilling Tourist Attraction
The Apache Indians have always been characterized as fierce warriors with an indomitable will. It is not surprising that the last armed resistance by Native Americans came from this proud tribe of American Indians. As the Civil War ended the U. S. Government brought its military to bear against the natives out west. They continued a policy of containment and restriction to reservations. In 1875, the restrictive reservation policy had limited the Apaches to 7200 square miles. By the 1880's the Apache had been limited to 2600 square miles. This policy of restriction angered many Native Americans and led to confrontation between the military and bands of Apache. The famous Chiricahua Apache Geronimo led one such band.

Born in 1829, Geronimo lived in western New Mexico when this region was still a part of Mexico.

Geronimo was a Bedonkohe Apache that married into the Chiricahuas. The murder of his mother, wife and children by soldiers from Mexico in 1858 forever changed his life and the settlers of the southwest. He vowed at this point to kill as many white men as possible and spent the next thirty years making good on that promise. Surprisingly, Geronimo was a medicine man and not a chief of the Apache. However, his visions made him indispensable to the Apache chiefs and gave him a position of prominence with the Apache. In the mid 1870's the government moved Native Americans onto reservations, and Geronimo took exception to this forced removal and fled with a band of followers. He spent the next 10 years on reservations and raiding with his band. They raided across New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. His exploits became highly chronicled by the press and he became the most feared Apache. Geronimo and his band were eventually captured at Skeleton Canyon in 1886. The Chiricahua Apache were then shipped by rail to Florida.
All of Geronimo's band was to be sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine. However, a few business leaders in Pensacola, Florida petitioned the government to have Geronimo himself sent to Fort Pickens, which is part of the 'Gulf Islands National Seashore'. They claimed that Geronimo and his men would be better guarded at Fort Pickens than at the overcrowded Fort Marion. However, an editorial in a local newspaper congratulated a congressman for bringing such a great tourist attraction to the city. On October 25, 1886, 15 Apache warriors arrived at Fort Pickens. Geronimo and his warriors spent many days working hard labor at the fort in direct violation of the agreements made at Skeleton Canyon. Eventually the families of Geronimo's band were returned to them at Fort Pickens, and then they all moved on to other places of incarceration. The city of Pensacola was sad to see Geronimo the tourist attraction leave. In one day he had over 459 visitors with an average of 20 a day during the duration of his captivity at Fort Pickens.

Unfortunately, the proud Geronimo had been reduced to a sideshow spectacle. He lived the rest of his days as a prisoner. He visited the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 and according to his own accounts made a great deal of money signing autographs and pictures. Geronimo also rode in the inaugural parade of President Theodore Roosevelt. He eventually died in 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The captivity of the Chiricahuas ended in 1913.