FORT SILL, Okla. (May 21, 2015) -- In the first days of my working at the Cannoneer, editor James Brabenec took me on a "windshield" tour of Fort Sill (we drove around and he pointed stuff out).
When you're new it's easy to get lost. Military buildings and roads have a tendency to look the same and all the roads curve so there's no use trying to use a grid system to help you find your way. But in the midst of the twist and turns I remembered he pointed out the grave of Geronimo as we drove by.
I know very little about the Native American leader Geronimo. If I'm completely honest, I associate the name with what one yells when the jump from a great height, or perhaps when they do something reckless. My lack of knowledge frustrated me so I did what any other logical person would do: I asked Google.
Alright, I asked other people and maybe read an article or two about the man, but I mostly Googled. His story surprised me not so much because it was remarkable but because it made me sad.
Geronimo's real name was Goyathlay or Goyahkla meaning, "one who yawns." He was an Apache warrior, was married and had three children. While away on an excursion, his wife and children were killed by Spanish troops from Mexico. He came back and took revenge by killing as many Mexicans as he could. According to the story, the Mexicans he killed cried out "Geronimo" which either was a mispronunciation of his name, or they were crying out to the Saint Jerome (historians don't agree where the name Geronimo originated from). Regardless, the name stuck and now Geronimo is remembered for his aggressiveness and his fighting. However, what really stuck to me was the end of his story. How he became a prisoner and was unable to return to his own lands, even in death.
That's the part that makes me sad.
In more recent times, speculation on the real location of Geronimo's body has surfaced with people claiming it isn't on Fort Sill at all. A common rumor is that the secret society The Order of the Skull and Bones at Yale University stole the skull of Geronimo and that it currently resides within a stone building known as the Tomb in New Haven, Conn.
No rest, even in death.
A week after my tour of Fort Sill, between spats of terrible weather, I visited the grave of Geronimo. If you haven't been, the marker is unique. He is buried under a pyramid of stones with a stone eagle perched on top. On either side are the graves of his family and those who fought with him.
As I took in the image, something reflective caught my eye coming from the top of Geronimo's grave. A closer look showed me a collection of coins, jewelry, cigars, a dog tag and other small items. About that time Spc. Evan Noonan and his wife, Catelyn Hayes, walked up and placed a small object alongside the others.
I asked them why they would leave anything and Noonan explained how people leave items at Geronimo's gravesite to bring them good luck. Noonan and his wife are expecting a baby girl in three months and said if good luck is to be had, they hope their daughter is born with good health.
As they continued to walk through the cemetery, I evaluated myself to see what item I could leave. While I don't subscribe to the belief in "luck" I do value traditions. I'm familiar with the tradition of leaving coins on graves but there was so much more than coins here. Unfortunately I didn't even have any coins, no jewelry to add to the pile and I wasn't about to give up my camera.
I know it's silly, but I wanted to be part of the ritual anyway. So I took my pony-tail down, pulled out my hair tie (my favorite one), and left it at the gravesite. Part of me felt like I was littering and another part of me thought Geronimo might have thought it was funny that this half-white, half-Korean girl felt obligated to give him something. But I suppose despite being a mix of cultures -- none of which are Native American -- I live at Fort Sill now and Geronimo is part of my (new) home's history. And it's always good to know your history.
I drove away thinking about Geronimo and his life, about his legacy and about the legacy we all leave behind. One of his more famous quotes is, "While living, I want to live well." I realized while I was able to take one thing off my bucket list, Geronimo added a much harder item to my list: To live well.
Now that's something worth being on my list.