When the Civil War ended in 1865, Indians still inhabited and controlled the ‘West’ hunting buffalo and fiercely resisting white settlers’ intrusion on their territory, lifestyle, and traditions. The Europeans built railroads, mined and built fences to contain livestock. These activities progressively segregated and segmented once open Indian lands. The ‘white man’ also hunted the buffalo to near extinction, the Indians’ primary food source, while spreading diseases foreign to the natives’ immune system. The Indians that were not starved or killed outright were herded onto reservations in remote areas of the nation far from economic opportunities. This discussion examines two of the most famous and storied Indians during the times of the ‘Wild West,’ Geronimo and Sitting Bull, chronicling their defiance of white incursion and tragic endings, fates which similarly befell practically all Indians during this sad period in American history.
Apache Indian Chief Geronimo is an American legend and had been since well before his death in 1909. His resolve and bravery sustained the morale of the Chiricahua Apache people during the final period of the Indians’ struggle to remain as free as they had for thousands of years before. Born in Arizona, Geronimo was raised during the last years that Mexico ruled this territory. His deep resentment of Mexicans resulted from a tragic incident while still a young man. During a raid, Mexican soldiers killed his entire family including his wife, three children, and his mother. This appalling episode understandably hardened Geronimo who sought retribution against Mexicans for the rest of his life. When Mexico ceded massive areas of the American Southwest to the U.S. in 1848, the government was determined to rid this new region of Indians, concentrating first on the particularly rebellious Apache tribes. This process started as white settlers began inhabiting the region establishing towns and ranches which disrupted the traditional Apache lifestyle and restricted how and where they lived.