Geronimo’s son and others buried in Mobile, Alabama

by Dale Cox

The long exile of the Apache from their homes in the mountains on the border between Mexico and the United States is one of history’s most tragic episodes.

Geronimo (Goyahkla) and fewer than 30 warriors inspired the enmity of the United States by battling more than 5,000 troops to a standstill. When they surrendered at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, in 1886, they did so under terms that required them to be exiled for 2 years and then brought back to a reservation near their homes. It was an agreement that the U.S. government never planned to keep.

Geronimo as photographed in captivity at Mt. Vernon Arsenal in Mt. Vernon, Alabama.
Alabama Department of Archives and History

President Grover Cleveland first wanted to hang Geronimo, but the legalities of the Apache surrender prevented him from doing so. Instead, he sent hundreds of Apache men, women and children to exile – and death – in the eastern United States.

The Apache went first to Fort Pickens at Pensacola and the Castillo de San Marcos (Fort Marion) in St. Augustine. There, in a climate far removed from that of their homes in the Southwest, they sickened with fevers and tuberculosis.

Geronimo’s son, Chappo (L), and half-brother, Fun (R), were still in arms against
the United States when this photograph was taken. See below for a later photo of Chappo.
Library of Congress

While the men and women were treated as tourist attractions by enterprising businessmen who charged visitors to gawk at them, hundreds of their children were taken away to the Carlisle Indian Training School in Pennsylvania. Geronimo’s son Chappo, who fought alongside his father in the deserts and mountains, was among them. 

More than one-third of the young Apache grew ill with tuberculosis and died at Carlisle.

Chappo as photographed at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
Alabama Department of Archives and History

The Army, meanwhile, moved the adult Apache from their prisons at St. Augustine and Pensacola to the higher and more commodious confines of the Mt. Vernon Arsenal complex in Mt. Vernon, Alabama. The barracks there might have provided them with healthier quarters – in fact, it is often stated that they were held at Mt. Vernon Barracks – but the Native Americans actually were confined to a series of ramshackle log cabins on the grounds.

Chappo reunited with his family and famous father at Mt. Vernon, but died soon after from tuberculosis. He knew by the time of his death that the U.S. government would not keep the agreement under which he and his father surrendered. Instead of being returned to a reservation in the Southwest, most of the Apache prisoners spent the rest of their lives in captivity first at Mt. Vernon and later at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Chappo Geronimo rests beneath a veteran’s headstone at Mobile National Cemetery.

Thirteen of the prisoners continue their exile to this day, confined to graves far from their homeland at Mobile National Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. Chappo is there. 

Geronimo, meanwhile, rode on horseback at Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidential Inauguration Parade in 1905. He pleaded with the nation’s new leader to let him go home but Roosevelt refused. Geronimo died four years later in Oklahoma.

Thirteen exiled Apache who died in captivity at Mt. Vernon Arsenal in Alabama
are buried at Mobile National Cemetery.

The Apache at Mobile rest alongside thousands of U.S. veterans, including 841 Civil War dead and World War II Medal of Honor recipient Private First Class John Drury New of the U.S. Marine Corps. Ironically, there are more Apache (thirteen) than Confederates (four) in the cemetery.

 Mobile National Cemetery is at 1202 Virginia Street, Mobile, Alabama. See the map below for directions. The grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Apache graves are on the north side of Virginia Street in the oldest part of the cemetery.

Note: Due to the U.S. Government shutdown, call to make sure the cemetery is open before visiting. It is administered by Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola and the number is (850) 453-4846.