Geronimo as a POW -2

Towana Spivey, Fort Sill Museum curator, said before a professional civilian staff manned the museum, it was kept open by Soldiers “loaned to the museum” by their units. These untrained museum staffers started to call the Guardhouse the “Geronimo Hotel” and made up stories about Geronimo being chained in the basement, of him jumping his horse off Medicine Bluffs to escape Fort Sill and how he died.

It made for good story telling and fueled the legend of Geronimo, but the real stories of Geronimo’s life at Fort Sill were more colorful than legend, according to Spivey.

The image of Geronimo as a proud warrior, shackled in a basement dungeon at Fort Sill as a prisoner of war was not accurate, Spivey said.

“By his own account, he spent a couple of weekends there when he had too much to drink,” Spivey said, “he’d sleep it off, and on Monday morning he’d chop some firewood and then they’d let him go.”

In his autobiography, “Geronimo,” the warrior said he respected the buffalo soldiers at Fort Sill, one reason being that he could always find one of them who would break the rules and buy him alcohol.

“Geronimo during his life, before his death here at Fort Sill, was already a celebrity,” Spivey said. “He understood that, he expected certain kinds of treatment as a celebrity, the world treated him as a celebrity, and he was an important person.

“Army officers and enlisted personnel alike who served at Fort Sill often went home to wherever they were from and told their family and acquaintances that they were a guard of Geronimo. They may have never seen him, but the fact they were at Fort Sill was close enough.

“In a contradictory way, Geronimo, knowing he was a celebrity and an important person, was also in the Army like the other Apache POWs were: in Troop L, 7th Cavalry.

He expected to be promoted ahead of anybody else of the Apache and Kiowa group because he was Geronimo and a celebrity. The Army refused to do that. The Army tried to treat him like any other person and did not give him any special consideration for being promoted. It upset him and made him mad several times.”

In the years before the all-Indian cavalry troop was dissolved, Spivey said the Indians stayed in the cavalry barracks at the southwest corner of the Post Quadrangle. The Army even let those Kiowa, Comanche and Apache troopers with families set up a camp in what is now the McNair Hall parking lot, just behind their barracks. Spivey said it was a good concept, but the “Kiowa camp” grew beyond the modest expectations of the troop commander. The Indians didn’t practice monogamy, so some of these cavalry troopers had multiple wives, and the camp included several extended families.

Because of his fame, Geronimo had opportunities other Apache, Kiowa and Comanche didn’t enjoy. As a member of the cavalry troop or scouts, he got to wear an Army jacket. According to local stories, he sold the buttons off his jacket to tourists for 25 cents.