The Apache POWs at Fort Pickens

Geronimo and the other men held at Fort Pickens did not experience Fort Marion’s overcrowding and disease. They coped with internment and tourists.

” … These Indians, however bad they may have been, have, since they have been here, earned the praise of everyone cognizant of their behavior and their exceedingly good conduct. It has never been necessary to punish one of them nor to correct one. Their cheerful obedience and zeal in their work is something very commendatory.”  (Colonel Loomis Langdon to AAG Division of the Atlantic, March 24, 1887, Apache File, Fort Pickens, Gulf Island National Seashore. Quoted in Kalesnik 1992:217. About the conduct of Apaches at Fort Pickens and a request to move the prisoners to Mount Vernon Barracks.)

At Fort Pickens, Apaches discussed what General Miles had promised and the conditions of their confinement.

“Sir,

“I take the liberty to write only at the request of the Indians here especially Naiche and Geronimo. They wish to know if you still think of them as you did when you talked to them there. They still think of you and remember everything you told them, everything is as fresh in their memories as if you had told them only yesterday.

“You told them they would be here no longer than a year at the outside. The year is almost up and they wish to hear from you and know your thoughts on the subject. They would like to know when they are going to see the good lands and farms Gen’l Miles told them about.

“Your Ob’t Servant, Geo. M. Wratten, Interpreter.”  (George Wratten, Letter to General D. L. Stanley, San Antonio, Texas, October 3, 1887.)

Naiche answered a reporter’s question, “How do you like your quarters?”

“We have to like … (Fort Pickens). There is nothing else to do. We are not here because we want to be, but because we have to be. We did not come; we were brought. We like it as well as captives can, and make the best of it.

“Why is it I am asked how we like it here?  People go around and see where I live, the fort, the waste of hot sands and water, the old guns, the guards ever armed, how we live, and what we evidently have to live for. I can’t understand why we are asked such questions.”  (March 1887 by William Hosea Ballou, his stories appeared in the Chicago Tribune. This piece is titled “Apaches at Pickens.”)

Anglo-Americans visited Fort Pickens to gaze at the Apache men.

“Four hundred to five hundred people from the city and reservation repaired to Fort Pickens last evening to witness the Chiricahua Medicine Dance of the Captive Apaches, which had been announced to begin at sunset.

“The monarch of the solar system had but sunk below the western horizon when flames from a pile of ignited old lumber placed at the base of the hill sprang heavenward, casting a lurid glare….

“The dancers then appeared, three in number, two of whom were dressed in fancy costume, having on skirts which reached to the knees, and long streamers of colored cloth attached to their arms, they were bare to the waist and had their faces covered with cloth and their head surmounted by a piece of wood work resembling horns. The other dancer, with the exception of having his face covered and having a breech cloth on, was decidedly decollete. Each held in his right hand a long wooden sword and in his left a wooden cross. In perfect time to the chant they danced around the fire….

“Seated at twenty paces from the fire was the band … led by Geronimo, (Naiche) and Mangus, the instruments consisting of a canvas stretched upon the ground which, as they sat surrounding it, they beat upon with sticks, singing the while…. The musicians were also provided with a camp kettle, over which had been stretched some tough substance, and which served the purpose of a drum.”  (Pensacola Commercial June 11, 1887. Quoted in Skinner 1987:186.)

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