During his last days at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Geronimo became one of the most photographed of all Native Americans. He became a tourist attraction, and once even photographed in a car. It was therefore fitting that his titanic struggle against the United States army created “the only known photographs of American Indians as enemy in the field”.
Born Goyathlay (The-One-Who-Yawns), the Apache Geronimo was among the fiercest opponents of Mexico and the United States. His family was killed by Mexicans, and he waged intermittent warfare in the south-west until the mid-1880s. By the time, even the clairvoyant medicine man himself knew the end was near. He sent word to General George Crook — America’s most aggressive Indian fighter — that he was ready to surrender.
He chose the site: Cañon de los Embudos in the Sierra Madre Mountains, just south of the Mexico-Arizona border. It was a shallow ravine from which he could flee easily at the first sign of trouble. Geronimo came with his remaining troops, now numbering only 115. As demanded, Crook arrived with a small group of officers, scouts, interpreters, and a photographer, Camillus Fly.
During the three days Geronimo and Crook negotiated, Fly walked around the Apache camp and took photos. Finally, Geronimo agreed to Crook’s surrender terms, with historic words: “Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all.” However, later that night, camp rumours abounded that they would be murdered as they crossed the border back into Arizona, and Geronimo and 40 of his followers slipped away during the night. Five more months of fighting followed. It was the last Indian war the United States was to fight.
As for Fry, he took 15 photos at the camp, including those of Geronimo with his two sons, and of a white boy abducted from his New Mexico home previous September. Fly was just 36 when he took these photos. Seven years earlier, he had moved to silver-boom town of Tombstone, Arizona to open a “portrait-making” shop. In 1881, he was a peripheral eyewitness to a mythic event which took place in the vacant lot by his photography studio (and not in the livery stable six doors away as frequently mis-remembered): The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.