Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
PBS Video: The True Story of the Chiricahua Apaches and Geronimo
Native American Heritage Month
This very interesting edition of PBS’s awarding winning series, The American Experience, emphasizes interviews with the actual descendants of Chiricahua medicine man, Geronimo, and the last hereditary chief of the Chiricahuas, Naiche. Other documentaries tell us much more about the early lives of Naiche and Geronimo, but this one does a much better job of presenting the Apache’s perspective on past events.
In leaving out the early lives of Naiche and Geronimo, the viewer is left with the impression that the Apache were angelic hunter-gatherers in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. Actually, during the 300 years that the Spaniards and Mexicans claimed the Southwestern Desert Plateau, the Apaches raided mestizo and Navajo villages frequently. In fact, the Apache economy became based on the theft and resale of Mexican cattle and horses.
The Apache are a very handsome people with a strong personal integrity. Few people, outside the Native American world, are aware that a close friendship has developed between the Apaches and the Creeks. It is totally illogical, but there are many, very happy, marriages between Apaches and Creeks. Apache women will often seek out Creek men because, again without explanation, the mixed tribe marriages seem to be happier than intra-tribal marriages.
The Apaches and Creeks are from opposite ends of the world and have entirely different genetic and cultural backgrounds . . . yet the spiritual bond is a fact.
Personally, I have never met an Apache man or woman, whom I didn’t like. They generally don’t sulk or “have a chip on their shoulders” like a lot of Western tribal members. The one’s I have met have a lot of energy, and are very tolerant of other peoples.
The friendship started when the Chiricahua prisoners of war were impounded at Fort Pickens in Mobile, AL. Alabama and Florida Panhandle Creeks brought the Apaches decent food, and schemed to spirit them off to some Latin American country. However, the men were moved too quickly to St. Augustine’s impregnable Fort San Marcos.
The friendship grew deep roots, when all of the Chiricahua men, women and children were sent to a concentration camp at the Mount Vernon Barracks, near Ardmore, AL. The Creeks brought the Apaches food, plus taught them how to farm and build houses. There were some marriages even back then. When the Chiricahua were moved to Fort Sill, OK, the Chiricahua applied the farming skills, learned from the Alabama Creeks, to become some of the most progressive and successful farmers in western Oklahoma.
One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that it shifts back and from old photos of the “wild Apaches” to “modern Apaches” today. You will enjoy this film.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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