“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and determined the times set for them and the boundaries where they should live.”
“For each tribe of men Usen created, He also made a home. In the land created for any particular tribe, he placed whatever would be best for the welfare of that people. When Usen created the Apache, He also created their homes in the west…”
Geronimo, in his Autobiography
“As a babe I rolled on the dirt floor of my father’s tepee, hung in my tsoch (cradle) at my mother’s back or suspended from a bough of a tree. I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds, and sheltered by the trees as other Indian babies.
When a child my mother taught me the legends of our people; taught me of the sun and sky, the moon and stars, the clouds and storms. She also taught me to kneel and pray to Usen (God, the Great Spirit) for strength, health, wisdom and protection.
We never prayed against any person; but if we had aught against an individual we took revenge ourselves. We were taught that Usen does not care about the petty quarrels of men.”
Words of Geronimo as translated by Apache sub-chief Asa Deklugie to S.M. Barret who helped him write his autobiography. (All preceding quotes are from the same book except where noted.)
The Apaches of Geronimo’s day had warred on the Mexican people for decades and occasionally traded with them but had never seen a white man until Geronimo was a grown man. (They did not consider the Mexicans white men.) They never spoke with the Mexicans on matters of religion and in fact Geronimo himself spoke no Spanish until much later in life and even then needed interpreters to do business in Spanish; nor did he speak English, nor did his mother. So the traditions of religion and history and folklore he relates are untainted by intercourse with other peoples’ except that they did have relations with the Kiowa and Comanche people to some degree.
What his mother taught him about the religious nature of the universe was pure Apache, and yet in many points the stories agree with the Hebrew creation story. In others they don’t. In the Hebrew creation story for example, darkness covered the face of the earth until God created light. In the Apache story, darkness covered the earth, but the animals fought and one side headed by the eagles won and brought light upon the earth. He also said that all the beasts had the power of speech and reason and dragons that co-existed with man. One Dragon was man’s enemy in particular and was very sly and evil. This dragon was killed by the man who became the first “Apache”.
Geronimo said. “…We had no churches, no religious organizations, no Sabbath day, and no holy days, and yet we worshipped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble to sing and to pray; sometimes a smaller number, perhaps only two or three…Sometimes we prayed in silence; sometimes each one prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person would pray for all of us. At other times one would rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen.”
One thing was certain, the Apache needed no one to tell him there was a Creator God and while the religious lore of the Apache, at least Geronimo’s knowledge of it, seems smaller than other tribes, he was adamant about the heavenly father giving the Apache their appointed place on earth, in the headwaters of the Gila River.
This is exactly what the bible teaches and it says that after the flood and tower of Babel incident men were spread out over the face of the earth. This idea of the various peoples being appointed certain lands and times is echoed by many different people and was a strong argument by the various tribes of Native Americans to maintain at least some portion of their original lands. Sitting Bull made the same argument many times. He said;
“The cities arose and always the White man’s lands were extended and the Indians pushed farther and farther away from the country The Great Father had given them and that had always been theirs.” (Buffalo Bill Cody’s autobiography, Ch. 11)
Of course it could be argued that the Great Father gave you the land and then you were required to hold it, and the different tribes didn’t always agree who belonged where. The Iroquois pushed the Cherokee far to the south and the Arapaho and Cheyenne and Sioux and Pawnee fought constantly, much like the European Nations. None the less, the arguments of Geronimo and Sitting Bull were not without precedent and their plea of divine right to the lands could not be forever ignored.
In the end, even the US Supreme court had to acknowledge their claim;
“[I]n decisions of this court, the Indian right of occupancy of tribal lands, whether declared in a treaty or otherwise created, has been stated to be sacred. . . It is to be presumed that in this matter the United States would be governed by such considerations of justice as would control a Christian people . . .”
Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553, 565 (1903). See also the same language in Yankton Sioux Tribe of Indians v. U. S., 272 US 351 (1926); U. S. v. Choctaw Nation, 179 U.S. 494 (1900)
Geronimo who was being kept in Oklahoma consistently appealed to the government for his people’s rights to return to their homeland, and eventually he won out. In one heartfelt and elegant plea the old warrior said this;
“When Usen created the Apache he also created their homes in the west. He gave to them such grain, fruits and game as they needed to eat. To restore their health when disease attacked he made many different herbs to grow. He taught them where to find these herbs and how to prepare them for medicine. He gave them a pleasant climate and all they needed for clothing and shelter was at hand. Thus it was in the beginning: the Apaches and their homes were created for each other by Usen Himself. When they are taking from these homes they sicken and die. How long will it be before it is said, ‘There are no Apaches?’”
The Apache were dying like flies on the Oklahoma and Florida places of internment where they were being held.
He also said, “We are vanishing from the earth, yet I cannot think we are useless or Usen would not have created us. He created all tribes of men and certainly had a righteous purpose in creating each.”
After much time and consideration, the old warrior began a serious inquiry into the “white man’s” religion, becoming fascinated about what it said about the afterlife and other aspects of religious life that in the Apache knowledge were never discussed. He eventually became a Christian and was baptized Dutch Reformed.
But he said, “Since my life as a prisoner has begun I have heard the teachings of the white man’s religion and in many respects believe it to be better than the religion of my fathers. However, I have always prayed, and I believe the Almighty has always protected me.”
He never forgot or failed to practice what his mother had taught him as a young child somewhere in the mountains north of the headwaters of the Gila.
One thing is sure, the Apache were not Atheists, and while faithfulness in the worship of this creator god varied from tribe to tribe and person to person, the majority of the Indian peoples had been faithful in handing down the verbal traditions of his existence to their progeny.