Comanche County, Oklahoma
Native American Data

The American Indian tribe known today as the Fort Sill Apache was moved to Oklahoma in 1894 after continuing nearly a decade of imprisonment and exile at U.S. Army installations in Florida and Alabama. Today's Fort Sill Apache are actually the survivors and descendants of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, whose original territory covered much of what is now the American Southwest in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico along the United States border with Mexico. The U.S. Congress passed a special provision enabling the federal government to relocate the Chiricahua prisoners of war to southwestern Oklahoma, making this the last American Indian group to be relocated to Indian Territory. Upon their arrival at Fort Sill the Apache prisoners of war were told that the fort would become their permanent home, and the military reservation was enlarged for that purpose. Following the allotment of surrounding Indian lands, local non-Indian politicians, business leaders, and U.S. Army officials agitated for the continued presence of the military near Lawton. By 1910 these individuals began the final orchestration to remove the prisoners of war from the military reservation. The Chiricahua were pressured to leave Fort Sill as a condition for their freedom, but many held out for return to their homeland or allotment at Fort Sill. Eventually, leaders of the Mescalero Apache Reservation (in New Mexico), urged by government agents, invited the Chiricahua to relocate to their reservation (a move that strengthened their own efforts to preserve their reservation lands from non-Indian encroachment). Despite the efforts of government and military officials, about one-third of the tribe continued to demand that they be allowed the Fort Sill lands they had been promised. A compromise solution between the Indian Bureau and the War Department led to the settling of those Fort Sill Apache who declined joining the Mescaleros on unused (dead) allotments from the old Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation lands near Fort Sill. On April 2, 1913, in an event recalled by the Fort Sill Apache as "the Parting," 180 Apache prisoners of war were relocated from Fort Sill to Mescalero, New Mexico. The remaining prisoners of war, numbering about eighty-one individuals in about twenty families, were eventually released and resettled on small allotments scattered around Apache and Fletcher, Oklahoma, by the end of 1914. Now known as the "Fort Sill Apaches," the tribe was dumped into the impoverished rural economy of southwestern Oklahoma and struggled to survive alongside their Indian and Euroamerican neighbors. In the decades leading to World War II all of the Fort Sill Apache gave up farming and went into general labor, trades, or work at Fort Sill. Of necessity, younger people did not have their own farms or had inherited partial shares of the parents' allotments, from which it was to difficult to make a living. They had to find employment wherever they could. For some of the older people it became more reasonable for them to simply lease their lands to local farmers. World War II led many to seek higher-paying jobs in Oklahoma City and beyond. The tribe, seeking reparations and justice, remained informally organized and led, rejecting the opportunity to organize under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1937. Bureau of Indian Affairs sponsored organization of a tribal government only came in the aftermath of a multimillion dollar land and resource claim settlement from the Indian Claims Commission in 1973 and an additional court judgement in 1979. The Fort Sill Apache Tribe adopted a Bureau of Indian Affairs constitution in 1976. The history of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is marked by a high level of accommodation with the larger non-Apache as well as non-Indian cultural situation of southwestern Oklahoma. This has also meant significant loss of cultural identity because of the loss of a viable land base, a native spoken language, and other aspects of Chiricahua Apache culture. The Oklahoma Fort Sill Apache continued to maintain family and kinship connections to their relatives and friends who had moved to the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Well-known and capable leaders of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe during the twentieth century include Benedict Jozhe, Jr., Mildred I. Cleghorn (two of the last Chiricahua Apaches born under "prisoner of war" status), and the late Ruey Darrow. At the end of the twentieth century the Fort Sill Apache maintained a tribal headquarters north of Apache, Oklahoma. That acreage formed the first part of what tribe members hoped to be the establishment of a larger land-based presence. Efforts in the 1990s to develop a more viable economic and political base met with varying levels of success. By 2000 the tribe operated a successful casino facility in Lawton, Oklahoma. There were 517 registered members of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.

04/10/99 After being kicked out of the state as prisoners of war, the Chiricahua Apache tribe is now ready to return to New Mexico following nearly a century of exile in Oklahoma. The tribe hopes that gaming will pave the road back to their ancestral roaming grounds in southeastern New Mexico. It is planning to build a casino 20 miles east of Deming where it recently acquired some land. Many in the tribe _ - now known as the Fort Sill Apaches - were born and raised in rural southern Oklahoma just north of Lawton and Fort Sill. They were held as prisoners of war by the United States from 1886 to 1913 and later forced to relocate to Oklahoma. "The people of Arizona and New Mexico said they didn't want them there," said Ruey Darrow, chairwoman of the Fort Sill Apache tribe. Tribal members in Oklahoma are not able to make a living off the land because they can't afford farm equipment, the 73-year-old tribal elder said. Darrow said some members can't even afford to bury their relatives. She hopes the new casino - which would be located on land that was once used as a camp area by Apaches - would help improve the tribe's financial situation. "They need an economic base to come back to New Mexico," said C.K. Stribling, a Deming area rancher and advisor to the tribe


Mildred Imoch Cleghorn (1910-1997)
Traditional doll maker, school teacher, and Fort Sill Apache tribal leader, Mildred Imoch (En-Ohn or Lay-a-Bet) was born a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on December 11, 1910. Her grandfather had followed Geronimo into battle, and her grandparents and parents were imprisoned with the Chiricahua Apache in Florida, Alabama, and at Fort Sill. Her family was one of only seventy-five that chose to remain at Fort Sill instead of relocating to the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico in 1913. Mildred Cleghorn attended school in Apache, Oklahoma, at Haskell Institute in Kansas, and at Oklahoma State University, where she received a degree in home economics in 1941. After finishing her formal education, she spent several years as a home extension agent in Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico and then sixteen years as a home economics teacher, first at Fort Sill Indian School at Lawton and later at Riverside Indian School at Anadarko. Later she taught kindergarten at Apache Public School in Apache. She was married to William G. Cleghorn, whom she had met in Kansas, and their union produced a daughter, Peggy. In 1976 Mildren Cleghorn became chairperson of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, newly organized as a self-governing entity. Her leadership in that government revolved around preserving traditional history and culture. She retired from the post at age eighty-five in 1995. Cleghorn's many awards and recognitions included a human relations fellowship at Fisk University in 1955, the Ellis Island Award in 1987, and the Indian of the Year Award in 1989. She also served as an officer in the North American Indian Women's Association, as secretary of the Southwest Oklahoma Intertribal Association, and as treasurer of the American Indian Council of the Reformed Church of America. Above all, Mildred Cleghorn was a cultural leader. She spent a lifetime creating dolls authentically clothed to represent forty of the tribes she had encountered in her teaching career. Her work was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Her life ended in an automobile accident near Apache on April 15, 1997.
[Source: "Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture"]

Geronimo was born of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe in No-doyohn Canon, Arizona, June, 1829, near present day Clifton, Arizona. The fourth in a family of four boys and four girls, he was called Goyathlay (One Who Yawns.) In 1846, when he was seventeen, he was admitted to the Council of the Warriors, which allowed him to marry. Soon, he received permission; married a woman named Alope, and the couple had three children. In the mid 1850s, the tribe, who was at peace with the Mexican towns and neighboring Indian tribes, traveled into Old Mexico where they could trade. Camping outside a Mexican town they called Kas-ki-yeh, they stayed for several days. Leaving a few warriors to guard the camp, the rest of the men went into town to trade. When they were returning from town, they were met by several women and children who told them that Mexican troops had attacked their camp. They returned to camp to find their guard warriors killed, and their horses, supplies and arms, gone. Even worse, many of the women and children had been killed as well. Of those that lay dead were Goyathlay’s wife, mother, and three children and as a result, he hated all Mexicans for the rest of his life. It was the slaughter of his family that turned him from a peaceful Indian into a bold warrior. Soon, he joined a fierce band of Apaches known as Chiricahuas and with them, took part in numerous raids in northern Mexico and across the border into U.S. territory which are now known as the states of New Mexico and Arizona. It was those Mexican adversaries that gave him the nickname of "Geronimo", the Spanish version of the name "Jerome". In ever increasing numbers, Geronimo fought against both Mexicans and white settlers as they began to colonize much of the Apache homelands. However, by the early 1870s, Lieutenant Colonel George F. Crook, commander of the Department of Arizona, had succeeded in establishing relative peace in the territory. The management of his successors, however, was disastrous. In 1876 the U.S. government attempted to move the Chiricahua from their traditional home to the San Carlos Reservation, a barren wasteland in east-central Arizona, described as "Hell's Forty Acres." Deprived of traditional tribal rights, short on rations and homesick, they revolted. Spurred by Geronimo, hundreds of Apaches left the reservation and fled to Mexico, soon resuming their war against the whites. Geronimo and his followers began ten years of intermittent raids against white settlements, alternating with periods of peaceful farming on the San Carlos reservation. In 1882, General George Crook was recalled to Arizona to conduct a campaign against the Apaches. Geronimo surrendered in January 1884, but, spurred by rumors of impending trials and hangings, took flight from the San Carlos Reservation on May 17, 1885, accompanied by 35 warriors, and 109 other men, women and children. During this final campaign, at least 5,000 white soldiers and 500 Indian auxiliaries were employed at various times in the capture of Geronimo's small band. Five months and 1,645 miles later, Geronimo was tracked to his camp in Mexico's Sonora Mountains. The soldiers gathered the group and began the trek to Fort Bowie, Arizona. However, near the border, Geronimo, fearing that they would be murdered once they crossed into U.S. territory, bolted with Chief Naiche, 11 warriors, and a few women and boys, who were able to escape back into the Sierra Madra. As a result, Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles replaced Crook as commander on April 2, 1886. At a conference on September 3, 1886, at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona, General Miles induced Geronimo to surrender once again, promising him that, after an indefinite exile in Florida, he and his followers would be permitted to return to Arizona. The promise was never kept. Geronimo and his fellow prisoners were shipped by box-car to Florida for imprisonment and put to hard labor. It was May 1887 before he saw his family. Several years later, in 1894, he was moved to Fort Sill in Oklahoma Territory where he attempted to “fit in.” He farmed and joined the Dutch Reformed Church, which expelled him because of his inability to resist gambling. As years passed, stories of Geronimo's warrior ferocity made him into a legend that fascinated non-Indians and Indians alike. As a result, he appeared at numerous fairs, selling souvenirs and photographs of himself. In 1905 he was quite the sensation when he appeared in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade. Geronimo dictated his memoirs, published in 1906 as Geronimo's Story of His Life. Never having seen his homeland of Arizona again, Geronimo died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909 and was buried in the Apache cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

[Source: "Legends of America"]

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