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Goyathlay, Goyaałé: “one who yawns.”
History remembers him mainly by the handle given him by Mexican soldiers in the 19th century during a fierce battle in which he ignored a dangerous hail of bullets while attacking the soldiers with a knife – the soldiers making a plea to San Jeronimo (Saint Jerome). The well-known moniker “Geronimo” stuck.
To the Apaches, Goyathlay embodied the very essence of the Apache values, agressiveness, courage in the face of difficulty.
Goyathlay was born to the Bedonkohe (Chiricahua) band of Apache in the area of the head waters of the Gila River. This is in the vicinity of the Gila Cliff Dwellings, 40 miles north of Silver City, in southwestern New Mexico. At the time of his birth, circa mid 1820’s, New Mexico (which included present day Arizona) was under Mexican rule (1821-1846).
Contrary to common misconception, Goyathlay was not a Chief, but a Medicine Man, more so a Shaman. He was, however, called a War Chief. His uncanny ability to survive gunshots and reported “power” to walk without leaving tracks, coupled with his spiritual insights and abilities, made his people believe he was protected and favored by Usen (Creator).
This magnificent Human Being journeyed from this existence one hundred years ago on 17 February 1909.
The Apache figure below Goyathlay is a Gaan or Gaa’he.
According to the Apache, the Giver of Life (Usen) sent the Gaa’he, or mountain spirits, to teach the people a better way to live, govern, hunt, and cure illness. Accordingly to the myth, these benevolent but powerful mountain spirits live forever in the mountain’s caves and can be appealed to for guidance and protection.