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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Geronimo

Airs Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: An indomitable Chiricahua Apache warrior and medicine man, Geronimo (pictured here in 1907) is one of the most complex historical figures of the American West. To his supporters, he was the face of proud resistance and defender of traditional Chiricahua ways, but to his detractors - including other Apaches - Geronimo was a vengeful troublemaker whose murderous raids invited violent reprisals against his own people.

Born around 1820, Geronimo grew into a leading warrior and healer of the Chiricahua. But after his tribe was relocated to an Arizona reservation in 1872, he became a focus of the fury of terrified white settlers and of the growing tensions that divided Apaches struggling to survive under almost unendurable pressures.

To angry whites, Geronimo became the archfiend, perpetrator of unspeakable savage cruelties. To his supporters, he remained the embodiment of proud resistance, the upholder of the old Chiricahua ways. To other Apaches, especially those who had come to see the white man's path as the only viable road, Geronimo was a stubborn troublemaker, unbalanced by his unquenchable thirst for vengeance, whose actions needlessly brought the enemy's wrath down on his own people.

At a time when surrender to the reservation and acceptance of the white man's civilization seemed to be the Indians' only realistic options, Geronimo and his tiny band of Chiricahuas fought on. The final holdouts, they became the last Native-American fighting force to capitulate formally to the government of the United States.

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Video

Preview: American Experience: Geronimo

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