American Indians •  Anthropology and Western History

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Imagining Geronimo: An Apache Icon in Popular Culture

William M. Clements

2013 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Winner of the 2014 Southwest Book Design and Production Award for Cover and Jacket Design from the New Mexico Book Association

His face has appeared on T-shirts, postage stamps, jigsaw puzzles, posters, and an Andy Warhol print. A celebrity and a tourist attraction who attended three World’s Fairs and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade, he is a character in such classic westerns as Stagecoach and Broken Arrow. His name was used in the daring military operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and rumors about the location of his skull at a Yale University club have circulated for a century. These are just a few of the ways that the Apache shaman and war leader known to Anglo-Americans as Geronimo has remained alive in the mainstream American imagination and beyond.

Clements’s study samples the repertoire of Geronimo stories and examines Americans’ changing sense of Geronimo in terms of traditional patterns—trickster social bandit, patriot chief, sage elder, and culture hero. He looks at the ways in which Geronimo tried with mixed results to maintain control of his own image during more than twenty years in which he was a prisoner of war. Also examined are Geronimo’s ostensible conversion to Christianity and his image in photography and literature.


William M. Clements taught cultural anthropology, folklore studies, literature, and American Indian studies at Arkansas State University. A Fellow of the American Folklore Society, he has published several books, articles, book chapters, and reviews in folklore, popular culture, history, literature, and American Indian studies.


“We never tire, even now, of hearing about Geronimo. This book explains why, as it follows the Apache medicine man into the modern era.”


Sherry Robinson, author of Apache Voices

“In the twenty-first century, T-shirt makers have claimed Geronimo as an iconic figure to represent how native peoples have fought for ‘homeland security since 1492.’ Imagining Geronimo shows us why, exploring how the Chiricahua warrior captured the imaginations of his contemporaries via news stories, photographs, newspaper verse, and cinema and how his image has continued to define what it means to be ‘Indian’—whether ‘red devil’ or ‘freedom fighter and patriot’—in the popular imagination. This lively and insightful analysis of numerous representations of Geronimo reveals him to be a much contested ‘public figure’ put to multiple political uses, a process of which he was very well aware.”


Melody Graulich, editor, Western American Literature

“A wonderfully wise and informed treatment of Geronimo. Clements has mastered through a generation of study the romance and reality of his subject.”


L. G. Moses, Oklahoma State University, author of Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883–1933

“An engrossing and accessible study of one of the American West’s most iconic figures. William Clements’s approach is both comprehensive in scope and nuanced in its interpretive findings, especially skillful in its weaving together of popular and so-called highbrow imaginings of Geronimo’s life and legend.”


Stephen Tatum, author of Inventing Billy the Kid: Visions of the Outlaw in America, 1881–1981

“An engrossing and insightful study of one of the American West’s most iconic figures. . . . This book should be in the library of anyone interested in the American West or American Indians.”


Tribal College Journal

6 x 9 in. 320 pages 27 halftones