You know how people yell “Geronimo” when they jump?
Geronimo (1829-1909) was born a Bedonkohe Apache and he lived in what is now Arizona. Geronimo’s birth name was Goyathlay (or Goyaałé, which means “one who yawns”). Since his name was not Geronimo, no one in is family called him Geronimo, nor did anyone who knew him. So why do people yell his name, which wasn’t his name, when they jump from high places?
I’ll tell you why.
When Geronimo was a boy, that part of Arizona was part of Mexico, although Geronimo’s tribe felt the land was not Mexican territory, but rather belonged to the Apache’s. When the time came, he married a woman from the Chiricauhua band of Apache and then he lived among the Chiricauhuas and they were living together happily raising a family, which as of 1851 comprised 3 children. Then on March 5, 1851, 400 Mexican soldiers from Sonora led by Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco attacked the women and children in Geronimo’s camp outside Janos while Geronimo and the other men were in town trading. Among the dead were Geronimo’s wife, his children and his mother.
The chief, Mangas Coloradas, sent Geronimo to Cochise’s band for help in revenge against the Mexicans. Together, this group of men began to get revenge on the Mexicans for their unprovoked, cowardly, and cold-blooded mass murder of Native North Americans.
After a while, the Mexicans came to know one of the Indians well, the one they started to call Geronimo. Not because that was his name (it wasn’t), but because that’s what the Mexicans started to call him because in battle, while the Mexicans were trying their best to kill him with bullets, he ran around killing Mexicans with his knife, and all the while the Mexicans afraid of being stabbed were yelling some plea to live to Saint Jerome that sounded a lot like Geronimo. Well, the name stuck and Geronimo came to be known and respected by his people, the Mexicans and eventually by the Americans, as a great warrior.
Still, I haven’t gotten to how Geronimo’s name came to be invoked whenever people jump off a diving board or whatever high point they jump from. That’s another story that goes back to World War II paratrooper Aubrey Eberhardt. Aubrey was the first to scream “Geronimo!” when jumping from great heights. Retired First Sergeant Ed Howard explains how it happened in his essay entitled “Paramount’s 1939 Western Geronimo…A Forgotten Movie With a Giant Legacy.”
In 1940, the United States’ first Parachute Test Platoon was formed. It consisted of 50 volunteers who trained in the sweltering heat of Georgia’s Fort Benning. The days were mighty hot, so the paratroopers wanted to stay cool in the evening. One night, Private Eberhardt and three friends watched the movie Geronimo at a local (air conditioned) theater.
After the film, the group discussed the jump they were to make the following morning. According to Howard, one paratrooper asked Eberhardt if he believed he could jump “without fear.” Eberhardt, eager to prove his toughness, said he’d show everyone he wasn’t afraid by yelling “Geronimo!” as he jumped. Eberhardt believed that if he had the presence of mind to remember the word, it would prove he wasn’t scared. Questionable logic perhaps, but we’re going with it.
Long story short, Eberhardt jumped, yelled “Geronimo!” as promised, and the shout quickly caught on with his fellow paratroopers. Some time later the phrase was outlawed because officers felt it would draw unwanted attention to paratroopers landing in hostile territories. That said, the “Geronimo” motto is still seen on certain military insignias, so Eberhardt’s legend lives on.
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