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Rare ink signature of the Native American leader

obtained in person at the 1904 Worldʼs Fair in St. Louis

Geronimo, born Goyaałé,1829–1909.  Bedonkohe Apache Native American leader.  Bold black ink signature, GERONIMO, on a card.

This is a rare ink signature by the famed Apache warrior.  Most of the Geronimo signatures that come onto the autograph market are in pencil.  The signature of the illiterate Geronimo is scarce enough in general—he drew his signature as a picture from top to bottom, in totem pole form, because he could not read—but it is much more so in ink.

A note on this card shows that Geronimo signed it at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  Geronimo appeared there under the supervision of the War Department.  A permanent prisoner of war at Fort Sill, in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, where the United States Army had ultimately relocated him and his family after his surrender in 1886, by age 75 the cagey Geronimo knew how to sell himself.  He had already appeared at two other events, the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska, although he was sullen there and expressed no interest in taking part, and the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where President William McKinley had been assassinated.  

In St. Louis, Geronimo was part of an exhibition entitled the “Congress of American Indians.”  He was a real-life warrior in an “Apache Village” in the fair’s midway.  Installed in a booth between corn-pounding women and pottery makers, making bows and arrows and signing autographs, the old belligerent pleased the crowds.  He “was becoming a permanent exposition exhibit, basking in hero-worship, selling postcards, bows and arrows, putting money in his pockets.”  Woodworth Clum, Apache Agent: The Story of John P. Clum 291 (1936).

The money, Geronimo recalled, was good:

When I was at first asked to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair I did not wish to go.  Later, when I was told that I would receive good attention and protection, and that the President of the United States said that it would be all right, I consented.  I was kept by parties in charge of the Indian Department, who had obtained permission from the President.  I stayed in this place for six months.  I sold my photographs for twenty-five cents, and was allowed to keep ten cents of this for myself.  I also wrote my name for ten, fifteen, or twenty-five cents, as the case might be, and kept all of that money.  I often made as much as two dollars a day, and when I returned I had plenty of moneymore than I had ever owned before.

Geronimo, Geronimo’s Story of His Life 197 (S.M. Barrett ed., 1906).

Despite the number of autographs that Geronimo may have signed, comparatively few are on the market, and they are in high demand.

This piece has a pencil notation at the bottom documenting that Geronimo signed it at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.  The card has vertical creases that affect the signature; scattered glue stains close to, but not touching, the signature; a flaw at the bottom edge; and mounting remnants on the back from prior mounting in a scrapbook.  Overall the piece is very good to fine condition.  




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