Friday, January 2, 2015


A good one to start the new year, no? Geronimo! Off we go!

Count yourself lucky I didn't go with the gif here.

I somehow ended the old year by watching a lot of Dr. Who episodes on the BBC channel. At one point, the Matt Smith incarnation of the doctor shouts "Geronimo!" as he hurls himself off into space to save the world in some way which I now forget. But I was struck by the word in this context, wondering exactly how the name of a famous Apache warrior became the rallying cry on a British sci-fi television show.

While the details may be a bit more lore than fact, it is pretty clear that the practice began with the early paratroopers at Fort Benning, Georgia. 1940 was the year that the army was experimenting with  mass paratroop drops for the first time, and the troops were pretty nervous about being the guinea pigs. According to the story, a private named Aubrey Eberhardt went out to see a western about the cavalry fighting Geronimo with his pals, and then afterwards, over beer, boasted that he thought the next day's ambitious jump would really be no different than any other. His friends taunted him, saying that he would be so scared he wouldn't remember his own name. He retorted that when he jumped the next day he would yell Geronimo! as loud as hell as he went out the door. According to the story, everyone was waiting and watching the next day, and Eberhardt made good on his promise. You can read a fuller account at The Straight Dope.

The one on the left is a likely candidate. The one on the right is just for fun.

Apparently, it might all have ended right there, because yelling as you stepped out of an airplane was a breach of military discipline. One officer, now unknown, is said to have prevailed in his belief that the shout actually signalled bravery, and so tradition was born. After the war the practice was forbidden.My dad's cousin, who was really more like a brother, was in the 82nd Airborne. I think he may have come in a little late for the war, but he didn't seem like the type to shout Geronimo! anyway.

My own quest doesn't end here, though. Because somehow I realized that Geronimo, famous though it is, isn't actually an Indian name. It turns out that Geronimo was just a name the Spanish gave him. His real name was Goyaałé, which in English is rendered Goyathlay or Goyahkla. It is usually translated as "One Who Yawns", though I feel that a little may be lost in translation here. Why the Spanish called him Geronimo is not known, although it seems a good guess to think that maybe they were changing a native name to make it sound more familiar.

I didn't know that Geronimo had told the story of his life in later years. He had been imprisoned for many years when he told it to Oklahoma Superintendent of Education S.M. Barrett with the help of an Apache translator, Asa Deklugie. Barrett reasoned that he should "extend to Geronimo as a prisoner of war the courtesy due any captive, i.e. the right to state the causes which impelled him in his opposition to our civilization and laws."You can read the whole thing HERE, or listen to it HERE.


  1. Acoustical liberation of books in the public domain--I love that subtitle of the audio book website. I have visited Geronimo's grave at Ft. Sill, and sure hope it is just a legend about the Bush/Skull and Bones grave robbery.

  2. I'm glad you visited his grave, Nancy. As fun as it is hearing Matt Smith shout it out, all in all, there is a lot of appropriation going on here. I didn't even want to touch the whole Code Name Geronimo stuff around the hunt for Bin Laden.

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  4. I like the idea of one who yawns being memorialized when one leaps from a plane. And here’s a post from my visit to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. or Hieronymite Monastery in Lisbon.

  5. Yes, I could have followed the other thread, which is the Geronimo is the Spanish for Jerome. And it plays out as Hieronymous Bosch, famous painter and almost equally famous fictional detective. Somehow, I don't think they were thinking of either of them when they jumped out of those planes.

  6. "Jerome" lacks the power to strike fear in the hearts of men, I think. The name always makes me think of Jerome the Giraffe from the Gentle Giant children's television show of my youth.

  7. He may have struck fear into the hearts of some women, though, as in addition to translating the Bible into Latin, he seems to spent a lot of time concentrating on how women devoted to Christ should live their lives. Or so says Wikipedia