I recently sat down with an elder of the White Mountain Apache tribe, who granted me permission to write about some of the more obscure aspects of Apache history around the turn of the twentieth century.
Most of our conversations revolved around Geronimo, but we also discussed other famous Indians as wells.
One in particular caught my attention right away, because it contained all the elements of a good story.
It was about an Apache medicine man and prophet named Nock-ay-det-klinne, also known as “the Dreamer.”
The Dreamer it appears was a deeply religious man, a seer! A seer is one who has special access to hidden things. They are by nature intuitive and sensitive people. The Dreamer was, of course no exception to the rule.
He claimed to communicate regularly with extra dimensional beings or entities, we might call ghosts or spirits today. They granted him supernatural “power” and knowledge to hidden things.
“Power is everywhere. It lives in everything. It might be known through a word or come in the shape of an animal. We all have power but some tap into different rooms. Power speaks to those who listen. The greatest thing a person can have in Apache belief is power!” Apache Medicine Man 1889
Power is an interesting concept within Apache culture and religion. I’m not even sure if I understand the true significance or meaning to be quite honest with you…
It refers to an intangible quality or aspect in every human being. Sometimes called “gifts of the spirit.” It was gained through dreams,visions, fasting and prayers. Often times it fell within the field of precognition, or extrasensory perception.
In the case of the “Dreamer” it was all of that and much more!
He also came at a time when the Apache culture and worldview was under direct assault by the White man – who came not only to “kill, steal and destroy” but to erase a complete way of life!
The “Dreamer” called upon the people to remain steadfast in this adversity and participate in the ritual of the “Ghost dance.”
The ghost dance was started by a Paiute leader Wowoka – it centered around this idea that a time was approaching when the White man would be “de-fanged” and driven out of North America and the Indian people across the nations would unite.
The basis for the Ghost Dance, the “circle dance” , is a traditional ritual which has been used by many Native Americans since prehistoric times, but this new form was first practiced among the Nevada Paiute in 1889.
As the Ghost Dance spread from its original source, Native American tribes synthesized selective aspects of the ritual with their own beliefs. This process often created change in both the society that integrated it, and in the ritual itself.
Needless to say the idea of the ghost dance held special meaning to the Apache and spread quickly, and for a brief time was instrumental in uniting some of the different tribes, including the White Mountain, San Carlos and Chihuahua Apache against a common threat to their people (and the entire world) – namely the White man!
Its said that the Apaches would come together from all over to listen to the “Dreamer” and dance the ghost dance- for days at a time! Eventually the Dreamer’s following got so large it was noticed by others including Geronimo and other war chiefs, who at first perhaps didn’t know what to make of it.
The US military also got wind of all this and ordered a man, who many considered a ruthless truant man, hardened by years of war in the American civil war – Col. Carr, to captured or kill this man they call “the Dreamer.”
So Col. Carr forced marched a contingent of 100 soldiers and 23 Indian scouts to an Indian encampment to capture the renegade “Nock-ay-det-klinne”, (aka “the Dreamer”) on August 30, 1881.
Reportedly “the Dreamer” knew Carr was coming and went to him willingly offering himself as a type of human sacrifice.
The soldiers then beat, abused and tortured him, perhaps for intelligence information on Geronimo and others and took him away to Fort Apache bound and chained like an animal behind a horse! As Col Carr and his army contingent left, people began to follow behind them – hundreds of them, including a rag tag group of women and children wailing and crying out for the release of Nock-ay-det-klinne!
Col. Carr perceiving that in his paranoid mind as a threat to his power and authority, ordered his soldiers to shoot at the people trailing them – many of whom were unarmed.
What happened next is anyone’s guess. But it is suspected the Apache quickly swarmed his position like a group of angry fire ants!
As the Apache closed in on Col. Carr he ordered some of his soldiers to “kill that damn medicine man!”
Which they did!
Apparently they began first by shooting Nock-ay-det-klinne in the legs, when he tried to run away!
As he was crawling away (his hands still bound) bleeding out very badly, a US Army officer casually walked up to him, shove a pistol in his mouth and blew his brains out!
Not to be out down in any of this a white civilian guide (name unknown) run up like a half crazy man and split his head open with an axe…Apparently the guy wasn’t dead enough?
By all accounts it was a bloody and violent end!
When Geronimo heard of this he was understandably very “pissed” and very upset! He reportedly mourned for many days afterward and then vowed revenge against the White man for this unspeakable crime against the Apache tribe!
While we can just speculate on what happened next the fact that Geronimo was so deeply and psychologically affected by all this is not really doubted by anyone, at least that I’ve talked to about all this.
It also had a profound impact on his life going forward!
If there was a point when Geronimo went rogue – this was it!
Interestingly when I was talking with an elder of the White Mountain Apache tribe recently about this – the man openly wept! Like a sailor who had seen his ship broken against the rocks!
I walked away realizing that even though we were some 100 plus years removed from the actual event it was still playing out in many ways even today! As well still having an pronounced effect on people within the tribe today.
Out of respect for the wishes of the elder in this case who asked that I not mention his name in this report, I must say I am deeply moved by the emotion he displayed to me – just in talking about this. At one point I had to try and console him!
For the Apache, the past affects the present and the future in ways we can hardly appreciate let alone really understand today. For them this is still very deeply personal!
My appreciation to the many people involved from the White Mountain Apache tribe who helped me complete this story, the last of a series of interviews on the Apache culture, religion and history, published here on the groundreport.com website.
See related video: The tragedy of wounded knee – Ghost dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EdRT56WK7Q