Geronimo Pilgrimage Loses To Cowboys

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2013

Forgive me, Geronimo. I’ve sided with the cowboys.
Our four-year Oklahoma adventure is now over. Son Robert returns to North Carolina this week, diploma in hand, and I will have no reason to return to the Sooner State except to fulfill a final wistful mission — a pilgrimage to the grave of the great warrior Geronimo.
We ran out of time Saturday.
Fort Sill and the grave are 100 miles south of Norman. The National Cowboy Museum is 30 miles north in Oklahoma City. We deposited Robert’s last box of belongings at the UPS Store at 2 p.m., which made our choice obvious. We turned our rental car north.
The cowboy museum was wonderful — huge paintings of the Wild West in the 19th century, Remington sculptures, cowboy saddles, lariats, hats, Western movie tributes and even a mock Western town. Guards had to run Elizabeth and me out at closing time. There’s even a life-sized statue of the great 20th century cowboy Ronald Reagan.
We made the right choice. But as a boy, I screamed “Geronimo” and war whooped with my plastic tomahawk across the farm on imaginary assaults on the U.S. Cavalry. Before the arrival of spaceman Buzz Lightyear, boys imagined themselves as either cowboys, soldiers or Indians. I was Geronimo, the great Apache terrorist whose grizzly feats make Osama bin Laden seem like a choir boy.
The military’s code name for the raid that killed the al-Qaida leader in 2011: “Operation Geronimo.”
Civilization, not soldiers, killed Geronimo. He surrendered in 1886 and for a while joined a Western troupe appearing at fairs. He embraced alcohol and was so drunk he fell off his horse in February 1909 into the cold mud and spent the night there in a stupor. He died of pneumonia. His last words: “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”
A mound of stones marks his grave. A Lawton woman we met at graduation told us how to navigate the remote road to the grave. Visitors are few — mostly just fanciful fools like me and some wayward Yale students who once falsely claimed to have stolen Geronimo’s skull.
We traveled to Oklahoma maybe eight times during Robert’s education, always trying to mix our visit with a little tourism. I have loved the University of Oklahoma as much as my son. University President David Boren would get my vote for President of the United States. During the graduation march, four Plains Native American chiefs in full dress regalia led the graduates onto the field. Young graduates representing all the Oklahoma tribes joined them. Real life cowboys and their families sat around us in the football stadium. Everyone joined in singing the wonderful “Oklahoma!”
About 35,000 attended, and the ceremony ended as darkness settled on the prairie. The university then released a dazzling fireworks display of red and white.
Oklahomans know how to celebrate.
Every student at the University of Oklahoma from the first …