The last Apache standing…
Fort Sill in Oaklahoma,1960. The local newspaper reports the death of a man in a car crash, they say he was one hundred years old and his name was Jason Betzinez. He was the last surviving member of Geronimo’s Apache Indians. Born into a band of Apaches in 1860, his father was killed when he was twelve and his mother twice kidnapped and taken into slavery. A cousin of Geronimo, Betzinez spent his formative years being hounded by either Mexican or U.S. troops or by Geronimo himself and taken on as an apprentice warrior.
It is said that he never fired a shot at anyone and in 1884 his band of Apaches were caught and moved to a reservation in which he lived next to Geronimo and learnt to farm the land. Geronimo never settled and soon fled with Betzinez and his family in tow. It wasn’t long before Betzinez was regretting his decision and returned to the reservation taking his family with him. He worked eighteen hours a day to the point where his health was suffering and he was given the chance to break free and join the army as an Indian scout.
In 1900 he spoke out against an Indian medicine man who combined all-night dances and alcohol as a means of curing TB, the ‘cure’ killed more Indians than the disease and we begin to see the makings of a reformist American Indian who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army for fourteen years. By 1914 he had turned his back on returning to life on the reservation, he had his own home which he built himself and a successful blacksmith business. The reservation life was not for Betzinez, he was determined to make a life for himself, free from charity and sympathy and he succeeded.
In 1907 he had met a missionary teacher, Anna Heersma from the Dutch Reformed Church. Too shy to reveal his feelings for her it would be twelve years before they eventually married and go on to spend forty-one years together. Aged ninety-nine he took his first flight to meet a publisher for his autobiography, ‘I Fought With Geronimo’. His was a life of true hardship, he pushed himself to the limit all of his life and believed in the role of being the provider. He, his mother and sister rode alongside Geronimo and his band but Betzinez knew Geronimo’s cause was a lost one and his enduring legacy will be of how he understood the narrative, seized the moment and forged a life for himself in a lesson for all of us.
That lesson being the point of this post, Betzinez’s life, whilst not as colourful as his cousin, Geronimo, is worthy of remembrance and here at Retro Culturati we feel duty-bound to champion the forgotten man and woman whose contribution to history has faded in the memory, a legacy worthy of remembrance and discussion. Jason Betzinez’ like has gone forever, a decent man who suffered for his skin colour but never gave up, who placed his faith and trust in the mantra that is hard work sets you free. Despite witnessing the land grabbing which robbed Indians of millions of acres of their land he remained staunchly independent, proud of his heritage but in the knowledge the system could not be beaten. Geronimo believed it could, he was wrong and America’s treatment of its native American Indians will forever blight its history.
Anna died in 1960, shortly before Jason was killed. One cannot help but speculate if the accident was meant or not. They are buried side by side in Beef Creek Cemetery in the adjoining plot to Geronimo.
Categories: Retro Heaven