Retro Heaven

Jason Betzinez-Last of the Apaches

The last Apache standing…

apFort 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.

6 replies »

  1. I lived in Lawton OK until I was 13. I can still remember Jason Betzinez coming to Garfield Elementary school and talking to us!

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  2. Anna and Jason Betzinez were my Great Aunt and Uncle. My father had many long talks with them when I was a child. Thank you very much for keeping their memories a life with your research and articles that can be shared with others.

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    • Nancy,
      Thank you so much for visiting the site and leaving this comment. How wonderful!!You are very welcome, I think it is so important to remember great people and the contribution they have made. History has to be preserved. Thank you once again.

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  3. My husband grew up in Apache, Oklahoma in the 40’s and 50’s. Jason and his wife Anna lived right outside Apache and my husband saw him many times when Jason would drive his car into town. According to my husband, Jason loved to play pool and snooker. My husband being under age could not enter the pool hall but would stand at the window to see if he could see how the game was played. Jason must have had a sense of humor, because he always called my husband’s father”Old gray horse.” Jason kidded him about seeing him one day in a horse drawn wagon with a lady that wasn’t his wife. The wagon was being pulled by a gray horse, hence the name. My husband has said so often he never realized growing up that many times he was in the presence of one of history’s great warriors, but has always cherished the memories he has of him and feels so fortunate for the times he was able to even see him and speak with him.

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    • Eleanor,
      Welcome to the site and what a fascinating story. A really wonderful snippet of history there and so important that this kind of story is preserved to help remember figures such as Jason and help us better understand the person. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us. Kind regards to you.

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