Apache Incarceration

April 1886-May 1887
In 1886, over 500 Apache prisoners were brought to St. Augustine. When the Apache surrendered in Arizona, they did so with the stipulation that their families be moved to the same location. This was initially agreed upon by the US Army. But those terms would ultimately not be upheld.

Politicians and reporters in Pensacola lobbied tirelessly to have Geronimo and other chiefs and warriors brought to their city. The argument was that Fort Pickens would provide a more secure location, but in actually, there were a lot of economics and politics at play. Ultimately, Geronimo and 19 others will be transported to Pensacola. Those prisoners became a tourist attraction for thousands of people who flocked to the area to see Geronimo. A ferry service operated everyday allowing visitors access to the island where they would get autographs and pictures taken with the prisoners.

Twenty prisoners were taken to Pensacola while 502 of their families and fellow tribe members were brought to St. Augustine. They were imprisoned inside Fort Marion. In charge of the prison was a man named Colonel Langdon. While incarcerated in St. Augustine, the prisoners lived in Sibley tents that were erected on the gun deck. The prisoners were issued army rations for food. Sergeant George M. Brown was responsible for distributing those rations every morning at 9am. An army surgeon visited the prison each day to inspect their living conditions and assess any health concerns. During the imprisonment, conditions did prove to be crowded. To attempt to alleviate crowded conditions, the prisoners were able to move freely around the fort green during the day. They were also permitted to go into the city in groups. But their living conditions in the fort proved to be a challenge in terms of maintaining cleanliness and sanitary conditions. There were 24 deaths and 12 births at the fort during their 13 month confinement.

Unlike the incarceration of the Plains American Indians ten years prior, many of the Apache prisoners did not have jobs or engage in daily work routines. Women were responsible for preparing all of the food and doing laundry. But there was a lot of idleness amongst the prisoners, particularly in the early months of the imprisonment. To combat this issue, Colonel Langdon decided to implement a regime of education for the children and young adults in St. Augustine. Local women, including Sarah Mather (who had worked with the Plains prisoners in the 1870’s) again volunteered their time to teach classes at the fort. The younger children left the prison for school. They headed into town to be taught at a local nunnery by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Seeing much potential in these younger pupils, and desiring to alleviate some of the crowded conditions at the fort, Colonel Langdon invited Captain Richard Henry Pratt to St. Augustine to determine if the young students would be good pupils for the Carlisle Indian School. Pratt visited the prison and returned to Pennsylvania with over 130 new Apache students.

The incarceration lasted approximately 13 months but crowded conditions finally forced the army to relocate the prisoners. Any prisoners at Fort Marion who had family at Fort Pickens, were moved to Pensacola. The remaining prisoners were transported to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. Ultimately, all of the prisoner would be reunited in Alabama where they would spend the next 7 years. However, poor living conditions and illness pervaded the prison site and the US Army moved the prisoners again. The group was taken to Fort Sill in Oklahoma and they lived on the reservation, as prisoners, for the next 19 years. Geronimo remained a prisoner until the day he died. He is buried at Fort Sill today.

Last updated: January 19, 2017

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