01/20/04 — Geronimo's name signifies masculinity

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Geronimo's name signifies masculinity

You have to be mighty careful in references to American Indians, as Fred Simmons of Pensacola Beach, Fla., has learned.

Simmons opened a liquor store and called it Geronimo’s Spirits, capitalizing on a little piece of local history. Geronimo, the Apache who was the last important Indian war chief to defy the U.S. government, lived for two years as a prisoner at Fort Pickens, which is near Simmons’ store.

Some Indians — not Apaches but Chickasaws — who live nearby protested. They claimed that a place called Geronimo’s Spirits was offensive because it tended to advance the stereotype that Indians are drunkards.

Simmons said he didn’t see why the name Geronimo’s Sprits was any worse than the name of the Apache Spirits Sports Bar at a casino on the Tonto Apache Tribe’s reservation near Payson, Ariz. It might not be any worse, but no Indians protest the name of the Arizona bar because Indians own it.

The objective observer probably would come down on Simmons’ side. He undoubtedly picked the name of his business in all innocence. Like those who name athletic teams after American Indians, he sought to evoke a strong, masculine image.

Certainly Geronimo was strong and masculine. Time after time he escaped from U.S. soldiers in the West as they sought to confine him and his followers, and he became one of the most feared warriors in Indian history. He wasn’t dumb, either. In later years he made pretty good money selling his signature for a nickel, which wasn’t so cheap around the turn of the last century. In 1905, at age 76, he accepted an invitation to ride in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade.

Some of us tend to be offended a little too easily and go to extremes in defending our positions. One of the Indians who protested Simmons’ store said, “You wouldn’t put Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul’s name on a liquor store.”

That’s true. But while Geronimo had many admirable qualities, Mother Teresa he wasn’t.

Published in Editorials on January 20, 2004 12:50 PM