On Wings
March 2000

The Early Indian Resistance Movement
Geronimo, or Goyathlay as he was known to his tribe, was born in 1829 in what is now the western New Mexico/eastern Arizona area (accounts vary as to his actual birthplace.) At that time this land was Mexican territory. His family roots sprang from the Bedonkohe and Chiricahua Apache clans.

Geronimo was a brave Apache warrior who battled the U.S. federal government for 25 years before being forcibly brought under its dominion. For Native Americans, his name has become synonymous with determination and courage and for fighting the good fight in the face of adversity. Against overwhelming odds, this man resisted and eluded capture by U.S. troops again and again. His people looked up to him and the tribal leaders valued his wisdom. At the early age of 17, he was admitted to the warrior's council and even tribal chiefs sought his advice on important matters.

Spanish colonies were firmly established in Geronimo's native homeland by the time the first American settlers arrived. The Spanish had no qualms about capturing Indians for slave labor. At the age of 29, Geronimo experienced a tragedy that forever changed his life. Returning home from a trading excursion in 1858, he learned that his wife, his mother and his three young children had been murdered by Spanish troops. Having lost everything he held most sacred in the world, he vowed to kill as many non-Indians as he could. He terrorized Mexican settlements and murdered his enemy at every opportunity. He earned the name Geronimo from the Mexicans and was known for boldly running towards well-armed soldiers with only a knife for protection. Apaches claimed he possessed powers that protected him from bullets.

When the white settlers began moving into the area, they sought to take the Apache lands for themselves. Geronimo and other Indians resisted and fought the invaders. They raided forts, took food and ammunition and killed anyone who dared to stop them. The settlers considered them bloodthirsty and ignorant savages who were less than human, yet I doubt if they would have acted differently had the situations been reversed.

Problems began in earnest in1863 when a "treaty of peace" was struck between the Apaches and the U.S. government. The government promised them blankets, supplies, flour, beef and all manner of provisions. Geronimo, although well respected and admired, was not the chief. He wisely opposed the plan and advised the tribe they should not trust the government. However, the promises made by the government were too tempting for the hungry and weary Indians.

Part of the tribe left with the chief for their new settlement at Apache Tejo, New Mexico. Geronimo remained in Arizona with the rest of the tribe. Should the white men keep the treaty faithfully, then Geronimo and his band would join the others. However, Geronimo's group had given almost all of their arms and ammunition to the Indians going to Apache Tejo, just in case there was treachery on the white man's part. Not long after their departure, word arrived that the Indians that had left with the soldiers had been brutally slain. Even though Geronimo was unsure if the rumors were true, he and the others retreated into the mountains near Apache Pass just in case the soldiers planned to return and kill them.

Sure enough, three weeks later while they were on their journey to the Pass, they were attacked by U.S. troops who killed seven of their band. The Indians were outgunned and had to fight well-armed soldiers using mostly spears, bows and arrows. The Indians retreated, scattered and met about 50 miles from the battle ground. Ten days later the same troops attacked their new campsite and the Apache were forced to defend themselves with rocks and clubs. For over ten years, Geronimo's people fought in numerous such skirmishes and somehow managed to evade capture.

During this time, the U.S. government had established a system of reservations so they could keep the Indians under control and take their land from them. In 1876, over 4,000 Apaches including Geronimo and his band were forcibly captured and relocated to a reservation in San Carlos, New Mexico that was nicknamed "Hell's Forty Acres." The 4,000 Apaches at San Carlos were deprived of their tribal rights, were short on rations and longed for their freedom. Geronimo and 700 other Apaches revolted, left the reservation and resumed their war against the white colonists and the US Army.

US General Crook was called to Arizona to capture Geronimo. Crook relentlessly hunted and pursued Geronimo and his followers. After two years of continual harassment, Geronimo surrendered only when he found himself and his people outnumbered and exhausted. After a year on the rez, Geronimo and a smaller band of Indians escaped from San Carlos again. Crook resumed his pursuit. After ten months of running and fighting, Geronimo surrendered in Mexican Territory. However, he feared that they all would be murdered once they crossed into the U.S. and so they fled to the Sonora Mountains.

General Nelson Miles replaced Crook in 1886 as commander and with the aid of 5,000 white soldiers, 3,000 Mexican soldiers and 500 Indian scouts, employed at various times in the final campaign to capture Geronimo, tracked and pursued the tormented Indians for over 1,600 miles. Five months later, Miles finally caught up with Geronimo and set up a conference in which he persuaded Geronimo to surrender. Miles promised the Indians that after an exile in Florida, they would be permitted to return to Arizona. He lied.

Instead, Geronimo and the Chiracahua Apaches were severely punished and spent 30 years as prisoners of war. Geronimo and 450 Apache men, women and children were shipped by boxcar like cattle to Florida for imprisonment in Fort Marion and Fort Pickens. After a year of hard labor, they were transported to the Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama where a fourth of them succumbed to and died from tuberculosis and other diseases. It was in this place of misery and woe that Geronimo reunited with his family. In 1894, the remaining Apaches and Geronimo were "relocated" to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. None of these Indians would ever see their western homeland again.

Geronimo, Defeated: A Sideshow and Tourist Attraction
In Fort Sill, Geronimo settled into life as a rancher and tried to follow the white man's road. He joined the Dutch Reformed Church, but was expelled because of his love of gambling. During the last years of his life, this legendary warrior was put on display at various expositions throughout the country.

When Geronimo went to the St. Louis World's Fair, he was kept like some circus animal or war souvenir, in the custody of members in charge of the Indian Department. By special permission of the War Department, he was allowed to sell his handiwork and photographs of himself at expositions. He sold his photos for 25 cents and was allowed to keep ten cents. He sold his autograph for ten, fifteen or twenty-five cents and could keep all that money.

In St. Louis, he was invited into people's homes, but his keepers would not allow him to go. For six months, Geronimo performed rope tricks every Sunday in the Wild West show for the crowded audiences. Geronimo is often remembered for riding in a Cadillac during the many parades held to celebrate that World's Fair. He made many similar appearances across the nation and even rode in President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 inaugural parade.

Geronimo appealed to President Roosevelt to be allowed to return to his homeland so he could die there and be buried with his ancestors, but the request was denied. During the winter of 1909, the 85 year old Geronimo fell off his horse and remained in a ditch until the next day. He caught pneumonia and died on February 17, 1909. His gravesite is located at the Fort Sill Museum in Oklahoma.

Geronimo's Headdress
Once Again, the Federal Government Counts Coup

Wasn't it enough that Geronimo was finally defeated by the U.S. federal government? Wasn't it enough that he spent nearly 30 years as a war prisoner? Wasn't it enough that he died a without seeing his beloved homeland? Or that he was not allowed to be buried with his ancestors? Apparently not. The feds had to have his eagle feather headdress, too, and their methods for getting what they want haven't changed much in 200 years.

In 1907, the old Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory (O.T. and I.T.) were on the brink of merging in order to enter statehood as Oklahoma. Festivities were planned in Indian Territory complete with a carnival, Wild West show, midway, beauty contest and an event known as "The Last Pow-Wow." Geronimo was invited to attend, and U.S. Army Scout and Texas Ranger "Mustang Jack" (John) Moore who was half Indian, accompanied Geronimo from Ft. Sill in southwestern Oklahoma to Collinsville in northeastern Oklahoma. (The Indians' name for Jack Moore was John Gray Eagle.)

Among the Plains tribes, an eagle feather headdress is a symbol of honor and accomplishment. The Cheyenne tribe presented Geronimo with a full-length eagle feather chief's bonnet, replete with 48 golden eagle feathers. Geronimo wore it with great pride and dignity during the Indian ceremonies.

However, Geronimo was not allowed to keep the eagle feather headdress as a prisoner at Fort Sill. He gave the bonnet to his friend, "John Gray Eagle" Moore who would later give it to his good friend, C. W. Deming, an Oklahoma oil man.

What You Can Do with Eagle Feathers
Geronimo's feather headdress has remained in the Deming family for over seventy years. The heirloom is well documented by newspaper clippings, letters and even a notarized statement prepared by C. W.'s wife. Until last October, the headdress was in the possession of Leighton Deming, a personal injury lawyer in Georgia.

For nearly 25 years, Leighton Deming had tried to loan or donate this historical headdress to a museum, only asking that he receive a receipt for the value of the headdress for tax purposes. Throughout the years, he has contacted over 50 museums, but none wanted to risk the hassle of dealing with the FWS regarding the complex wildlife laws involved with Indian antiquities and eagle feathers. In 1993, Deming negotiated with the Smithsonian who at first said they would take the headdress and give him a $2 million receipt. They later backed out because even they feared that the FWS may seize the headdress and subject them to fines. Another curator at a Cherokee Indian museum appraised the headdress at $1 million and though this museum also wanted to display the headdress, they too, backed away from the opportunity.

Besides all the laws regarding eagle feathers and migratory birds and so forth, The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has made it difficult for museums to legally exhibit Indian artifacts. The Act was originally created to protect Native American antiquities, gravesites and artifacts from being taken from Indian lands. However, this federal statute has become broader and broader in scope and now covers all such items, no matter where they may be found.

For instance, a May 28, 1999 Federal Register notice published by the Department of Interior, National Park Service was issued in compliance with the NAGPRA concerning an Indian artifact collected on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in 1910 for the American Museum of Natural History. This item (a San Carlos Apache cap made of buckskin, feathers, beads, pigment and thread) has been in the museum's possession for 90 years. However, the San Carlos Apache Tribe wants this cap returned and are requesting that it be repatriated to them.

Before this notice, the FWS had to be contacted regarding the applicability of the MBTA, the Bald and Golden Eagle Act Protection and the ESA to this item. They held that due to its age, the cultural item was not subject to those laws and could be repatriated to the tribe. Unfortunately, the FWS does not apply this legal reasoning in a consistent manner, especially when individual private property rights are involved.

After numerous museums turned down his offers, Leighton Deming contacted the Library of Congress and wrote to his congressman asking for advice on how to legally donate this Indian/avian artifact. Supposedly his congressman investigated and researched the matter and told him there was no problem -- he could do what he wanted with the headdress. Deming knew that the law clearly stated he could not sell the headdress since it consisted of golden eagle feathers. However, he also knew that this headdress pre-dated all of those wildlife laws. If we apply logic and common sense, those laws do not apply because even if Deming sold the headdress, wild eagle populations would not be harmed -- and the intent behind those laws was to protect live eagle and bird populations.

This 56-year old attorney is well respected by his community and was president of the Gwinnett County Optimists Club. He is from the "old school" and has always prided himself with doing things by the book and doing them the right way. Those values are threatened and endangered nowadays and if things don't change, I'm afraid they will soon be extinct.

Business as Usual
Deming shared his frustrations regarding his inability to loan or donate the headdress with a friend and client who happened to collect and trade artifacts as a hobby. Thomas Marciano wanted to auction the headdress off at Gatsbys, but Deming wanted to make sure that the sale would be legal. He had contacted two law offices to research the matter for him. One never found an answer and the other one told him they didn't think selling the headdress would be a problem since eagles had been removed from the ESA. (The removal of the bald eagle from the ESA list has been proposed, but the final notice has not yet been published, proving once again that you cannot believe everything you hear.)

In the meantime, unknown to Deming, these items had been posted for sale on the Internet. Marciano found someone who was willing to pay up to a million dollars for Geronimo's headdress -- an FBI agent. Agent Bob Whitman, posing as a buyer for a wealthy European collector, E-mailed Marciano and Marciano phoned him the next day. Whitman instructed Marciano to send documentation regarding the authenticity of the headdress and he did.

Ten pictures of the war bonnet were sent along with letters from the Deming family regarding the history of the acquisition of the headdress. Agent Whitman then sent the pictures to US FWS Agent Lucinda Shroeder, who positively identified the feathers in the photograph as eagle. Damn, she's good if she's able to do that. However, I would think the documentation and history of the headdress would be a more reliable indicator that the eagle feathers were authentic. You can buy fake eagle feathers at Indian craft stores throughout the country. They are large turkey feathers that are painted to look like eagle feathers and from a photograph, you would not be able to tell the difference. (Unless you are Shroeder, that is)

Over the next six weeks, Marciano and Agent Whitman discussed Geronimo's headdress and its history. Marciano was excited; Deming was skeptical. He wanted Marciano to make it absolutely clear that the headdress was not for sale. Instead, he told Marciano to tell the "buyer" that some pen and ink sketches, drawn by Jack Moore, were for sale and that the headdress would be included at the time of sale free of charge. He and Marciano had spent quite a bit of time researching these drawings and were able to verify that they were valuable in their own right. Many were made on C. W. Deming's company letterhead. Deming and Marciano even included a copy of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in one of the packages of documents they sent to Whitman in explanation of why they could not sell Geronimo's headdress.

However, Marciano was caught up in the spirit of the deal and according to the FBI report, agreed to sell Whitman the artwork and headdress for $1.2 million. Deming would be told the sale was for $1 million and that $300,000 would be Marciano's broker fee while Deming received $700,000. However, the agent told Marciano that after he obtained the headdress, Marciano would receive the other $200,000 and that he would even return the pictures so Marciano could sell them separately! What a great deal! (This is according to the FBI report and I cannot vouch for the accuracy of what was said during the telephone calls.) It is interesting to note; however, that Marciano did tell Deming that the "buyer" a/k/a Agent Whitman asked him the day before the sale, "Are you sure you want to do this?" Marciano and Deming never saw it coming, but they should have.

Deming knew that it was illegal for Marciano to transport the eagle headdress or have it in his possession. It was not illegal for Deming to do so. Agent Whitman told Deming he didn't have to be present at the sale but Deming went anyway.

Deming's deal with Whitman was that the pen and ink sketches by Jack Moore were for sale and that the headdress would be given to the collector on lifetime loan. Deming tried to find out from the buyer/agent if his "client" planned on donating the headdress to a museum or if it would be displayed to the public somewhere else. He was concerned that the headdress be treated as a historical artifact to be shared -- something he had tried to make possible for 25 years in the U.S. One of the main reasons Deming agreed to the deal was that he thought the headdress could be part of an exhibit in Europe -- and that a European collector would not attract all the legal hassles he had encountered due to our country's laws.

The Sting
Deming and Marciano met Whitman at an Embassy Suites Hotel in Philadelphia. Whitman began to insist that he only wanted the headdress and not the sketches. Deming stuck to the deal he had made -- buy the sketches and get the headdress for free. The agent had a written agreement already drawn up which he tried to pressure Deming into signing. Over and over, Deming refused. This document stated that Deming was selling the headdress for money. Deming argued with Whitman about this and refused to sign. Deming told him that if he didn't want to buy the sketches, there was no sale.

Then the agent changed his tactics and told Deming that the agreement meant nothing and that his buyer had requested Deming sign it so that Deming would not renege about throwing in the headdress as part of the sale. Deming knew all about negotiations that fell through at the last minute due to his experiences with museums. He told Whitman he would sign the agreement only if he could draw up his own contract for Whitman to sign.

Deming knew civil contract law and knew that the last contract would supercede Whitman's. What he didn't know was how far the federal government would go to get what it wants. Just like the peace treaties between the U.S. and the Indians, the feds tricked him into signing something he never agreed to. They would later claim that under criminal law, Deming's contract proved his criminal intent.

As soon as Deming and Whitman signed Deming's contract, a dozen federal agents armed with M-16s and 9mm pistols broke into the room. They pointed their loaded weapons right in Deming's face. At first, Deming thought that thieves were there to steal the headdress. He wasn't wrong.

Deming was so frightened that when the feds handcuffed him, he passed out three times. The agents asked him if he had a gun. He didn't. (If he had, they would have had the perfect excuse to shoot him down in cold blood.) Then they asked him if he had a knife. A knife? It would have been funny if it wasn't so absurd. Deming had no knife.

The shocked and handcuffed Deming was marched out of the hotel, humiliated, as curious onlookers watched. He was booked and fingerprinted and faced federal criminal offenses punishable by five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The feds had spent six weeks of undercover work, enlisted a dozen agents and needed heavy artillery just to arrest one 56 year old man for selling his own property. A man who had never violated the law or even had a speeding ticket. A man who was well thought of and active in his community. What is our country coming to?

Deming asked the FBI why they didn't just call him and ask him for the headdress. They told him they weren't in the business of calling anyone who was about to break the law. He then asked them, "Well why didn't you just say, 'We will help you get a permit to donate it to a museum.'" What a concept! Federal agents who conduct business like true civil servants. There's no excitement and glory in that though. It's more fun to raid a place and shake down frightened citizens.

After Deming was released on bail, he went back home. Seven local judges and a bailiff offered to put up money for a defense fund. Two Native American organizations told him they would support his case against the government.

Justification: Analysis Paralysis Time
I should mention that during Whitman's attempt to get Deming to sign his agreement, he invited a woman into the room. She told Deming that she was a museum appraiser from Albuquerque. In reality, she was none other than FWS agent Lucinda Schroeder who had come to verify that the feathers in the headdress were eagle feathers. (I thought she had already done that by looking at photographs) Anyway, I guess to be on the safe side, she brought real eagle feathers with her to compare them with the ones in the headdress. She made Deming uncomfortable and he asked her to leave. Later, the feds would claim that this action clearly demonstrated Deming's guilt. I think it demonstrated he was just picking up some negative FWS vibes.

Robert Goldman, assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, told reporters that when Congress passed the Eagle Protection Act , it became illegal to sell any eagle feathers no matter how old they were. He claimed that if such artifacts remained on the market, dealers would try to obtain feathers to repair old feathers or ones that were missing. That could create an incentive for someone to market feathers from live birds. Talk about reaching. These guys imagine crimes where none exist. If you were a criminal and wanted to make money from eagle feathers, wouldn't it be easier to make new headdresses and art objects rather than repair ones that were decades old?? FWS thought of that one too, and justified their Operation Four Corners sting based on that concept. [My FOIA on Operation Four Corners is pending. I was told there is still one last case that has not been finalized. Apparently, one brave defendant has fought the good fight for as long as possible.]

University of Toledo emeritus law professor, Richard Edwards, was confident that the government would not prosecute Deming all the way and thereby risk losing on appeal. Edwards claimed that if the case went to the Surpeme Court, Justice Scalia would overturn Andrus v. Allard, 441 U.S. 51. The last time such a case came up, the government let it be dismissed on a technicality rather than risk endangering Andrus.

Andrus cites a determination made by a three-judge panel regarding 28 USC 2282 which held that because of "grave doubts whether these two acts [MBTA, Bald Eagle Protection Act] would be constitutional if they were construed to apply to pre-act bird products," the Acts were to be interpreted as "not applicable to preexisting, legally-obtained bird parts of products therefrom…" 28 USC 2282 (1970) App. to Juris. Statement 13a-14a. This court further ruled that "the interpretive regulations, 50 CFR 21.2(a) and 22.2(a) are void as unauthorized extensions of the MBTA and EPA and are violative of the appellees' Fifth Amendment property rights." Judgement was entered declaring "the subject regulations to be invalid and unenforceable against the property rights in feathers and artifacts owned before the effective date of the statutes and those rights were rights of sale, barter or exchange.
Deming was 95% positive he could win a case against the federal government, but he chose to plead out. The possibility of being charged with a felony was too great a risk for him to ignore and federal prosecutors are known to play hard ball. Not only would such a lawsuit cost thousands of dollars, but the possibility of serving up to five years prison and incurring fines up to $250,000 was not a welcome alternative either. On top of that, if he was charged with a federal crime, he would lose his license to practice law. His life was at stake.

After lengthy negotiations, he finally pled to a misdemeanor charge of unknowing barter. In any other state jurisdiction, this entire matter would have been dropped completely from Deming's record since he was a first time offender. However, that is not the case in Philadelphia and it is probably why the federal agents set up their sting operation in that state.

Taking Geronimo's headdress from Deming was as easy as taking candy from a baby for the feds. The sensational press releases that followed the sting were just icing on the cake. Deming told me that this was the worst experience of his life and that he just wants to put it all behind him. A family heirloom was taken from him and he faced losing a lifetime of hard work over this ordeal. Deming considers himself fortunate that he was able to plead out and forfeit his property. I suppose when you are dealing with the federal government, that is as good as it gets.

It does cost a great deal to fight the federal government. It can cost thousands of dollars. It can cost your reputation -- and your freedom. It doesn't matter if you are brave and persistent; determined and steadfast. Look at what happened to Geronimo. Our federal government is an equal opportunity oppressor.

One last thing. After Deming surrendered his claim to the headdress, ten or fifteen museums inquired how they might obtain it. The judge who set Deming's bail quipped that he would love to hang it on is courtroom wall. I could just see the federal government using their plundered "taking" in a photo op to promote the National Museum of the American Indian which is due to open next year on the Washington Mall. Can't you picture it? Bruce Babbitt conferring Geronimo's headdress upon the museum with great ceremony and fanfare?

That won't happen though. Not this time. The judge in Deming's case allowed him to select a museum to receive the headdress and he chose the Fort Sill Museum in Oklahoma even though they turned it down when he offered the headdress to them a year ago. It is fitting that the headdress will be on display at Geronimo's final resting place.

Related Information of Interest:

Information and further reading citations about Geronimo and his life

Did Bush's grandfather steal Geronimo's Skull?

February 19, 2009.  Descendants' Suit Seeks Geronimo's Remains, Rumored To Be At Yale. Sculptor and Vietnam vet, Harlyn Geronimo filed a federal lawsuit in Washington D.C. on the 100th anniversary of his great-grandfather's death, seeking to claim the remains of the great Apache warrior.  Though Geronimo was buried at the Apache Prisoner of War Cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909, it has long been rumored that several of Yale's "Bonesmen" (including Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of two of our nation's presidents, respectively) robbed the grave and took Geronimo's skull and femurs.
FBI Source In Four Corners Artifact Case Apparently Commits Suicide

March 2010.  Antiquities dealer and government CI in the Operation Four Corners Feather Sales sting operation, Ted Dan Gardiner, died of a self-inflicted gunshot after a standoff with police.  Gardiener worked the sting operation for 2 years which led to felony charges against 26 people in Utah, Colorado and Mexico.  This is the third suicide connected to the case. Two defendants – a Santa Fe, N.M., salesman and a prominent Blanding, Utah, physician, James Redd – committed suicide after their arrests in June.