Kanseah was Geronimo’s nephew and was his youngest apprentice warrior when Geronimo surrendered in 1886. Born in 1873, Kanseah lived through nearly three decades of imprisonment, including the hard school years at Carlisle. At the time of the surrender, he was being trained by Yanosha, a great warrior. When he was four or five, his mother died as the army drove his band to San Carlos concentration camp. His grandmother took care of him for three years before she died. Other Apache mothers shared their scant rations with the orphan. He always believed that his small size was the result of poor nutrition in his childhood.
According to Chiricahua tradition, Kanseah had prepared all of his young life to become a warrior. During peaceful times, as a small boy, he played among the rocks and pines with other children, leaping from boulder to boulder, running crawling. He whittled toys, fashioned bows and arrows out of soft wood, and hunted wild fruits and nuts. As he got older, he rose before sunrise, bathed in a creek even when ice covered the water, and raced up the side of a mountain carrying water in his mouth.
He shot small game and was taught how to hide, track, map the terrain, and find his way back to camp. In Geronimo’s tightly organized band, all youngsters had assigned duties. Caring for the horses was an important job in that equestrian society, and the boys were expected to perform their duties conscientiously and well. Naturally, all that ended abruptly with the Apache surrender. They were never captured.
“Geronimo was my uncle. My father died before I remember, and he was killed by Mexican [army soldiers]. My grandmother raised me.”
Kanseah’s only living relative Geronimo, broke free from San Carlos and returned to the warpath and took the boy with him.
“I was about fourteen when I went with Geronimo… We lived first one place, then another, always in a different place. Sometimes stay anywhere, like a coyote.” The first night the group – men, women, and children – rode hard, traveling ninety miles and changing horses as Yanosha found fresh horses. They changed mounts three times that night. Kanseah remembered that Victorio’s son Istee was in the group.”
“When I was a little boy I knew Yanosha, he was about sixteen when I first saw him…When I first went with Geronimo he had only a few at his camp – Naiche, Chihuahua, Chato, Massai, Yanosha.”
Geronimo assigned Kanseah to Yanosha as a kind of orderly. Yanosha whose sister was Geronimo’s fourth wife, was one of the bravest of a courageous group and was a great warrior. In 1871, when Juh was awaiting the opportunity to kill Lieutenant Howard Cushing, it was Yanosha who reconnoitered and reported to Juh that it was Cushing they trailed. Yanosha had been in the Guadalupes in New Mexico near the Mexican border and recognized Cushing.
Yanosha treated the boy well, and Kanseah took care of his horses, cooked his food, and ate what was left, completing his chores without talking, unless Yanosha gave an order or asked a question. Kanseah practiced with bow and arrow, ran long distances, and learned to ride. It took Kanseah about three winters to serve his apprenticeship, participate in four raids, and become a warrior. “Yanosha was a good runner…These young people today can’t do it. I had to run all the time…”
Kanseah said he didn’t know what distance Yanosha was capable of because the Apaches didn’t measure distance. He once said Yanosha could run almost as well as the great Hopi Lewis Tewanamo, who won a 45-mile race in Europe. Yanosha was also a sharpshooter who never wasted a bullet.
Kanseah considered Yanosha one of Geronimo’s most loyal warriors, but for a time he was a scout. “Yanosha was a U.S. scout at San Carlos and Fort Apache against his own people and his brother-in-law Geronimo.” No doubt the appeal was telling the Apache men they would have a home and money, of which they never received. At this time, Yanosha’s relatives, Fun, Eyelash, Perico, and another brother, were all scouts at Fort Apache in a company with the Chiricahua, Noche, as sergeant major and Chato (another former warrior of Geronimo’s band) as the first sergeant of the company. Crawford and Maus were the officers of that company. “They (Chato) could not turn Yanosha against his own relation.” Yanosha, a cousin to Chato, left his troop because Chato treated him badly. Cisna and Fun also returned to Geronimo.
According to army records, Yanosha was thirty-two at the time of surrender, his wife twenty. When his service as a scout was up, Yanosha should have gotten a pension but the agency’s books burned.
Kanseah was about fifteen at the time of surrender. (The army estimated his age at twelve because of his small size.) He was sent to Carlisle and with other young people and given the name Jasper. He later married Lucy Gonoltsis, who was also Chiricahua.
For thirty-two years, Kanseah was a respected chief of police on the Mescalero Reservation. He once said he dealth with culprits resisting arrest by shooting them in the arm. He never missed. Like his mentor, Yanosha, Kanseah was a sure shot.
Both men died in the 1950’s on the Mescalero, New Mexico Reservation and were among the last survivors of Geronimo’s band. Giving of themselves freely to help their people, they serve as a tribute to the Apache people and to all freedom fighters of the Earth.