September 1874 | Apache Tribal Police

 Apache Police Officers Diablo (left) and Eskiminzin (right) with Indian agent John P. Clum (center), 1875

“There he stood, Geronimo the Renegade, a form commanding admiration, a name and character dreaded by all. His eyes blazed fiercely under the excitement of the moment and his form quivered with a suppressed rage. From his demeanor it was evident to all that he was hesitating between two purposes—whether to draw his knife…and cut right and left and die fighting, or to surrender.”

John Clum, 1877*

Geronimo would escape from the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona several times after his dramatic surrender in 1877, but this first peaceful arrest brought fame to the newly formed Apache Police. The initial force of four men was established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Agent John Clum in 1874. While self-policing proved remarkably effective, there was limited congressional support for the experiment. That is until the daring capture of Geronimo.

A force of 100 Apache police stealthily surrounded Geronimo and his 50 followers. Vividly described in Clum’s memoirs, the Apache officers made clear the hopelessness of Geronimo’s situation:

Instantly Sergeant Rip sprang forward and snatched the knife from Geronimo’s belt, while the muzzles of a half‚Äźdozen guns in the hands of … the police were pressed toward him, their locks clicking almost in unison as the hammers were drawn back. With flashing eyes he permitted himself to indulge in a single swift, defiant glance at his captors.

The daring and bloodless capture won congressional and popular support for the concept of self-policing on the reservations and it was quickly adopted by other agencies. By 1881, 49 of the 68 BIA agencies had established Indian Police forces.


*John Clum’s memoir Apache Days and Tombstone Nights follows his fascinating career from the Apache Reservation to Tombstone during the Earp days and, finally, to Alaska Territory where he served as a postal inspector. For more information on the Indian Police, try Policing in Indian Country by Michael L. Barker.