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`GRANDSON' OF GERONIMO DIES - AT 91?

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 15 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

A man who claimed he was Geronimo's grandson but was derided by Apaches as a phony has died. He was 91 - or maybe 115.

He called himself Chief Geronimo Kuth-Le, or Geronimo III, the name on his Social Security card.For years, he peddled trinkets, from small rocks to slingshots, posed for tourists' cameras and signed autographs - for a price. He dispensed advice and commentary about the man he called his grandfather, and regaled listeners with tales of a few years spent learning at Geronimo's side.

"He turns out not to be the grandson of Geronimo, but he's fascinating anyway, because I think he even believed that he was," said Pinal County sheriff's spokesman Marcus Leddy.

"I haven't found anyone who has been able to come up with any reliable information that he was who he claimed to be," said Michael Darrow, Apache tribal historian at Fort Sill, Okla., where Geronimo died in 1909.

Geronimo III claimed that he was 115 years old, but his driver's license gave his birthdate as Dec. 29, 1903. That would make him 91.

He was found slumped behind the wheel of his van Saturday in front of his home in Oracle, northeast of Tucson. Officials said he died of heart disease.

Geronimo III's son, Nicholas, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Ramon Riley, director of the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center in Whiteriver, said Eva Geronimo, an Apache from Mescalero, N.M., and a great-granddaughter of Geronimo, told him: " `There are a lot of people that are wannabes.' She said her dad never told her of this name."

Geronimo, a 19th-century Apache warrior who declared war on white people after they killed his family and members of his tribe, led a small band that took on about 5,000 U.S. Cavalry soldiers. He surrendered in 1886 after a five-year reign of terror.

Geronimo III contended that soldiers killed his parents when he was 7, and that he was taken in by his grandfather.

But even had Geronimo III been born in 1879, the tribe would have been in captivity by the time his parents died. Apache spokesmen said there's no record that any of Geronimo's descendants were killed by soldiers at that point.

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