Robert A. Woodley
This story, published in 1927, certainly displays much of what made Edgar Rice Burroughs such a magnificent writer. The themes in this historical novel are those which ERB displayed in earlier and later works, and the boldness of the ideas and prose are a fitting tribute to him as a writer and as a person. Any critic of Burroughs who purports to demean his values or his courage should take a look at this novel, which is one of ERB’s absolute best works.
This book is not only a terrific, action-packed adventure story; with a character as memorable as any ERB ever created in a non-series effort; but it explores the conflicting values and ways of life of differing peoples with brutal honesty and intelligence; examining a microcosm of this aspect of life on Earth which has always existed, and to some degree always will.
ERB also tells the story of Go-yat-thlay (Geronimo) in a manner which is entertaining and quite factually-based, thus enlightening mass audiences of people to this remarkable man, in some respects as did Allen Eckert for several other historic figures (notably Tecumseh) in his far-more-intense series of books (which have very little in them which is fictional).
For this story is Geronimo’s story as much as it is the story of Shoz-dijiji. Many of the feats accomplished by ERB’s fictional hero are slightly-altered depictions of feats Geronimo actually accomplished. It’s apparent that Burroughs had read Geronimo’s own story and utilized it for many of his descriptions and facts.
Our hero is of course white, as was his audience, his creator, and virtually everyone else who possessed any influence and status in ERB’s day, in reality or in fiction. He is as “us” as is John Carter or David Innes or Tarzan of the Apes. Thus his readers and writer could identify with him back in 1927 and we can do so today. Irrespective of the advances society has made in extending equal opportunities to those who were denied them; when it comes down to it, we tend to prefer our heroes to be like us. Our race. Our sex. Our nationality. We did in 1827 and in 1927 and in 1967. We still do. James Bond is acceptable because he is English. I doubt a Frenchman; or a Chinese, would have found such acceptance among American audiences. This is human nature, and such plot basics require that the hero be, at his core, one of us.
Yet he is different from us. He is larger than life. He is Apache. As Tarzan of the Apes became a beast because of his maturation; and thus superior to us in certain important ways; so Shoz-Dijiji became a savage Apache because of his maturation, and thus superior to us in some ways. He is the Tarzan of the American Frontier, in some respects, and this is one reason this book is so enthralling.
The parallels are numerous, including some which might not have been intended. Both the ape-man and our hero were taken as babes by savage creatures, including some who were intent upon killing this weak “different” creature which is so weak and/or so hated.
Both survive through intelligence, courage, and great physical skills, to achieve immense respect and status among their adopted peoples.
Both are far superior to any white man when it comes to battle and survival in the natural environment in which they were reared.
Both measure the values of “civilization” against those which permeated their maturation and rationally reject most of those civilized values and ways of life which we (and certainly most in 1927) have tended to regard as “superior”.
Both are unapologetically savage and merciless killers.
Both belong to cultures which have no chance of survival against the encroaching mass multitudes of civilized peoples who spread and propagate as a natural consequence of evolution itself to eventually assimilate or destroy smaller, weaker creatures; as has happened throughout the history of our planet. ERB didn’t deal with this much in the Tarzan books, perhaps because Africa might have truly seemed limitless and impenetrable to people so long ago, but he did discuss the predatory nature of modern mankind in Tarzan’s Africa. It was the appearance of M’Bonga’s tribe which heralded unfortunate and permanent changes in the life of the ape-man and the mangani.
In War Chief ERB tackles the scenario head-on, since it had actually happened in our history. He examines it and prejudice and inevitability with remarkable perception.
Since ERB has suffered some criticism with respect to “racist” and/or “sexist” attitudes, it might be helpful to examine such concepts and what they truly mean, since he explores them to some degree in this book, as in so many of his books.
These days one would seem pressured to think that political correctness has leveled the playing field in all aspects of life, and that all races and sexes are somehow indistinguishable, but this is of course nonsense. We are all subject to those emotional values and/or preferences which we adopted as we matured. We tend to be drawn to others of the same race, religion, social lifestyle, background, language, physical characteristics which have been drummed into us as desirable/attractive, etc. We treat men differently than women in most aspects of our lives. We are different, and certain identifiable groups possess certain characteristics in many members to much higher degrees than other groups.
Whether we find these characteristics desirable to us or undesirable; and whether these are rational matters or purely subjective ones, we utilize these “prejudices” throughout life. As we should. We date whom we please, and marry whom we please, and dine with whom we please. Our friends are those we choose to associate with, etc;, and whether that is based upon race or religion or sex or whatever is irrelevant. It’s simply a matter of reality and personal preference.
Society cannot permit such preferences to have vast impacts upon social and economic institutions, and thus many governments have passed fairly rational laws to achieve some sense of legal equal opportunity, and at the same time promote activity and education which would lessen peoples’ prejudices. In my view the effects have been profound and very positive. However, when one diverges from mass social consequences and institutionalized discrimination, most people tend to have little use for such tactics, and live their personal lives as they please; and while we do see much more in the way of social interaction between divergent groups of peoples, this is still an exception to the general tendency of people to be with their own kind.
ERB certainly recognized this universal and natural aspect of evolution, group strength, and survival. Throughout his novels he examines how tribes regard strangers as enemies. How each regards his own “people” as superior to all others; his own land the biggest, most beautiful, in the world; etc.
He examines racial behaviors in several of the Tarzan books, and has been criticized quite unfairly for some of the prose he sets forth, particularly when one examines the ideas and concept ERB set forth in book after book.
I can only recall a very few. In Return, Tarzan makes some denigrating comments about “the blacks”. Yet this is a man who has no conception of global racial composites. This is a man who is simply describing groups based upon his own personal experiences, as one would expect him to do. In Tarzan’s world the blacks killed his mother; and tried to kill him. They tortured others and were otherwise wholly disagreeable. How could one expect him to characterize them in any positive fashion, particularly when his descriptions of these men were pretty accurate, considering the story.
Yet this is the same Tarzan who wholly embraces the Waziri. Who admires them and fights with them; and becomes one of them. Who treats them according to their individual qualities, and not based upon his prior experiences, even though those experiences were uniformly negative.
ERB certainly had his prejudices, as do we. Most of us would generally prefer that our children continue to embrace and revere our particular traditions; and/or to marry their own race; and/or the opposite sex; and/or a similar religion; and/or a college graduate; and/or union member; and/or country club member; etc. ERB constantly wrote about such concepts, and certainly knew he was himself influenced by them. In “Terrible” he noted the way Ja-don naturally thought he was superior to the black hairy O-mat.
In the Barsoom Trilogy he explores it again and again. Each race/color thinks it is superior to all others. Each city thinks its lands and women and culture are the best.
He presents the same thing in more primitive surroundings in Pellucidar.
These are the realities of our evolution, and in fact the evolution of life on Earth (and elsewhere). They are inevitable in species and sub-species which compete to survive; and ERB discussed them constantly in his stories.
Yet his heroes and heroines consistently display fairness and rational behaviors which confronted with those of other cultures. They put aside their prejudices to examine this new man or woman or culture.
Perhaps more than anything, ERB’s books stand for the consistent trumpeting principle that you should treat each person as an individual. No matter the “general” differences which a person naturally expects (and pre-judges) when encountering a person of another culture/race/tribe, such matters are nothing more than gross generalizations which might be partially or wholly absent in any particular individual member of that group; and moreover, when one does deal with people as individuals, one generally learns that most of the “rational” conceptions one has learned with respect to the other “group” are either erroneous, or are based upon local customs which while very different, are as rooted in learning and tradition as one’s own, and thus just as “valuable” and “correct” as those which one has learned, for those who were reared to incorporate and embrace them.
Tarzan never in his life discriminated against an individual man or woman because of race or religion or sex.. He even accepted men and women who had adopted those values of civilization which are/were so unjust to others. His friends include hairy apes (one of whom was his mother, and who he always regards as his mother); a tiny monkey; a black warrior named Mugambi; a long-tailed black hairy girl named Pan-at-lee; a savage Priestess who routinely sacrifices humans by the name of La; and others. He is what we all should strive to be when we encounter those who are what they were reared to be.
John Carter actually weds a female of another species. (though what a species!)
Tarzan and John Carter live in wholly fictional settings, however. In The War Chief ERB examines some of these concepts as they actually existed in our own history; and not ancient history at the time ERB wrote about them.
Because he was dealing with real people and actual history, and because he did have some actual first-hand knowledge of attitudes, environments, and cultural behaviors with respect to the Apache and the conflict which raged on the American Frontier, ERB had to make a decision as to how he would approach this.
He was in fact under great pressure to eliminate many of the ideas which he presents in this book. Although Porges gives this book scant attention (and in fact its title is not even in the index), he discusses how Burroughs was determined to publish this book as he wrote it, and would not change it even for a publisher of higher standing than Argosy/All-Story, though he did want to publish in that more “reputable” magazine.
In discussing the book, Porges notes that:
Burroughs understanding of the type of story he did not want, one repeating the cliche’ of the romanticized and tamed “noble savage”, and his extreme care in developing a realistic picture of Apache life, make “The War Chief of the Apaches” an outstanding novel. Unfortunately, in the latter sections as he departs from realism and contrives incidents to round out his plot, the story is not strong. The introduction of a white heroine, Wichita Billings, with whom Shoz-Dijiji falls in love; the convenient death of his Indian sweetheart; the inconsistency Shoz-Dijiji displays in his bloodthirsty mission of revenge against the whites, while at the same time killing members of his own tribe in order to rescue Wichita and her friends; and the unfinished ending with the sequel to come— all of these contribute to weakening the powerful effect achieved in the first half of the novel.
I don’t disagree to a great extent with this assessment of facts. However, I don’t see these weaknesses as diluting the immense power and quality of the book as a whole. Nor do I think ERB had much choice as regards some of these “weaknesses”.
If ERB had a weakness in writing, it was his endings. Some of his books had poor/weak endings, perhaps due in some respects to the necessity to make money writing sequels. Others just seem to “end”, with no coherent plan or “winding-down” of the story. They simply end.
I didn’t have any difficulty with the ending to this book, perhaps in part because I so enjoyed it that I wanted a sequel.
With respect to the inconsistencies Shoz-Dijiji displays, one wonders what else ERB might have been expected to do? He was in love with this girl. Was he supposed to brutalize her and/or permit her friends to be brutalized, in a book targeted at white Americans whose fathers and mothers had lived during the Frontier wars?
ERB displayed such immense courage and knowledge and conviction in this book that I regard this “lack of perfect consistency” as meaningless, when measured in this context. I was less accepting of his sparing of the white officer who he thought was Wichita’s lover, but I could accept that as more a matter of being challenged by another warrior; as a matter of pride and savagery.
I was not pleased with the death of Ish-kay-nay. This was the type of tragedy which is rare in ERB’s books, and it made me sad (because he makes you care about such characters so effortlessly). However, ERB wanted him to have a romance with a white girl, and he also probably wanted to establish an irrevocable reason for Shoz-Dijiji to go after Juh. One cannot worry too much about what ERB did not accomplish with The War Chief, when one considers what he did accomplish.
Considering what he wrote and when he wrote it and the composition of his audience, I’m not sure he could have realistically done much more than he did. Thousands of “pure” works of unpublished fiction have ended up in trash cans, instead of in the hands of readers. This is a magnificent book, even with its few (and perhaps necessary) flaws.
Moreover, some stories cannot be told without flaws. The love story between Tara of Helium and Turan the Panthan rests upon the quite incredible premise that Tara does not recognize the Jed of Gathol when he finds her in Bantoom, even though she was dancing with him (and quite obviously falling in love with him) a day or so previously, in Helium. There is no other way to tell that story, which was such a marvelous tale of romance and adventure.
Similarly, ERB tells this engrossing story in perhaps the only way he could, and it should be appreciated for what it is.
Andy McDuff is the John Clayton of this tale. He will emerge into Shoz-Dijiji, as the baby Clayton emerged to become Tarzan of the Apes.
Before we even meet him, however, ERB prepares us for the themes he will discuss in this amazing story.
We are all descended from ERB’s primal man (and woman). We are Nu and Nat-ul, and perhaps Kala and Tublat. Or Thandar and Nadara. ERB reached deep into what we are and what we came from when he wrote.
The book starts somewhat confusingly as we visit two warriors, naked but for G-strings, as they engage in primitive hunting and other activities. Then we realize that these are ancient warriors. These are similar types of men with similar lifestyles; but they lived long ago and their descendants are now members of societies whose lifestyles and values are worlds apart; and which in fact make them enemies.
In other words, we are all the same. Andy McDuff’s ancestors and Geronimo’s ancestors were basically identical. It is the intervening social evolution which has made them seem so different. Social aspects of group life which spanned but an instant of evolutionary time and which can be wiped out in the tiniest fraction of that instant, because they are matters of individual learning and maturation in his/her specific environment. Nothing more than that.
We are the Apache, and they are us, as determined by the fortune and fate of random birth. We would fight and torture and rape and pillage if we had been born among the Apache (or brought up from infancy among them), no matter our race or color or our height or how strong we happened to be; or how “ethical” we see ourselves. This is one unwavering theme of this book, and reflects a theme which dominates ERB’s books. The difference here is that he discusses this theme as it actually related and relates to our own society and country.
As Andy McDuff is the tiny Lord Greystoke; so Go-yat-thlay is the Kala; and Juh the Kerchak/Tublat/Terkoz of The War Chief. This Kala, however, doesn’t flee into the trees when the baby is threatened. This Kala is the toughest, bravest ape in the West. ERB’s portrayal of Geronimo is simply superb in this book, portraying that savage, merciless, yet magnificent Apache warrior; and doing this with brutal realism and honesty.
Shoz-Dijiji’s own life mirrors that of his mentor. He is brave and fast and savage. He rises solely on his own merit to become a War Chief. His deeds reflect those of Go-yat-thlay. He is not much different, in principle, from Tarzan of the Apes.
As Tarzan adopts the values and life of the mangani; and never discards it as his basic savage self even when he becomes “civilized”, so Andy McDuff wholeheartedly embraces the Apache way of life and their values, including their hatred for whites. He is no “civilized” or “white” Apache; and, unlike Lord Greystoke, he seems to have no “inherited” values. He is truly an Apache.
Shoz-Dijiji has in fact very few “redeeming” values, from a “white” point of view. ERB won’t permit him to torture. This would be unacceptable to many of us. Yet he doesn’t mind when his friends torture; and his objections to it are not based upon some “moral/compassionate” point of view; but rather that he finds it somehow demeaning for a warrior to engage in such non-heroic behaviors.
Though this is a bit unrealistic, at least ERB doesn’t pretend that Shoz-Dijiji is possessed of some “higher” moral precepts, like he sometimes does with Tarzan. He utilizes an acceptable, rational excuse for his hero to avoid torturing whites, in this instance, and I think it works quite well.
ERB does retreat from this position (that values are wholly a matter of learning) later in the book, as Porges noted. I didn’t care for this “inherited nobility of values” concept with Tarzan of the Apes, and I didn’t care for it with Shoz-Dijiji; but I didn’t see it as a major weakness in the Tarzan saga, nor in this book.
This book has some superb prose, which is worth examining to a degree:In the gory lexicon of Apache military science there appears no such word as chance. To risk one’s life, to sacrifice one’s warriors needlessly, is the part of a fool, not of a successful war chief. To give the other fellow a chance is the acme of asininity. In the event of a battle men must be killed. If all the killed are among the enemy so much greater is the credit due the victorious chief. They have reduced the art of war to its most primitive conception; they have stripped it stark to its ultimate purpose, leaving the unlovely truth of it quite naked, unadorned by sophistries or hypocrisies— to kill without being killed.
A writer whose works are being featured on Bill Hillman’s site characterized The War Chief as in some respects “an apology for the Apache” (or similarly, as I recall).
Does this prose sound like an apology? Hardly. In this passage ERB squarely confronts the hypocrisy which surrounds concepts of “honor in battle” and “fairness in war”. These are mostly absurd concepts. War has nothing honorable or fair about it. It is ambushes and booby traps and guerrilla warfare. It is torturing the enemy for information to save one’s own friends and killing without warning on as mass a scale as is possible.
It is how the most savage of the carnivores deal with their prey, and often with each other. It is how the mangani lived. Without warning Tarzan would savagely attack a foe, if he knew a fight was inevitable. It’s how most underdogs have fought wars throughout history, including that army which gave us our independence, to a degree. It’s the only rational way to look at such immensely terrible actions and consequences. When the survival of one’s family and way of life are at stake, this is what happens.
Too many of the traditions of “honor” in war have evolved from “noble” concepts engendered by Generals of large nations who care nothing for their soldiers; and don’t even know them. Such men perceived war as a grand effort in which mass “casualties” were suffered, but rarely by those who engineered such wars. Such “honorable” concepts often included the unspoken tenet that high-ranking officers were not to be fired upon. That would have been “dishonorable”.
Compare this to the reality of survival when the Chief intimately knows his warriors; and leads them into battle as their most savage fighter.
This book consistently hammers away at the realities of life and death, and with no apologies; for none are necessary in matters of life and death. Tarzan of the Apes dealt with life similarly. He reveled in the thrill of danger itself, but did not tempt fate too far. He was rooted in some realities. Shoz-Dijiji and the Apaches lived in such realities.
Another passages is interesting, during the period when Shoz-Dijiji was attending school:“He’s an Indian,” they said. “And the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”ERB understood very clearly the history of life on Earth. The strong push out and destroy the weak. The Apache and any primitive people also understand this. Louis L’Amour was another writer who examined this often-overlooked reality of life and history. Only “modern” governments seem to need to “justify” their murders and thievery, thus committing fraud and deception, on top of everything else; even when such is not necessary, to satisfy their “conscience”. ERB does a very good job of pointing out such matters in this book.
“Thus understandingly, sympathetically, has the Indian question been approached by many Army men, and by practically all of the civilians of the Frontiers. To have said, “He is an Indian. He stands in the way of our acquisition of his valuable possessions. Therefore, having no power to enforce his rights and being in our way, we will destroy him,” would have been no more ruthless than the policy we adopted and cloaked with hypocrisy. It would have had the redeeming quality of honesty, and would have been a policy that the Apaches could have understood and admired.Geronimo nodded and grunted some brief instructions. The warrior made his way leisurely down to the water hole, which Shoz-Dijiji had now left. Arrived at his destination he proceeded to carry out the instruction of his chief, muddying the water hole and then befouling it beyond use by man or beast. Disgusting? Hideous? Cruel? Do not forget that he was on the war trail. Do not forget that he was only a savage, primitive Apache Indian. Make allowances for him. Had he had the cultural advantages of the gorgeous generals of civilization he might have found the means to unloose a poison gas which would have destroyed half the population of Sonora.Again, it is reality, not apology, which is the thrust of ERB’s prose. We are the same as the Apache. We always were.
When ERB discusses love and pain, he does it so well in such few words:Her face betrayed nothing of the terrifying, withering emotion that had scorched her brain. Erect, proud, almost majestic, the little Indian girl walked out of the camp of the Be-don-ko-he and took her sorrow with her. Far up into the mountains she took it, to a place that she and Shoz-Dijiji had known together. Until night she lay there where none might see her, her supple frame racked by sobs, giving herself wholly to her grief; nor all during the long night did she move, but lay there in the awful silence of the mountain, smothering her moans in its rocky bosom.Thus did Ish-kay-nay mourn and display her love for Shoz-Dijiji, whom she had been told was dead. I was so taken with this girl, and it did irritate me that she died in another very moving passage.Once she rallied and looked up at him. “My Shoz-Dijiji,” she whispered, and then, “Hold me close!” There was fear in those three words. Never before had Shoz-Dijiji heard a note of fear in the voice of Ish-kay-nay. Very gently the savage warrior pressed the slender body closer. There was a long sigh and Ish-kay-nay went limp in his embrace.This is one of the rare very sad moments in the fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I will not forget poor Ish-kay-nay. ERB also seemed to incorporate Apache life into this book. His hero suddenly confronts a black bear:
Shoz-Dijiji, war chief among the Be-don-ko-he, buried his face in the soft neck and in a single, choking sob convulsed his great frame.The lad knew that it was too late to retreat and his second arrow, following close upon the first, sank even deeper into the bear’s neck, and the third, just as shoz-dijiji reared upon his hind legs to seize him, entered between the ribs under the foreleg.Compare this scene with the following fragment as related by Geronimo:
Then the black bear was upon him and together the two toppled from the narrow trail and rolled down among the cedars growing below. They did not roll far— fifteen feet perhaps— when they were brought up by the bole of a tree. The boy hit with his head and lost consciousness.When berries or nuts were to be gathered the small children and the squaws would go in parties to hunt them, and sometimes stay all day. When they went any great distance from camp they took ponies to carry the basketsIt seems to me that ERB may have borrowed a bit of this scene when he created Shoz-Dijiji’s fight with the black bear (and thus his name); thus honoring the bravery of this real woman and immortalizing it in fictional prose. This is just my subjective feeling, but it’s the kind of thing I might do; and ERB seems to take other real-life Apache events and insert versions of them into this novel.
I frequently went with these parties, and upon one of these excursions a woman named Cho-ko-le got lost from the party and was riding her pony through a thicket in search of her friends. Her little dog was following as she slowly made her way through the thick underbrush and pine trees. All at once a grizzly bear rose in her path and attacked the pony. She jumped off and her pony escaped, but the bear attacked her, so she fought him the best she could with her knife. Her little dog, by snapping at the bear's heels and distracting his attention from the woman, enabled her for some time to keep pretty well out of his reach. Finally the grizzly struck her over the head, tearing off almost her whole scalp. She fell, but did not lose consciousness, and while prostrate struck him four good licks with her knife, and he retreated. After he had gone she replaced her torn scalp and bound it up as best she could, then she turned deathly sick and had to lie down. That night her pony came into camp with his load of nuts and berries, but no rider. The Indians hunted for her, but did not find her until the second day. They carried her home, and under the treatment of their medicine men all her wounds were healed.”
This is not laziness. ERB could easily dream up any fight or scene. Yet he apparently took the time to work portions of actual events into his fictional story, preserving them in some respects. I enjoyed them immensely.
Here is a terrific scene from the book:Shoz-Dijiji sprang to his feet, saw the opening that had been made in the enemy’s line, saw Gian-nah-tah and another fighting near him, called them and broke through to the rear of the foe. Like a red demon he fell upon the Mexicans and their henchmen; his savage war whoops rose above the din of battle as with the clubbed rifle of an enemy he mowed them down, while the very ferocity of his expression appeared to hold them in a spell of awful fascination.Compare the preceding passage with the following passage from Geronimo’s own story:
At last, splattered with the blood and brains of his adversaries, the Black Bear paused. Erect in the midst of the carnage he had wrought he stood like some avenging angel, his fierce eyes casting about for more to slay. There were no more. To the last man the enemy lay dead upon the field, dead or mortally wounded. Already the squaws were moving among them. Shoz-Dijiji thought of the dying women, the mangled children at the copper mines of Santa Rita, and the screams of the tortured brought no answering pity to his heart.
Some warriors gathered about him. He suddenly became aware that they were calling his name aloud; they were acclaiming him. It was unusual, for more often does the Apache boast of his own exploits than those of another; but there could be no mistaking. Geronimo came and laid a hand upon his shoulder. “The warriors of the Ben-don-ko-he have chosen Shoz-Dijiji as a war chief,” he said, “and they have chosen well.”Soon I led a charge against them, at the same time sending some braves to attack the rear. In all the battle I thought of my murdered mother, wife, and babies--of my father's grave and my vow of vengeance, and I fought with fury. Many fell by my hand, and constantly I led the advance. Many braves were killed The battle lasted about two hours.How could one portray the Apache more realistically, or treat Geronimo with more honor and respect, than does ERB in these passages? They are based almost entirely in fact, as is so much of this book.
At the last four Indians were alone in the center of the field--myself and three other warriors. Our arrows were all gone, our spears broken off in the bodies of dead enemies. We had only our hands and knives with which to fight, but all who had stood against us were dead. Then two armed soldiers came upon us from another part of the field. They shot down two of our men and we, the remaining two, fled toward our own warriors. My companion was struck down by a saber, but I reached our warriors, seized a spear, and turned. The one who pursued me missed his aim and fell by my spear. With his saber I met the trooper who had killed my companion and we grappled and fell. I killed him with my knife and quickly rose over his body, brandishing his saber, seeking for other troopers to kill. There were none. But the Apaches had seen. Over the bloody field, covered with the bodies of Mexicans, rang the fierce Apache war-whoop.
Still covered with the blood of my enemies, still holding my conquering weapon, still hot with the joy of battle, victory, and vengeance, I was surrounded by the Apache braves and made war chief of all the Apaches. Then I gave orders for scalping the slain.
I could not call back my loved ones, I could not bring back the dead Apaches, but I could rejoice in this revenge. The Apaches had avenged the massacre of Kas-ki-yeh.
ERB’s research and personal knowledge provide us with glimpses into some historic characters.
Mangus-Colorado is one of them. Though he precedes the story of Shoz-Dijiji, it is clear that ERB admired this warrior; and Go-yat-thlay relates tales of this fierce warrior to the young boy as he matures.Go-yat-thlay told him of the deeds of his forefathers— of Mako, the grandfather of Go-yat-thlay, who had been a great warrior and hereditary chief of the Ned-ni. Of Delgadito and Mangus Colorado.This and other passages from this book prompted me to seek out images of these warriors. ERB presents them as people, and this image of Mangus-Colorado, and the preceding images of Geronimo, bring this book to life, at least for me.
The manner in which the Apache accept adopted members into the tribe is another aspect of Indian life which ERB contrasts with the prejudices of our own race and society. When Juh complains about the boy, because he is white, ERB responds through the deeds and words of another famous warrior:Cochise arose and placed his hand on the boy’s head and looked down upon him. A fierce and terrible old man was this great war chief of the Apaches; yet with his own people and more often with children was his heart soft, and, too, he was a keen judge of men and boys.Whatever prejudices Edgar Rice Burroughs may have possessed with respect to particular races and nationalities, at certain periods of his life, he certainly did not display them as regards those who settled America. His portrayals of Mexicans are equally heroic and admirable; something we’ve rarely seen in fiction.
He saw that this boy possessed in a degree equal to his own a pride of blood that would make of him a stalwart defender of his own kind, and implacable enemy of the common foe. Year by year the fighting forces of the Apache were dwindling, to lose even one for the future was a calamity. He looked up from the boy and turned his eyes upon his warriors.
“If there be any doubt,” he said, “let the words of Cochise dispel it forever— Shoz-Dijiji is as true an Apache as Cochise. Let there be no more talk,” and he looked directly at Juh. “I have spoken.”
This is a remarkable book; and one which is difficult to properly appreciate in the year 2000. I didn’t read this book until this year, at the age of 53.
I grew up on films which portrayed Indians and Mexicans as terrible and sometimes cowardly people; inferior in values and in most other aspects of life.
In the 1970's I read Michener’s Centennial; one of my favorite three or four novels of all time. It was my introduction to a more realistic, sympathetic view of the American Indian. Since then I’ve read many others, including Eckert’s superb books (particularly The Frontiersman). We’ve been treated with movies such as Little Big Man and Dances With Wolves, and the mini-series of Centennial.
Yet in many ways these wonderful tales fail to measure up to the brutal realities of life which Edgar Rice Burroughs tackled in The War Chief. They are often noble savage stories, which tend to downplay and/or ignore some of those aspects of American Indian life which were are so horrific to our own values and ways of life. Michener does discuss them to a degree, describing the sad status of an older woman when her husband dies; as the squaws take all of “her” possessions, including her home, and she is left to freeze and/or starve if she has no family who will take her in.
Indian cultures certainly differed, of course, and although I am a fan of their culture; I am not a student. Nevertheless, ERB chose to display perhaps the most savage, most maligned tribe; the Apache. (And perhaps warriors who reminded him of Tarzan of the Apes).
He simply portrayed them for what they were; and why. The good and the bad. As Tarzan’s environment molded him and infused him with certain characteristics which are contrary to some of those we have tended to favor, so did that of Shoz-Dijiji and Go-yat-thlay.
And although we as readers enjoy the “whiteness” of Tarzan and of the hero of The War Chief, it is apparent that neither Tarzan of the Apes nor Shoz-Dijiji care one whit about such matters.
When one considers the influences ERB was subjected to, as a soldier in the West, and as a white man who was born when the Frontier wars were still ongoing, this book is simply stunning, and even with its faults could be regarded as perhaps his finest novel, because of the courage and detail and thought which went into it.
Tarzan of the Apes will always be my favorite, but The War Chief will not be far behind.
Lands of Adventure
is found at
The List With No Rules
is found at
ERBzine 0099 TARAK'S FARSIDE CHAT: Disney Tarzan Preview Review
ERBzine 0137Tarzan and the Forbidden City Review
ERBzine 0191 DD99: Thanks for the Memories by Tarak
ERBzine 0418 Tarak and the Jewels of Louisville
ERBzine 0419 Tarak and a Princess of Stories
ERBzine 0420 Tarzan of the Apes in All-Story pulp magazine
ERBzine 0316 Tarak Poetry in Motes & Quotes
ERBzine 0060: The First Time
ERBzine 0710 Tarak Visits The Mucker
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