November 14, 2013

Burroughs's The War Chief

Because of the John Carter movie, there's been a renewed interest in the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In recent years, I've posted a few links about him and his ideas about race. For instance:

Burroughs the conservative racist
Review of Warlord of Mars #1

But while talking about Martians as analogues of Indians, I neglected a more direct link. Burroughs wrote a whole novel about the Apache:

The War Chief

SynopsisTHE WAR CHIEF is a realistic historical novel about life and death on an Apache reservation during the final years of the Apache wars until the death of Cochise and the surrender of Geronimo. The story focuses on Andy MacDuff, an infant kidnapped by the Apaches in a raid, adopted by Geronimo and renamed Shoz-Dijiji, or Black Bear. He is given a proper Apache upbringing, including initiation into all the rites and responsibilities of Indian Manhood. He excels at the crucial skills of hunting and warfare, shows himself to be strong and courageous, and soon is made a highly prized war chief. During his apprenticeship, Shoz-Dijiji falls in love with Ish-Kay-Nay, an Apache maiden, who, unfortunately is coveted by another Apache chief, Juh, who hates Shoz-Dijiji for being Geronimo’s favorite. Burroughs’ great respect for the West and compassion for the exploitative treatment of the Indians the hands of the treacherous pin-dah-lickoyee (“white eyes”) is manifested throughout this honest, vivid, and sympathetic portrait of the West that does credit to both the Indians and Edgar Rice Burroughs.Project Gutenberg has posted the whole story online if you want to read it:

Title: The War Chief

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *


NAKED but for a G-string, rough sandals, a bit of hide and a buffalo headress, a savage warrior leaped and danced to the beating of drums. Encircling fires, woman-tended, sent up curling tongues of flame, lighting, fitfully, sweat-glistening shoulders, naked arms and legs.

Distorted shadows, grotesque, mimicking, danced with the savage and his fellows. Above them, dark and mysterious and weirdly exaggerated by the night, loomed the Grampian Hills.

Rude bows and arrows, stone-shod spears, gaudy feathers, the waving tails of animals accentuated the barbaric atmosphere that was as yet uncontaminated by the fetid breath of civilization--pardon me!--that was as yet ignorant of the refining influences of imperial conquest, trained mercenaries and abhorrent disease.
But's a trick! These are the Scottish ancestors of the white men who will soon invade the land of Go-yat-thlay (Geronimo). How they came to have a buffalo headdress, I don't know, but the point is that they reek of savagery.

A few paragraphs later we meet Geronimo as he spies on a covered wagon:Go-yat-thlay had never before seen this wagon, but he had seen its dust from a great distance; he noted its volume and its rate of progress, and he had known that it was a wagon drawn by two mules, for there was less dust than an ox-drawn vehicle would have raised, since oxen do not lift their feet as high as horses or mules, and, too, its rate of progress eliminated oxen as a possible means of locomotion. That the wagon was drawn by mules rather than horses was but a shrewd guess based upon observation. The Apache knew that few horses survived thus far the long trek from the white man's country.

In the mind of Go-yat-thlay burned a recollection of the wrongs that had been heaped upon his people by the white man. In the legends of his fathers had come down the story of the conquests of the Spaniards, through Coronado and the priests, three-hundred years before. In those days the Apache had fought only to preserve the integrity of his domain from the domination of an alien race. In his heart there was not the bitter hatred that the cruelty and injustice and treachery of the more recent American invaders engendered.
So Burroughs treats the Indians decently. He makes a point of saying white men are just as savage as Indians.

But the story centers on a white man raised as an Apache. Needless to say, he becomes a great chief and woos a beautiful "princess." No doubt he's a classic "white Indian" who acts as savior of the savages.

War Chief comic strip

I was reminded of The War Chief when I saw the following images on Facebook:

Apparently, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. is producing "All New Weekly Comic Strips" of Tarzan, Pellucidar, Carson of Venus, and other Burroughs properties. With all the talent involved, I imagine they're pretty good.

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