Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 13, 2020


The War Chief by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1927)
Apache Devil by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1933)

In addition to taking readers to a mythical Africa, Barsoom, Pellucidar, Amptor, Caspak, and other places of the author's imagination, Edgar Rice Burroughs also published four western novels.  Two of these told the story of Shoz-Dijiji, the last Apache War Chief.

In the spring of 1863, Andy MacDuff was born in a dilapidated wagon somewhere in Missouri where his parents had stopped briefly on their long, slow way to California.  While the child's father was of Scot ancestry, his dark-haired mother had a full-blooded Indian several generations back in her family tree.  Those genes were more pronounced in the baby than in his mother.  So it was that, several months later, following the Rio Grande in New Mexico, the child's birth parents exited the scene when their rickety wagon was attacked by Indians and both were killed.  On hearing the cries of a baby from the wagon, one of the Indians, Juh, was about to smash the baby's brains when he was stopped by the leader of the party, Go-yat-thlay, the war chief of the Be-don-ko-he.  Go-yat-thlay took the infant that so much resembled an Indian and adopted him. 

The child grew up an Apache, taught in the Indian ways by Go-yat-thlay (who would become better known by the name given him by the Mexicans -- Geronimo) and believing himself to be a pure Apache.  At the age of ten, while playing alone in the wilderness, the boy was attacked by a black bear which he was able to kill with the shot of an arrow.  From that day on he was known as Black Bear, or Shoz-dijiji.

As an Apache he was taught to hate the white man, who stole and lied and murdered Shoz-dijiji's people.  Yer Shoz-dijiji was unlike other Apaches -- he refused to torture his enemies and he would not kill women and children.  Shoz-dijiji, perhaps because he was loved by his powerful father Geronimo or perhaps because he was actually white, was hated by Juh, who also became a powerful chief.  When Shoz-dijiji won the love of his former playmate, the beautiful Ish-kay-nay, Juh wanted the woman for himself.  Ish-kay-nay's father wanted her to marry Juh, who had power and standing among the tribes, rather than Shoz-dijiji, who had not yet received warrior status and who had little possessions to his name.  The father demanded payment of fifty ponies for Shoz-dijij to marry his daughter.  Our hero, having only three ponies, knew this was an impossible price, yet love knows no bounds and Shoz-dijiji set out to get the fifty-pony bridal price, promising to have it within a month.

Adventures follow.  Shoz-dijiji steals the ponies from Mexicans.  The ponies get stolen from him.  He rescues the lovely Wichita Billings, the daughter of a rancher, who was about to be ravished by an evil ne'er-do-well.  The Apaches go on the war path.  The US Army and their Mexican counterparts are out for blood, Shoj-dijiji saves a cowboy who has been trapped under a tree, sets his broken leg, and leads him back to his ranch.  He saves a Mexican woodcutter who, in gratitude, saves him from being executed by Mexicans.  Despite all of his cunning and skills, Shoz-dijiji misses his thirty-day deadline.  The rival and bitter enemy, Juh, falsely tells Ish-kay-nay that Shoz-dijiji is dead.  Heart-broken and numb from this loss, she agrees to marry Juh.  Later they are attacked and Ish-kay-nay is wounded while Juh flees, leaving his wife to die.  Since every world Edgar Rice Burroughs has created is rules by coincidence, Shoz-dijiji finds Ishkay-nay's body and vows vengeance.

More battles ensue.  Shoz-dijiji is named the war chief of the Be-don-ko-he and Geronimo is the war chief of all Apaches.  Slowly, Shoz-dijiji discovers he has feelings for Wichita Billings, who also has feelings for him but her prejudice overwhelms he when he tries to kiss her and she repulses him.

Shoz-dijiji takes his revenge on Juh.

The Apaches know they are fighting a losing battle against the whites.  The Apache numbers are dwindling and the whites just keep coming.  The old ways are being lost.

By the time we get to Apache Devil, Geronimo is getting tired and knows the day of the Apache is ending.  Although he wants peace, the Army is trying to hunt him down and kill him.  Shoz-dijiji has been on the war path.  With his face painted he continues a war of terror on whites and Mexicans and becomes know as the Apache Devil.  Few realize that behind the face paint lay Shoz-dijiji.

His hatred for whites is tainted by his feelings for Wichita and from discovering that there exist a few honest and noble white men.  Mistaken that Wichita is in love with an Army lieutenant, Soz-dijiji rescues that officer.  Realizing that he loves Wichita and can never have her, he at least wants her to be happy.

Wichita's father is found shot in the back and scalped.  All evidence points to Shoz-dijiji.  Angered by the loss of her father and by her feelings of Shoz-dijiji's betrayal, she places a thousand dollar bounty on his head.  True love never runs easy in an ERB book.

Cattle are missing from the Billings ranch.  Again, Shoz-dijiji is suspected.  It turns out the real culprit -- and the murderer of Wichita's father -- is "Dirty" Cheetim (an obvious name for a villain), who was the man who tried to kidnap and rape Wichita back in the first book.  Dirty now runs a crooked gambling hall while still lusting after Wichita.  With the aid of the Billings ranch's foreman, he has been stealing cattle to sell to a crooked Indian agent.  He also plans to once again kidnap wichita, "marry" her, and turn her to prostitution once he has finished with her.  He is a bad, bad man.

Can Shoz-dijiji save Wichita from Dirty Cheetim?  Can he find peace with the white man, now that the rest of his tribe have surrendered and have been moved to Florida?  Can he ever be with the woman he loves?

Well, here's a hint:  Near the end of the book, Soz-dijiji discovers that he has been white all along.

Both books are fast, entertaining melodramas, not be taken seriously and reflecting all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' strengths and faults.  The body count is high but that doesn't matter because the hero is a noble man.  Primitive instincts are lauded yet must, in the end, be merged with a veneer of civilization. 

Tarzan took to the trees; Shoz-dijiji paints his face blue and white.

As with Tarzan, Burroughs has given us a larger-than-life hero to root for, and we do root for him -- up to the very last sentence.  After that, your tastes my vary.

No comments:

Post a Comment