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The War Chief by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The War Chief


subjects: Westerns

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This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70 or less.


Arizona Territory…the country of red deserts, rocks, high buttes and mountains–a harsh land but still a land, the Apaches had chosen for their own. The land made the men, and the Indiands were trained from infancy to match their strength, their cunning, their hunting ability against the rigors and pitiless cruelty against the wildest country.

For generations the Apaches raided into Mexico for horses and woman and cattle, but those creatures that they made their own they always treated with care and respect. And so when they found a squalling, black-haired baby boy in a white man’s wagon and their chief Geronimo claimed it for thier own, the baby became an Apache.

At first he was only known as Ish-kay-nay–boy. In the Apache tradition he had a private name, which nobody would ever use, but his public name had to be earned. At ten Ish-kay-nay killed his first bear–singlehanded and with only a bow and arrow. So Ish-kay-nay became Shaz-Dijiji–Black Bear.

And this was only the beginning of a life filled with the danger and excitement of the hunt, not only for food but against enemies who had become increasingly threatening–and of all these enemies, the most satisfying to hunt were the white men who had now begun to ravage Apache country. To this hunt Shaz-Dijiji dedicated himself.

306 pages with a reading time of ~4.75 hours (76642 words), and first published in 1927. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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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.

Here was freedom. Agricola was as yet un-born, the Wall of Antoninus unbuilt, Albion not even a name; but Agricola was to come, Antoninus was to build his wall; and they were to go their ways, taking with them the name of Albion, taking with them freedom; leaving England, civilization, inhibitions.

But ever in the seed of the savage is the germ of savagery that no veneer of civilization, no stultifying inhibitions seem able ever entirely to eradicate. Appearing sporadically in individuals it comes down the ages–the germ of savagery, the seed of freedom.

As the Caledonian savages danced through that long-gone night, a thousand years, perhaps, before the prototypes of Joseph Smith, John Alexander Dowie and Aimee Semple McPherson envisaged the Star of Bethlehem, a new sun looked down upon the distant land of the Athapascans and another scene–American Indian savages.

Naked but for a G-string, rough sandals, a bit of hide and a buffalo headdress, a savage warrior moved silently among the boles of great trees. At his heels, in single file, came others, and behind these squaws with papooses on their backs and younger children tagging at their heels.

They had no pack animals, other than the squaws, but they had little to pack. It was, perhaps, the genesis of that great trek toward the south. How many centuries it required noone knows, for there were no chroniclers to record or explain that long march of the Apaches from northwest Canada to Arizona and New Mexico, as there have been to trace the seed of the Caledonian savage from the Grampian Hills to the New World.

The ancestors of Jerry MacDuff had brought the savage germ with them to Georgia from Scotland in early colonial days, and it had manifested itself in Jerry in two ways–filled him with a distaste for civilization that urged him ever frontierward and mated him with the granddaughter of a Cherokee Indian, in whose veins pulsed analogous desires.

Jerry MacDuff and Annie Foley were, like nearly all other pioneers, ignorant, illiterate, unwashed. They had nothing of the majesty and grandeur and poise of their savage forebears; the repressive force of civilization had stifled everything but the bare, unlovely germ of savagery. They have little to do with this chronicle, other than to bring Andy MacDuff into the world in a dilapidated wagon somewhere in Missouri in the spring of 1863, and carry him a few months and a few hundred miles upon the sea of life.

Why Jerry MacDuff was not in one army or another, or in jail, in 1863, I do not know, for he was an able-bodied man of thirty and no coward; but the bare fact is that he was headed for California along the old Santa Fe trail. His pace was slow, since dire poverty, which had always been his lot, necessitated considerable stops at the infrequent settlements where he might earn the wherewith to continue his oft-interrupted journey.

Out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the MacDuffs turned south along the Rio Grande toward the spot where the seeds of the ancient Caledonian and Athapascan warriors were destined to meet again for the first time, perhaps, since they had set out upon opposite trails from the birthplace of humanity in the days when ferns were trees, and unsailed seas lashed the shores of continents that are no more.

Changed are the seas, changed are the continents, changed the mortal envelope that houses the germ of humanity that alone remains unchanged and unchangeable. It abode in the breast of Go-yat-thlay, the Apache and, identical, in the breast of Andy MacDuff, the infant white.

Had Andy’s forebears remained in Scotland Andy would doubtless have developed into a perfectly respectable caddie before he became a God-fearing, law-abiding farmer. Back of him were all the generations of civilization that are supposed to have exerted a refining influence upon humanity to the end that we are now inherently more godlike than our savage ancestors, or the less-favored peoples who have yet to emerge from savagery.