The War Chief

Chapter IV

The New War Chief

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE COUNCIL gathered, the chiefs and the warriors sitting in a great circle about a central fire. Naliza, the orator, arose and stepped within the circle.

“Men of the Shis-Inday listen to Naliza,” he began. “Cochise is not present. We have many brave chiefs, but we have no war chief to whom all the tribes will listen and whom they will follow upon the war trail. It is not well that we should be thus unprepared against our enemies. Tonight we must select one who will by his bravery set our warriors an example upon the field of battle and by his wisdom lead us to victory.

“The war chief of the Be-don-ko-he has suffered great wrongs at the hands of our enemies and he has wrought upon them a great revenge. He has led his people, and often ours, many times upon the war trail against the foe. Cochise trusted him. Cochise knew that he was a great leader and upon his death bed Cochise counselled us to name Geronimo war chief of all the Apaches when Cochise should be tats-an. I, Naliza, have spoken.”

Others spoke, then, some for Geronimo, some for Victorio and some for Juh, for each was a great warrior and a great chief. Then, one after another, around the great circle, each warrior cast his vote and Geronimo became war chief of all the Apaches; and later in the evening Na-chi-ta, son of Cochise, was accepted by the Cho-kon-en to succeed his father as chief of that most warlike of tribes, the Chihuicahui Apaches.

Shoz-Dijiji was squatting near the wives of the dead Cochise listening to them wail when suddenly out of the deep woods came the hoot of an owl. Instantly all was silence; the wailing ceased and the women looked at one another in terror.

“Listen!” whispered one of the squaws. “It is the spirit of Cochise, he has returned and he is trying to speak to us. What does he want?”

“Have we not done everything to make him happy on his journey to chidin-bi-kungua, the house of spirits?” demanded another.

“He is not happy, he has come back,” whimpered a young squaw and then with a muffled scream, she lifted a shaking finger and pointed ward the black woods. “Look! It is he, come back.”

They all looked. To their overwrought imaginations, harried by days of mourning and ages of superstition, anything was possible, and it was not strange that they should see the vague and nebulous outlines of a warrior standing among the deep shadows of the trees. They shuddered and hid their faces in their blankets, and when they dared look again the apparition disappeared.

Attracted by their screams some warriors had joined them, and when they heard the cause of the women’s terror they sent for Na-kay-do-klunni to arrange for a feast and a dance that the spirit of Cochise might be appeased and made happy on its journey to chidin-bi-kungua.


The sorrows of death do not lie heavily or for long upon the spirit of youth and so on the morrow the children romped and played and Shoz-Dijiji organized a rabbit hunt with Gian-na-tah, his best friend, and a dozen others who could borrow or steal ponies for the purpose. Laughing and joking, they rode down to the at the foot of the mountains, each lad armed with a hunting club.

A mile behind them a childish figure astride a pinto pony lashed its mount with a rawhide quirt in an effort to overtake the loping ponies of the boys, and when the latter halted to discuss their plans the belated one overtook them. The first boy to discover and recognize the newcomer raised a shout of derision.

“A girl! A girl!” he cried. “Go back to camp. Only warriors follow the chase, go back to camp with the squaws and the children.”

But the little girl did not go back. Her dishevelled hair flying, she rode among them.

“Go back!” shouted the boy, and struck at her pony with his hunting club.

“Go back yourself!” shrilled the little girl as she lashed him across the head and shoulders with her quirt, pushing her pony against his until he fled in dismay. The other boys screamed in derision at the discomfited one, yet some of them could not resist the temptation to bait the girl and so they rode in and struck at her pony with their clubs. Lashing to right and left her stinging quirt fell impartially upon them and their mounts, nor did she give a foot of ground before their efforts to rout her, though by the very force of their numbers it was evident that she must soon succumb in the unequal struggle.

It was then that Shoz-Dijiji rode to her side and swung his club against her tormentors, and Gian-nah-tah, following the example of his friend, took a hand in her defense.

Shoz-Dijiji, having killed a bear and scalped an enemy, stood high in the estimation of his fellows who looked upon him as a leader, so that now, when he had taken his stand upon the girl’s side, the outcome of the battle was already a foregone conclusion for immediately the majority lined themselves up with Shoz-Dijiji. The vanquished scattered in all directions amid the laughter and the taunts of the victors while both sides felt gingerly of numerous bumps and abrasions. It was then that some of the boys again demanded that the girl return to camp.

She looked questioningly at Shoz-Dijiji, her great brown eyes pleading through dishevelled raven locks.

The lad turned to his fellows. “Ish-kay-nay plays like a boy, rides like a boy, fights like a boy. If Ish-kay-nay does not hunt with us today Shoz-Dijiji does not hunt. I have spoken.”

Just then one of the lads cried “ka-chu!” and, turning, lashed his pony into a run; a jack rabbit had broken cover and was bounding away across the plain in long, easy jumps. Instantly the whole pack was after him and Ish-kay-nay was in the van. Clinging with naked knees to the bare backs of their wiry little mounts the savage children streaked after the fleeing ka-chu. The foremost lad, overhauling the rabbit, leaned far forward over his pony’s shoulder and struck at the quarry with his hunting club. The rabbit turned directly at right angles across the pony’s track and as the latter, as accustomed to the sport as the boys themselves, turned sharply in pursuit, the rider, far overbalanced following the blow he had aimed, tumbled from his mount and rolled over and over upon the turf. With wild whoops the children followed the chase and as the rabbit turned and doubled many were the spills of his pursuers. Sometimes a boy, almost within striking distance, would hurl his club at the quarry, but today ka-chu seemed to bear a charmed life until at last the plain was dotted with riderless ponies and unhorsed riders, and only two were left in pursuit of the rabbit. Knee to knee raced Shoz-Dijiji and Ish-kay-nay. The rabbit, running upon the boy’s right was close to the pony’s forefoot when Shoz-Dijiji leaned down and forward for the kill, but again ka-chu turned, this time diagonally across the front of the pony. Shoz-Dijiji missed, and at the same instant Ish-kay-nay’s pinto stepped in a badger hole, and turning a complete somersault catapulted the girl high in air to alight directly in the path of Shoz-Dijiji’s pony as it turned to follow the rabbit, and as the boy toppled from its back the active little beast leaped over Ish-kay-nay’s head and galloped off with head and tail in the air.

Shoz-Dijiji rolled over twice and stopped in a sitting posture at the girl’s side. They looked at each other and the girl grinned. Then she reached beneath her and withdrew the flattened body of the rabbit—in falling, the girl had alighted upon the hapless ka-chu.

“Ish-kay-nay should have been a boy,” said Shoz-Dijiji, laughing, “for already she is a mighty hunter.”

Together they arose and stood there laughing. Their copper bodies, almost naked, shot back golden highlights to the sun, as the two tousled black heads bent close above the prey. The lad was already a head taller than his companion and well-muscled for his age, yet they looked more like two lads than a boy and girl, and their attitude toward one another was as that of one boy to another, and not, as yet, as of the man to the maid. Two little savages they were, blending into Nature’s picture of which they were as much a part as the rolling brown plain, the tree-dotted foothills, or the frowning mountains.

Ish-kay-nay’s pony, none the worse for its spill, had scrambled to its feet and trotted away a short distance, where it was now contentedly feeding upon the grama grass. Still farther away the boy’s mount browsed. Shoz-Dijiji looked toward it and whistled once, shrilly. The pony raised its head and looked in the direction of the sound, then it started toward its master, slowly at first; but at the second whistle, more peremptory than the first, it broke into a gallop and came rapidly to stop before the lad.

Shoz-Dijiji mounted and drew Ish-kay-nay up behind him, but when they sought to catch the girl’s pony it snorted and ran away from them. Herding it toward camp the two rode in the direction of their fellows, some of whom had regained their ponies; and, so, several of them mounted double, driving the riderless animals ahead, they came back to camp.

Thus the happy days rolled by with hunting, with games, with play; or there were long trails that led down into Sonora or Chihuahua; there were raids upon Mexican villages; upon wagon trains; upon isolated ranches; there were the enemy’s attacks upon their own camps. In the springs there was the planting if the tribe chanced to be in a permanent camp and then, with wooden hoes, the children and the squaws broke the ground, planted the corn in straight rows, melons and pumpkins at haphazard about the field, and the beans among the corn.

Sometimes the children, tiring of so much work, would run away to play, staying all day and sneaking into camp at dark, nor were they ever chided by their elders; but woe betide them should one of these discover them in their hiding place, for the ridicule that was sure to follow was more bitter to the Apache taste than corporal punishment would have been.

As the boys, playing, learned to use the weapons of their people, to track, to hunt, to fight, so the girls learned the simple duties of their sex—learned to prepare the maguey for each of the numerous purposes to which their people have learned to put this most useful of plants; learned to grind the mesquite bean into meal and make cakes of it; learned to dry the fruit of the Spanish bayonet; to dress and tan the hides that the braves brought in from the chase.

And together the children, under the admiring eyes of their elders, learned the gentle art of torture, practicing upon birds and animals of the wild and even upon the ponies and dogs of the tribe. Upon these activities Shoz-Dijiji looked with interest; but for some reason, which he doubtless could not have understood had he tried to analyze it, he found no pleasure in inflicting pain upon the helpless; nor did this mark him particularly as different from his fellows, as there were others who shared his indifferences to this form of sport. Apaches are human and as individuals of other human races vary in their characteristics, so Apaches vary. The Apaches were neither all good, nor all bad.

In the early summer of Shoz-Dijiji’s fourteenth year Geronimo and Juh, with half a dozen other warriors, were preparing to make a raid into Mexico, and when Shoz-Dijiji heard the talk about the camp fires he determined, by hook or by crook, to accompany the war party. He told Gian-nah- tah, his best friend, of this hope which occupied his thoughts and Gian-nah-tah said that he would go too, also by hook or by crook.

“Go to Geronimo, your father,” counseled Gian-nah-tah, “and tell him that Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah wish to become warriors, and if his heart is good he will let us go out upon the war trail with him.”

“Come with me, then, Gian-nah-tah,” replied Shoz-Dijiji, “and I will ask him now before chigo-na-ay sets again and yan-des-tan grows dark.”

Squatting beneath a tree and holding a small mirror in his left hand, Geronimo was streaking his face with vermilion, using the index finger of his right hand in lieu of a brush. He looked up as the two boys approached. There was a twinkle in his blue eyes as he nodded to them.

With few preliminaries Shoz-Dijiji went to the point. “Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah,” he said, “will soon be men. Already has Shoz-Dijiji slain the black bear in fair fight and upon the field of battle taken the scalp of the enemy he had killed. No longer do Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah wish to remain in camp with the old men, the women and the children while the braves go upon the war trail. Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah wish to go upon the war trail. They wish to go with the great Geronimo tomorrow. Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah await the answer of the great war chief of the Apaches.”

Geronimo was eying them keenly while he listened in silence until the boy had finished, nor was there any change in expression to denote how he was receiving their appeal. For a while after the boy became silent the chief did not speak. He seemed to be weighing the proposition carefully in his mind. Presently he opened his lips and spoke in the quiet, low tones that were his.

“Geronimo has been watching Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah,” he said, “and is pleased with them. They are both young, but so too was Go-yat-thlay when first he went upon the war trail. The time is short. Go, therefore, this very night to the high places and pray to Usen. Make your medicine, strong medicine, in the high places. Nakay-do-klunni will bless it in the morning. Go!”

Never were two boys more elated, more enthusiastic, more imbued with a desire to shout and dance; but they did nothing of the sort. Stolidly, without a change of expression, they turned and walked away. They were Apaches and they were on the high road to becoming warriors. There are times when warriors shout and dance; but such an occasion was not one of them.

Together the two boys left the camp, heading deep into the mountains, Sboz-Dijiji leading, Gian-nah-tah stepping directly in his tracks. They did not speak, but moved silently at a dog trot, for the time was short. Better would it have been to have spent days and nights in preparation, but now this could not be. A mile from camp Gian-nah-tah turned to the left, following a branch of the main canyon up which Shoz-Dijiji continued for a matter of several miles, then, turning abruptly to the right he scaled the sloping base of the canyon wall.

Where the fallen rubble from above ended against the rocky cliff side the blackened stump of a lightning-riven pine clung precariously. Here Shoz-Dijiji paused and, searching, found a flat splinter of wood not three inches long nor an inch wide and quite thin. With a slender buckskin thong he tied the splinter securely to his G-string and commenced the ascent of the nearly perpendicular cliff that towered high above him.

Taking advantage of each crevice and projection the lad crept slowly upward. Scarcely was there an instant when a single slip would not have hurled him to death upon the tumbled rocks below, and yet he never paused in his ascent, but moved as confidently as though on level ground, up and up, until, three hundred dizzy feet above the canyon floor he drew himself to a narrow, niche-like ledge. Settling himself here with his back against the cliff and his legs dangling over the abyss, he unfastened the pine splinter from his G-string and with his hunting knife set to work to fashion it to his purpose.

For an hour he worked unceasingly until the splinter, smoothed upon its two flat sides, suggested, roughly, the figure of a short legged, armless man, and had been whittled down to a length of two and a quarter inches and a width of about a sixth of its greatest dimension. Upon one flat side he carved zigzag lines—two of them running parallel and longitudinally. These represented ittindi, the lightning. Upon the opposite side he cut two crosses and these he called intchi-dijin, the black wind. When he had finished the carving he tied it firmly to a thong of buckskin which formed a loop that would pass over his head and hang about his neck.

Thus did Shoz-Dijiji, the Black Bear, fashion his tzi-daltai. From a buckskin bag upon which Morning Star had sewn pretty beads the boy took a still smaller bag containing hoddentin, a pinch of which he sprinkled upon each side of the tzi-daltai, and then he tossed a pinch out over the cliff in front of him and one over his left shoulder and one over his right and a fourth behind him.

“Be good, O, winds!” he prayed.

Another pinch of hoddentin he tossed high in air above him. “Be good, O, ittindi! Make strong the medicine of Shoz- Dijiji that it may protect him from the weapons of his enemies.”

All night he stood there in the high place praying to Usen, to ittindi, to the four winds. Making big medicine was Shoz- Dijiji, the Black Bear; praying to be made strong and brave upon the war trail; praying for wisdom, for strength, for protection; praying to the kans of his people; and when morning came and the first rays of chigo-na-ay touched his aerie he still prayed. Not till then did he cease.

As deliberately as he had ascended, the Black Bear climbed down the escarpment and, apparently as fresh as when he had quit camp the preceding day, trotted rapidly down the canyon and into camp. No one paid any attention to him as he went directly to the shelter of Nakay-do-klunni, the medicine man.

The izze-nantan looked up as the youth stopped before him, and grunted.

“Nakay-do-klunni,” said the lad, “Shoz-Dijiji goes upon the war trail for the first time today. All night he has prayed in the high places. Shoz-Dijiji has made strong medicine. He brings it to Nakay-do-klunni to bless, that it may be very strong.” He held his tzi-daltai toward the izze-nantan.

Nakay-do-klunni, squatting in the dirt, took the amulet and blew upon it; he mumbled gibberish above it; sprinkled hoddentin upon it; made strange passes in the air that thrilled Shoz-Dijiji—Shoz-Dijiji, who could climb a sheer precipice without a thrill. Then he handed it back to Shoz-Dijiji, grunted and held out his palm. The lad emptied the contents of his little pouch into his own hand and selecting a piece of duklij, the impure malachite that the whites of the Southwest call turquoise, he offered it to the izze-nantan.

Nakay-do-klunni accepted the proffered honorarium, examined it, dropped it into his own pouch and grunted.

As Shoz-Dijiji turned to depart he passed Gian-nah-tah approaching the shelter of the medicine man and the two friends passed one another as though unaware of each other’s existence, for the preparation of the youth aspiring to become a warrior is a sacred rite, no detail of which may be slighted or approached with levity, and silence is one of its prime requisites.

An hour later eight warriors—grim, terrible, painted men—set out upon the war trail and with them went two hungry youths, empty since the morning of the preceding day.

The War Chief - Contents    |     Chapter V - On the War Trail

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