The War Chief

Chapter VI

The Oath of Geronimo

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AROUSED by the shouts, the shots and the scent of the savages, the mules had, during the battle, staged a divertisement of their own. Some had kicked themselves free of restraining leather while others had but entangled themselves the more. Many were down.

Their taste for blood temporarily glutted, or for lack of more blood to spill, the Apaches turned their attention to the mules. While some cut loose those that were down, others rounded up those that were loose. In the meantime Geronimo and Juh had inspected the contents of the wagons which contained a general store of merchandise consigned to many a small merchant in the villages of northern Sonora.

Selecting what met their fancy or the requirements of their wild, nomadic life, they packed their spoils of war upon the backs of the captured mules and set out in a northeasterly direction toward the Sierra Madre. All that afternoon and all of the following night they pushed rapidly on until they emerged upon the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre and looked down upon Chihuahua. Not until then did Geronimo order camp and a rest. A hundred miles behind them the ashes of the burned wagon train still smouldered. Ten miles in his rear a single scout watched the rear trail from a commanding peak and far ahead another scout overlooked Chihuahua.

Around the camp fire that day, while the mules browsed the lush grasses of a mountain meadow, the warriors recounted boastfully their deeds of derring do.

Geronimo, sullen and morose, sat apart Shoz-Dijiji, the camp duties of the neophyte completed, lay stretched in rest beside his savage sire. Geronimo, puffing at a cigarette, looked down at the boy.

“Shoz-Dijiji has done well,” he said. These were the first words of approval that had fallen upon the youth’s ears since he had taken the war trail. He remained silent. Geronimo puffed upon his cigarette before he spoke again. “Juh says that Shoz-Dijiji has a heart of water; that he did not join the other braves in torturing the wounded or mutilating the dead.”

“Shoz-Dijiji killed three of the enemy,” replied the youth; “one in a hand-to-hand fight. The coyote attacks the wounded and devours the dead. Which is braver?”

“You saw me after the battle,” said Geronimo. “Am I a coyote?”

“You are a brave man,” replied Shoz-Dijiji simply. “There is no one braver than Geronimo. Therefore I cannot understand why you waste your time with the dead and the wounded. These, I should think, you would leave to the squaws and the children. I, Shoz-Dijiji, take no pleasure in fighting with a dead man who cannot harm me. I should not think that Geronimo, who is so much braver than Shoz-Dijiji, would find pleasure in it.”

“Listen, my son, to the words of Geronimo,” said the war chief. “But seventeen times had the rains fallen upon me when I was admitted to the warrior class. Then I was a Ned-ni, as my fathers before me had been; but I loved Alope, the slender daughter of No-po-so of the Be-don-ko-he and she loved me. I gave No-po-so the many ponies that he had asked for Alope and took her with me. Then it was that I was adopted into the tribe of my good wife. I became a Be-don- ko-he.

“Three children came to us in the twelve years that followed and we were happy. There was peace between us and the tribes that were our neighbors. We were at peace with the Mexican towns in Chihuahua and Sonora.

“Happy, carefree, contented, the Be-don-ko-he, with all their women and their children, went down through Sonora toward Casa Grande to trade, but before we reached our destination we stopped at the Mexican village which we called Kas-ki-yeh, making our camp just outside the town.

“I had brought my mother with me, as well as Alope and our three children. With the other women and children they remained in camp under the protection of a few warriors while the balance of the braves went daily into the town to trade.

“Thus we had been living in peace and fancied security for several days when one evening as we were returning to camp we were met by several of our women and children. Their burning eyes reflected the sorrow and righteous anger that blazed within their breasts as they told us that during our absence Mexican troops had attacked our camp, slain the warriors that had been left to guard it, run off our ponies, burned our supplies, stolen our weapons and murdered many of our women and children.

“Mangas Colorado, chief of the Ned-ni, who was with us with a few of his people, was the ranking war: chief and to him we turned now, for this was war. He told us to separate and hide until darkness had fallen, and this we did, assembling again in a thicket by the river. Then it was, when all had come, that I discovered for the first time that my aged mother, my young wife, my three small children were among the slain.

“Without ponies, without weapons, our force reduced, surrounded by the enemy and far within his country, we were in no position to give battle. In silence and in darkness, therefore, we took up the long trail toward our own country, leaving our dead upon the field.

“Stunned by the sorrow that had overwhelmed me I followed behind the retreating tribe, just within hearing distance of the soft footfalls of moccasined feet. For two days and nights of forced marching I did not eat, I did not speak, and no one spoke to me—there was nothing to say.

“At last we arrived at our own kunh-gan-hay. There was the tepee that I had made for Alope, a tepee of buffalo hides. There were the bear robes, the lion skins, the other trophies of the chase that I had placed there for her. There were the little decorations of beads and drawn work on buckskin made by Alope’s own slender fingers. There were the many pictures that she had drawn upon the walls of our home, and there were the playthings of our little ones.

“I burned them all. Also I burned my mother’s tepee and destroyed all her property. It was then I took an oath to be revenged upon the Mexicans, to kill them wherever I found them, to give them no quarter and to show them no mercy.

“My mother, Alope, our three children have been avenged many times over, but the end is not yet. Now, perhaps, Shoz-Dijiji too will see the same pictures of the mind that Geronimo sees when the war trail crosses the path of the Mexicans—an old woman and a young woman lying in their blood, three little children huddled together in terror before the bullets or the gun butts of the Mexican soldiers stilled their sobs forever.”

The wrinkled war chief arose and walked silently away. In silence Shoz-Dijiji sat—in silence and in thought.

And all during the long, arduous marches that followed he thought upon what Geronimo had told him until he too came to hate the enemies of his people with a bitterness that was but to be increased with each closer association with them, whether in war or in peace; but Shoz-Dijiji discriminated less between Mexicans and Americans than did Geronimo, for he knew that upon the whole the former had sinned against them less than the latter.

Always watching for attack from in front, for pursuit from the rear, the Apaches drove the laden mules northward toward home, keeping as much to inaccessible mountains as the limitations of the mules permitted; passing the few habitations that lay in their way silently by night, with the single exception of an isolated Mexican ranch not far from the border. This they attacked by day, slaying its owner, his wife and children.

Again Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah conducted themselves well, thus having two engagements to their credit of the four necessary before they could be accepted into the warrior class; but again Shoz-Dijiji abstained from torture or mutilation, though he watched Juh, the butcher, with interest, if nothing more.

The meager loot from the pitiful Mexican home they loaded upon a spare mule, set fire to the interior of the adobe house and continued their way, leaving the wounded but conscious Mexican staked out upon a bed of cactus within sight of the mutilated remains of his family, to die of thirst.

As they passed on toward the farther hills Shoz-Dijiji saw a coyote giving them a wide berth as it slunk down toward the ranch.

That night they crossed the border into New Mexico and camped in timbered mountains by a running spring. Here they killed a mule and feasted, for at last they felt reasonably safe from pursuit.

A few days later they came to their home camp and that night there was dancing and feasting in honor of the victorious warriors and a great deal of boastful recounting of valorous deeds and displaying of loot. Another mule was killed and cooked and presents were given to each member of the tribe. It was a memorable night. Tomorrow the work of the squaws would commence, for all the remaining mules must be killed, their meat jerked, their hides cured and the meat packed away in them for future use.

Little Ish-kay-nay, cross-legged upon the ground, tore at a large piece of mule meat with her strong, white teeth. A lock of glossy black hair fell across her face and tickled her nose. She pushed it back with a greasy hand.

But if her teeth were occupied with the feast her eyes were not—they followed the figure of a handsome youth who moved about with the swagger of a warrior, though it was noticeable that he kept out of the paths of the warriors, swaggering most where the squaws and the children might see.

Closer and closer to Ish-kay-nay his wanderings led him, yet he seemed quite unconscious of her presence, until presently, without a word, he came and squatted at her side. He did not speak. Ish-kay-nay did not speak. Perhaps each wondered at the change that had come over their relations. When the youth had gone away a few weeks before they had been playfellows. There had never been reserve between them. Ish-kay-nay had seemed like another boy to Shoz-Dijiji.

Now she seemed different. It seemed to Shoz-Dijiji that he was almost afraid of her. To Ish-kay-nay there seemed a difference, too, but, being a woman, she was less mystified than Shoz-Dijiji and she was not afraid. She must only appear to be afraid.

Presently, timorously apparently, she extended her piece of mule meat toward him and with his teeth he tore off a mouthful. Enjoined from speech by necessity they sat there, side by side, chewing upon the tough and fibrous flesh.

Ish-kay-nay looked up from beneath her tousled shock, caught his eye and smiled. Then she looked down quickly and giggled. Shoz-Dijiji grinned and leaned a little closer until his naked shoulder touched hers. Again Ish-kay-nay looked up to smile, and down to giggle, shrugging her shapely shoulders.

Laboriously the youth untied a soiled bundle that he had carried for many days fastened to his loin cloth. It was wrapped in a bit of the tail of a cotton shirt that Manuel, the freighter, had bought in Guaymas.

A vile odor pervaded it, an odor that waxed in insolence and insistence as Shoz-Dijiji, with exaggerated deliberation, slowly unwrapped the package, while Ish-kay-nay, now leaning quite brazenly against him, watched with increasing interest. Neither appeared to note the odor which arose like material matter as the youth threw aside the last fold of cloth and held up to the girl’s admiring gaze three putrid scalps.

“I, Shoz-Dijiji, have slain the enemies of my people,” he said. “Upon the war trail with the warriors of my tribe I have slain them and here is the proof.”

“Shoz-Dijiji will soon be a great warrior,” whispered Ish-kay-nay, snuggling closer.

The boy opened the buckskin bag in which he kept his treasures. From it he drew a silver crucifix and a rosary. “Take these, Ish-kay-nay,” he said. “Shoz-Dijiji took them in battle for Ish-kay-nay.”

The eyes of the little savage maiden were wells of gratitude and pride, and as Shoz-Dijiji slipped an arm about her she looked up into his face and pressed closer to him. Now she did not giggle, for the light of a great understanding had suddenly flooded the consciousness of Ish-kay-nay.

For some time they sat there in silence, oblivious of the yells of the dancers, the beating of the es-a-da-ded, wrapped in the dawning realization of the wonder that had come into their lives. It was Shoz-Dijiji who first spoke.

“Ish-kay-nay will soon be a woman.”

“At the next moon,” replied the girl.

“Twice again must Shoz-Dijiji take the war trail with the braves of his tribe before he can become a warrior,” continued the youth. “Not until then may he tie his pony before the tepee of Ish-kay-nay, to await her answer to his suit. Ish-kay-nay is beautiful. Many warriors will desire her. Already has Shoz-Dijiji seen them looking at her. Will Ish-kay-nay wait for Shoz-Dijiji?”

“Until Chigo-na-ay gives forth no heat and the waters cease to run Ish-kay-nay will wait,” whispered the girl.

During the month that followed the tribe travelled to a small salt lake that lies in the Gila Mountains, and there replenished its supply of salt. There were Navajoes there, too, and a small band of Pimos, but there was no fighting, for such is the unwritten law of the Indians who have come hither for ages after their salt.

Even the birds and the beasts are safe here, for no creature may be killed upon its sacred shore. Here the gossip of the wild country passed from mouth to mouth, the braves traded or gambled, the squaws recovered the salt, and when the supply was garnered each tribe took up its separate way in safety back to its own country.

Shortly after they reached home the father of Ish-kay-nay, being a man of importance and considerable means, sent runners to the Apache tribes living nearest them, inviting all to a great dance and feast in honor of the coming of his daughter into the full bloom of womanhood, for Ish-kay-nay was fourteen and no longer a child.

For days the preparations went forward. The young bucks grinned and giggled at Ish-kay-nay, who tittered and hid her eyes behind her hand. And Shoz-Dijiji laughed in his blanket.

The roasted mescal had been mixed with water and allowed to ferment. Other pulpy sections of the maguey were being steamed in rock-lined pits, the stones in which had first been superheated with leaping, crackling greasewood fires before a layer of maguey was laid upon them and covered with wet leaves and grasses, upon which was laid a second layer of maguey, another layer of leaves and grasses, thus alternating until the pit was filled and the whole covered tightly over with earth from which protruded several of the long bayonet spikes of the mescal, the lower ends of which were embedded in the roasting pulp.

For three days had the maguey been cooking. The tribes were gathered. The fermented mescal was ready and, lest their hospitality be impeached, Ish-kay-nay’s mother had brewed an ample supply of tizwin against the needs of the occasion. The Yuma slave woman cooked tortillas by a fire of her own making. There were jerked venison, lion, bear and beef; fresh turkey, grouse and mule; there were cakes of the meal of ground mesquite beans; there was the sun-dried fruit of the Spanish bayonet.

During the afternoon the squaws were engaged in the final preparations for the feast; the braves, with mirror and pigment, were making themselves gorgeous for the ensuing nights of dancing, feasting and celebration, or, the painting done, arraying themselves in their finest buckskin, beaded, and silver or turquoise hung; placing necklaces, often to the number of a dozen, about their savage necks; adjusting earrings of silver or turquoise.

Little Ish-kay-nay was being prepared, too. She had donned a new and elaborately beaded robe of buckskin, the skirt of which was fringed with tiny silver bells, as were the sides of her high moccasins; and she was hung heavy with barbaric necklaces, some of which merely encircled her throat, while others fell below her waist.

Much of her wealth of silver and turquoise was hidden by the long, heavy fringe that fell from the edges of her voluminous sleeves and, encircling her skirt above her knees, swept the ground about her richly beaded moccasins; but there was enough in evidence to fix the wealth and social status of her sire.

Lengthening shadows heralded the coming of the guests. By ones and twos and threes they came, Chi-hen-ne, White Mountain, Chi-e-a-hen, Cho-kon-en and Ned-ni, to the camp of the Be-don-ko-he, to celebrate the coming of Ish-kay-nay, the bud, into the full flower of womanhood. A full September moon shone down upon them as they gathered about the open space from which the grass had been cut for the dancing. The potent mescal and tizwin was passed freely among them.

In nearby tepees the braves who were to start the dance put the last touches to their toilets. In a great lodge at one side of the dance ground the chief men of the six tribes assembled and there too sat Ish-kay-nay, looking very small; but, being Ish-kay-nay, neither overawed nor fearful. With poise and dignity she sat among the great, but doubtless in her elfin heart she was laughing at some of the grim old chieftains, as youth, the world over, is prone to laugh at age.

The squaws had drawn the bayonet stalks from the roasting maguey and sampling the lower ends had found them cooked to a nicety. Now they were uncovering the feast. A fire was burning in the center of the space reserved for the dancing, and at one side a dried hide had been laid upon the ground. About this sat several old warriors armed with long, tough sticks. Gently they began beating upon the surface of the bull hide. Just behind them two other old warriors smote es-a-da-deds. Ish-kay-nay’s father began to sing in time to the beating of the crude drums, his voice rising and falling monotonously as he chanted of the beauty of Ish-kay-nay, of her docility, of her strength, of her many accomplishments. Gradually the guests joined in, chanting in unison with him a wordless chant that drowned out the balance of the list of Ish-kay-nay’s attractions.

Suddenly there burst from the tepees at the head of the dance ground a series of blood-curdling whoops and yells. The beating of the drums increased in tempo and volume until the sound rolled forth in thunderous waves. From several tepees young men sprang, leaping high in air, turning, twisting, bending, whooping. Onto the dance ground they rushed, circling the central fire—weird, grotesque, barbaric figures disguised beneath the heads and skins of bear and deer and buffalo and lion.

Four times about the fire they danced when other warriors armed with lances, bows and arrows sprang upon the dance ground and circling the other dancers threatened them with their weapons. Unintimidated the beasts danced on until at last the hunters threw down their weapons.

At this signal the young women of the tribes joined in the dance. As the first of them ran upon the field the young bucks gave voice to a wild yell that rolled out across the still Arizona night to reverberate and echo in the gloomy canyons and gorges of the moon-mysteried mountains that hemmed them about. They crouched, they leaped, they shook their shoulders and their hips as they formed a circle about the fire, facing outward, as. the girls took their places in an outer circle, each girl opposite and facing a warrior.

The drums boomed, the dancers bent double, whirled about first upon one foot and then upon the other. The men advanced, the girls retreated to the outer edge of the dance ground. Among them, grotesque, painted, decked out in the finery of their most gorgeous medicine headdress, their finest izze-kloths, whirling their tzi-ditindes, the izze-nantans whirled and leaped and danced, sprinkling the sacred hoddentin upon the youths and maidens.

Nakay-do-klunni was there with Nan-ta-do-tash and many another famous medicine man of the six tribes of the Apaches, speaking volumes for the wealth and power of the father of little Ish-kay-nay. Now the men retreated, backing toward the fire, and the girls advanced, and thus, forward and back, they danced for hours, chanting the sacred songs of their people, doing honor to Ish-kay-nay.

And all the time the girl remained in the great lodge, taking no part in the festivities and catching but an occasional glimpse of what was going on without. At the end of the fourth night the food was gone, the mescal and the tizwin had been consumed, the dancers were exhausted and the six tribes repaired to their several camps to sleep off the effects of their prolonged orgy. On the following day Ish-kay-nay’s eyebrows were carefully plucked—the last official symbol of her emergence from childhood to the marriage market. A month later her eye lashes would be pulled out.

Shoz-Dijiji was not happy. He had had no part in the festivities, other than a free hand at the food, and he had tried to smoke—with dire results. This he might have done long before, having killed big game and won the right to smoke like a grown man; but he had not cared to until recently. Seeing Ish-kay-nay stepping suddenly from childhood to womanhood had awakened within him, or rather had stimulated within him an already overwhelming desire to appear mature.

From the tepee of Geronimo he had taken a few leaves of tobacco and these he rolled in the dried leaf of an oak. With an ember from a camp fire he lighted his primitive cigarette, and for several minutes he derived great satisfaction from parading nonchalantly about, puffing clouds of smoke to the moon; but shortly he crawled away out of sight and lay down behind a bush. For a while he was quite helpless, but presently he was able to unwrap his tzi-daltai, and to it he prayed that the bad spirit that had entered his stomach with the smoke be driven out. He prayed for a long time, until he fell asleep; and when he awoke he knew that his medicine was strong medicine, for the sickness was gone, leaving him only a little weak and a bit wobbly upon his feet.

Perhaps the sickness helped to make Shoz-Dijiji unhappy, but there were other causes, too. One of them was the attitude of the young warriors toward Ish-kay-nay, and that of some of the old warriors, as well. Never before had Shoz-Dijiji realized how wonderful and how desirable was Ish-kay-nay, and he saw that other youths and men thought that she was desirable. Once, shortly after the great feast, he saw ten ponies tied before her tepee, and among them was the war pony of Juh, the chief of the Ned-ni.

For four days he watched them standing there, as their owners watched them; but Ish-kay-nay did not come forth and feed any one of them or lead one to water, and at the end of the fourth day, disgruntled, the disappointed swains came and took away their ponies. After that Shoz-Dijiji was happier and when it was dark, that very night, he found Ish-kay-nay and sat down beside her and held her hand and heard her say over again that she would wait for him—forever.

The War Chief - Contents    |     Chapter VII - Raided

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