The War Chief

Chapter XI

War Chief of the Be-Don-Ko-He

Edgar Rice Burroughs

SHOZ-DIJIJI liked the new camp which lay in rugged, timbered mountains south of the town of Casas Grandes, in the state of Chihuahua. There was water there and game and the hated soldiers of the pindah lickoyee could not follow. When they had settled down to the routine of camp life he would tie Nejeunee before the tepee of Ish-kay-nay. Just now, with several other braves, he was hunting, for the long march from the north had depleted the stores of the Be-don-ko-he.

For three days the chase continued, covering mountains and plain, and during that time the hunters brought in a variety and abundance of red meats. In many a pot boiled savory stews of venison, antelope, beef or mule, the sweet aroma of cooking food mingling with the scent of the pine forest in the pure air of the high sierras, while below in the plain many a frightened peon huddled his family about him behind the barred door of his adobe shack the while he mourned the loss of his live stock.

Their bellies filled, peace hovering about them, elated by their victory over the soldiers of the white-eyes, the Be-don-ko-he rested in camp. The warriors smoked and gambled, the women worked and gossiped, the children played. Upon distant look-outs sentinels scanned the country for the first sign of an approaching enemy.

The Be-don-ko-he felt secure. But a chain is as strong only as its weakest link. Perhaps a sentinel was shirking; perhaps there were other Indians who knew the Mother Mountains better than the Be-don-ko-he knew them. How else might be explained the long file of armed men creeping upward through a narrow, timbered defile toward the camp of the Apaches? Twenty-four of them were Mexican regulars and with them were forty Indian allies, hereditary enemies of the Be-don-ko-he.

Geronimo sat before a rude brush shelter, smoking, while Sons-ee-ah-ray ground maize in a metate. Ish-kay-nay, sewing beads to the yoke of a buckskin shirt, worked industriously at her side, while Shoz-Dijiji, squatting in the circle, watched the girl’s nimble fingers and beautiful face. Several children played about, sometimes listening to the talk of their elders. At a little distance, her back toward them, sat Geronimo’s mother-in-law. She took no part in the conversation, never addressed any of them and was never addressed by them, and when necessary to refer to her signs were invariably employed. Notwithstanding the fact that Geronimo was very fond of her he might never speak to her—thus are primitive peoples slaves to custom, even as we.

Shoz-Dijiji was narrating again his encounter with the three white men and the white girl near Billings’ ranch.

“Why,” asked Geronimo, “did you not kill the white-yed girl? It was not wise to let her go back to her people and say that she had seen an Apache in war paint.”

“Was she very pretty?” demanded Ish-kay-nay.

“Yes,” replied Shoz-Dijiji.

“Is that why you did not kill her?” There was a note of jealousy in the girl’s voice. She could be jealous of a white woman.

“I did not kill her because I do not make war on women,” said Shoz-Dijiji.

“Then you cannot successfully fight the white-yes,” growled old Geronimo, “for they make war on women and children. If you let their women live they will breed more white warriors to fight against your people. They know—that is the reason they kill our women and our children.

“Listen! The soldiers attack our camps, killing our women and our children. They do this today. They have done it always. Listen to the words of Geronimo of the story of Santa Rita, that his father’s father had from his father’s father. A hundred rains have come and gone and yet the blood is not washed away from the memory of the Shis-Inday or from the hands of the pindah lickoyee.

“A hundred times have the deer mated; a hundred harvests have been gathered since that day. The Mexicans worked the mines of Santa Rita near the headwaters of the Rio Mimbres in those days, and their chief was a pindah lickoyee named Johnson. His heart was bad, but he hid it beneath soft words. He called our chiefs and told them that he was going to give a great feast, asking them to send word to their people.

“Happy, the chiefs dispatched their runners to the scattered camps and villages of the Shis-Inday summoning the people to assemble at the mines on the appointed day. From all directions they came, bringing their women and their children until a thousand Apaches gathered about the barbecue pits of the pindah lickoyee.

“Less than a hundred yards away lay a pile of pack saddles. They looked quite harmless. How were our chiefs to know that hidden beneath them was a cannon, loaded to the muzzle with slugs, musket balls, with nails and pieces of glass? They did not know. The pindah lickoyee lighted the fuse himself. There was a loud noise and several hundred Apache men, women and children lay dead, or maimed and wounded. Then the Mexicans charged us.

“Four hundred were killed. What could our people do? They had come in friendship and peace, leaving their weapons behind. Those who could scattered and escaped.

“Now the pindah lickoyee tell us that it is wicked to kill women and children. They mean that it is wicked to kill the women and children of the lickoyee. It is all right to kill the women and children of the Shis-Inday. But we do not forget. You must not forget. Kill them, that they may not breed warriors to kill your women and children.”

“Yes,” cried Ish-kay-nay, “kill them!”

“I will kill their warriors,” replied Shoz-Dijiji, quietly. “Let the women and the old men kill their women.”

Geronimo shook his head. “Wait,” he said, “until they have killed your women; then you will have the right to speak.”

A volley of rifle fire brought a sudden end to the conversation. Bullets pinged and whistled among the trees. War whoops reverberated among the lofty peaks. The Be-don-ko-he, taken entirely by surprise, scattered like rabbits, the warriors seizing their weapons as they fled. Two fell before they could gain cover.

Geronimo rallied his force and led it forward. Taking advantage of trees and rocks the Apaches advanced against the enemy’s line. Shoz-Dijiji fought beside his fierce sire. The war chief led his warriors to within ten yards of the Mexicans and their allies and then, at his command, they stepped into the open from behind rocks and trees and fired point-blank at the foe. At places the lines touched and men fought hand to hand. Geronimo struck down a Mexican with his clubbed rifle, but another sprang upon him with up-raised knife before he could recover himself after delivering the blow. An Indian raised his rifle to the level of Shoz-Dijiji’s breast, the muzzle but a few inches away.

It was the proximity of the weapon that saved the son of the war chief from death. With his left forearm he struck up the rifle, grasped it, wrenched it from the grasp of his adversary, and, swinging it behind him, brought it down upon the other’s skull; then he wheeled and leaped upon the back of the Mexican who was lunging at Geronimo’s breast with his long hunting knife.

A sinewy arm encircled the fellow’s neck and he was torn from his prey, whirled about and thrown to the ground. Before he could recover himself a hundred and seventy pounds of steel and iron fell savagely upon him, his knife was wrested from his grasp and he shrieked once as his own blade was buried deep in his heart.

Shoz-Dijiji sprang to his feet, saw the opening that had been made in the enemy’s line, saw Gian-nah-tah and another fighting near him, called them and broke through to the rear of the foe. Like a red demon he fell upon the Mexicans and their henchmen; his savage war whoops rose above the din of battle as with the clubbed rifle of an enemy he mowed them down, while the very ferocity of his expression appeared to hold them in a spell of awful fascination.

At last, splattered with the blood and brains of his adversaries, the Black Bear paused. Erect in the midst of the carnage he had wrought he stood like some avenging angel, his fierce eyes casting about for more to slay. There were no more. To the last man the enemy lay dead upon the field, dead or mortally wounded. Already the squaws were moving among them, Shoz-Dijiji thought of the dying women, the mangled children at the copper mines of Santa Rita, and the screams of the tortured brought no answering pity to his heart.

Some warriors gathered about him. He suddenly became aware that they were calling his name aloud; they were acclaiming him. It was unusual, for more often does the Apache boast of his own exploits than those of another; but there could be no mistaking. Geronimo came and laid a hand upon his shoulder. “The warriors of the Be-don-ko-he have chosen Shoz-Dijiji as a war chief,” he said, “and they have chosen well.”

Then the Black Bear understood. It had come! He thrilled, as what red-blooded man would not thrill to be chosen a war chief by such warriors as these! He had known that it would come—he had dreamed that it was his destiny. This was the first step and it had come years before he had hoped to achieve it. Shoz-Dijiji was very proud, but he was not half as proud as terrible old Geronimo, or as little Ish-kay-nay.

That night moans and wails mingled with the exultations of the victorious tribe, for twelve warriors had fallen in the battle. At the council Shoz-Dijiji’s elevation to the rank of war chief was confirmed amidst flights of oratory, and Gian-nah-tah was admitted to the warrior class in recognition of his bravery upon the field of battle.

Their dead buried, the loot gathered from the bodies of the slain foemen, the tribe packed its belongings and set out from this camp, which they called Sko-la-ta, toward the northeast. Through the lofty mountains they made their way, and when they came out down into Sonora they were joined by Juh and a band of Ned-ni. The two tribes decided to go to the town of Nacosari and trade with the Mexicans.

On an open plain near Nacosari the Apaches were surprised by three companies of Mexican troops, but, after the manner of Apaches when they do not wish to give battle, they scattered in all directions and, firing as they rode away, eluded concerted pursuit. When they had out-distanced the troops they reassembled in the Sierra Madre and held a council. Juh reported having seen Mexican troops at several points and Geronimo well knew that they had been dispatched against him in Chihuahua. It was therefore decided to disband as it would be impossible to maintain a large camp secure from detection while an active campaign was in force against them.

Scattering into single families or small groups of unmarried warriors, they spread out through the mountains of Chihuahua, Sonora, New Mexico and Arizona to await the withdrawal of the troops. For four months they lived by hunting and trading, entering villages as friendly Indians, always careful to commit no depredations, that the fears of the enemy might be lulled into fancied security.

Shoz-Dij iii, happiest when farthest from the haunts of whites, spent all his time hunting in the depth of the mountains. He was much alone, and many were the long nights he spent in some rugged, granite eerie praying to Usen and making strong medicine against future days of war. He dreamed always of war or of Ish-kay-nay or of the goal of his ambition—to be war chief of all the Apaches. The next step, as he planned it, was to become head war chief of the Be-don-ko-he, after Geronimo became too old to lead the tribe in battle, and after that he would win to the final goal.

Occasionally he saw Mexicans in the mountains, and it amused him to wonder what their reaction would be could they guess that a war chief of the Apaches was lying behind a rock or bush above them looking down upon them; but not one of them ever guessed that such potential death lurked thus close.

On several occasions he ventured down upon the plains after antelope. On one of these excursions he had approached a hacienda belonging to a very rich Mexican who owned a herd of horses that was famed throughout all of Mexico, and of which the owner was justly proud. Shoz-Dijiji often watched this herd from a distance as it grazed under the watchful eyes of numerous well-armed vaqueros. It interested him to note the care that was exercised by day and by night to protect the herd against theft; it pleased his vanity to guess that these precautions were directed by fear of his people.

He saw the herd rounded up each afternoon and driven within a walled enclosure, protected by heavy gates; and after dark he came down and prowled about until he was familiar with the surroundings of the hacienda and the habits of its dwellers. He knew when and where they ate and slept, and the hour that the horses were turned out each morning. These things he did not learn in a single visit, but after many visits. He did not know that he might ever put this knowledge to use, but, Apache-like, it suited him to know more of the enemy than the enemy guessed.

In the mountains he had occasionally come upon woodchoppers at work, and when he heard the sounds of their axes he came and watched them, though they never knew that they were watched. He knew where they came to cut wood; he knew the habits of every one of them; he could recognize their faces; he knew how many burros each owned. He knew where they lived and where they took their wood. Whenever it suited him he could kill them—that thought gave him pleasure—but Geronimo had warned them all against depredations of all kinds until the enemy had recovered from the effects of the last raid.

There was one woodchopper who always came alone. He had five burros. All day long he would chop, chop, chop. In the evening he would cook a few beans, smoke a cigarette, roll up in his blanket and sleep until morning. In the morning he would roll a cigarette, cook a few beans, roll another cigarette, load his five burros and start down the trail toward Casas Grandes. Every tenth day Shoz-Dijiji could expect to hear his axe ringing in the forest.

He knew him and his habits so well that he no longer took the trouble to spy upon him. But one day the chopping ceased shortly after it had commenced and there followed a long silence. Shoz-Dijiji was several miles away hunting with bow and arrows. Had the chopping continued all day Shoz-Dijiji would not have given the woodchopper a second thought; but to the suspicious mind of the Apache the silence was ominous. It spoke of a change in the habits of the woodchopper—it augured something new, an altered condition that must be investigated.

Shoz-Dijiji moved quickly but warily among the trees and rocks along the shoulder of a mountain to the point from which he had often watched the woodman in his camp. Looking down he saw the five burros, but at first he saw no woodchopper.

What was that? The Apache cocked an attentive ear. The sound was repeated—a low moan coming up out of the canyon. It was then that Shoz-Dijiji saw a human foot protruding from beneath a felled tree, revealing the lonely tragedy below. He listened intently for several minutes until every sense assured him that there were no other men about, then he descended to the camp, walked around the tree and looked down at the woodchopper.

The Mexican, lying upon his belly, saw the moccasined feet first and guessed the worst, for the moccasins of no two tribes are identical. Turning his head painfully his eyes moved slowly upward to the savage face. With a moan of hopelessness he dropped his head to the ground and commenced to pray. Realizing that not even God could save him from death at the hands of this Apache, he concerned himself only with matters pertaining to the salvation of his immortal soul and to be on the safe side he prayed not only to the gods of his conquerors, but to strange, heathen gods as well—gods whose names were old before Nazareth.

Shoz-Dijiji saw that a not overlarge tree had fallen upon the woodchopper, pinioning him in such a way that he could not release himself. He also guessed that the man was injured. Laying hold of the tree the Apache, already a giant in strength, raised it easily from the prostrate form and dragged it to one side. Then he approached the Mexican and with quick, sensitive fingers examined his body and limbs. One leg was broken. Otherwise the man was not seriously hurt. However the broken leg would have proved fatal were help not forthcoming.

The Apache cut away the trouser leg from the injured member, and tore the cloth into strips. He fashioned splints from twigs and small branches, and while his victim screamed he set the broken bones, adjusted the splints, bound them in place with the strips he had torn from the man’s trousers.

By this time the Mexican was almost convinced against his better judgment that the Apache did not intend killing him. It was quite inexplicable, but it seemed a fact, and he waxed eloquent in his gratitude; but to all that he said Shoz-Dijiji returned but one reply: “No savvy,” albeit he perfectly understood.

He built a soft bed of pine branches and threw up a rude shelter of boughs above the injured man. After that he filled the Mexican’s water bottle, placed it beside him and went away as silently as he had come, leaving his hereditary enemy still only half convinced that it was not all part of a diabolical plot to save him for future torture.

Why was it that the Apache did not kill this helpless Mexican? Perhaps he was moved by sentiments of compassion and brotherly love. Far from it. The war chief of all the Apaches had warned them not to kill, that the fears and anger of the foe might be allayed, and that, thus lulled into the lethargy of false peace, they might become easier prey upon the occasion of some future raid.

Shoz-Dijiji hated the Mexican with all the bitterness of his savage nature, but he saw here an opportunity to carry Geronimo’s strategy a step further than the wily old chieftain had instructed, and by playing the good Samaritan to impress upon this Mexican and all to whom he should have an opportunity to narrate his adventure that the Apaches not only were not upon the warpath, but were thoroughly friendly.

Just before dark Shoz-Dijiji returned with fresh venison which he cooked and fed to the woodchopper; then he lifted him to the back of one of the burros, unmoved by the screams of agony this necessary handling produced, and, followed by the remaining animals, started down the trail toward the valley, leading the beast upon which the moaning man rode. At times Shoz-Dijiji had to support the Mexican to keep him from falling from his mount, but with infinite patience he pursued the course that he had laid out.

It was dawn when they came to the edge of the village of Casas Grandes. Without a word Shoz-Dijiji dropped the lead rope, turned, and trotted back toward the mountains. When the woodchopper reached his own home and told the story his wife would scarce believe him. Later when the news spread even the chiefs of the village came and questioned him, and a few days later when there were some friendly Indians trading in the town the chiefs spoke to them about this thing and told them that the people of Casas Grandes would like to be friends with the Apaches, but they did not know how to get word to Geronimo.

As it happened these “friendly” Indians were Be-don-ko-he, so the word came promptly to the old chief with the result that a message reached the chiefs of the village of Casas Grandes stating that the Apaches would like to make a treaty of peace with the Mexicans, and runners went out from the camp of Geronimo and the word was carried among the scattered bands. By ones and twos and threes they came from all directions to the appointed place in the mountains above Casas Grandes, and when the day of the treaty making arrived they moved down to the village. Nervous, the chief men met them; nervous, the villagers looked on askance, for the fear of the Apache was as inherent in them as their fear of the devil.

They sat in solemn council, the Mexicans and the Apaches, and there was much talk and hand shaking, during which they all promised to be brothers and fight no more. Afterward they commenced to trade and the Mexicans offered mescal to their guests with a free and generous hand. This innocent looking, but iniquitous beverage is more potent than bullets and it was not long before nearly all the warriors of the Apaches were helpless. It was then that two companies of Mexican troops entered the town and attacked them.

Shoz-Dijiji, asleep behind a corner of an adobe wall, knew nothing of all this until he recovered consciousness the following morning and discovered that he was a prisoner and that twenty of his fellow warriors had been killed in the slaughter of the previous day. He also learned that the women and children of the Be-don-ko-he, who had been taken prisoner, were to be kept as slaves, while he and the other braves were to be shot.

The prisoners were herded together in a corral, surrounded by guards, and the towns-people came and stared at them, or spit upon them, or threw stones at them; the same people with whom they had shaken hands the preceding day. Silent, stoical the Apaches took taunts, insults and hurts without a change of countenance.

Among the other townspeople was a man on crutches, who was accompanied by his wife and several small children. Shoz-Dijiji recognized him immediately as the woodchopper whose life he had saved, but he made no effort to attract the man’s attention. What good would it do? Shoz-Dijiji neither sought nor expected favors from the enemy. Gratitude was a quality which he sensed but vaguely, and in his mind it always was confused with self-interest. He could not see how the Mexican might profit by befriending him—therefore there was little likelihood of his doing so.

The woodchopper surveyed the Indians casually. There was nothing remarkable about them except that they were prisoners. It was not often that the Mexicans had Apache prisoners. Presently his eyes alighted upon Shoz-Dijiji. Instant recognition was apparent in them. He nudged his wife and pointed, speaking excitedly.

“There is the Indian who saved my life,” he exclaimed, and pressing close to the bars of the corral he sought to attract the attention of the tall brave, standing with folded arms, looking contemptuously at the crowd without.

“Good day, my friend!” called the woodchopper.

Shoz-Dijiji nodded and one of his rare smiles answered the smiling greeting of the Mexican.

“What you doing here?” demanded the latter. “You are a friendly Indian. They have made a mistake. You should tell them. I will tell them.”

“No savvy,” said Shoz-Dijiji.

An officer, who had heard the statements of the woodchopper, approached him.

“You know this man?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the woodehopper, and then he told the officer his story. “Let him go, captain,” he begged, “for he is a very good Indian. He could have killed and robbed me and no one would have known; but instead he fed and brought me home. I do not believe that he is an Apache.”

The officer turned to Shoz-Dijiji. “Are you an Apache?” he demanded.

“No savvy,” replied the Black Bear.

“You are sure he is the man who saved your life?” demanded the officer.

“I could not know my own mother’s face better,” the woodchopper assured him.

For several minutes the officer stood in thought before he spoke again.

“I cannot release him,” he said, then. “He is to be shot in the morning when the general comes, he and all the other grown men; but it is crowded in this corral and I am afraid with so many prisoners and so few men to guard them that many will escape. Therefore you may take this one and guard him in your own house until morning. If he escapes it will not be my fault.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” exclaimed the woodchopper; “and may the Mother of God Bless you.”

Shoz-Dijiji heard and understood. He was to live! But not by so much as the quiver of an eyelid did he reveal his understanding. He stood impassive while they bound his hands behind him and placed a rope about his neck, and he followed, though not meekly, but with haughty mien, as the woodchopper led him away, the wife and the several small children following proudly behind.

The War Chief - Contents    |     Chapter XII - The Scalp Dance

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