The War Chief

Chapter XII

The Scalp Dance

Edgar Rice Burroughs

DARKNESS had fallen, but the night was still young when a fire appeared upon the summit of a lonely hill above the village of Casas Grandes. It burned steadily hour after hour, tended by a single, silent figure. Into the hills about and out across the valley it signalled to the scattered braves, and through the silence and the darkness of the night shadowy forms, soft-footed, mysterious, converged toward the shining beacon.

As Shoz-Dijiji kept the signal fire he thought upon the events of the day and he was puzzled. He could not understand why the Mexican had interceded for him, taken him to his home, fed him, and, after dark, turned him loose without any slightest expectation of reward, not even a remote hope of reward. And for the first time in his life, perhaps, there was forced into his consciousness recognition of a quality of the soul of the very existence of which he had hitherto been ignorant—unselfish gratitude.

The Black Bear was a highly intelligent, reasoning human being and so, as he thought the matter out during the long hours of the night, he came to the conclusion that the only motive the woodchopper could have had was prompted by a desire to repay Shoz-Dijiji for his kindness with a like kindness.

Such an attitude of mind directed upon an enemy was at first quite beyond the experience of one Apache-bred and for this reason difficult to grasp fully; but when the facts finally convinced him they induced a certain warmth within his breast that was new and strange. He thought now of the Mexican woodchopper as a brother. He would repay him. If necessary he would lay down his life for him, for to such extremes does the pendulum of the savage heart swing, and none may guess the depth of feeling masked by the trained muscles of the savage Apache face.

Four times from the valley below a coyote yelped and the reveries of Shoz-Dijiji were broken. With four similar yelps he replied. An owl hooted down from the hills behind him; from the north came the scream of a bobcat. And each in turn was answered from the signal fire.

A shadowy form appeared but Shoz-Dijiji was hidden behind a bush. A whispered word was spoken—a sacred, secret word—and Shoz-Dijiji arose and came forward, greeting a squat, great-chested Be-don-ko-he. One by one, then, they came in about the signal fire—two, three, five, ten—until at last a dozen warriors were gathered.

Shoz-Dijiji picked up some loose stones and arranged them in a line pointing toward the village of Casas Grandes. He leaned them one against another with the sides that had been down, and were marked by contact with the earth, turned upward; that any who might arrive later could read plainly that he who had laid the signal needed assistance in the direction of Casas Grandes. He placed more fuel upon the fire and withdrew to a little distance, followed by the other warriors. There were older warriors and sub-chiefs among them, but they came and listened to Shoz-Dijiji; and when he had finished speaking they signified their willingness to follow him, for not only was he a war chief among them, but he had conceived the plan that he had just explained to them and was therefore entitled to lead whoever agreed to accompany him.

The village of Casas Grandes slept, perhaps a less troubled sleep than it had enjoyed for many a long month, for had not the feared Apaches of the north been routed, had not many of them been killed and many taken prisoner? No wonder the village of Casas Grandes slept in peace as the barefooted soldiers of the guard paced their posts about the prison corral of the Apaches, as a dozen silent forms crept down out of the hills, slinking into the shadows of the little buildings of Casas Grandes, as el general rode swiftly from the south to witness the execution at the coming dawn.

From hidden places about the corral a dozen pairs of savage eyes watched the sleepy sentries pacing to and fro, watched the building that the soldiers were quartered in, waited for the signal from Shoz-Dijiji. At last it came—a figure rushing through the dark, a figure that threw itself upon the nearest sentry with the savage ferocity of a wounded jaguar, wrenching the rifle from astonished hands, striking down the poor peon with brutal savagery. At last Shoz-Dijiji was armed again!

This was the signal! From all sides other men, terrible men, leaped upon the sentinels; but not until the shouts of the Mexicans had alarmed the soldiers in their barracks did the attackers utter a sound, for such had been the orders of Shoz-Dijiji. As the first of the guard turned out they were met by the savage war whoops of the Apaches and a volley of rifle fire that sent them stumbling into momentary retreat. A few braves, detailed by the war chief, leaped into the corral and cut the bonds of the captives. There were a few scattering volleys directed toward the barracks and then silence, as, like the smoke from their own black powder, the Be-don-ko-he merged with the darkness of the night.

Scattering again, the better to throw pursuers off the track, the Apaches were far away from Casas Grandes by morning; and though el general pursued them he lost their trail within two miles of the village, nor ever picked it up again.

It was a long time before the Be-don-ko-he gathered again in the depths of their beloved Arizona mountains and Shoz-Dijiji sat once more in the cool of the evening at the side of Ish-kay-nay. He was a great warrior now and as he recounted his exploits upon the war trail the girl thrilled with pride.

“Tomorrow,” he said, “Nejeunee will be tied before the tepee of Ish-kay-nay.”

“Not tomorrow,” she reminded him, “for tomorrow the izze-nantans purify the warriors who have been upon the war trail and Shoz-Dijiji must ride no other pony then than Nejeunee, his war pony; and Ish-nay-kay will feed no other pony than Nejeunee, the war pony of Shoz-Dijiji.”

The young man laughed. “The next day, then,” he said.

“The next day,” repeated the girl and rubbed her soft cheek against his shoulder caressingly.

The following morning the warriors, wearing their finest raiment, their faces painted with the utmost care, mounted upon their favorite war ponies, assembled below the camp at the edge of the river. Nakay-do-klunni was there with his medicine shirt gorgeous with symbolic paintings, his plumed medicine head-dress, his sash and izze-kloth, ready to make big medicine.

Along the bank of the river, knee to knee, the braves sat their ponies, resplendent with beads and feathers, turquois, silver and painted buckskin. A proud, fierce gathering it was—these savage warriors come to be cleansed of the blood of their foemen.

The izze-nantan waded into the river, cast hoddentin to the four winds, made symbolic passes with his hands, the while he intoned mystic, sacred phrases in a jargon of meaningless gibberish. Then he came forth from the water out upon the bank, impressive, majestic. Going to the warrior at the right of the line he took a weapon from him and returning to the river washed it, dried it, and blew upon it, blowing the ghost of the dead enemy from it.

One after another he repeated this rite for each warrior and then from a buckskin bag at his side he withdrew a few scalps, taken and preserved for this ceremony, which should by ancient custom have been held upon the site of the battle field. Plucking a few hairs from each grisly memento he handed some to each of the warriors all along the line, and while he stood with outstretched hands upraised, mumbling his sacred jargon, each warrior burned the hairs that had been given him, thus purifying forever the tainted air of the battle field which otherwise it would be unsafe to revisit, peopled as it would have been by the malign ghosts of the dead enemy.

Ish-kay-nay stood before the tepee of her father as klego-na-ay rose behind a stunted cedar, a swollen disc of orange flame floating upward out of the mysterious country that lay below the edge of Apacheland.

“Be good, O Moon!” murmured Ish-kay-nay.

“Gun-ju-le, klego-na-ay!” sighed the voices of the Be-don-ko-he women, evening zephyrs sighing through the fragrant cedars.

Little fires crackled merrily, dancing red and orange, shooting sudden tongues of blue, gold-tipped, lighting copper faces old and wrinkled, young and smooth, faces stern and terrible, faces light and laughing; glinting from proud eyes, haughty eyes, cruel eyes, cunning eyes, laughing eyes, beautiful eyes, the eyes of all Apachedom, the eyes of all the world. Laughter, gossip mingled with the crackling of the flames. Little children played pranks upon one another, upon the dogs, upon their elders, unrebuked, and the full moon mounted the clear Apache sky to gaze down, content, upon this living poem of peace and love.

Rising gradually above the confused murmur of the camp the measured voice of the es-a-da-ded arose, insistent. A young brave, gay in the panoply of war, stepped into the firelight dancing to the music of the drum. Naked he was, but for a G-string and moccasins, his god-like body green with copper ore, his face banded with yellow ocher, vermilion, blue; upon his head a war bonnet of eagle feathers; in his hand he bore a lance, a quartz-tipped lance to the point of which was tied something that fluttered as the tip moved—human hair. Shoz-Dijiji bore aloft a trophy in the scalp dance of his people.

Behind him came other braves, painted braves; singing, yelling braves, shouting the savage war whoop that has carried terror down the ages, out of the north, across a world. Grisly tassels waved from many a point. Rifles cracked. Admiring squaws looked on. Ish-kay-nay was among them, her great, dark eyes clinging ever to the mighty figure of her lover.

Weaving in and out among the fires the warriors danced, yelling, until they were upon the verge of exhaustion; but at last it was over—the last scalp had been discarded, a vile thing that no Apache would retain. The camp slept. In far places the scouts watched, guarding against attack. Shoz-Dijiji came among the banked fires, leading Nejeunee. To the tepee of Ish-kay-nay he led him and there he tied him and went away.

In the morning, when Ish-kay-nay arose she looked out and smiled; but she did not come forth until the camp was stirring and there were many about to see her. Others looked at the pinto pony tied there before the tepee, and smiled, too.

At last came Ish-kay-nay, with the carriage of a queen, the step of a panther. She did not hesitate, but taking the rope that held him she led Nejeunee, the war pony of Shoz-Dijiji, to water, and then she fed him. Everyone saw, but there was none that laughed behind his blanket at Ish-kay-nay, or thought her immodest; for there was but one Ish-kay-nay and she could do no wrong, she who all her life had done as she pleased, haughtily indifferent alike to censure or to praise.

There was one wrinkled old warrior who saw, but did not smile. He was the father of Ish-kay-nay. Much would he have preferred Juh, powerful chief of the Ned-ni, as son-in-law; nor as yet was hope dead within him. Later in the day Shoz-Dijiji sought him out, making formal request for the hand of Ish-kay-nay. The old man listened in silence and when Shoz-Dijiji had finished he spoke.

“Ish-kay-nay is a good daughter,” he said. “She is strong and can do a good day’s work in the fields; there is none who makes better shirts and moccasins; there is none whose bead work is more beautiful; nor any who can prepare food as can Ish-kay-nay. I am growing old. Her loss will be as the loss of my heart. Fifty ponies will not be enough to repay me.”

Fifty ponies! Many a daughter of the greatest chiefs there was who had commanded far less. Shoz-Dijiji knew why the price was thus high. The old man believed that it would be so long before Shoz-Dijiji could hope to accumulate that many ponies that he would relinquish his suit and content himself with some other girl whose price was much less; but he did not know the depth of the love that welled in the heart of the son of Geronimo.

“Fifty ponies?” repeated the young warrior.

“Fifty ponies,” replied the father of Ish-kay-nay.

Shoz-Dijiji grunted and turned upon his heel. He went at once to Ish-kay-nay.

“Your father demands fifty ponies,” he said.

Ish-kay-nay laughed. “Fifty ponies! Why not one hundred—two hundred? Now he will have none, Shoz-Dijiji, for I, Ish-kay-nay, will run away with you.”

“No,” said the young man. “Shoz-Dijiji has told you before that he does not have to run away with any woman. Shoz-Dijiji is a man; he is a great warrior, a war chief of the Be-don-ko-he; he has led the warriors of his people in battle. Does such a one run away?”

“Shoz-Dijiji does not love Ish-kay-nay,” said the girl. “He knows that it will be many, many rains before he can pay fifty ponies to her father. If he loved her he would not want to wait.”

“It is because he loves her that he will not make her ashamed before the eyes of our people,” replied Shoz-Dijiji. “Do not fear, Ish-kay-nay. Before the next full moon Shoz-Dijiji will have the ponies.”

“Where will you get them?”

“Shoz-Dijiji knows. This very day he goes after them. If he does not return before the moon is full again you will know that he is dead. Good-bye, Ish-kay-nay.” He drew the girl close to him.

An hour later Ish-kay-nay, standing forlorn upon a rocky promontory, her fringed robe of buckskin fluttering in the breeze, watched a solitary horseman riding toward the south. Her heart was full, but no tear wet her cheek.


Darkness was falling as Nejeunee picked his way across the rocky shoulder of a mountain, a round stone turned beneath his foot, he stumbled and went almost down. When he regained his footing he limped.

Shoz-Dijiji slid from his back and examined the foot and leg, then he remounted and rode on, but more and more did the brave little war pony favor the hurt member. Again Shoz-Dijiji dismounted and felt the tendons of the pastern; there was a swelling there and fever. The Apache arose and slipped the bridle and the blanket from his mount.

“Good-bye, Nejeunee,” he said, stroking the pinto’s neck. Then he continued on his way alone.

Nejeunee tried to follow, but the leg pained and he stopped. Once he nickered, but Shoz-Dijiji returned no answering whistle. Perplexed, the pinto, limping painfully, hobbled along the rough mountainside after his master. For a mile, perhaps, he followed through the darkness, but at last he stopped, for he could no longer either see or hear Shoz-Dijiji, and the night wind, blowing across the trail, carried the scent spoor away from him. The rising moon looked down upon a little pinto stallion gazing with up-pricked ears toward the south—wistful ears.

On through the night went the Black Bear, down the mountains and across a valley into other mountains. There was no trail where the Black Bear trod; but there were the stars and many familiar landmarks and an uncanny sense that held him to the true course. Hidden deep in these mountains, a parched and barren range, was a large, flat rock, its center hollowed into a basin by some long dead waterfall of antiquity. It lay near the head of a deep and narrow ravine, hidden by a dense thicket.

For a long time it held the rain waters, and for many fiery, dust-choked miles there was no other water. Toward this spot Shoz-Dijiji made his way, as unerringly as the homing pigeon returns to its cote. No other than Apache eyes ever had looked upon this place. A man might die of thirst within twenty feet of it, never guessing that life was just within his grasp.

It was daylight when Shoz-Dijiji came to the water hole. Here, hidden in the dense thicket, he rested, lying up like a savage, hunted beast. Nor is the analogy overdrawn. Further back than goes the memory of man the Apache has been fair prey for his enemies and there has been no closed season.. As the wolf, the deer, or the bear he has moved ever in danger of the swift arrow of Navajo or Comanche, of the bullet of the white man. He did not complain. It was a life he understood and loved. It was as fair for him as it was for his enemies, and he prided in the fact that he played it better than they.

Shoz-Dijiji rested but a short time as he wished to push on toward the south, lying up at another place he knew during the heat of the day, timing his marches that he might pass habitations and cross open plains by night, keeping to the mountains in the daylight hours. He carried little food and only a small water bottle, for he could live for months on end upon a country that white men considered waterless and without game. He was armed with a bow and arrows, a knife and a six-shooter.

Upon an excursion of this nature, the success of which depended more upon the agility of his wits than the strength of his armament, he considered a heavy rifle a handicap, and so he had hidden his in a safe cache in the mountains above the Be-don-ko-he camp before he had set out upon his mission.

His water bottle refilled, his own thirst quenched, Shoz-Dijiji clambered up the side of the ravine out of the thicket. Perhaps he was careless; perhaps the wind blew in the wrong direction. However it may have been, the fact remains that the first intimation he had that he was not alone in these arid, deathlike hills was the crack of a rifle and the whistling whing of a rifle ball past his head just as he attained the summit of the rise.

Shoz-Dijiji dropped in his tracks, his body rolling down the steep declivity. Two white men threw themselves flat upon a parallel ridge.

“You got him,” said one of them to the other.

“Mebbe there’s more of them,” replied his companion. “We better wait an’ see.”

They waited for half an hour, watching, listening. From beyond the summit of the ridge they watched there was no sign of life. Behind and slightly above them, upon the main ridge of the mountain, a man lay hid behind a squat shrub, watching them. It was Shoz-Dijiji.

He wished that he had his rifle, for the two lay just out of arrow range and he was a poor shot with a Colt. There was something familiar about one of the men and Shoz-Dijiji wished that he would turn his face that he might have a good look at it, for Shoz-Dijiji never forgot a face, once seen. At last the man did turn. Then it was that the Black Bear recognized him as the survivor of the three who had attacked the white girl near the Billings ranch. Now, more than ever, Shoz-Dijiji wished that he had his rifle. He weighed the wisdom of a revolver shot and put the idea from him. Apachelike he could bide his time against a more favorable opportunity. To fire and miss would be but to disclose his position to the enemy, gaining him nothing, and perhaps causing him still further delay.

He had learned all that he needed to know of these two. They were alone, hunting the yellow iron, doubtless. They had not been following him, but had just chanced upon him. If he did not fire they might lie there a long time waiting and watching, not quite sure that they had killed him, not quite sure that he was not alone. In the meantime Shoz-Dijiji might be far on his way toward the south. Cautiously he slipped down upon the far side of the ridge, well out of their range of vision, rose, turned his face southward and moved silently away, leaving the two prospectors debating the wisdom of a reconnaissance.

A half hour later Shoz-Dijiji came upon their camp. A banked camp fire smoked slightly, some burros, hobbled, stood near by. Shoz-Dijiji paused and brushed the ashes from the fire, then he piled all their belongings quickly upon the coals; he burst the containers in which they had their precious water. This done, he took the hobbles from the burros and drove them ahead of him down the canyon toward the south. Only a short way did he drive them for he well knew that they would need no urging to leave this barren country and search for feed and water.

Continuing his interrupted journey Shoz-Dijiji permitted himself the indulgence of a smile as he considered the plight of the white-eyes. Strangely, perhaps, there was no rancor in his heart against them for having tried to take his life. That was only a part of the game he played, the life-long, savage game of his savage world, the greatest game the world has ever known-man hunting. He would have done the same as they had an opportunity presented; but he was more patient than they—he could wait until there was no chance of his shot missing.

The War Chief - Contents    |     Chapter XIII - “Shoz-Dijiji is Dead!”

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