This novel, written in 1927, was only translated once in French, in a few issues if the fanzine La Tribune des Amis d’Edgar Rice Burroughs in 2010. On the other hand, its sequel Apache Devil was released in French by the Néo editions in 1986!
This novels features the tale of an American child, Andy McDuff, who will grow up in the very own Apache tribe that slaughtered his parents. Rechristened Shoz-Dijiji (“Black Bear”), and now a pure Apache in heart and soul, to the point where he becomes Geronimo’s son, he will take part in the Indian wars against the white-skinned invaders.
The War Chief is an excellent book, which in the end remind of Tarzan. Here also a white child is raised by complete strangers to whom he identifies himself fully, and these people are as close to Nature as possible. But what is impressive in the novel is that, even if it’s narrated from the Indian side, which is already rare at the time, it doesn’t feature an angelic image of them. We’re not in “Dances with Wolves”! Burroughs hides nothing of the cruelty and atrocities perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. About the only thing that differentiates Shoz-Dijiji from his own people is his refusal to torture his enemies, but apart from that trait, he’s as eager as his comrades to fight the pindah-lickoyees, the “white eyes”. As all good Burroughian hero, Shoz-Dijiji has a strict code of honor he follows blindly, even if it doesn’t suit either sides. He doesn’t care about that, he’s strong enough to support his claims! The bittersweet ending is not without recalling the one in the first Tarzan. It also reminds the larger context of the end of the Indian people as free and indomitable. In a short while, as the older Geronimo has fully understood, Indians will have to surrender, and Shoz-Dijiji and his kind will fight their last battle.
In short, it’s almost shameful that no French version of the novel is available! The Burroughs specialist, Richard Lupoff, even ranks it third, behind A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes! It should be noted that, if Shoz-Dijiji is a fictional character, his sworn enemy Juh, from the Nedni tribe, stepbrother of Geronimo, really existed.
The War Chief is also currently being adapted as a comic strip on the official ERB inc. website, with Martin Powell writing and the awesome Nik Poliwko drawing (see the drawing below). It’s simple, the minute I saw the drawing style, I found it so classy that I wondered for a while if it had been done in the 50ies!