Intermezzo with Winnetou at Winklay’s ‘Boarding and Store House’
Excerpt from: Captured at Sea
(Very early description of Winnetou; written 1877/78).
Dick Hammerdull, Pitt Holbers, and a few of their trapper friends are sitting in Winklay’s establishment, somewhere in the Wild West, when an Indian enters …
At that moment someone quietly opened the door. Those sitting by the windows had failed to notice that another visitor had arrived. A man walked inside—his footsteps were inaudible—and despite the trapper outfit, he was recognizable at first glance as an Indian.
His habit was clean and well maintained, which was extremely rare among people of his race. Both the hunting coat and the leggings had been made of soft-tanned buffalo calf leather, a craft at which the Indian women excelled, and had been artfully worked and delicately fringed along the seams; for moccasins he wore elk hide strips, not shoes or boots, which gave his footwear added durability, as well as enhanced comfort. His head was uncovered; he had his dark hair tied in a large twist, and wound into a turban shape that proudly throned on his head. The son of the wilderness disliked covering his bold forehead.
After he had scanned the men with an eagle-like gaze from his dark, keen eyes, he walked to the table where Dick had taken a seat. He arrived at the most inopportune time, because the trapper had just reminisced about the murder of his erstwhile love interest, which had rekindled his wrath.
“What do you want here with me, Redskin? This is my spot. Go find yourself another!”
“The red man is tired; his white brother will let him rest!” the Indian replied with a gentle voice.
“Tired or not is inconsequential. I can’t stomach your red hide!” “It is not my fault; Great Spirit gave it to me.” “No matter where you’ve got it from; go away, I don’t like you!”
The Indian unshouldered his gun, put the butt on the floor, placed his crossed arms on the muzzle of the barrel, and with a more serious voice asked:
“Is my brother the master of this house?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
“You said it correctly; it is none of my concern, and it is none of your concern, either; hence, the red man is permitted to sit like the white man.” He sat down. There was something in the emphatic way he said it, and it might have impressed the tetchy trapper, because he didn’t stop the Indian. The host came to the table. “What do you want in my house?”
“Give me bread to eat and water to drink!”
“Have you got money?”
“If you came to my wigwam, and asked me for food, I would give it to you without asking for money. I have gold and silver.”
The eyes of the store and boarding house owner lit up. An Indian who had gold and silver was a welcome appearance wherever treacherous firewater is available. He left and soon returned with a large jug of whiskey, which he placed on the table in front of the guest, next to the bread.
“The white man misunderstood; I don’t wish to have this kind of water!”
The host looked at him in astonishment. He had not met an Indian who was able to resist the taste of liquor.
“What kind of water do you want?”
“The red man drinks only the water that comes out of the Earth.”
“Then you can go where you came from. I’m here to make money, but not to be your water carrier! Pay for the bread and then be gone!”
“Your red brother will pay and leave, but not before you have sold him what he requires.”
“What else do you want?”
“You have a store to purchase supplies?”
“In that case, give me tobacco, gunpowder, bullets, and matches.”
“You can have tobacco; but I don’t sell powder and bullets to Indians.”
“Because they don’t belong to you.”
“Do they belong to your white brothers?”
“They do, indeed!”
“We are all brothers; we must all die if we cannot shoot game for meat; we must all have powder and bullets. Give me what I asked for!”
“You won’t get it!”
“Is that your firm answer?”
Immediately, the Indian had him by the throat with his left hand, and with his right pulled out the glinting bowie knife.
“In that case you shall no longer give your brothers powder and bullets. Great Spirit gives you only one more moment of time. Will you give me what I want, or not?”
The hunters had jumped up and were about to lunge at the courageous savage under whose iron grip the host groaned and squirmed. The Indian, however, kept his back covered, and with a proudly raised head, and a booming voice warned:
“Who will dare to touch Winnetou, the chief of the Apache?!” The mention of that one name had a surprising effect. As soon as he spoke it, those ready to attack him stepped back from him amid clear indications of reverence. The name Winnetou commanded respect from the most daring hunter and trapper.
The Indian was the most famous chief of the Apache, whose well-known cowardice and treachery had in earlier times earned them the invective ‘Pimo’; however, since Winnetou had been elected the leader of their tribe, the cowards had gradually developed into skilled hunters and brave warriors. The Apache name was feared a long way past the towering Rocky Mountains, and the activities of the bands of braves always came to successful conclusions, although they carried out their sorties with only a small number of warriors, through enemy territory, and as far as the distant East. For a time, Winnetou and his Apache had become the subject of conversations at every campfire, in the smallest bar of the frontier towns, and in the salons of the finest hotels. Everyone knew that he often came across the Mississippi—alone, and without any escort, except for that of his weapons—to see the ‘villages and huts of the palefaces’, and to talk to the ‘great father of the Whites’, the president in Washington. Among the remaining handful of free tribes, he was the only chief not ill disposed towards the Whites, and there was a rumour that he had a very close bond of friendship with Firegun, the most famous trapper and tracker of the West.
No one was able to say where the well-known hunter, who was feared by Indians, had come from. He kept company with only a few chosen individuals, made a brief appearance here and there with them, and wherever a tale about a genuine trapper adventure was told, his name was undoubtedly part of it. Stories circulated about him that were hard to believe, because he gradually increased the list of adventures that other men would probably not have survived. Such tales cloaked him in a magical nimbus that expressed itself in the general desire of hunters to make his acquaintance.
But that was not so easy. No one knew the place that served him and his men as an assembly and departure point for their ventures, and just as little was known about the reason that held him in the Wild West. If he visited a settlement, then he brought no more skins than were absolutely necessary to obtain provisions and ammunition in exchange. Afterwards, he immediately disappeared again without a trace. He therefore didn’t belong to the hunters who thus toiled away to acquire the necessary means for a comfortable existence in later life. Consequently, he pursued entirely different objectives, about which nothing was known, because he didn’t socialize, and carefully avoided contact with anyone.
“Let go!” the host exclaimed. “If you are Winnetou, then you shall have everything you demand!”
“Uff!” the Indian said with his deep timbre voice. “Great Spirit gave you, the man with the red hair, those words to say, otherwise I would have sent you to the assembly of your forefathers, and with you those who tried to prevent it!”
Winnetou freed the man, and while Winklay went to the supplies room to fetch the required items, the Apache walked over to Hammerdull again.
“Why is the white man sitting here, celebrating, while the red enemies are after his wigwam?”
Dick looked up from his glass.
“Whether I sit here or somewhere else is inconsequential. Does the great chief of the Apache know me?”
“Winnetou has not seen you, but he recognizes the symbol of his brave friend, and now knows that you are one of his men. Must Firegun, the great hunter, fight alone to fetch the scalps of the Ogallala who are looking for him?”
“Ogallala?” Dick Hammerdull leapt up as if he had seen a rattlesnake under the table. Pitt Holbers also took one long step with his spindly legs and stood in front of the Indian.
“What does the red man know about the Ogallala?”
“Rush to your chief; you will find out from him!” He turned back to the host, who had returned, untied powder, bullet, and provision pouches from his belt, filled them up, and then reached under the grey-white hunting shirt.
“Winnetou will give the man with the red hair also red metal!”
Winklay took receipt of the payment and looked at the heavy piece with unmistakable delight.
“Gold, genuine, shiny, solid gold, worth forty dollars among brothers! Indian, where did you get it from?”
“Pshaw!” Winnetou said with a contemptuous shrug of his shoulder, and the next moment left the room.