Old Shatterhand and Winnetou meet Old Cursing-Dry

Old Shatterhand and Winnetou are following a trail; along the way, they come across Pitt Holbers and Dick Hummerdull, who are riding in the opposite direction. There is a third rider with them… image reproduced on KMG website is of the first publishing with original illustrations here (page ‘S. 91’, under ‘Old Cursing-Dry’, lhs panel’ (if the hyperlink does not work, copy/paste this into your browser: http://www.karl-may-gesellschaft.de/kmg/primlit/erzaehl/reise/marienk/reprint/index.htm )


From left to right: Navajo brave, Winnetou, Old Shatterhand, Dick Hammerdull, Pitt Holbers, Old Cursing-Dry.

Translated by Marlies Bugmann for ‘Faraway Fables‘ available from Lulu.com


Around noon we spotted three dots on the distant horizon, which moved towards us. Since there was no hiding place for us, and we didn’t know whether we were about to meet Whites or Indians, we dismounted, made our horses lie down on the ground, and then lay next to them on the rock. In this manner, we wouldn’t be seen too soon.

The dots grew in size as they came closer, until we saw that they were three riders. Winnetou shaded his eyes with his hand, took a good look at them, and then exclaimed:

“Uff! Dick Hammerdull, Pitt Holbers, and a third White, whom I don’t know!”

Hammerdull and Holbers belonged to the party of hunters we had been expecting to meet. At that point I recognized them as well, and jumped up. Since Winnetou and the Navajo warrior did likewise, the approaching riders saw us, too, and stopped their horses. We gave our horses the command to get on their feet, mounted up, and rode towards them. Hammerdull and Holbers recognized us, and came galloping along amid loud cheering.

I must mention that the two men were splendid eccentrics, and of the kind one only finds in the Wild West. Their friends called them ‘The Two Toasts’. Customarily, two toasted slices of bread, when buttered, were layered buttered side against buttered side; Hammerdull and Holbers used to stand back to back in skirmishes to cover each other; therefore they attained the name The Two Toasts.

Hammerdull was the shorter of the two, and an exceedingly rotund fellow, which is rare in the West. He kept his face, which was crisscrossed with scars and similar marks, as cleanly shaven as possible. His cunning was as great as his daring, and those two characteristics made him a welcome companion for anyone, although I had often wished that he acted with more circumspection than boldness. He had attained the habit of using a peculiar stock phrase, which almost always caused s smile to appear on the faces of his companions. That stock phrase consisted of: “Whether or not…” addressing the item, or event, and the conclusion: “…is inconsequential!”

Pitt Holbers was the exact opposite of him—very skinny and very long. His gaunt face was framed by something that could not entirely be called beard, as it would have been an untruth, because said beard consisted of not quite one hundred hairs, which proliferated in lonely solitude, strewn around the areas of the cheeks, chin and upper lip, and from there hung down to almost his belt. It looked as though the moths had eaten nine tenths of his beard. Pitt was extremely taciturn and circumspect—a very useful comrade, who only spoke when he was asked.

The third rider was a stranger. He was almost taller than Holbers, and frightfully desiccated. It was deceptively easy to believe that one could hear his bones rattle. From the first moment I saw him, I realized that I would be unable to befriend him; his face was coarsely chiselled, and his gaze arrogant. If ever there was an inconsiderate human being, then it was definitely that man.

While we galloped towards each other, Dick Hammerdull hollered from afar:

“Winnetou, Old Shatterhand! Can you see them, Pitt Holbers, ol’ coon? Can you see them?”

Coon is short for racoon, and is the pet name Hammerdull had applied to his friend Pitt Holbers. The latter replied in his customary, dry manner, despite the joy that was evident in his features:

“If you think that I see them, then you might just be correct.”

They greeted us with a fiercely strong handshake. All the while, Hammerdull kept saying:

“At last, at last we have you!”

“At last?” I asked. “You could not possibly have expected to meet us already today, because we’ve arranged to meet at Agua Grande, another one-and- a-half-day ride from here. Has your yearning for us been so great?”

“Of course! Infinitely great!”

“Why? Where are the others?”

“That’s just it! That’s why we’ve been yearning to meet you, and that’s why we’ve raced our horses almost to death. We must get to Agua Grande as soon as possible, to fetch a decent group of Navajo.”


“To attack the Pa-Ute, who have captured our friends. Away, gentlemen, away at once; otherwise, we’ll be too late!”

He wanted to ride on, but I grabbed the reins of his horse, and said:

“Not so hasty, Dick! We must first know what has happened. Dismount and tell us!”

“Dismount? Wouldn’t think of it! I can tell you that while we ride.”

“But I want to hear it in peace; you know how I am in that regard. One can easily spoil everything by rushing things; and one ought to consider one’s actions before planning anything.”

“But what if there is no time for contemplating?”

“I am telling you that we have enough time. But first, we must know who this gentleman is!”

Winnetou had already dismounted; I followed him and sat down next to him; the other three had no choice but to do likewise.

“Alright, Pitt Holbers, ol’ coon, we’re forced to lose precious time,” Hammerdull grumbled. “What do you think?”

“If Old Shatterhand and Winnetou want it so, then it will probably be correct,” he said.

“Whether correct or not is inconsequential; swift help is required; but since something else is requested of us, we must acquiesce.”

They sat down on the ground with us. The stranger had extended his hand in greeting as if we had often met and spoken with each other; I responded with only a fleeting touch, because I’m not used to greeting someone with a handshake before I offer it first. When he also attempted to shake Winnetou’s hand, the Apache pretended not to have seen the approach. He therefore had the same presentiment about the man as I did.

“You want to know who this gentleman is,” Dick Hammerdull said. “His name is Mr Fletcher, he has been in the Wild West since three decades, and has joined us with his friends, in order to meet Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.”

“Yes, mesh’shurs, it is true what Mr Hammerdull says,” Fletcher pompously obtruded. “I have been traipsing around the West for around thirty years, and have made it my business to show these [ ] redskins that they have no [ ] business on our [ ] Earth. Such [ ] fiends as they are ought to be struck dead by [ ] lightning, and I hope that you are of like mind, and the [ ] devil would have to have his hands in it, if the scoundrels aren’t going to carry their [ ] bones where Satan will grind them to [ ] flour!”

I literally recoiled from those expressions. Those were words I was unable to utter, let alone write! Every blank space in the foregoing lines represents a profanity. Eight curses in such a short speech! And at the same time, he looked as if he expected us to be delighted about it! On the contrary, I felt as if I had received eight strikes to my head. And at that point I also knew who the man was, and more directly than Hammerdull would have been able to explain it to me. Others had often told of that person in my presence; a stranger was able to immediately recognize him by his horrible expressions. He was indeed a Westerner, but one of the basest sort. There was no misdeed he would have been incapable of; the noose had often dangled above his head; with his hatred of Indians he surpassed even the cruellest enemy of the red race, and things were told about him that caused listeners’ hair to bristle. In addition, he virtually bathed in execration when he spoke, so that even rough men no longer wanted anything to do with him. Thus far he had been inexplicably lucky in escaping the long arm of the law, as well as the Indians’ retribution, although everyone who had come into contact with him said that he did not deserve anything less than to be bludgeoned to death like a wild animal. Because of his exceedingly desiccated figure, and the habit of attaching a curse to every sentence that spilt over his lips, he had received the name Old Cursing-Dry; but it was well-known that anyone who dared to call him that to his face put his life at risk.

“Well, are you perhaps mute, mesh’shurs?” he asked when he didn’t immediately receive an answer. “I think I know that you both can talk.”

Winnetou sat there with his eyelashes as low as possible, and a rigid face. If he had wanted to speak, then he would have done so with the knife, not his voice. Hence, I took it upon myself to reply, and said:

“Tell me whether I’m mistaken or not when I say that you’re Old Cursing-Dry!”

He had also been seated, but immediately leapt up, pulled out his knife and snapped at me:

“What…what…who am I…what did you call me? Do you want me to stick this knife into your [ ] belly? I shall do so if you don’t immediately apologize and…”

“Shut up!” I cut him short as I pulled out one of my revolvers and aimed it at him. “The slightest move with the knife and you’ll have a bullet in your head! Old Shatterhand is not a man who submits to being stabbed as easily as you seem to think. You can see that Winnetou has his revolver ready to shoot as well! You’ve encountered men who are used to making short work of such issues. You will have noticed that my finger is on the trigger. Be brief and give me the answer to my question whether or not you are Old Cursing-Dry.”

His eyes flashed up with a treacherous glint; but he realized that he was at a disadvantage against us; he placed the knife back into his belt, sat down again, and with apparent calm said:

“My name is Fletcher; I don’t care how other [ ] scoundrels call me, and it is none of your business!”

“Oho! It is very much our business what kind of fellow joins our company! Dick Hammerdull, did you know that this man is Old Cursing-Dry?”

“No,” Dick was embarrassed.
“How long have you been together?”
“It will probably be a week or so. Don’t you think

so, Pitt Holbers, ol’ coon?”
“If you think, Dick, that it is that long, then it will

likely be correct,” Holbers replied.
“Whether it is correct or not is inconsequential, but

it is precisely one week, not more or less.”
“In that case you should have noticed his cussing!”

I said.
“His cussing? Well, yes! Of course, occasionally, I

thought that he could express himself a little more mannerly, but I didn’t know that he is Old Cursing- Dry.”

“In that case I won’t comment; had you known his identity, and still brought him to us, well…you definitely know what I want to say. There won’t be any foul language in our presence; we don’t tolerate expletives, and those who don’t like it must leave as quickly as possible, if they don’t want to be forced to leave! Enough of that! We have more pressing matters to discuss. We were expecting you to join us with four more men; have they fallen into the hands of the Pa- Ute?”

“Last night.” “Where?”
“At the Rio San Juan.” “In what manner?”

“Whether in this manner or that manner is inconsequential; I neither know the means nor the manner.”

“I don’t understand that. Surely you know what happened!”

“That would be correct if it had happened in our presence, Mr Shatterhand.”

“Ah, you weren’t with the others?”

“No; we had gone to shoot meat, and because we did not immediately find game, we went quite a stretch away from the camp. It was dark when we returned, and we would have walked into the Pa- Ute’s arms quite unsuspectingly, if not Mr Fletcher had met and warned us.”

“Go on! Were you on horseback?”
“Yes, because we had tried to hunt antelope.” “And Fletcher was also riding?”
“Of course! When he met us, we hid the horses

and sneaked back to the camp, which the Pa-Ute had taken over in the meantime. We got so close that we could see our eight companions; they were tied up and were lying in the middle of the Indians.”

“None of them were dead?”
“No, not even wounded.”
“Hm, very odd! Didn’t you hear any shots?”
“No, we had gone too far from the camp.”
“Were there no traces of a battle having taken

“Two Indians lay dead next to the fire.”
“That’s even more peculiar! Did you listen to what

the others were saying?”
“Whether we listened or not is inconsequential;

they spoke not one word. We had risked too much already, and needed to see to it that we got to safety. Hence we soon went back to our horses and rode away.”

“Where to?”

“To here, of course, because we had no other option but to find you, and then, with the aid of the Navajo, to free the captured friends. Hence I suggest we immediately depart for Agua Grande, and…”

“Patience!” I interrupted him. “We’re not that far by a long shot. We must first gain clarity about what happened, before we can make a decision. The two Indian corpses are a priority. Who killed the two Indians? Do you perhaps know that Mr Fletcher?”

“Leave me in peace!” he rudely replied. “What business of mine are those red scoundrels!”

“Don’t you have any interest in your white friends, who are also captured?”

“If my son and a nephew weren’t among them, then they could also go to [ ]!”

“Listen here, mind your language, or else we’ll chase you away, and you can then see how you can free your relatives! We’re prepared to help, but must unconditionally demand to hear the truth. So, you don’t know how the Indians were killed?”

“Then tell me how the attack happened.”
“I can’t say that, either, because I wasn’t there.” “Were you also away from the camp? And where?” “Getting meat.”
“Was it your turn to go hunting?”
“No; but I became bored, and so I rode off. When

I returned after dusk, I heard the war howls of the redskins in the camp that had been attacked. I could do nothing but ride towards Mr Hammerdull and Mr Holbers, in order to warn them. That’s all I know of this [ ] story.”

“How many Pa-Ute are there approximately?”

“There could be as many as three hundred. If we could get only half as many Navajo, then I’d like to assert that I would drive the life out of the [ ] bellies of these [ ] scoundrels, so that…”

“Be quiet!” the Apache thundered at him. He had not said anything thus far. “It is you who killed the two Pa-Ute!”

“No, it wasn’t me!”
“That is a lie. You are the murderer!”
The gazes of the two men locked. The bronze

features of Winnetou were cold and proud like those of a king, while on Fletcher’s face burned unchecked frenzy. The latter was unable to hold the gaze of the Apache for longer than a few seconds; he was forced to lower his, but lifted his fingers as if making an oath, and said:

“I shall go blind or be smashed if I am a murderer! That says enough, and now leave me in peace with your [ ] red devils!”

A chilly shiver of horror ran down my back. I also deemed him to be the murderer, but didn’t say it. And then there were his expressions. They meant to deliberately challenge divine judgement with unpre- cedented godlessness and impudence! My tongue refused to form words; Winnetou, however, rose, and said in the tone of a prophet, before whose spiritual eye the coming events lay unveiled:

“This blaspheming paleface has immediately upon his arrival condemned the entire red race, therefore all of my brothers, as well as me. Winnetou remained silent about it, because he knows that Manitou will transform the curse of evil into blessings and charity. But now the blasphemer has provoked the great and fair Manitou directly, and has challenged him to exact retribution; he put up the light of his eyes, and the health of his limbs in a bet with the Almighty. Winnetou sees the divine judgment deliver the sentence over him, and he does not wish to have anything to do with him. Manitou knows, just as Old Shatterhand and I do, that this man is the murderer, and the Almighty will do to him as he proclaimed. Howgh!”

After the Apache sat down again, it would have been impossible for Hammerdull, Holbers, or me to immediately say anything; Fletcher, on the other hand, jumped up and repeated his profanities in a way that pulled me to my feet immediately; I walked over to him, raised my fist, and snapped at him:

“Shut up immediately, mister, otherwise I’ll knock you down like vermin whose death is a blessing for other creatures! I also renounce you. No matter what happens, you cannot expect any help from us!”

He cringed, yet had enough temerity to mock us, and with a half loud voice said:

“Then renounce me in [ ] name! I don’t need you, since this is not about me, but about the prisoners. So that’s all the assistance one can expect from these two very famous Westerners. Thank you!”

“You mustn’t thank us, because you no longer have the right to call on us. But as far as the captives go, we’ll do everything in our power. If salvation is possible, it will happen.”

“In that case we must make haste! You will realize that we cannot afford to lose another minute, Mr Shatterhand,” Dick Hammerdull said. “Don’t you think so, too, Pitt Holbers, ol’ coon?”

“Hm!” the tall Yankee pensively grunted. “If I reflect on it, then it seems to me that we could do no better than to rely on Mr Shatterhand and Mr Winnetou. They are smarter than you are, old Dick, not to mention me!”

“It would have been better if you had said nothing at all! A coon like you ought not speak at all!”

“Alright! And since you’re definitely correct with that assumption, I request that, in future, you don’t ask me any more questions; which means that this ol’ coon can keep his mouth shut.”

Of course, that was meant as a joke, because those two did not seriously engage in an argument. That would have been entirely against the characteristicsof The Two Toasts. I prompted Dick Hammerdull to precisely describe the location of their camp. He did, and then said:

“But the Indians will most likely no longer be there; I’m rather certain that they are coming after us in pursuit. Hence my urgent request to ride on as soon as possible.”

“You’re mistaken, Dick,” I replied. “You’re not being pursued. If the Pa-Ute knew that three of the Whites had escaped, then they would already be in view. They definitely think that they caught all of the men that had been at the camp.”

“But our trail? Surely they’ll see from the tracks that we have been out hunting, and have therefore not been present during the attack!”

“The attack happened last night after dusk, and your tracks would have been so indistinct this morning that the Pa-Ute could no longer determine when they had been created, whether it was before or after the event. And your comrades will beware from revealing you to the Indians, since their liberation depends on you. In addition, the Pa-Ute are on the warpath, and can therefore not drag the two corpses along. They’ll bury the dead there. Although they’re forced to shorten the ceremonies, they will not be done before noon tomorrow, and therefore not depart any earlier. Besides, they’re not in a hurry, since they must wait for the return of their two scouts, of whom they don’t know that they have fallen into the hands of the Navajo. Do you understand now that we’ve got time?”

“Whether we have time or not is inconsequential; but I’ll follow your decision, because you really are smarter than Pitt Holbers, the ol’ coon. He said so himself.”

“Not to mention you, dear Dick!” Holbers butted in with comical sobriety.

“You had better be quiet! It was you who said that you don’t want to talk anymore. What do you think you’ll do, Mr Shatterhand?”

“Winnetou will decide that. I have conducted the investigation; hence I will leave the rest to him.”

Winnetou and I knew each other like rarely two human beings do. During decisive moments, very often it seemed as though we were one soul, and had only one thought. What one of us spoke out aloud, the other had already quietly deemed as correct. And so it was in that case.

Faraway Fables, short Marienkalender Stories by Karl May translated into English by Marlies Bugmann