Spring equinox in the southern hemisphere has just been and gone, and I thought about the unusual opening to Karl May’s last Wild West novel, because it, too began in spring…
It was in the early hours of a warm, beautiful and promising spring day. A beloved sunbeam greeted me through the window saying: “God’s salutation!” That’s when ‘Herzle’ came up from the floor below and brought me the first morning mail the postman had just delivered. She sat down opposite me, like she does several times a day, as often as mail arrives, and set about opening the envelopes to present their contents to me. But before she can begin with it, I hear the question in my mind:
“Who’s Herzle? Nobody is really called that. It must be a term of endearment.”
And, yes, it is a term of affection! [Herz = heart] It originated in my first volume of Tales From The Villages In The Ore Mountain [Erzgebirgische Dorfgeschichten]. The Germanic ending of ‘le’ at the end of a noun creates the diminutive form of that noun. So, for example, in said book there are many ‘le’ diminutives—for a small mountain, a small village, a small garden, and a small house, in which ‘Herzle’ and her mother live. The ‘Herzle’ of the Ore Mountain stories is not the physical, but rather the emotional reflection of my wife. When I became fond of the portrait I was creating for the story, I called it ‘Herzle’. It was a foregone conclusion that the term of endearment would gradually also be transferred to the original, my wife. But not always! When there are clouds in the sky, which is always my own fault, I say ‘Klara’. Are the clouds about to disappear, I say ‘Klaerchen’ [the ending ‘chen’ with ‘a’ turning into ‘ae’ is another version of Germanic diminutive]. And when they’re gone, I say ‘Herzle’. My wife, though, always calls me ‘Herzle’, because she never causes clouds.
While my room occupies the upper floor, she calls the entire ground floor hers. There, she attends to her duties as an untiring and diligent housekeeper, receives the growing number of readers who visit me, and writes replies to the many letters I cannot possibly give personal attention to any longer. However, they are all read to me whereby she puts the most important or particularly interesting ones temporarily aside, to be read at the conclusion of the mail reading.
So it was that day as well. When everything else had been taken care of, two items remained. They had looked like special items right from the start and had, therefore, been kept separate, namely a letter from America and an anthropological magazine from Austria. Inside the latter the title of a longer article had been marked in blue. The heading read: ‘The Extinction of the Indian Race in America and its Displacement by Caucasians and Chinese’. I asked Herzle to read the article right away because, coincidentally, I had some spare time. She did. The author was a well-known, outstanding university professor. He wrote with great empathy and everything he said about the Red Indians was not only pleasing, but also fair. I could have shaken hands with him on it. Yet, he committed one error that is as common as it is incomprehensible. To be precise, he mistook the Indians of North America for the entire Indian race that occupies North and South America. Furthermore, he mistook the spiritual dormancy of the race for its physical death. In addition, he seemed to perceive humanity’s main task to be that of developing peoples’ cultural and individual particularities, instead of progressively spreading the recognition of a necessary and gradual unification; a unification that incorporates all tribes, peoples, nations, and races to create a great and noble human race, elevated far above any animal traits. Only when mankind has given birth to a harmonic, blessed personality, from within itself, conceived by God, the creation of the true human will be complete and paradise will again become open to us mortals.
The letter from America had most likely been posted in the Far West, but we couldn’t determine exactly where. Both sides of the unopened envelope were covered by so many cancellation marks and handwritten place names that nothing had remained legible. Only the address, due to its genuine Indian economy of language, had retained its distinctiveness. It consisted of only three words: “May. Radebeul, Germany”.
We opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of paper, which had evidently been cut with a large blade, most likely a Bowie knife, and then folded. It contained the following lines written in pencil by a heavy, untrained hand:
To Old Shatterhand
Are you coming to Mount Winnetou? I certainly will. Maybe even Avaht-Niah, the one-hundred-and-twenty-year-old. Can you see that I can write? And that I have done so in the language of the palefaces?
Wagare-Tey Chief of the Shoshone
After we had read it, I looked at Herzle in surprise, and she at me. Not that we were astonished for having received a letter from the Far West, and from an Indian at that. This happens often enough. The fact that the letter was from the chief of the Snake Indians, who hadn’t written to me before, was the cause of my astonishment. His name, Wagare-Tey, means as much as Yellow Elk. For more about him, please read my novel “Holy Night!”. Back then, more than thirty years ago, he was still young and rather inexperienced, but a decent, honest person and a loyal, reliable friend to Winnetou and me. His father, Avaht-Niah, was more than eighty years old at the time, a man of honour through and through, and he only ever used his enormous influence for our benefit. Because of his great age, and because I had not heard from him again, I believed he had died. But at that point, I read in the letter that he was very much alive and in good physical and mental health. Had that not been the case, the writer of the letter could not possibly have said that the highest war chief of the Shoshone could perhaps also be travelling to Mount Winnetou.
I didn’t have the faintest idea where the mountain was located. I only knew that the Apache and other friendly tribes had tried to find and agree upon a mountain sufficiently appropriate by its characteristics and importance in order to name it after their most revered chief. I hadn’t heard that it had been effected and had been told even less about their choice of mountain. However, I had enough imagination to envisage it wasn’t one that lay outside the Apache territory. And because the Snake Indians’ camps and grazing grounds lay many days’ riding to the north, it was certainly an extraordinary case that a man of over one hundred and twenty years would trust himself to make such a journey, not driven by need, but only by his heart that had remained young.
And why did he want to accompany his son so far south? I didn’t know. Neither did I find a clear answer to that question despite some keen and complicated lines of thought. I couldn’t do anything else but wait and wonder whether similar letters from other involved parties were going to arrive. It was impossible to respond to the Shoshone letter because I didn’t know the whereabouts of the two chiefs. Obviously, it was no insignificant reason that had prompted them to plan a visit to the far away Apache hunting grounds. I assumed the reason did not only pertain to specific personal circumstances, but also had a more general significance. Because my address was known in many places of the Far West, and I corresponded with many people there, about whom I have told in my books and intend to tell in the future, I had hope to soon find out more.
As always, thought precedes action! Barely two weeks later a second letter arrived, from someone I had least expected to hear news, or even receive a letter. The envelope showed exactly the same address as the previous one and its contents read:
Come to Mount Winnetou for the great, final battle! And, at last, give me your scalp, which you owe me for almost two life times!
This is written by To-Kei-Chun, Chief of the Racurroh Comanche
Only a week later, another letter arrived with the same address and the note:
If you have courage, then come to Mount Winnetou! The last bullet I have is yearning for you!
Tangua, Oldest chief of the Kiowa
Written by Pida, his son, the current chief of the Kiowa, whose soul greets yours.
Both letters were extremely interesting, not only psychologically. It almost seemed To-Kei-Chun’s and Tangua’s had been written at the same place and under the same influence. Both men were still as hostile towards me as ever. It was very peculiar that Tangua’s son greeted me despite the prevailing hatred, yet I didn’t find it difficult to understand his gratitude. However, the fact that the Apache’s enemies were also planning to travel to Mount Winnetou was much, much more important than anything else. They were talking of a ‘great, last battle’. That sounded extremely dangerous. I started to become worried, seriously worried! Or was there someone over there, perhaps an old erstwhile adversary, who wanted to play a practical joke and send me up the garden path to America in my advanced years? However, two weeks later I received the following letter, which had been posted in Oklahoma and was a document I could trust completely:
My dear white brother!
Great Manitou in my heart calls upon me to tell you that a league of old chiefs and a league of young chiefs have been called to Mount Winnetou to bring the palefaces to trial and to decide on the future of the Red Man. You will attend, and so will I. My soul is looking forward to meet yours. I count the days, hours and minutes until I see you!
Your red brother,
Shahko Matto, chief of the Osage.
That letter, too, had been written in English, by Shahko Matto’s son, whose handwriting I recognized because we regularly exchanged correspondence. In addition, the chief had also included his leather totem, which he always did when he wrote about something important. Hence, I could do away with all thoughts of a prank. The matter was real and serious. The thought of travelling across to America attained great priority. Of course, before transforming the thought into action, I required more details and more certainty. That wasn’t long in forthcoming. I received a large, formal-looking letter, which had the purpose of being an invitation but, because of the tone of voice, would more correctly have been described as a writ. It read:
At the previous year’s gathering of the chiefs the unanimous decision was made to call the most suitable mountain of the Rocky Mountains henceforth by the name of the most famous chief of all red nations. For that purpose, the choice fell on the mountain where the mystical medicine man, Tatellah-Satah, retired. It ought to be known to you at least by its geographical location. At the foot or, rather, on the steps of that mountain, the following assemblies are to convene this coming September:
- The camp gathering of the old chiefs. 2. The camp gathering of the young chiefs. 3. The camp gathering of the chiefs’ wives. 4. The camp gathering of all other famous red men and women. 5. A concluding meeting under the direction of the undersigned. It is left to your discretion to present yourself in person to the chairman or his deputy, at which time the subject of the gatherings will be made known to you. Concurrently, your attention is being drawn to the fact that the meetings, as well as the preparations leading up to them, are to be kept secret from members of other races. We herewith place the obligation on you to observe strictest discretion and are justified in assuming that we have already received your solemn reassurance to remain silent. You are requested to personally collect the number tabs for the seats assigned to you during our gatherings from the undersigned. All speeches addressing the subject in question are to be held in English for the purpose of better understanding.
Sincerely, The Committee.
Signed: Simon Bell (Tsho-Lo-Let), Professor of Philosophy, Chairman. Edward Summer (Ti-Iskama), Professor of Classical Philology, Deputy. William Evening (Pe-Widah), Secretary Antonius Paper (Okih-Tshin-Tsha), Controller Old Surehand, Special Assignments and Director
At the very bottom of the document was a private remark written by Old Surehand himself:
I hope that you will attend, no matter what. Consider my house yours, even if we’re not home. Unfortunately, I’m constantly travelling at present in the capacity of director. There will be a very pleasant surprise waiting for you. The achievement of our two boys will delight you.
Your loyal Old Surehand.
I’ll add the following, shorter letter, which arrived soon after. It read:
My Brother! I know that you are invited. Please don’t neglect to present yourself! I cannot describe how much I look forward to seeing you again. The two boys will write to you separately.
Chief of the Kanean Comanche
The ‘two boys’ wrote:
When you once directed us away from our false, mundane path of art, in no uncertain terms, towards a more elevated, perfect one, we promised only to step into the public eye when we were capable of delivering the evidence that the red race is in no way less talented than any other, also with regard to art, by means of genuine and incontestable masterpieces. We inherited our talent from our grandmother who, as you know, was a full-blooded Indian woman and, in fact, a full-blooded Indian warrior in a purely exterior sense. We are ready to provide the evidence you demanded. You had given us the promise to visit when the time had arrived for the examination of our work, despite the great distance. We are of the opinion that we need not fear such an examination and anticipate your arrival mid- September at Mount Winnetou, where we will welcome you. We learnt that you are invited, as is only proper, to participate in the secret and very important deliberations, and are convinced that nothing will keep you from arriving in time at the place in question.
With greatest respect we are faithfully yours,
The letter was well constructed. It gave me pleasure, although the ‘two boys’ had only formulated it in this manner for the purpose of giving me a decent nudge. Those who have read my two travel stories Winnetou and Old Surehand can easily imagine who the two boys are. Those who haven’t read them yet are reminded to catch up on it in order to understand this volume, which is also the fourth volume of Old Surehand and Satan and Ischariot at the same time.
As the readers will recall, it came to light that Old Surehand and Apanatshka are brothers, who had been stolen from their mother, a physically, emotionally and spiritually highly gifted Indian woman. In order to find her children, she had searched the cities of the East, as well as the prairies and forests for many long years, disguised as an Indian warrior by the name of Kolma Putshi, without reaching her goal. Then, Winnetou and I were successful in discovering the tracks she had been searching for and, consequently, also her two sons. One of them was a famous Frontiersman and the other a no less famous Comanche chief, two very worthy people who have remained loyal to me in friendship, despite all the changes their lives, as well as mine, had undergone since that time.