Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

This carefully researched portrait of Cochise and description of Apache life and activities in Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley, although written in 1953, is still valuable today. Written at a time when most children’s books depicted Native Americans as the “savages” encountered by frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone, this book presents a corrective picture of the Native Americans of the West. Here, the arrogant, greedy, and ignorant whites (and there are many of them) stereotype Native Americans as savages. The intelligent men, such as Jeffords and General Howard, recognize some as peaceful, some as belligerent, some as friends. Wyatt distinguishes among the Apache tribes, and he recognizes the face of a civilized leader in another culture. In his portrait of Cochise as a leader and a human being as well as in his descriptions of Apache life, Wyatt anticipates the revisionist look at Native American life and culture of the 1960’s.

The book introduces young people to Native American culture. It shows the intimacy of the Chiricahua (meaning “people from the mountain”) with their physical environment. Young boys of fourteen test their skill in this environment by going into the desert alone without food or water for fourteen days. Wyatt suggests the Chiricahuas’ habit of metaphorical thinking. They attack like the hawk and the jaguar; they immobilize a town, severing one root at a time as if it were a tree. The book shows their sense of spiritual unity with and reverence for the physical world. “With the sun’s permission, I go out to battle. May the sun go with me,” Nachalo, the medicine man, chants. The many occasions for ceremony show the role of ceremony and ritual in fostering the tribe’s communal unity and strength. Cochise’s closeness to his wife and children expresses the significance of the familial unit as well. The theme of this work ensures its place in the literature for young people. It portrays sympathetically an American leader of another culture, and it prepares young readers to approach with pleasure and understanding the many Native American writers of today.