The Eight-year Novel, Part 3

The ungentlemanly Country Gentleman had given Ed a stiff blow, but he quickly moved on.

With his hopes of entering the hallowed ranks of the slicks dashed, Ed turned the book over to Munsey and McClurg. Bray was still at McClurg, but Davis was gone and his replacement was Matthew White, 69 years old and the editor for Argosy since 1886. White wanted a shorter title than The War Chief of the Apaches, and suggested, “Apache,” “The Big Chief,” or “The Good Indian.” “Apache” might have confused book buyers into thinking that it was about the notorious Parisian Apaches, muggers and criminal gangsters of Europe. Ed wasn’t happy with any of the alternate titles, for good reason, and The War Chief was finally settled on.

Ed was very tough on errors or changes in the page proofs. He’d worked with both companies long enough and had a reputation guaranteed to sell magazines and books. He could demand some respect and afford to stand up to his editors when he felt it was necessary. He’d sweated over this book and was determined to see it printed the way he had planned it. He was very polite about it in this note found years later in the manuscript for The War Chief:

The preparation of the manuscript required considerable research work and as it is necessary for the reader to be able to understand the viewpoint of the Indian, if he is to be in sympathy with the principal character, it is essential that much of the matter deleted should remain even though it draws comparisons that may be odious to some people of our own race and sometimes shocking to people whose religious convictions are particularly strong.

“I have gone over the ‘copy’ carefully and have indicated a number of phrases, sentences and paragraphs deleted by them, which I wish to have retained.

“I should also call your attention to an Indian name and an Indian word concerning which the magazine editor and I seem not to agree.
The name is that of a famous Apache Chief, Mangas Colorado, variously spelled Mangus and Magnus. From a very old book I obtained the suggestion of the derivation of this name, which in Spanish means colored sleeves. The author supposed that the name may have been given to him by the Mexicans, either because of the garment he wore with colored sleeves or from the fact that his sleeves or arms were stained with the blood of his victims.

“The other word to which I refer is Izze-Kloth, which the magazine editor insisted on changing to Izze-Colth. My authority for this spelling is an article by John G. Bourke, THE MEDICINE MAN OF THE APACHES, which appeared in the annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology for 1887 and 1888.

“The magazine editor deleted what evidently appeared to him tiresome descriptions of Indian customs, such as burial ceremonies and the decoration of the bodies of medicine men, but as there is not a great deal of this and I believe that it is all based on good authority, it should be permitted to remain.”

Perhaps in order to soften his departure from pure pulp romance for both White and Bray, ERB told them that this would be the first of a trilogy, with Shoz-Dijiji going back to his white roots and marrying the white ranch girl Wichita Billings in the last volume. “New and original stuff!” he told Bray. Whether or not he actually intended a trilogy, he did manage to wrap everything up in a sequel.

The War Chief was published in Argosy All-Story Weekly as a five-part serial from April 16 to May 14, 1927 with a dubious cover by Paul Stahr on the first installment and a nice pen and ink head-piece on each segment by Roger B. Morrison.

Joe Bray at McClurg seems to have given Burroughs the most trouble. He was wary about what appeared to be “too much history,” thought the opening was too slow, and wasn’t comfortable with the scalping of two gold prospectors, even though they are not shown in a good light: “[it] creates in one a feeling of disgust.” However, Bray conceded that the trend in literature was moving toward realism and the actions were true to character.

On July 1, Ed returned the manuscript and the galley proofs to Bray with blunt and forceful disapproval. There were changes to his style, and worse, whole paragraphs were missing. “The manuscript should be read carefully for grammatical errors, many of which your readers missed. They should not attempt to alter my copy or change my style. … I write into my stories the things that I wish there. If they happen to offend the sensibilities of a proofreader or an editor, I am sorry, but no one has the right to do more than suggest changes—not make them.”

In telling the tale of Shoz-Dijiji and Geronimo from the native point of view, it was natural for Ed to make some comparisons between them and “civilized” whites. These comments—Ed had made similar ones in some of the Tarzan books—about the hypocrisies and weaknesses of white civilization, were the paragraphs that had been cut out of the galleys. Even more important, he asserted, the reader should understand that for the Apaches, “everything connected with their life and activity on the war trail was in the nature of religious rites, which puts a very different aspect upon their characters than if it were assumed that they were merely black hearted murderers.” This was a book that ERB believed in and he wanted it published as written and presented as nicely as possible.

On July 5 he got the color proofs for the dust-jacket and hit the roof. His blood pressure must have gone to record levels. The jacket carried the dubious and generic “Indian with a bow and arrow” painting that Paul Stahr had done for part one in Argosy All-Story Weekly.

“The figure of the Indian is not of an Apache, it does not look like an Indian and is homely as Hell. I did not mind so much when I saw it on the magazine cover, but I was nearly sick when I saw that you had adopted it for the book, as I was sure St. John would do something really worth while for it.

“There is nothing of the atmosphere or coloring of Arizona in the foliage or background; in fact the whole thing is atrocious and if the picture can kill sales, I am confident that this one will.”

It was July 5, 1927 and The War Chief was due to hit the bookstores in September.

After sending off the angry letter telling Bray what he thought of the cover, Ed wrote a second letter the same day hoping that McClurg would commission a new illustration. He suggested that Bray get copies of a couple of the books he had used for his research. Those would have photos of Apaches as well as information as to what kind of clothing, paint and ornaments were worn on the war trail.

Bray made the mistake of penning a sarcastic reply three days later remarking that Ed must have been expecting “an Adonis” on the cover.

Not a good idea. Ed got as angry as he had ever gotten at Bray. On July 13 he replied about his months of research and the $100.00 [$1,419.00 in 2019 money] he’d spent on books for that research. He reiterated his opinion of the jacket and what that meant as to McClurg’s treatment of him as one of their top authors. It put the book “in the yellow covered, dime novel category at the first glance. It is cheap and tawdry and untrue.” Anyone who saw it would feel “that the text is as worthless and as full of errors as the jacket … You do not have to tell me why this jacket was selected. It was solely because it was bought cheap from Munsey and a couple of hundred dollars saved. If I wrote my stories for you in that spirit, you would not buy them.”

Two weeks later, without hearing anything back, on July 27 Ed wrote again to Bray: “I have not as yet received any assurance from you that The War Chief is going to be published as written. If it is not, I am going to the mat with A.C. McClurg and Company as I certainly would never wish to quarrel with you.”

Nothing further was said by either Bray or Burroughs, however, on August 4, undaunted by his problems with both the magazine editors and McClurg, Ed started writing the sequel to The War Chief, titled Apache Devil. He side-stepped both his nemeses by publishing that novel himself, from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. in 1933.

On September 15, 1927, The War Chief was published by A.C. McClurg & Co. Though it contained the full text that Ed had written, the presentation was still lacking. The objectionable Paul Stahr art had been retained. The binding’s titling was a muddle with a head wearing a standard “Indian War Bonnet” on both the front cover and the spine. The title page was a page-tall drawing of a cliff with the silhouette of an unremarkable Indian on horseback at the top and a sketchy drawing of pine trees, hills and buttes at the bottom. None of this art is indicative of an Apache warrior.

Burroughs had good cause to be angry. His editors disregarded the fact that this was a book that had authoritative research behind it. He never wrote stories that way. The War Chief was the first fictional account, based on respected sources, of the life of an Apache warrior, and the first to tell the truth about the feelings of the Apache towards the white man and his invasion of the Southwest.

Stories of Apache raids were still prevalent among settler’s families in the 1920s. As recent as sixty years previous grandpa and grandma had experienced the fear engendered by the tales of scalping, torture and murder committed by the “blood-thirsty savages” who wanted to make life hell for white settlers. Even in the 1920s there were reports of “Bronco” or non-reservation Apaches living in the Sierra Madres, still making raids on isolated white communities for horses and cattle. Whether folklore or rural legend almost all whites of the time were familiar with and completely accepted the image of the horrifying Apaches and their inhuman treatment of white captives. Prejudice was overwhelmingly common among the white majority who preferred their natives, as The Country Gentleman did: well-tamed and well-behaved.

Ed’s interest, kindled by his short time in the 7th Cavalry, his time in the stationery store in Pocatello, and his amazing and persistent imagination, had lead him to one of the most “anti-civilization” cultures in North American history. The Apaches rarely cooperated with other plains or mountain natives, they were effectively nomads, moving from one camp site to another throughout the large area of the southwest that they ruled. They were feared for good reason, but they fought for good reason as well. Their land and their way of life was disappearing to the white man and there was little they could do to stop it.

Ed Burroughs had written a book in which he had projected all his own frustrations with the loss of freedom and the limitations of civilization that he had felt sub-consciously since he first penned Tarzan of the Apes. He’d brought the idea up to the surface eight years ago in 1919 and tried to find a home for it back then, unsuccessfully. His frustration with the lack of sensitivity displayed by McClurg through their off-handed use of second rate art for a book he had sweated over would culminate four years later in his micromanagement of the cover art demands on his nephew Studley. Then, with control over the production of his work, he insisted on a presentation for Apache Devil which would reflect the truth of the Apache soul. Too bad he couldn’t get it from McClurg.

But maybe that can be fixed now. Find out how by clicking here.

(Click on any of the art in this post to see a larger image)

12 thoughts on “The Eight-year Novel, Part 3”

    1. Probably not right away, but it would be worthwhile to discuss the sequel and see how it stands up the this first one. Thanks for reading.

  1. Phil: You’ve written a powerful conclusion for your 3-part essay on THE WAR CHIEF. You have written a cogent reason for readers to re-evaluate this powerful novel, placing it into the realm of important historical fiction. Your readers, like myself, are left wondering what your final sentence meant: “But maybe that can be fixed now.” I, for one, will wait for your answer!

    1. Thanks very much, Robert! That little stinger at the end of this part will lead into something that I think a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans and collectors have wanted for a long time. Thanks for your patient interest.

  2. What a frustrating time of it Burroughs had with Argosy and then that struggle was repeated with McClurg. Should I assume Part 4, the grand conclusion, will offer a corrected cover???? One can only hope.

  3. “They were feared for good reason, but they fought for good reason as well.” Is this observation you make at the heart of ERB’s struggle getting the eight-year novel to readers in the form he chose? Rather a gripping tale you tell, Phil—well done!

    1. Yes, very much. ERB took the Apache’s side and pulled no punches when calling out the white invaders. No one really wanted to hear that in the early 20th century. They barely want to hear it now!

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