APACHES by Oakley Hall


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The final defeat of the Apaches in New Mexico--gritty, classic Western action from Oakley (Warlock, 1958; The Badlands, 1978), who may be the living master of the genre. It's New Mexico Territory, sometime in the 1880's, and Lieutenant Pat Cutler of the United States Calvary is leading a detachment of Indian scouts against Caballito, a chief of the Sierra Verde Apaches who has just led his tribe off the reservation and is cutting a bloody trail toward the sanctuary of Mexico. While Cutler had at first considered the Apaches ""gut-eaters, torturers, ruthless savages, Stone Age men,"" he learns to respect them for their courage and endurance; and after Caballito is (peaceably, this time) brought back to the reservation, he finds out that the Verdes are being cheated by a cabal of corrupt Indian agents and venal merchants, a ring of powerful men in Madison City, near Cutler's fort. But Curler is powerless to do anything against the Madison Ring himself; he's a mustang lieutenant who grew up in a San Francisco whorehouse, has been known to use his fists in arguments with fellow officers, and is kept from court martial only by a powerful mentor, General Yeager (who may or may not be his father). The Apaches are squeezed harder and harder, and Caballito finally leads them off the reservation again; Cutler is forced to follow, with orders to destroy them, but his prickly integrity forces him to try to parley with Caballito--only to see the chief and the entire tribe surprised and slaughtered by savage Mexican irregulars, who take scalps ""with a practiced motion, as of farmers harvesting some tough, low-growing crop."" Despite receiving the Medal of Honor for his part in the action, Cutler resigns his commission when General Yaeger is forced out of power and heads for Mexico himself, almost like a vanquished Apache. In sum: a novel rich in history and Western personality, and permeated with a palpable sadness, a deep sense of loss at the destruction of an entire culture. And Hall's prose is the literary equivalent of a Howard Hawks movie: ""A faint track led through red plains, snaking east toward a purple range that hazed the horizon like smoke.

Pub Date: July 18th, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster