THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES WILLARD SCHULTZ (APIKUNI) by Warren L. Hanna

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES WILLARD SCHULTZ (APIKUNI)

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Flat as a prairie, lumbering as a Conestoga wagon, as seemingly endless as a Montana winter, this biography will do little to revive interest in Schultz as a kind of latter-day Fenimore Cooper. Such is obviously biographer Hanna's intention, but after a few chapters it becomes apparent that Hanna is beating a very dead cayuse. Schultz was one of those Eastern ""tenderfeet"" (Theodore Roosevelt was the most famous) who headed West in the last decades of the 19th century to seek their fortunes on ""the frontier."" Arriving in Montana Territory in 1877, the 18-year-old Schultz linked up with Joseph Kipp, a trader who was making big business out of buying buffalo hides from the Indians and selling blankets, beads and booze in return. Schultz quickly ingratiated himself with the Blackfoot tribe, who renamed him ""Apikuni"" or ""Scabby White Robe."" Soon, the young man was galloping off on war parties and hunting expeditions, abducting maidens from neighboring tribes for his Blackfoot friends--or so he later claimed. He did marry a Blackfoot woman whom he loved dearly and sired a son; the records are clear on that. It seems, however, from later evidence that he actually spent more time behind trading-post counters than around tribal council fires. (Schultz had a tendency to ""color"" his stories as time went on.) Whatever the truth, after his wife's death and several years spent guiding late-arriving ""tenderfeet"" through what is now Glacier National Park, Schultz started writing about his experiences in such works as My Life as an Indian, a best seller in the first decade of this century. He turned out an astonishing number of adventures, most of them for ""boys' magazines"" and all of them scarcely remembered today. Away from the frontier--he was on the lam from the Montana Department of Game and Fish--his life became vaguely sordid. There were more brushes with the law; a disastrous mail-order marriage, followed by divorce; alcoholism and, for a while, morphine addiction; constant cadging for money. His third wife finally managed to direct his failing energies to espousing the cause of Native American rights, and his last years were relatively tranquil and productive. Had Schultz been a better writer (or a bigger rapscallion) than he apparently was, there might be greater impact to his story. As it is, there is just too little historical, and even less literary, interest here. Hanna's intentions are laudable, but finally it's a case of ""Pull the wagons into a circle.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma Press