Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eskimo Trouble

Last week, we looked at an early issue of Dell's Indian Chief and examined a story featuring a one-off character.

But starting with the 12th issue, Indian Chief became the home for a reoccurring character. White Eagle is a young chief of the Sioux. He's a man who believes in peace--not an easy position to have as the leader of a tribe that values bravery in battle.

But White Eagle has several things going for him. First, when he has to fight, he's really, really good at it. Perhaps more importantly, he's smart and fully capable of coming up with clever plans to foil the enemies of the Sioux and those in his own tribe who want to get rid of him.

Indian Chief #21 (Jan-March 1956) gives us a good example of White Eagle's virtues. The tale is called "Invaders from the North."

It's one of the coldest winters anyone can remember. Fresh game is getting hard to find and "the biting north wind pierces every crack in the hide tents" of the Sioux village.

Two Indians, obviously starving, stumble into the village. White Eagle doesn't recognize their tribe or understand their language, but he gives them food and shelter regardless.

He soon learns that the strangers are called Eskimos and their tribe is drifting south in a desperate search for food. This presents the Sioux chief with a bit of a dilemma--there's barely enough food in the area for his people and the neighboring Crow tribe. If the Eskimos continue south, there simply won't
be enough for everyone.

The Crow chief wants to attack the Eskimos right away. So White Eagle and a couple of companions make a dangerous trek north to meet the advancing Eskimos. White Eagle hopes to get them to agree to turn east towards an unclaimed hunting ground.

But treachery is afoot. Soon, White Eagle and one of his friends find themselves stranded in the trackless snows while the Eskimos continue their march south to almost certain destruction. The two Sioux must make a dangerous journey over the icy slope of a mountain if they going to prevent disaster.

Like last week's tale about Fleet Hawk, this is a well-constructed adventure story with a strong and likable hero. The art this time is by John Daly and does a remarkable job of keeping the tale visually interesting despite a potentially monotonous snow-scape for a background. Daly's shifting "camera" angle and attention to detail make the snowy setting a strength rather than a weakness.

I first ran across both these stories as a kid--they were both back-up tales a Gold Key Turok Son of Stone digest magazine. Those digests were always a bit lazy about including the original source of those stories, so it was years before I found out where these wonderful tales came from--and to confirm that White Eagle was a reoccurring character. (Though, from the context of the reprinted story, it was a safe guess that he was.)

I've still got that digest. But it's also possible to read all White Eagle's adventures online. With companies like Dark Horse and Hermes Press reprinting much of the old Dell and Gold Key stuff, I wonder if there's hope of a proper reprint volume of Indian Chief eventually coming out. Perhaps not--he's probably too obscure a character to make an Archives edition of his adventures commercially viable.

But obscure or not, White Eagle was a great protagonist and deserves to be remembered.

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