Title: Call Him Savage
Author: John Pollard
Summary: Around the 15th of March each year, folks start saying, “Give the country back to the Indians!” Well, that’s what we want to talk to you about.
Word count: 11592
Public Domain Mark (PDM)
Image: Amazing Stories March 1954
I didn’t even hear her come in. What with the Sioux rising against the white settlement at the fork of the Platte, the attack being set for dawn, and Chief Spotted Horse’s impassioned speech to his braves, I wouldn’t have heard anything under a ninety-seven-decibel war whoop.
Soft lips brushed the back of my neck and she said something.
“That’s fine,” I said.
I heard that, all right. I looked up from the typewriter. “Hey, that’s a nice nightgown!”
“I said I think I’m getting a cold.”
“Well—with a nightgown like that….”
“Silly!” Her smile would have corrupted a bishop. “You coming to bed? It’s almost midnight.”
“Soon’s I finish writing this chapter. Best thing I’ve ever done.”
I reached for a cigarette. “Sure, more Indians. What else would one of the country’s leading authorities on the original Americans be writing about? I hate to keep harping on the same subject, my sweet, but the dough from my last book bought you that mink stole you keep dangling in front of your girl friends.”
“If you make so much money at it, why are you still a reporter?”
“I like being a reporter.”
“What about me? Between reporting and Indians my love life is beginning to wither on the vine. You should have married a squaw.”
“Who says I didn’t?” I gave her my best leer and reached out an exploring hand. She blushed and backed away, laughing. “Nothing doing, Sam Quinlan! You want me I’ll be in bed.”
She gave me a quick kiss, evaded my grasp and disappeared into the bedroom. I finished lighting the cigarette, typed a few more lines. But my working mood was gone, a casualty of a black lace nightgown. Finally I got up from the desk and snapped on the radio and, while it warmed up, strolled over to the living room window.
At this hour Washington was largely in bed. Away over to the east I could see the dim glow of lights marking the Mall, with the Capitol dome beyond that. Now that communism was dead, buried and unmourned in Russia and her satellites, with peace and prosperity booming from Iowa to Iran, even the President would be sleeping like a baby. Any day now I would be down to covering PTA meetings for the Herald-Telegram. That was okay with me; my big interest was “Saga of the Sioux”—the third in the series of books I was writing on the history of the American Indian.
An early autumn breeze crawled in at the open window and moved the line of smoke from my cigarette. A quiet serene night, with the faint smell of burned leaves in the air and the promise of a cool, sunny, peaceful tomorrow. A lovely night, made far lovelier by the thought of the beautiful blonde waiting for me in the next room. After twelve years of marriage I still found her to be the most exciting and rewarding woman I had ever known.
“… most of eastern Colorado,” the radio said suddenly, “as well as the western fringes of Nebraska and Kansas.”
I turned the volume down. Weather report, probably, except that the announcer was making it sound like a declaration of war or a “sincere” commercial.
“We repeat,” the voice continued, “since 8:10 this evening, Eastern Standard Time, literally nothing has come out of that section of the country. All communication has ceased, outbound trains and planes are long overdue, highway traffic out of the area has stalled.”
“You coming to bed?”
“… tuned to this station for further bulletins con—”
I clicked the set off. “Could I have three minutes for a fast shower?”
“Umm … I guess so.”
“I,” I told her, “am coming to bed.”
Lois rattled the handle of the stall-shower door, and I shut off the water. “Yeah?”
“At this hour? Who is it?”
“Sounds like Purcell.”
“For Crisake!” I came out and grabbed a towel. “This is worse than one of those Hollywood farces about honeymooners. What’s he want?”
“I didn’t dare ask him, he sounded so grumpy.”
I kissed her. “About that nightgown….”
“You’re getting me all wet!”
Purcell was night Editor at the Herald-Telegram, a small, intense, middle-aged, highly literate man. Years before, his wife had run off with a reporter, leaving Purcell with an undying hatred for all members of the profession.
His voice, over the wire, cracked like a whip. “Sam?”
“Listen, I’m off duty. You got any idea what time—”
“You’re wanted at the White House. Now.”
“The White House? You mean—?”
“The White House. The President wants to see you.”
“The President! Cut out the gags, will you? I’m in no—”
“I don’t kid with reporters, Sam. On your way.”
The phone went dead. I stood there staring stupidly at the receiver. Lois had to shake my arm to get my attention. “What did he want?”
“The President wants to see me.”
“Hunh-uh. Anybody but Pete Purcell, I’d agree.” I put back the receiver and went over to the dresser for clean underwear. “Get back to bed, honey. I’ll be home as soon as I get through running the Government. Can you imagine! The President wants to see me!”
She yawned and stretched, looking like the June page on an Esquire calendar. “Well, so much for my sheerest nightgown.”
“Believe me, darling, if it wasn’t the President—”
“I know. It would be an Indian.”
I finished dressing while she sat on the bed with her knees drawn up to her chin, watching me. I kissed her thoroughly and patted her here and there and went downstairs. The night man in the garage under the building put down his Racing Form and dug my Plymouth out of a welter of chrome and glass.
I drove much too fast all the way.
A guard at the gate looked at my press pass and used a hidden telephone. Within not much more than seconds I was ushered into the Press Secretary’s office. The Secretary, a badly shaken man if ever I’d seen one, had evidently been pacing the floor. He looked at me sharply out of pale, bloodshot eyes. “Your name Quinlan?”
“May I see your identification?”
I handed him my wallet. He flipped through the panels holding my press pass, social security card, driver’s license and a picture of Lois in a bathing suit. When he failed to do more than give the latter a casual glance I knew this was a man with a troubled mind.
I said, “Maybe you could give me kind of a hint on what’s going on.”
“Going on?” he repeated absently.
“You know—going on.” I got off a nonchalant-type laugh that would have fooled anybody who was deaf. “I even heard that the President wanted to see me!”
He gave me back the wallet. “Ah—yes. Come with me, please.”
We left the office and went down a hall, around some corners and down more halls, past a lot of doors, all of them closed. Finally he stopped in front of a pair of doors with shiny brass doorknobs, knocked twice, then turned the knob, said, “Mr. Quinlan, gentlemen,” shoved me through with a jerk of his chin, and closed the door behind me.
I never saw him again.
There was a long table down the center of a long narrow room. The woodwork was white and the walls papered a dark green, with walnut-framed pictures here and there of the kind of men you see in albums of Civil War vintage.
But the men around the table were as modern as a jet bomber. There were five of them, three of whom I recognized on sight: Army Chief of Staff General Lucius Ohlmsted, Secretary of War Franklin McClave, and, seated at the far end of the table and looking even younger than his forty-nine years, the President of the United States.
The remaining two were just a couple of men to me: dark business suits, clean collars, manicured fingernails and the type of faces you see twenty of on any city block.
I walked on down the room, feeling as conspicuous as a cheer leader at a wake, while five pairs of eyes sorted me over molecule by molecule. When I reached the near end of the table, I stopped, resisted an impulse to salute, and stood there at attention.
The President managed to keep from smiling, although you could see he wasn’t far from it. “Thanks for coming here so promptly, Mr. Quinlan. I’d like you to meet my associates.”
He reeled off names and titles. The two strangers were a Mr. Proudfit and a Mr. Kramer, occupations not disclosed. Kramer was small and ageless, with a weather-beaten face and a mouth like a steel trap; while Mr. Proudfit had the look of a benign monk, until you saw the tempered steel glint in his piercing eyes.
When introductions were completed, I said, “How do you do?” once, including them all, and went on waiting. Nobody suggested I sit down, probably because there were only five chairs around the table to begin with and the room’s two couches were too far away to keep me in the group. The President gave me the same winning smile that had pulled a couple million extra votes his way in the last election, and said, “Let me start off, Mr. Quinlan, by telling you that we’ve got a problem on our hands—one that may very well involve the peace and well-being of the entire country. The details are going to strain your credulity beyond human limits, I’m afraid—just as they have ours. But there is enough supporting evidence to what we’ve heard for us to do something about it. And that’s where you come in.”
He paused, evidently waiting for a response from me. There was only one response I could make—even though I hadn’t the slightest idea what he was talking about. “I’m at your service, Mr. President.”
His smile was a medal for my chest. “Thank you. At this point I’d better let Mr. Kramer take over.”
Kramer leaned back in his chair, placed the tips of his fingers together and stared searchingly at me over them. His voice, when he spoke, was as dry as his skin. “Mr.—ah—Quinlan, I understand you were born thirty-one years ago on a Potawatomi Indian reservation in the state of Michigan.”
I blinked. “That’s right. Not many people know it.”
“You are part Indian, I believe?”
“One quarter Potawatomi.”
“Also, I’m told that you are something of an authority on the history of the American Indian.”
“I’ve written books on the subject and expect to write a good many more.”
“You speak the language?”
He floundered a little. “Why—ah—the—ah—Indian language.”
“Look, Mr. Kramer,” I said, “there are scores of Indian languages. Nobody in history, red man or white, could ever speak all of them. Fortunately most Indians belonged to one of several great families, and the language of each family was close enough for the tribes in that family to understand each other. I can handle the language of the Algonquin like a native, being part Potawatomi myself. I can get by in the tongue of the Iroquois, the Caddoan, the Siouan, and the Muskhogean. The Déné and Uto-Aztecan would give me considerable trouble, while the Penutian would be just about a blank.”
I stopped there, and shrugged. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to turn this into a lecture.”
Kramer’s weathered face stayed expressionless. “Are you familiar with the customs of Indians of, say, two hundred years ago?”
“With their customs, clothing, religions, food, taboos, cultures, weapons, or anything else you can think of.”
Franklin McClave, the Secretary of War, cut in on us at this point. “I think, Bob,” he said to Kramer, “that Mr. Quinlan qualifies for the job.” His glance turned to me. “I’d like for you to meet a man waiting in the next room, Quinlan. I want you to hear his story, talk to him, ask him questions, then give us your opinion of the results. Do you mind?”
I spread my hands. “Whatever you say.”
Kramer got to his feet and went over to a side door. He pushed it open, said something I didn’t hear, then stepped rather quickly out of the way.
A moment later young Daniel Boone came out!
Of course, it wasn’t really Daniel Boone at all. Leaving out the fact that the “dark and bloody ground” frontiersman had been dead nearly a hundred and fifty years, this man was a lot handsomer, with entirely different features. But he was wearing the fringed buckskin trousers and shirt, the beaded moccasins, the coonskin cap, and his coarse black hair hung almost to his shoulders. A powderhorn swung from his neck by a greasy cord, and he was holding on to a six-foot muzzle-loader as though it were his only contact with reality.
I stood there with my chin two inches from the rug and gawked at him. He was scared to death. His deep-set brown eyes rolled fearfully from side to side, with too much white showing around the irises. His clutch on the gun grew even tighter, whitening the knuckles of his hand.
Muscles crawled on my scalp. A strange tension seemed to fill the room. Kramer cleared his throat. “This man’s name is Enoch Wetzel, Mr. Quinlan. I want him to tell you exactly what he told us earlier tonight.”
I felt the tendons in my legs tighten, pulling me into a slight crouch. I was back a hundred and seventy years in the past, with a dull anger starting to move around in me. “Wetzel,” I said, making it sound like a dirty word. “Any relation to Lewis Wetzel?”
The young man’s eyes widened with astonishment and obvious relief. “Well, now, I reckon so! Lew’s my uncle.”
“Lew Wetzel,” I said between my teeth, “is a low, stinking, murdering skunk!”
I ducked just in time to keep from being brained by the swinging stock of the long gun. I came up under it quicker than I’d ever moved before in my life and nailed him on the jaw with a solid right, getting my shoulder behind it. It was like hitting the Hall of Justice. He grunted and up came the rifle butt for another try.
Suddenly the room was bulging with strangers. A dozen arms folded around the young man, the gun was ripped from his fingers and he hit the rug with a thump that shook the room. The buckskin-covered legs threshed briefly, then were still.
I moistened my lips and backed away as sanity returned. I looked at the frozen faces around the table. “My fault, Mr. President. I can’t blame you for thinking I’m as crazy as he is. But, as Mr. Kramer mentioned, I’m part Indian. Back in the seventeen hundreds a frontiersman named Lewis Wetzel murdered a lot of Indians—men, women and children. I suppose you might say I went atavistic, or something, at hearing this fellow claim he was Wetzel’s nephew. He’s a screwball, of course, and I owe you a good solid apology for starting a ruckus.”
The President wasn’t smiling now. “Perhaps I should have told you before, Mr. Quinlan, we may desperately need this young man’s assistance in the near future.”
I almost blurted out the wrong thing, but bit my lip instead and remained silent. The President’s eyes swung to the heap of humanity on the floor. “Let him up, boys. I’ll call you if I need you again.”
The six Secret Service men rose and stood Enoch Wetzel on his feet, then returned to the adjoining office, not looking too happy about leaving a madman with the Chief Executive. Wetzel pushed the long hair off his forehead and stood there glowering at me, spots of angry color in his dark cheeks.
I said, “Forget it, Mac. I made a small mistake.”
His thin lips peeled back in a snarl. “Halfbreed!”
I took it, although nothing was ever harder for me to do. Kramer hurriedly stepped into the breach. “Mr.—ah—Wetzel, we’re waiting for you to repeat what you told us before.”
The tall, broad-shouldered young man turned from me to face the long table. There was a graceful dignity about him, in his posture, in the way he held his head, that you don’t see often. Again I felt the hair move along my scalp. For a guy who was as nutty as peanut brittle, he was certainly convincing in his role of frontiersman. Turn back the clock far enough and this could have been one of General Anthony Wayne’s scouts at the battle of Fallen Timbers. He even smelled the part.
“My father got hisself put on by General Harmer as a scout a fortnight back. The General, on orders from President Washington, was to lead his sojers to the north after the Injuns up there. Pop allowed as I was ready to try my luck agin the abbregynes, so he took me along.
“Three-four nights after we set out ahead the rest, Pop an’ me come onto fresh Injun signs. We move powerful careful through the woods an’ right soon we catch sight of camp fires. There’s a whole grist of them red devils prancin’ around, all fixed out in war paint—more of ’em as I ever see’d afore. Even Pop allows as how it bugs out hiseyes—and Pop’s a man to do an amount of travelin’.”
It was a page torn out of technicolor nightmare: three of the world’s most important men hanging onto the words of a madman who claimed to be an Eighteenth Century Indian scout in the employ of one of George Washington’s generals. Yet the man’s every word, every gesture, everything he wore, was as authentic to that period as the powder horn around his neck.
“We draw back in the woods aways an’ wait. It’s gettin’ along to’ard sun-up, an’ Pop says he aims to get a better idea how many Injuns they is, an’ what tribes. Most of the braves got nice new British guns an’ General Harmer’ll want to know about that.”
Wetzel’s voice began to shake a little, remembering. “Pop an’ me are hidin’ in a clump of sumac when this here sudden racket starts up, equal to a hundred waterfalls goin’ all at oncet. We look up in the air where it’s comin’ from, and holy hokey if fallin’ right out of the sky ain’t this round iron thing! Flat as a hoe-cake an’ big around as an acre of land, with the fires of Hell breathin’ at its edges!
“Well sir, them Injuns lit a shuck out of there like the spirits was after them. My legs were tryin’ to run, too. But Pop takes a holt on my arm an’ says, ‘By Janey, I aim to see this if’en I swing for it!’
“It drops down,” Wetzel continued, demonstrating with a slow graceful movement of his hand, “lookin’ no less than a big shiny stove-lid, an’ settles in the clearin’ as light an’ easy as the feather off’en a duck’s back. It stands high as a Pennsylvany school house an’ twicet the size around, an’ no sound from it at all.”
He stood slim and straight as a Shawnee arrow, smooth-faced and solemn, obviously not much past his twentieth birthday, yet by his own account born before the Declaration of Independence was on paper. He went on talking, sounding like a character out of James Fenimore Cooper. His story, boiled down and translated, came out something like this:
The sudden arrival of the strange object had literally paralyzed the Indian encampment. The warriors dropped their weapons and called on the spirits to protect them, while a hole opened in the side of what couldn’t be anything else but a spaceship. Then out of the opening came huge steel caricatures of men. There were over a dozen of these robots, each the height of two men, and their eyes were strange round circles of faceted glass. In single file they moved down the ramp and stalked through the ranks of fear-frozen Indians, disappearing into the forest.
Enoch’s father ordered his son to crawl up into a tree out of sight, then shouldered his rifle and slipped away through the bushes to get a better look at what was going on. Enoch “allowed” that his Pop was a “moughty” brave man, and none of his audience gave him an argument on that score.
From his place among the leaves, Enoch watched his father melt into the trees. The sun was above the horizon by this time and the young frontiersman discovered that his present position was the equivalent of a box seat on the fifty-yard line.
The next figure to emerge from the spaceship brought an amazed murmur from hundreds of throats. No twelve-foot robot this time, no alien monster beyond description. Very simply, this was an Indian.
Yet what an Indian! He stood on the ramp, wearing only leather breeches and unadorned moccasins, muscles rippling across a powerful sun-tanned chest, his head thrown back in a posture of arrogant dignity. He wore a single crimson feather in his black topknot, and at his belt was a tomahawk only slightly less deadly looking than a howitzer.
Arms folded across his chest, he swept his stunned audience with an eye like an eagle’s, then began to speak. His voice, deep and ringing, carried beyond the edges of the crowd, so that Enoch was able to catch a portion of what he was saying.
Wetzel admitted he understood very little of any of the Indian tongues. He thought the one he was hearing had its roots in the Delaware tribe, but admitted this was no more than a guess. However, it appeared that the visitor was summoning the chiefs of the assembled tribes to a meeting within the spaceship.
Evidently it took some doing. Faced with a familiar danger, there is no human more courageous than an Indian. But the thought of entering the yawning maw of that steel cavern would have shaken the nerves of Manabus himself.
Finally the visiting Indian’s oratory paid off, and nine or ten of the tribal leaders reluctantly entered the spaceship. Two robots took up positions on the ramp to discourage kibitzers, and after an hour or so in which nothing more happened, the rest of the camp returned pretty much to normal.
Mid-afternoon came and passed, and still the meeting inside the ship went on. Enoch was finding the tree branch not the most comfortable place to spend a weekend, and he was growing steadily more uneasy by his father’s continued absence.
More hours passed. The sun was gone now and campfires began to dot the night. Orders or no orders, Enoch decided, he was going to find his Pop. With a stealth equal to that of any Indian, he dropped to the ground and began a cautious advance in the direction his father had taken hours before.
Suddenly the bushes crashed apart directly in front of him, and his father came bounding through. Only a few yards back, its giant strides rapidly closing the gap, came one of the huge steel men.
Enoch’s gun flashed up and he fired without aiming. The bullet struck one of the robot’s huge eyes, shattering the glass and sending the towering figure crashing headlong into a tree. At the same instant, an ear-shattering wail came from the fallen robot, and powerful rays of light flashed from the rim of the spaceship to bathe the spot where the two Wetzels stood.
Mixed with the siren wail from the fallen man of steel came a chorus of blood-curdling warhoops as the Indians made out the figures of the two men, and a hundred braves came pouring across the clearing toward them. Instantly the two scouts took to their heels, darting through the inky blackness of the forest with the sure-footed celerity of long practice.
They would have escaped easily under ordinary circumstances. But suddenly the blast of another siren sounded directly ahead and a lance of light impaled them. Blinded, they stumbled aside, only to be caught by still another beam.
The two men split apart and dived for cover. Enoch, finding himself shielded from the rays by the thick bole of a tree, scrambled into its branches. A moment later the first wave of Indians passed below him.
For fully ten minutes he crouched there among the leaves. The barrage of light, he discovered, had come from the towering robots, and he recalled the dozen or so steel monsters that had left the camp soon after the spaceship landed. Evidently they had been sent out to encircle the camp so that no one might leave or enter until the visitors permitted it.
Finally Enoch heard the Indians returning toward camp. He knew they would search every tree hunting for him. Reloading his rifle, he dropped to the ground and adopting the only maneuver they would not expect, made his way cautiously back toward the camp.
He had hoped to skirt the camp itself and find an avenue to freedom in the opposite direction. But his hopes were almost immediately dashed, for he soon made out the darting rays of light marking more of the robots.
Enoch was trapped. Taking advantage of every possible means of cover, he inched ahead, changing his direction a dozen times, until he suddenly stopped short, his path barred by the towering spaceship itself. Staying within the dense shadows at its base, he began to skirt the ship, hoping to find a place where he could hide out until the enemy gave up the search.
But again his luck failed to hold. This time he was stopped by a wall of metal fully ten feet high, which turned out to be one side of the entrance ramp to the spaceship. Circling it would bring him right into the camp, to climb over it was impossible; to turn back, useless. This was the end of the line!
As he stood there trying to figure out his next move, he caught the sound of a guarded movement some distance behind him. Instantly he dropped to the grass, his long rifle ready to take at least one of his enemies with him. And that was when he learned that the bottom of the ramp was nearly two feet above the ground.
Even Macy’s shopping service couldn’t have furnished him with a better hiding place. Enoch wriggled himself under the edge and lay there breathing quietly, while, a moment later, three pairs of moccasined feet moved over the spot where he had been hiding.
Some time passed. He could hear voices very near and the rustle of feet moving through the grass. Then came the dull thud of metal against metal over his head in a rhythmic tempo like the tread of marching soldiers. Hardly had this ceased before he heard another sound which he could not identify, and the ramp itself began to move!
It was drawing in toward the ship, very slowly. To stay where he was would mean the loss of his hiding place; to try to run away would almost certainly be fatal. And so Enoch acted in the only way left to him.
By hooking his arms and legs around the girders forming the underside of the ramp, he was able to lift himself clear of the ground. It meant being carried into the ship, but even that, he decided, was better than falling into the hands of Indians.
He clung there like a sloth to a branch. Fortunately the beams were recessed enough to prevent his being scraped off when he reached the opening into the hull. When the ramp finally ground to a halt he found himself in darkness beyond anything in his experience. There was cold metal under him now and he lowered himself gingerly onto it. When he tried to crawl into the open, he discovered that the edges of the ramp were now flush with the floor.
Suddenly a deep humming note tore at his ears, became a shrill whine, then passed into silence. The floor seemed to press harder and harder into his back, his lungs fought for air, a sharp burst of light seemed to explode soundlessly before his bulging eyes and consciousness left him….
The rasp of metal against metal aroused him. The ramp was moving again. Once more he attached himself to its girders and was slowly carried from the spaceship. Sunlight on the grass told him the night had passed, and the moment the ramp came to a halt, he dropped to the ground and squirmed into the open. He was close enough to the ship to keep from being seen by those aboard, and he slipped quickly around one side before making a break for the shelter of a clump of trees bordering the clearing.
“And that, Mr. Quinlan,” Kramer said, “just about brings you up to date. At 4:07 this afternoon Mr. Wetzel was found by the crew of an Army tank twelve miles west of Burdette, Colorado. He told his story to the colonel in charge of that perimeter of operations, and was then flown directly to Washington.” He paused and allowed himself a humorless smile. “I assume you have some questions?”
I said, “I’m not going to ask if you take this man’s story seriously. Considering the positions of the men in this room you obviously do. What I’d like to know is why?”
Kramer hesitated. “Let me ask you this, Quinlan,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “Based solely on this man’s costume and speech, would you say he is an impostor?”