It was a clear and warm night. The stars in all their glory shown above as the scurrying about in the small hut reach a climax. Suddenly there was a single wail of a newborn babe and then silence, as if the child knew how dangerous it was to signal one's presence before one was ready to fight. This was but a humble hut on the edge of the Chiricahua Apache camp, certainly not the notable dwelling of some famous chief. As such, little note was made of the birth of a new child until the proud parents were ready to announce it to the world.
As was the custom, once it was verified that the child was born living and likely to live through the night, its gender was determined, and the parents selected the secret name for the child. In this case, there was some immediate reason for rejoicing, since the child was a boy, and the camp was always in need of more hunters. No one outside the family would ever know the boy's secret name, for it would be very dangerous for the demons and evil spirits to learn it. This would give them unwelcome control over the child's fate, so it must always be kept a secret. Therefore, all Apache children were known only as "boy" or "girl" until they were old enough to earn their public name, usually at the age of 12 or so, but never before the age of 10, except by some miracle of good fortune. Therefore, the child known only as "Boy" joined the camp on this glorious June night in 1852.
There was nothing particularly notable about the boy. He grew strong in body and strong in spirit as his parents taught him all they knew about survival in the harsh uplands of Arizona. The Apaches had not always lived in these mountains; at one time they had ranged far and wide, but pressure from first the Mexicans and later the Americans had forced them to seek shelter away from the easy living of the lowland rivers and prairies. The harsher living conditions had hardened the people into tough individuals who could make a living where weaker people would starve, and these hardened people came to revel in their strength and in the obstacles that they had to overcome. Thus were born the spiritual strength of the Apaches and the physical strength to overcome any thing standing in their way.
The boy learned to hunt by emulating his father, one of the foremost hunters of the camp. His skill grew to the point that he could often creep up to a rabbit or a bird and take it in hand before the animal even knew that it was in danger. Boy became deadly accurate with his bow and arrows; at 25 yards, nothing was safe because he always hit his mark. Boy was providing food for the camp by the time he was 8 years old, and was an accomplished hunter by the age of 10. It was on one of these hunts that he earned his public name.
Boy was hunting for rabbits, he did not yet go looking for antelope or elk because he was not large enough to bring such quarry home to the camp by himself. He was forced to stick to small game simply by the facts of his physical size: a 10-year-old boy could not carry an antelope carcass far enough. Boy was armed with his bow and 3 arrows which he had made, himself. He also had a knife stolen by his father from some Whites while on a very profitable raid. The knife was almost large enough to serve as a sword for a boy; it was the type of knife the Whites called the bowie knife. Boy was very proud of this knife and took great care of it; he had even given the knife a name, but he would not share that name with anyone, even his father.
Boy had killed 3 rabbits on this day and was headed back to camp when he realized that he was not alone. Something was tracking him—stalking him! The 3 rabbits hanging from boy's waist were a magnet for large carnivores, usually wolves and cougars. Boy pretended that he was unaware of the animal that was stalking him, though he did not yet know what it was. Boy was brave, but he was not stupid! He was moving briskly toward camp; if he were lucky enough, he would get home before the animal attacked.
Boy's swift movement forced the stalking animal to make a small mistake, but the mistake was large enough to give Boy a glimpse of the animal. It was a monstrous black wolf! Boy was in grave danger. The wolf was larger than he was and was in its prime of strength and agility. In a fight, the wolf was very likely to win. And a fight was coming, Boy could feel it.
Without slowing down, Boy shifted his bow and arrows to his left hand and held his trusty knife at the ready in his right hand. He had only traveled about a hundred yards like this when the wolf decided to attack. With no warning, as was usual for a wolf, he broke from concealment and charged at full speed at Boy. Boy saw the wolf coming and turned to face it, ready to meet death if that were the will of the spirits.
The wolf intended to charge into Boy and knock him down. That way, the wolf would have easy access to Boy's vital and sensitive areas. The wolf would preferably go for Boy's throat, but would settle for his belly or his groin as the first point of attack. The wolf's skill and size were certainly great enough to end the fight with one or two bites and tears with his great jaws; Boy would be ripped to pieces in only the first few moments of the struggle. But, Boy had other plans.
The wolf charged at full speed directly at Boy, but, when the wolf was close enough, Boy threw the bow and arrows directly into the wolf's face. This caused the wolf to flinch just enough to divert his attention away from Boy. The wolf's momentum toward Boy was not changed, but his brain was distracted. Being distracted, the wolf did not see the knife until too late to avoid it.
Boy held the knife out in front of himself, with the tip pointed slightly up. The force of the wolf's charge drove the knife into his chest and into his heart. The wolf died so quickly that it was still running after it died. Boy was bowled over by the impact with the wolf and knocked tail over teakettle as the dead wolf passed over him. Boy received some scrapes and burns from the fall, but no serious injuries or broken bones.
Boy was stunned and lay still for a good 10 minutes while he recovered his senses and his breath. The dead wolf lay partly on top of Boy, and out weighed Boy by at least 50 pounds. It was a struggle of nearly half an hour for Boy to escape from under the wolf, and he was covered by the wolf's blood by the time he was free.
Once he had wiggled from under the wolf, he considered what to do. Boy was so surprised to be living at this point that he didn't celebrate, he just stood in awe at his luck at still being alive. The reality of the situation gradually dawned on Boy, and he realized what an opportunity this situation represented. Even an adult in good condition would be very lucky to survive an encounter with a full grown wolf, so this was his chance to earn a public name. All he had to do was to prove to the camp that he had killed a wolf on his own; this would be enough to make him a respected hunter.
The proof was in the wolf's skin. It was a very difficult job for one 10-year-old boy to skin an adult wolf weighing about 180 pounds, but Boy finally managed it. By the time he had finished skinning the wolf, Boy was exhausted, but he still had to carry the skin back to camp. He was so tired that the job took 4 times as long as it would have had he been fresh, but Boy was able to construct a crude travois to use to transport the wolf skin and the three rabbits back to camp. The wolf's meat had no value as food for humans, so he left it for the scavengers.
It was nearly dark by the time Boy staggered into camp, pulling his trophy behind him. He was first seen by some children who ran ahead of him, shouting his arrival. All the noise drew quite a crowd, and Boy's entry into the camp was a triumphant one. The wolf's head was still attached to the skin, and Boy had arranged the load on the travois to show it to its best advantage, so the children were actually afraid to approach too closely, just in case the wolf was not completely dead.
The adults immediately recognized what was on the travois and many wondered where Boy had stolen such a magnificent skin. Nobody gave any thought as to whether or not Boy was the one who had killed the wolf—that was impossible! But some did admire the spunk of a child who could pull off such a theft. After all, just skinning the animal must have taken at least two adults, and the skinning had been done with such skill that women must have been involved. QED: Boy must have stolen the skin and somebody would probably come looking for it. The question, then, was whether or not they would help Boy hide his valuable loot!
Boy never paused in his journey through camp, he pointedly ignored the gaping crowd. Boy didn't stop until he reached his own hut. Here, he waited for his parents to show up; surely, they had heard the turmoil of his passage through camp. Yes, they had heard, and they had watched with love and pride as their beloved son marched through the camp. They showed up at the hut only moments after Boy had arrived, and his father asked Boy for the story of the skin.
Boy's father pullet the travois into the hut and the three went inside to hear the story in privacy the first time, just in case some adjustments had to be made in the story to make it suitable for public airing. Boy told the exact circumstances of the attack by the wolf and his struggle to skin it and transport the skin back to camp. His parents were truly amazed at the story, but they knew that Boy had always told them the truth, so they believed his story without reservation.
Boy finished his story by saying that he wanted to be known publicly as Black Wolf, in honor of his first major kill. His parents agreed and said that they would make the necessary arrangements for the naming ceremony. Meanwhile, Boy's mother took charge of the wolf skin to start curing it; she would make it into a winter robe for her brave son.
There was a big celebration coming up in 8 days time, so that would be the best day for the naming ceremony. Boy and his father worked extra hard hunting for food for a banquet worthy of such a momentous occasion. Father was able to kill an elk, and son was able to supply a dozen rabbits, so there would be plenty of meat for the banquet. Mother had asked her friends for help, and they had provided suitable greens and nuts, even a few tubers, for a grand stew. Thus the family was ready when the big day arrived.
The village elders had already heard the story and approved it, so Boy was ready to tell his tale of how he had taken the wolf's skin. Everyone in the camp knew that the naming ceremony was coming up, it was no secret that the wolf skin inspired the ceremony, but no one else knew the full story. Boy told the story of his encounter with the wolf in all of its most interesting details. This performance was sufficient to gain Boy a reputation as a first class story teller, and he was later in demand to tell this and other stories at public meetings.
The people were truly amazed at the story. Some didn't want to believe it, but the evidence was there in the form of the wolf skin, and the elders believed the story enough to give it official approval, so no doubts were ever voiced in public. Finally, time came for the announcement of the chosen name. No one was surprised, and everybody thought it was appropriate that Boy would henceforth be known as Black Wolf.
The celebration continued well into the night; in fact, dawn was breaking before Black Wolf's family finally went to bed. This was a grand event, always to be a treasured memory within his family. Black Wolf had no siblings—his mother had suffered some unknown injury during or just following his birth, and she could never have any more children. Black Wolf's father's status was too low for him to manage to acquire more wives, so the family had to be content with only the one child. The parents made up for their disappointment at having only one child by lavishing all of the love and attention they could on their one son, and this night showed that all of that work and effort had been worthwhile.
Black Wolf continued to grow into the perfect example of an Apache young man. He became an exalted hunter who was respected for the quality and quantity of meat he supplied to the village. Game was public property, so it was pooled at the end of each day and doled out to the families according to need by the village elders. The village chief always supervised and made sure that everybody got enough to eat when there was enough available. He also made sure that the game was divided equitably when it was scarce. Black Wolf regularly supplied more meat to the village than any other hunter, even though he was one of the youngest.
Not long after Black Wolf's naming ceremony, the Apaches began to notice that the White soldiers were not seen nearly as much as previously. A rumor had circulated among the Apaches that the Whites were fighting a great war among themselves, and all of the soldiers were needed wherever that war was being fought. This resulted in a lot less pressure being put on the Apaches by the Whites, and movement was freer lately. It was now possible to raid the Whites without drawing a massive outpouring of Army troops. Raiding became more popular when this became more generally known, and everybody tried his hand in the fun.
Black Wolf joined in on enough of the raids to protect his reputation, but he really preferred to hunt. He got much more satisfaction from satisfying the needs of the village than he did from killing some Whites who never did him any harm and were not really able to defend themselves against a large raiding party. He was always able to get as much attention from the women of the village as he ever needed. The women appreciated his efforts to feed the people as much as they did the efforts of the warriors who spent so much time trying to kill Whites.
Of course, war against the Mexicans was a different story. All Apache men hated all Mexicans and would rather kill a Mexican than bed a woman, and the Apache women felt the same way. The Apaches had tried to live amicably with the Mexicans, but it had never worked. The Mexicans tried to enslave all the Apaches they couldn't kill, so the Apaches had reacted in the expected way. There was a full scale blood feud between the Apaches and the Mexicans that had been going on for about 150 years and showed no sign of ending.
Anyway, life during Black Wolf's early teen years was as serene as it possibly could be, but things changed by the time he reached 15. The war that the Whites were fighting among themselves was over and there were now more American soldiers in Apache territory. There were even White soldiers with black skins. That was something never seen before, and it was a marvel to all. Many Apaches wondered what had happened to turn their skins black; several good stories circulated about how it happened, but no one knew for sure.
The American Army began to push hard against the Apaches, and fighting was now a regular thing between the two foes. The Americans were sending soldiers into the upland areas hunting the Apache villages. A new factor had been added to the troubles of the Apaches: the Americans wanted to cage the Apaches on too little land to support their way of life. These caged areas were called "reservations," and they were too small to support enough game. Hunters would not be able to hunt, but would have to take food handed out by the Whites. Not only that, but the food was different from what the Apaches were used to and it made them sick. On top of everything else, the Americans wanted to send Apaches from the dry uplands of Arizona to the wet, swampy lowlands of Florida, wherever that was. There was only one solution, the Apaches had to fight!
The war chiefs were elected and they selected the men to join in the battles with the Whites. Unfortunately, not all the young men could go to war. Enough had to stay home to provide food for the women and children. Black Wolf was one of those "unlucky" enough to be designated as a hunter, not a soldier. All of his friends were very sympathetic, but agreed that Black Wolf was such a good hunter that he freed up two warriors to fight the Whites; therefore, it was proper that he stay home to feed the village while the less skilled hunters went off to war. Black Wolf never could decide if he was lucky to be staying home or not, there was too much emotion associated with both sides.
One bad point, Black Wolf's father was killed early on in the war in a raid on an American Army camp. Black Wolf and his mother were sad at the loss of his father, but it was reported that he died in a very brave manner, so there was some consolation that he would be happy in the afterlife.
Meanwhile, with the normal attrition among hunters, Black Wolf was beginning to struggle to provide enough meat for the village. Reports of American soldiers in his area required that some of the hunters stay at the village to protect the women and children in case the Americans did find them.