Runs with Horses
Set in Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains circa 1886, Runs With Horses
is a coming of age tale about Apache male rites of passage as well as
a historical commentary that alludes to the demise of their traditional
way of life.
When readers first meet the protagonist, Runs With Horses, he is preparing
for the first of several rigorous challenges he must endure to prove
his worthiness as a warrior. His father, Red Knife, admonishes him and
reminds his son that he must consider his legs, eyes, ears, arms and
hands as resourceful friends to rely on if he hopes to effectively prove
Runs With Horses' successful three-mile run up and down a mountain
range with a mouthful of water and triumphant hand-to-hand battle with
his closest friend signal his readiness for his third raid with the
elder warriors. While still classified as warriors-in-trainings, Runs
With Horses and his best friend, Little Face, watch from afar as Geronimo
and five braves battle against soldiers from the Mexican army. Eventually,
Runs With Horses realizes there is nothing the two of them can do to
thwart the army's advance, so they decide to retreat. During the course
of their flight, Little Face breaks his leg from a fall into an arroyo,
but is heroically rescued by Runs With Horses.
When the boys arrive in camp, they retell the story of the battle Geronimo
waged against the Mexican army. Approximately twenty-four hours later,
Geronimo and two of his warriors return from the failed raid. Soon after,
Red Knife pulls Runs With Horses aside and tells him of the chief's
decision to end the futile battles and surrender to the US authorities.
Runs With Horses is devastated by this news--how will he ever be considered
a real man, or a warrior if he fails to go on a fourth and final transitional
raid. In desperation, he asks his father, "What good are the things
your father taught you and you have taught me" if we are placed
on a reservation? Unable to address the implications of Geronimo's decision
for his son and their community at large, Red Knife hangs his head in
Runs with Horses visits Little Face. Little Face offers Runs with Horses
his most precious possession, his bow and a full set of arrows, for
saving his life in the arroyo. Little Face can tell that Runs with Horses
is sad; Runs with Horses explains to Little Face that Geromino's decision
is to move to the reservation. Anger rises in the boys and they decide
that they will be warriors and go on many raids. Runs with Horses tells
Little Face that "we will leave the reservation whenever we please."
Little Face responds that "songs will be sung about us." Of
all the warriors, they will be the greatest.
Runs With Horses is a valuable tool for teaching the Apache
perspective. It mentions conflicts with the U. S. army and Mexicans.
It covers raids and historical events from the Apache point of view,
which is often not covered in history books. Although it is unclear
how accurate the portrayal is, it at least provides a starting point
for talking about one Native American worldview. This is also a portrayal
of coming of age rituals. Many students are not familiar with them and
do not go through many of them themselves. It is a look at how many
cultures have a more definite transition to adulthood than the modern
West. However, the ending is considered a disappointment by many. Just
as Runs With Horses seems poised for adulthood, Geronimo surrenders
to the U.S. army. Except for the epilogue, the book is silent about
what happens to the Apaches after that. It is unclear whether or not
Runs With Horses reaches successful manhood.
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