Southwest Children's  Literature

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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 his mettle.

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 silence.

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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