Winnetou and the (Mescalero) Apaches

Project Report, 2001

37 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)




Karl May

Main Body
Hollis Cook
V. Stevens, M.D.
Dr. Anne Woosley
Karl May vs. Reference Books
Apaches: past and present
Division of Labor
Intschu-tschuna and Winnetou
Funeral and Afterlife
Winnetou's pueblo
Winnetou and Cochise

General Comments


Works Cited
Entry in an encyclopedia or dictionary
Other Sources


When I was a teenager I read several of those books written by Karl May that are set in the "Wild West." I was very impressed, not only by the "Winnetou" trilogy but also because I knew Karl May never went there. - During his 16 months of travel around the Middle East in 1899 - 1900, he had made the "mistake" of visiting towns and places he had once written about. Not expecting the contrast in differences between his writings and the reality he must have found there, May returned very disappointed. Thus, during his four months of travel to North America in 1908 he preferred to stay away from states and places he had once described. - Ever since then I have wondered about the accuracy and truth of his writings, which I now was given the chance to investigate by visiting a particular state, one he has also used for several of his plots, Arizona.

Of course, such a visit needs preparation, and so I contacted a friend from my hometown's American sister city, Sierra Vista, Arizona, to help me with the organization. Before I crossed the ocean by plane on January 20, 2000, I knew I would be spending two weeks in Globe, Arizona, adjacent to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, and four weeks in Dragoon, Arizona, at the Amerind Foundation, the former to see how a special group of Native Americans is living today, the latter to view reference books. At both places I conducted a depth interview and compared my results to Karl May's "Winnetou" trilogy, which I read once more. By doing so, I most of all wanted to find out how accurate Karl May describes the country, his characters, and their customs, but also how much exposure certain Americans had had to his works so far, and what their reactions would be to an extract of it, the "Winnetou" trilogy.

With these aims in mind, I conducted my research. I chose interesting passages from the aforementioned trilogy for both my questionnaire and interview questions, which I later asked the native speakers to fill out and answer. In order not to leave out historical research, I visited the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, and at the Amerind Foundation I surveyed at least ten reference books about Native American peoples, their history and culture.

As a result of this research my aims were well fulfilled: Firstly, there are certain topics I can disagree or agree with Karl May about, to various degrees. Secondly, I am more familiar with the exposure that the people I talked to had to Karl May before I stepped into their lives, and thirdly, I experienced their reactions to the events in the "Winnetou" trilogy. These results met my two expectations: one, Karl May was no historian, and two, his works should be promoted more aggressively in the American Southwest, if not the entire United States.

All in all, I am very satisfied with my results because the conclusion I have drawn after evaluating everything, is this: Make about ten people familiar with the person and writer Karl May and at least one of them will take a closer look at him. The one I mean is Dr. Anne Woosley, director of the Amerind Foundation, Inc., my second interviewee, who said: "He has a very interesting history, which I have just started to read about because you are here."[1] A contrast to this is the evaluation of my questionnaire. After having given it to two American friends in Globe, I called it a total failure, due to the questions I had chosen, but when two other American friends visited my hometown of Radebeul, I was able to change my verdict of a total failure. Since there were no right or wrong answers, interviewees only could agree or disagree with Karl May. In the end the interviewee's exposure to other Native American peoples seems to play a role.

These conclusions, and this whole project are invaluable to me. Choose a topic you like, do research on it, write a report about it, admit having made possible mistakes, and learn your lessons well. I enjoyed very much reading the "Winnetou" trilogy again after not having had the time to do so for years. For me, Karl May writes in an affecting style, which will neither let me forget the day at the Amerind Foundation when I was crying because Winnetou had died, nor the times when I conducted my interviews, or had the questionnaire filled out. Therefore, I thank everybody who helped me make progress with this project: Allan, Anne, Bernard, Hollis, Jody, staff of the Karl-May-Museum, Kay, Nashoba, Renae, Rose, and Vikki[2], thank you very much!


Karl May

On the 25th of February, 1842, Karl May was born into a poor weaver's family in Ernstthal, Germany, not only the fifth of 14 children, but also the first that survived. Shortly after his birth baby Karl lost his sight. By the age of four his eyesight had been restored by medical professors. May's father, who had four daughters but only one son, wanted a better life for his male offspring than he had had himself, buying early books on different subjects and reading skill levels.

After his graduation from eight years of school, young Karl was employed as a teacher in a factory school. In 1862 he was convicted of having stolen his roommate's watch. He was struck off the register of teachers and fell into a deep hole of misery, of which he tried to escape through theft and fraud. Because of this lifestyle he spent seven years of his life in prison from 1865 to 1868 and from 1870 to 1874. In his thirties, and at the last place of his captivity in Waldheim a catechist stimulated his imagination, whereupon the middle-aged May started writing, first as an editor for a newspaper, later as a writer for a publishing house. The use of many reference books and travel reports enabled May to write about the "Wild West" and the Middle East in detail without even having been there. For instance, he started work on his "Winnetou" trilogy in 1892, but did not visit the United States until 1908.

On March 30, 1912, the writer, poet, and composer Karl May died in his residence, Villa "Shatterhand.," in Radebeul, where he had spent the last 16 years of his life. This German "one man in a thousand" was translated into 28 languages in his lifetime and in about 40 posthumously. In the German-speaking area alone 100 million copies of his books have been racked up so far, ranking him first in the list of "the most sold German authors."


In September, 1875, Karl May published a "Wild West" narrative called "Inn-nu-woh." Its main character is a savage of close to 50 who kills and scalps people, and who chews cigars. For no discernible reason, May had him killed at an early stage in his writer's career, surprisingly converted to the Christian faith. For the sake of the boys' magazine "Der Gute Kamerad" ("The Good Companion") Inn-nu-woh was resurrected as "Winnetou" and turned into a young chief of noble mind, chivalrous conduct, and who was highly regarded by friend and foe alike. Ever since, "Winnetou I" has served as the basis of an unbroken legend.

From 1892 until 1893 Karl May wrote the "Winnetou" trilogy, "Winnetou I to III," adding a fourth book, "Winnetou IV" or "Winnetous Erben" ("Winnetou IV" or "Winnetou's heirs"), in 1909, after his return from the north-eastern region of the United States. The two main subjects in this fourth volume are Winnetou's last will, and his rifle studded with silver nails. In the course of the action, May explains how the latter came to be exhibited in Radebeul now instead of still lying in Winnetou's grave.

It is unknown to what extent the writer modeled his Winnetou on Native Americans like Cochise, his son Naiche, Tecumseh, or Victorio. Although probably familiar with their individual stories, May's Winnetou cannot actually be likened to any of them.

Main Body

Before going into detail, I will first present the material from three of my interviews, and, secondly, the material from my questionnaire, because with them being presented it seems easier to me to discuss the subjects below:


Hollis Cook

On March 7, 2000, I went to Tombstone, Arizona, "the town too tough to die." I had been there years before and returned to meet friends. Among them was Hollis Cook, State Park Ranger, currently employed at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. During our talk I mentioned my GLC project, and since he once read the "Winnetou" trilogy, we started a discussion in which I just took notes, because neither of us had been prepared for a tape recording.[3][4]

According to Hollis, who was at the Karl-May-Festival in Radebeul in 1997, J. Ross Browne's "Adventures in Apache Land" was one of the books Karl May read and used for his "Winnetou." This book obviously talks about Arizona history and Native Americans, and must be hard to find in the United States. In contrast to that, George Catlin's picture book on the "North American Indians" can be easily purchased in the United States. Since May used that book as a reference as well, and because it is considered accurate, May got right most of the ethnography of his characters.

Hollis spent several years in Tubac, Arizona, another state park, and therefore knows what he is talking about when he says that the final scene in "Winnetou III" is unreal. The place near Tubac does not look like Tubac, and to think that Mescalero Apaches had been there is odd for an American. May puts Winnetou and his Mescalero Apaches in so many areas where they would never have gone in reality. The place where Winnetou's sister Nschotschi and his father Intschu-tschuna are murdered is in Jackson Hole County, near the Grand Teton National Park, where a Mescalero would not have gone unless something really dramatic had happened.

Back then, the Mescalero Apaches roamed southeastern New Mexico, with most of them ranging between the Pecos River and the natural boundary Rio Grande. They were mainly up in the mountains and not very near the rivers. For Hollis Cook, the writer shrank the size of the United States to that of Germany. One example is May's Mr. Henry from St. Louis, the repeating rifle maker. The original Mr. Henry lived in a village near Connecticut, where he had a gun shop for the mountain men families. There was also a gun maker in St. Louis, but his name was Hawken, and he made the Hawken gun. This Hawken gun dates back to about 1830 - 1840, whereas the Henry repeating rifle was used during the Civil War, in the 1860s.

The "Winnetou" trilogy is definitely not a history book but a novel, and Hollis found it interesting that May picked up Hawken and mixed the two. The character in the novel is also reflected by Winnetou. Nobody is that brave or strong. However, from him I heard for the first time that Cochise partly seems to have been a model for Winnetou. Whatever the truth is, we do not have to worry about changes made by Karl May. They seemed to matter to the readers then, but 100 years later, that is no longer the case. Hollis read some of the books, and in the case of the "Winnetou" trilogy, he liked what he read: "It begs to be made into a movie." Furthermore, he feels sorry for the hero Old Shatterhand: "He never gets a girl, poor old boy." Hollis Cook also understands that Old Shatterhand has to be German, because otherwise it would not correlate with May's nationality.

Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Cook!

V. Stevens, M.D.

After having lived in the family of Vikki, Jody and their two sons for one and a half weeks, I interviewed Victoria Stevens, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, on March 28, 2000, in the living room of their house:[5]

If we were to suppose the Spaniards, English, and French never came to the American Southwest, the Indian culture probably would not have changed very much, and it would still be very similar to what it was in the 1800s. In the 1800s there were not very many Apache tribes in eastern New Mexico or on the plains. They were localized primarily in western New Mexico, northern Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. There, the Apache never had contact with the buffalo. The buffalo were in the plains, just like the railway, and although there are Western and Eastern Apaches, Vikki does not think that either one was really involved in the railway from St. Louis to Santa Fé at that time. The Western Apaches are the ones in Arizona. They did not have anything to do with the railway north of Santa Fé because they never went there.

To Vikki, a typical Apache is slender, not very tall, of medium height. He has very dark skin from being in the sun all the time, with long hair, rarely cut, and he wears clothes that cover up most of the body. He has long sleeves, and high moccasins. Moccasins are still worn today, especially for ceremonies. A ceremonial aspect, too, is the wearing of an eagle feather. Chiefs could wear them as a sign of chief honor.

The Apaches were nomadic, always traveling. They never stayed in one place very long, let alone that they lived in pueblos like Winnetou supposedly does. They lived in wickiups, which are brush shelters! You would not have seen Indians go to a place like St. Louis, either. The Indian people did not go marching into the big cities! Therefore, this claim is rather fictional. Vikki also considers a blood brothership between an Apache and a white man, or a chief who goes alone on the warpath as fictitious.

Apache life involved raiding and warfare. When Apache warriors came to a village, they took everything they could find and use. If a female was taken prisoner, she would be somebody's wife back "home." So, when Apaches captured enemies, the tendency was to take them to their home. In battle, though, prisoners were not typically taken. The warriors took women and children, but also killed people or left them behind.

In a country like Arizona, people do not make very many tracks. The ground is very hard, very dry, with lots of rocks, and unless you are walking in an especially soft place, you are not going to make tracks. Therefore, the best way not to leave tracks in one way was to wear moccasins. So as not to have a hard surface to walk on, the bottom of the shoes was soft, and to walk on those rocky places and the places that were dry and did not leave a mark.

Apaches could not trade much because they had no commerce. As mentioned above, they stole much of what they wanted to have. What was an Apache going to give in trade? They might have exchanged a hide of a deer that had been prepared, some feathers of birds, or maybe some honey found in the tree, but the Apaches lived a very natural lifestyle. They did not produce or manufacture anything. Thus, the food of the Native American prior to the arrival of the white man was intended to provide a very high energy level with very low calorie intake. It was a relatively high protein diet. The diet went from native corn, native squash, things like acorns, the nuts of the trees, mesquite beans, rabbit, squirrel, gophers, and deer to Mc Donald's, fried bread, tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, and spaghetti. The effect is visible now that people are not healthy because of the diet they eat. They suffer, for instance, from obesity and high blood pressure.

Black, white, and red were the colors the Apaches painted their faces, using different kinds of clay in the ground and ash from the fire. Fire, that reminds me of the women who were responsible for just about everything: maintaining the family, housing, making clothes, tanning the hide, and making food. Luckily, the children helped them. The way women were regarded in the 18th century was completely different from the American Indian way of thinking about women. The kind old Indian did not have the same prejudice against women that the European people had. That idea of a woman was not part of the Native American Indian's world-view. Women were very powerful people.

Although there are over 500 groups of Native Americans, who are all different with respect to cultural aspects, the Apaches in general were organized in what was known as a clanship band, and lineage of an Apache passed from the mother's side of the family, which means the Apaches are matrilineal. Within a particular group of people related through the mother, there would be one person who would be spokesperson and the leader for that band, but there might be ten or 15 bands within that group.

The Apaches considered black people to be just colored versions of the whites. To the American Indian, black and white races were the same. At Karl May's time, which was still in the days of slavery, black people were considered inferior by many whites. That might be reflected in his writings. Male against female, brown against white, or red, or purple, whatever the colors might be. Native Americans cannot live that way because it destroys the balance of nature, and to them the balance of existence precludes the concept of prejudice.

Also, the Apaches considered the dead to be very dangerous. When somebody died in the old days there was a very, very strong ritual on how to handle it. Now it is different. If a person died, immediately the women in the family came in to clean the body, gather up all the things that belonged to that person, and on the fourth day from the time of death the deceased was taken out of the wickiup, or wherever that person died, and the body was hauled up into the mountains and then left outside. But the house and everything in it, except for that person's needs for the journey to the afterlife, were burnt. Even to this day the Apaches have ritualistic ceremonies. They were not traditional people, did not put people under the ground, did not dig a hole and put them in a hole. Instead of being buried under the ground, they put them all above the ground. To later go over to a dead person's body on the anniversary of his or her day of death would have been asking their spirits' to come back, and was therefore not done!

Last but not least, there were places where people specifically met to talk and have ceremonies, get together - meeting places, council places, where they went when they needed to have a meeting with different bands. Nowadays interaction takes place through sport, because the (San Carlos) Apaches are highly competitive people, basketball being the most popular sport on the reservation. They are wild about it there.


[1] audio / video equipment: interview Dr. Anne Woosley (last quarter)

[2] names in alphabetical order

[3] interviews in chronological order

[4] from my notes taken on March 7, 2000, when visiting and talking to Hollis Cook

[5] see: audio / video equipment: interview Vikki Stevens, M.D.

Excerpt out of 37 pages


Winnetou and the (Mescalero) Apaches
Dresden Technical University  (Institute for Anglistics/American Studies)
GLC 6 Project
1,0 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
798 KB
General Language Course Project Report.
Winnetou, Karl May, Apaches, Mescalero Apaches, Cochise
Quote paper
Silke-Katrin Kunze (Author), 2001, Winnetou and the (Mescalero) Apaches, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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