Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Weird Western Tales #39 "Scalphunter"

Weird Western Tales #39 Apr 1977
"Scalphunter"Michael Fleisher, story - Dick Ayers & George Evans, art - Jose Luis Garcia Lopez & George Evans, cover
Jonah Hex is in his own book so what will DC do with Weird Western Tales? Canceling it was one option, the other was to come up with another character and Scalphunter (created by Sergio Aragones and Joe Orlando) fit the bill.

We start our tale with a splash page of Scalphunter leaping towards us, knife at the ready, warpaint applied and this text:

This is the tale of an outcast..of a man who lived in two worlds, but was at home in neither. The Kiowa named him Ke-Woh-No-Tay, "He Who is Less Than Human."
White men called him Scalphunter. This is his story.
So, what do we know about the Kiowa? They lived mostly in north Texas, east New Mexico and all of Oklahoma and in 1867 the Kiowa were placed on a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.
The story starts with a Kiowa medicine man praying in a Kiowa burial ground. Suddenly the old man is gunned down by seven cowboys who are intent on robbing the graves of gold. Once they are finished digging up the graves, the cowboys are getting ready to head out with their loot when they are set upon by a band of Kiowas, hellbent on revenge.

Meanwhile, not far away...(yup, I stole that from the comic itself. Why mess with conciseness?) there is a division of the U.S. Cavalry who spots the Kiowa surrounding the cowboys. They charge in a kill all of the Indians. Afterward, they notice that one of the braves is a white man. As a couple of soldiers draw closer, the brave knocks them out with a rifle and starts running for a pony but is dropped by a bullet in the back. The brave is still alive so they have him mount up and they all head back to Fort Caroline.

While the fort doctor is bandaging up the wounded man, he notices a birthmark in the shape of a star on the man's neck. Please note that it is a star and not a diamond. Don't get confused. The doc goes to see the Captain and explains that the birthmark indicates that their prisoner is the son of Matt Savage (but it has been decided that this is not Matt Savage, Trail Boss). The Captain says that since Matt Savage is dying, they need to confirm if this is really his son. They chain Scalphunter and take him to the ranch of Matt Savage.

At the ranch house, they remove the ankle shackles and take Scalphunter in to see the dying Matt Savage. Matt asks if Scalphunter is really Brian and Scalphunter replies that he is Ke-Woh-No-Tay, a Kiowa warrior. Matt declares that he recognizes the eyes and Scalphunter has no feather since the Kiowa won't let a white Indian earn a feather. Sclphunter denies the relationship and tries to choke Matt.

For his outburst he is rewarded with a rifle butt to the head. With Scalphunter on the floor, Matt explains that 23 years ago his wife was murdered and his young son kidnapped by Kiowas. Matt tells Brian that he will welcome him back to the family, but Scalphunter spits in the old man's face, saying that he tells lies. The Captain claps Scalphunter back into irons and takes him back to the fort to stand trial a week later.

During the trial, the judge states that they have found Brian guilty of killing three prospectors. Brian states that they were grave robbers, not prospectors but he is sentenced to ten years in the state pen in Hainesville, Mo (This is supposedly the town that Charlie Bigelow is buried in but I can't find any modern reference to it, not unusual for small Missouri towns.).

Scalphunter is put to work on the rock pile but assaults another prisoner with a sledgehammer. He is then held by two other prisoners and beat repeatedly until a guard gets in on the action and starts whipping Scalphunter. Scalphunter grabs the whip and chokes the guard to death and then climbs the main gate to get on top of the wall. Once there, he beats another guard with his chains, knocking him off the prison wall to his death, and jumps off the wall into the raging river below.

Ten days later, the survivors of the gang that robbed the burial mounds are sitting around a campfire on the Kansas Salt Flats when one of them suddenly sprouts an arrow from the middle of his back. A second one catches an arrow in the chest
and a third gets a tomahawk in the heart. Scalphunter jumps the last robber who swears to tell everything if he is allowed to live.

Back in court, Scalphunter is freed and given a full pardon based on the robber's testimony. As Scalphunter is getting ready to leave town, the doctor that tended him tells him that Matt Savage is dead and hands Scalphunter the deed to all of the Savage property along with a gold watch. Scalphunter takes the watch but says that nobody can own land, only God may own the earth. He mounts up and rides off as the doctor shouts that the funeral is tomorrow.

The next morning at the funeral for Matt Savage, the doc and one of the ranch hands are discussing the fact that Brian didn't come to the funeral. Just then they spot Scalphunter on an overlooking bluff, astride a pony, singing a Kiowa song. The ranch hand says that he is singing a song that the Kiowa use when a warrior's father dies. We see the gold watch in Scalphunter's hand and it contains a photo of him and his mom & dad.

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Scalphunter - 5
Running total - 5
Scalphunter's Injuries - beat, whipped, knocked out, and shot in the back.
Timeline - There is nothing to go on with the beginning of this tale. Later stories have more of a timeline and when we reach those, I'll come back and revisit this. The story does cover 32 days.

For an opening issue, it's not bad. I couldn't find out anything about salt flats in Kansas, there are some in Oklahoma, so I guess that is close enough. We also have a nice letter column explaining how Sergio Aragones and Joe Orlando came up with the idea of Scalphunter.

Next Issue - The power of the press and waterboarding, 1860's style.


SallyP said...

Wow, I've never read any of these. Guess I should start. I DO find it a bit odd however, that he was acquitted of any wrongdoing, after he murdered all those prison guards.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

I'm surprised that Scalphunter hasn't been put into a trade. After a few Fleisher issues, Gerry Conway takes over and things get really really good.

And murdering prison guards is only a misdemeanor in Missouri

SallyP said...

What is really a coincidence, is that I've just started reading all those old Starman books by Robinson, mainly for his portrayals of Shade, but it turns out that Matt O'Dare is the reincarnation of Scalphunter, who turned out to be Shade's old buddy!

Great stuff!

Aaron said...

I don;t know if you get comments on old posts, but I just discovered your excellent blog and wanted to put in my two cents on Scalphunter. (BTW, I am a long-time Hex-ohpile) I picked up a stack of these later WWT's out of a quarter box the other day and I am enjoying them but am also confused by their all-over-the-place timeline.

First, the earlier stories I have are set in 1865. Which is after the Civil War. But in those stories Ke-Wo-Noh-Te has not earned a feather because he is not a "real" Kiowa. In later stories, it's 1862, the Civil War is raging and he always has a feather in his headband. Also, I don't care what the revisionist Who's Who entries say, clearly Brian Savage is meant to be the son of Matt Savage, Trail Boss. Which would also not make sense, since Matt Savage was a trail boss for a cattle ranch and ranching didn't start up until after the Civil War and Matt didn't have any children yet at that time...

Yeesh! not to ramble and nitpick. I'm just saying is all.

Keep up the good work!


Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

Yeah, Ghost, I get an email on every comment, even the old ones.

I need to dive back into these. The early Fleisher ones are kinda everywhere in a timeline, but once Conway took over everything happened in a nice linear fashion.

Thanks for dropping by

Unknown said...

Ranching is much older than the Civil War. The heydey of the cattle drive era was post war, yes, but where did all the cattle come from if there were no ranches? The King Ranch was founded in 1853 and by the post war period was already one of the most powerful cattle business in Texas.

C.Michael said...

Hey Aaron, what is a quarter box (assuming a box of comics for 25¢) but where on earth did you find such a discovery? �� thrift store perhaps?.yard sale? With a meager collection (5-6) of latter WWT comics I'd like for find some for cheap to catch up on some reading. Don't want to spend a lot of $$. ���� sounds like a great find