Apache Gold: A Story of the Strange Southwest (first published in 1913) is by Joseph A. Altsheler. Altsheler (b. 1862-d. 1919) was a prolific author of books for young people. You’ve never heard of him, right? Well, now you have–especially if you keep reading a bit further.
Altsheler sort of stumbled into writing books for young people. Having been a journalist, he arrived in his mid 30s at a position as an editor of a magazine for the young, and he was having trouble obtaining enough good story material for the publication. [Correction: this was not a magazine for the young. Rather it was the “Tri-Weekly World,” a magazine put out by the “New York World.” Thanks to Dr. Edward Petko for the correction.] He tried his own hand at the job of writing stories, and never looked back: 51 books and at least 46 short stories followed in the remaining 22 or 23 years of his life. And some of the books are not short. Apache Gold, for example, is 383 pages. Two other of his novels on my shelves are 321 and 386 pages. Altsheler was not lazy.
My Aged Parent, my mother, still calls Apache Gold her favorite book. She read it as a child, and has always loved it. I took her advice and read it when I was young. I gave it a third reading a couple years ago, and the book continues to hold up well. This is not Dostoyevsky territory, but the writing is pretty doggone good. Four main characters–two boys verging on manhood, a resourceful professor, and the professor’s assistant–go through various adventures in a “strange” portion of the Southwest. There is wild country, a lost herd of buffaloes with a mind of their own, caves abandoned generations ago by forgotten people, dangerous Indians, a rival to the professor, and, just maybe, gold.
Joseph A. Altsheler turns out to be a close neighbor to us Hoosiers. He was born at Three Springs, Hart County, Kentucky. Hart County is sort of in the middle southeast of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. And Altsheler and his wife are buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, just over the river from Indiana.
As my mother has often pointed out, Apache Gold contains no female characters. This seems not to have bothered my mother who was, we have reason to believe, a girl when younger. So while Apache Gold, and Altsheler’s output in general, might be put in the category of “books for boys,” it is quite possible that at least some girls will appreciate his books as well. And some men. And some women.
I have read only two other books by Altsheler. Neither approaches the quality of Apache Gold, but both were worth reading. I have a couple more of his books on my shelves, and hope to get to them someday. Altsheler’s books can be obtained pretty easily, either in Kindle version (very inexpensive), or print on demand (not too expensive). Sometimes one can find relatively inexpensive used books in their original hardcover editions. You can probably get almost everything he wrote for about $2.99 from Amazon, if you have a Kindle reader.
My favorite quote from Apache Gold appears on p. 122. Jedediah Simpson, who hails from Lexington Kentucky, is the professor’s assistant, and is speaking:
‘”I like that feller down in Tennessee who said he wuz fur his country ag’inst any other country, fur his state ag’inst any other state, fur his county ag’inst any other county, fur his town ag’inst any other town, an’, ef it come to the pinch, he wuz fur his side o’ the street ag’inst the other side. That’s me.”‘
In an era in which it is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. is too big for its britches, and just too big, such a sentiment is perhaps prophetic of a saner time to come in the relatively near future. Let’s live at home, and make our homes better, instead of pretending we have a right to tell the whole world how to behave. Like Jed, I’m for my side of the street.
Altsheler and his family were in Germany at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Wikipedia tells us that “The hardships the Altshelers endured in returning to the U.S. damaged Altsheler’s health and rendered him a semi-invalid until his death.” He managed to keep on writing and publishing books before dying at the relatively young age of 57 in 1919. According to Dr. Petko, a specialist in Altsheler studies, his widow Sarah (Boles) Altsheler lived to the “venerable” age of 102, dying in 1964! The couple had one son. I wonder if the Altsheler family continues?
Altsheler’s books have the reputation of being historically accurate. I suspect that is true, but I have not read enough of his works to be sure (and may not have enough historical knowledge myself to know for sure). In his foreword to the last volume of his series on the Civil War, he spoke directly to the topic of historical accuracy. He said the 8-volume series had cost him vast labor, and that he had “striven at all times to be correct, wherever facts are involved. So far, at least, no historic detail has been challenged by critic or reader.” (The Tree of Appomattox, p. v)
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I would like to see Christian civilization rebuilt on this continent. We need all the help we can get. A writer like Joseph Altsheler, who celebrated courage, and who wrote of boys who wanted to become honorable men, may be an unexpected source of help. If his historical novels for young people are as accurate as they are reputed to be, that in itself is worth celebrating. Truth is something of which we can use a lot more.
If you can get a hold of a copy of Apache Gold without selling the family jewels, try it and tell me what you think. I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.