Dat was nich wohr, dat sach he in,
Dat kunn meindag' passirt nich sin.
FRITZ REUTER: De Reis' nach Belligen, chap. xxxvi
The name of the French writer of wild and woolly Western Indian tales, Olivier Gloux, was practically unknown to the thousands of an earlier generation of readers of his novels, who thought that "Gustav Aimard" was a real person. In fact many biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias are under the same impression. Appleton's "Cyclopedia of American Biography" and some others give the name as "Gioux," but Gloux is given by "La grande encyclopédie" and by "Larousse du XX" Siècle." Few of the present generation, however, have ever heard even of "Gustav Aimard."
The life of Gloux, according to his own tales, was as full of adventures as his novels, and in his later years, when he had become insane, he constantly imagined that he was being chased by Indians who were after his scalp. Gloux was born in Paris, September 13, 1818, and died in the Hospital Sainte-Anne, an insane asylum in the same city, June 20, 1883. According to his own story, which is far from reliable, he went as a cabin boy to Mexico when he was twelve years of age, but deserted at Vera Cruz and sailed on a fishing vessel, traveling along the whole of the Gulf Coast of Mexico. In 1836 he was aboard a slaver making-trips between Africa and Brazil. In 1846, during the war resulting from the seizure of Texas from Mexico by the United States, Gloux commanded an armed Mexican brigantine and was captured by a United States frigate at the mouth of the Mississippi River and taken to Washington. He escaped, went west as a hunter and trapper, and was captured by the Apaches. According to one story, he was scalped and left for dead, but was found and nursed back to life by a squaw. He returned to Paris in 1848 and was made an officer of the guards, but soon returned to America and lived among the Indians of Colombia and Brazil. In 1851 he was captured by the Pehuenches in Patagonia and was kept a prisoner for fourteen months. On his return to France he began to write and made his adventures the subject of his numerous novels, some twenty-nine being listed by "La grande encyclopédie." In 1870 he organized a band of franc-tireurs or guerrillas, and after the war returned to literature, but he had lost his public and his novels did not have the same success. Shortly thereafter his mind, which had been failing, gave way, and he was taken to the insane asylum where he died some time later.
There is a curious parallel between the lives of Gloux and Gerstäcker. Both came to America as cabin-boys, both left their ships and lived for years as hunters and trappers among the Indians, both returned to Europe to write, and both came back to America a second time. Gloux was captured by the Pehuenches, and Gerstäcker lived among them for a time. The novels of the two writers, however, differ greatly in one respect. Gerstäcker's natural history and descriptions are based on facts; Gloux' on wildest fancies (e.g. see the following excerpt), and are therefore misleading. See also the comments under American Tales, no. 58 in Part III of this book.
REFERENCES: Larousse du XXe Siecle, I. La grande encyclopédie, 11th ed., I, 979. Appleton's Cycl. Amer. Biog., II, 659 (the name is incorrectly given as Gioux). Beadle's Weekly, I, No. 31, June 16, 1883. Frank Monaghan: "French Travelers in the United States, 1765-932," Bull. N. Y. Pub. Lib., 1933, 1. Willis E. Hurd: "Gustav Aimard, né Olivier Gloux," F-Mail, Washington, D. C., No. 10, August, 1944. Bentley's Miscellany, XLIX, 1861, 100—104, speaks of his novels, but the biographical information seems to have been taken entirely from these, and is of little value.
American Tales. Nos. 45, 46, 47, 48, 58, 60
Starr's American Novels. Nos. 23, 161, 167, 172, 184, 185, 186
Pocket Novels. No. 218
Starr's New York Library. Nos. 15, 19, 20, 21, 24
Dime Library. Nos. 15, 19, 20, 21, 24, 62, 149, 151, 153
SPECIMEN OF "GUSTAV AIMARD'S" STYLE
"Prairie-Flower." Dime Library No. 24, pp. 24-25.
The spot where the chase was to come off was nearly - thirty miles distant from the village. In the desert all places are alike; tall grass, in the midst of which the horsemen entirely disappear; stunted shrubs, and here and there clumps of trees, whose imposing crowns rise to an enormous hight; such was the road the Indians had to follow up to the spot where they would find the animals they proposed chasing.
In the prairies of the Upper Missouri, at the time of our story, ostriches were still abundant, and their chase one of the numerous amusements of the red-skins and wood-rangers. It is probable that the successive invasions of the white men, and the immense clearings effected by fire and the ax, have now compelled them to abandon this territory, and retire to the inaccessible desert of the Rocky Mountains, or the sands of the Far West.
A characteristic trait of the ostriches is their extreme curiosity. In the Indian villages, where they live in a tamed state, it is of frequent occurrence to see them stalking through groups of talkers, and regarding them with fixed attention. In the plain this curiosity is often fatal to them, for it leads them to look unhesitatingly at every thing that seems strange or unusual to them.
The hunters, after a hurried march of three hours, reached a barren and sandy plain; during the journey, very few words were exchanged between Natah Otann and his white guests, for he rode at the head of the column. . . . The Indians dismounted by the side of a stream, and exchanged their horses for racers, which the chief had sent to the spot during the night, and which were naturally rested and able to run for miles. Natah Otann divided the hunting-party into two equal troops. . . .
On a given signal, the first band . . . advanced into the plain, describing a semicircle, so as to drive the game toward a ravine. . . . The second band . . . .was echelonned so as to form the other halt of the circle. This circle, by the horsemen's advance, was gradually being contracted, when a dozen ostriches showed themselves; but the male bird, standing sentry, warned the family of the danger by a sharp cry like a boatswain's whistle. At once the ostriches fled in a straight line rapidly, and without looking back. All the hunters galloped off in pursuit. . . .
Several flocks of ostriches had been put up, and the chase then assumed the proportions of a mad revel. Cries and hurrahs rent the air; the clubs hurtled through the space and struck the necks, wings, and legs of the ostriches, which, startled and mad with terror, made a thousand feints and zigzags to escape their implacable enemies, and buffeting their wings, tried to prick the horses with the species of spike with which the end of their wings is armed.
Each hunter leaped from his horse, killed the victim he had felled, cut off his wings as a sign of triumph, and renewed the chase with increased ardor. Ostriches and hunters rushed on like the cordonazo. . .and forty ostriches speedily incumbered the plain. Natah Otann looked round him, and then gave the signal for retreat; the birds which had not succumbed to this rude aggression, ran off to seek shelter. The dead birds were carefully collected, for the ostrich is excellent eating, and the Indians prepare, chiefly from the meat on the breast, a dish renowned for its delicacy and equisite savor. The warriors then proceeded to collect eggs, also highly esteemed, and secured an ample crop.