Tomahawk #45, "Battle of the Master Woodsmen!"

TOMAHAWK #45, January 1957; DC Comics; Whitney Ellsworth, editor of record
(though I surmise Jack Schiff did the actual editing) cover-featuring DC's
Daniel Boone-like hero of the Revolutionary War frontier in "Battle of the Master
Woodsmen!"  On the cover (possibly by regular Tomahawk artist Fred Ray, though
I'm not sure), Tomahawk and sidekick Dan Hunter cling to the sides of two
buffalo in a stampeding herd, but their adversary, another buckskin-clad figure
leading a band of hostile Indians, is on to them:  "Loose your arrows into that
herd!  f I know Tomahawk and his tricks, he and his young pardner are trying
to slip past us, hanging on to the sides of them buffaloes!" 

Review by Bill Henley

Tomahawk was one of the more obscure DC features during the Silver Age.  His
moment in the sun had been earlier, during the interregnum between the first
and second Superheroic Ages, when he starred in his own title in addition to
STAR-SPANGLED COMICS and later a backup feature in WORLD'S FINEST.  He was 
considered popular enough in the late 40's/early 50's to appear alongside Superman
and Batman as a headliner in DC house ads.  During the late 50's and through
the 60's, Tomahawk managed to avoid being cancelled as DC's more conventional
Western titles were (see my recent review of ALL-STAR WESTERN #119) but he
didn't seem to get much attention.  I know that as a young comics fan in the 60's
I can only remember seeing a TOMAHAWK issue once, in a barbershop.  I'm not
sure if the title was actually less widely distributed to newsstands than other
higher-profile DC books, or if I just didn't notice it because my main
interest was in superheroes.  Anyway, I didn't start following the series until
around the start of 1969, when some striking covers by Neal Adams and interior
stories by Robert Kanigher and Frank Thorne attracted my attention.  In the years
since, though, I've picked up a scattering of earlier issues of TOMAHAWK, and
here's a review of one of them

The lead story is "The Last Days of Chief Tory!", and the splash panel shows
Tomahawk and Dan riding a hurtling wagon and throwing fireworks to frighten
the horses of pro-British raiders.  The opening caption tells us, "There were
COWBOYS in those days...yes, back in 1776!  But those early cowboys were Tory
guerrrilas, who sprang from hiding to launch raids against the British and
Americans alike!"  While riding along the New York state shoreline on "a summer
evening in 1776", Tomahawk and Dan Hunter observe an American schooner being
raided by pirates.  The raiders' leader, called Chief Tory, is a scruffy-looking
fellow with a white-feather cockade in his tricon hat.  Our heroes make plans
to try to cut off the raiders, while noting that they "don't look like British
troops", but before they can act they are arrested and taken in tow by a squad
of blue-coated American soldiers.  "You fools!", the commander informs his
troops.  "You've brought in Tomahawk and Dan Hunter!"  The commander explains
that his men mistook the frontier fighters for members of Chief Tory's band. 
The raiders are known as "cowboys" because despite their British sympathies they
steal cattle from both sides, and their leader calls himself "Chief Tory"
because he has adopted an Indian fighting style for his band.  The ship they
attacked was just back from the Orient carrying valuable supplies for the American
troops, which are now lost.  Tomahawk resolves to help capture Chief Tory and
company, and in the woods he finds the trail of his band, moving single file
in Indian fashion.  Dan wants to follow the trail directly, but Tomahawk warns
that they will leave scouts behind to watch the trail as Indians do, and our
heroes move forward parallel to the trail, watching for signs of the
"cowboys", rather than directly on the path.  They get close enough to overhear Chief
Tory laying his plans to attack an American outpost, Fort Lonely.  But one of
the Chief's scouts spots Tomahawk and Dan in turn and blows a horn to raise the
alarm, and the pair are overwhelmed by Tory's men.  The delighted Chief
informs Tomahawk that he will use them as their means of getting access to Fort
Lonely.  forcing them to approach the fort with unloaded rifles and ask for entry
But the Chief failed to take their gunpowder and flints along with their
rifle balls, and Tomahawk manages to set off an explosion which scatters the
raiders' horses (two of which our heroes seize) and warns the fort.  Riding back
to the raiders' hideout, Tomahawk and Dan find a store of fireworks from the
raided ship's cargo, and use them to stampede the Tories' horses again (these
guys need to train their mounts better, apparently).  Catching up to the fleeing
Chief Tory, Tomahawk delivers a mighty punch to his jaw and then delivers him
to the American commander, who exults, "With Tory out of action, all his
cowboy raiders will soon be caught.  Higher headquarters will be happy to hear
this Tomahawk!"  (Historical note: Page Smith's Revolutionary War history A NEW
AGE NOW BEGINS confirms that there actually were Tory "irregulars" or guerrilla
fighters during the Revolution who were known as "cowboys".  On the other
hand, I'm not sure American ships were trading with the Orient that early.) I'm
not certain of the artist of this story-- it doesn't quite look like Fred Ray's
work-- and have no idea of the writer.

The second story in the issue is "The First Sub!" and this one, I'm pretty
sure, is drawn by Ray.  On the splash panel (aptly named in this case), Tomahawk
and Dan are in an odd underwater vehicle being hauled up in a net by the crew
of a British warship.  "It was the most bizarre adventure ever ventured on by
Tomahawk and Dan Hunter, when the famed team took to the depths of the Hudson
River, in an incredible craft to rescue a chieftain and strike a blow for
liberty!"  Our story begins with an American officer leading Tomahawk and Dan
through the nightttime streets of New York, while warning, "We must move with
caution, Tomahawk....this town is infested with British spies!"  (Hmmm.... hey,
guys, if you really don't want to be spotted, it might help to put on some
different clothes than your regular buckskin outfits, which would kind of stand
out on the citified sidewalks of New York.)  Our heroes are introduced to
inventor David Bushnell, who has developed an early-model submarine, the "Turtle",
which he intends to use to attack the British fleet in New York harbor. 
However, another mission for the submersible device has come up first.... it seems
that Choctaw, a pro-American Indian chief, has been captured by the pro-British
Mohawks and is being held prisoner in a village up the Hudson River.  Only
the "Turtle" has a chance of getting past the Mohawk guards to rescue the chief.
But two "able pilots" familiar with the terrain are needed.  "Say no more!
Dan and I would sail anywhere for the American cause!"  though later, at the
controls of the sub, Tomahawk notes, "Piloting this craft is a hoop and a holler
from frontiering, Dan!"  It's a long way from New York City up the Hudson,
but the Yankees have come up with a clever plan to get the "Turtle" where it
needs to go; Tomahawk surreptitiously attaches the sub to the stern of a British
warship, and rides along as it sails upriver to meet with the Brits' Mohawk
allies.  "It sure is nice of the British to lend a hand for the Continental
cause!"  But the British look less helpful as our heroes realize their plan is to
take Chief Choctaw aboard ship and sail him completely away.  As Choctaw is
brought out to the ship in a canoe, Tomahawk and Dan surface the "Turtle",
panicking the Mohawks who think it is a "water demon", though Choctaw is scarcely
less freaked out by the means of his rescue.  The British sailors recognize the
"Turtle"as an undersea craft and try to hit it with cannon fire.  Then the
sub's propeller crank breaks, making it impossible to move the craft.  The
British seize the sub in a net and try to lever it upwards, but while Dan repairs
the crank, Tomahawk emerges and cuts the ropes of the net.  Then Mohawk
warriors, overcoming their fear of the "water demon", swim underwater to hack at the
wooden vessel with their tomahawks, but our heroes repair the propeller and
rout the Indians by using the propeller to kick up mud from the river bottom, 
Carried downstream by the river current, the "Turtle" brings Tomahawk, Dan and
Chief Choctaw to safety.  "Yessir, I expect big things for the future of the
submarine!"  (But it would take a while for those "big things" to occur, at
least in real history.  Again according to Smith's history, inventor David
Bushnell and the "Turtle" really existed, but his attempts to use the sub to sink
British ships by attaching torpedoes to them mostly failed; the only success
occurred when curious British sailors spotted one of the torpedoes attached to
their ship by a line and hauled it in to see what it was. At least Bushnell got
off better than the crew of the "Hunley", the next famous submarine in
American history, the Civil War Confederate craft that sank for good with all hands
aboard.)   As for Chief Choctaw, there was no such person -- there was a whole
tribe by that name, but they were far south of New York, and weren't
particularly pro-American.) 

Finally, following a Henry Boltinoff gag strip about "Little Pocahontas" and
a house ad for the first appearance in SHOWCASE #6 of the "League of
Death-Cheaters", aka the Challengers of the Unknown by Jack Kirby, we have the
cover-featured "Battle of the Master Woodsmen!"  This looks like another Fred Ray art
job.  On the splash, Tomahawk and his comrades are trying to remain unseen by
crawling under buffalo skins amidst a herd of real buffalo, but the enemy
Indians suspect their presence and stampede the herd; "They're on to our strategy
again, thanks to the REDCOAT BACKWOODSMAN!"  As our story begins, Tomahawk and
Dan Hunter ride for their annual rendezvous with an old friend, a grizzled
pioneer named Thacker who taught Tomahawk much of what he knows about frontier
life and fighting.  But the happy reunion is disrupted this time when a passing
horseman announces that the long-expected war between the British and their
American colonists has finally broken out.  Thacker announces, "It was bound to
be, boys!  Let's saddle up and make tracks... we've got ourselves a war to
fight!"  But Tomahawk is shocked when he realizes that the army Thacker intends
to enlist in is the British one.  The grim-faced Thacker explains, "My kinfolk
are fightin' under the Union Jack, Tomahawk, and I reckon that's where MY
heart has to be!  I can't take upon myself to fight agin' em!"  Regretfully, the
former friends wish each other good luck and ride off in opposite directions;
"That's the meanness of war, Dan!  Sometimes it splits families-- other times
friends!  Thacker is doing what he thinks proper-- and so are we!"  Some time
later, Tomahawk and Dan get an assignment from the Continental Army to escort
a friendly Indian chief named Fleetfoot back to his home village through a
cordon of hostile Mohawk warriors.  In order to decoy the Mohawks, Tomahawk uses
a "paleface" trick-- he sets a piece of burning glass atop a pile of firewood,
expecting that after our heroes and Fleetfoot have left their camp the glass
will start a fire and the smoke will make the Mohawks think they are still in
camp.  The trick fails, though, because the Mohawks have their own adviser--
Thacker, who realizes that "Tomahawk wouldn't be so loco as to show us his
position" and recognizes the burning glass trick which he himself taught Tomahawk.
Since his decoy trick failed, Tomahawk is closely pursued by the Mohawks,
but he has another plan-- to ride out along the prairie trail, where he would
normally be in plain sight, but he has a scheme to remain hidden.  The Indians
spot the trail of Tomahawk and friends' horses leading up into the mountains,
but master tracker Thacker realizes that the horses are riderless and our
heroes are out on the plain using another of his old tricks-- hiding under buffalo
skins to blend in with the herd.  He orders the Indians to stampede the herd,
and Tomahawk in turn tries another trick by ordering Dan and Fleetfoot to grab
the side of a buffalo and cling to its side as he does.  This allows a
momentary escape for our heroes, but with the enemy close behind them and knowing
their every move, how can they reach their goal?  But Tomahawk has realized his
old mentor leads the foe, and "Once you know WHO your foe is, half your
problems are over, lads!  I reckon it's time to turn the tables on Thacker Young!" 
Shortly afterward, Thacker and his braves spot a freshly felled tree drifting
downriver, and suspect that Tomahawk and his friends may be using it to get
past them underwater.  Thacker suspects another frontier trick and wades out
into the stream to make sure-- and sure enough, the buckskin-clad figures
clinging to the tree are dummies.  It appears Thacker has caught another of
Tomahawk's tricks, but in fact this is a trick within a trick, for Thacker has been
lured into a part of the river with a sticky mud bottom, and he cannot get back
to shore.  Tomahawk saves him from drowning, but hauls Thacker, who admits he
has been caught "fair and square", off to "sit out the war in a Colonial
stockade!  Maybe, in time, he'll even take to our way of thinking against the
British!"  (This yarn doesn't directly reflect any real-life events that I know of,
but it was true that the Revolution was as much a civil war among Americans as
anything else, with a lot of friends and family members ending up on opposite

Increasingly, as the Silver Age moved on, TOMAHAWK would get away from the
kind of relatively believable frontier adventures seen in this issue, and
introduce outright fantasy and sci-fi elements into the stories, with midget
Indians, alien Indians, giant monsters and the like.  It's unclear whether this was a
choice of editor Jack Schiff, or whether (as Schiff later claimed) the word
to introduce sci-fi elements into all DC's adventure titles came from higher
up.  But whatever the reason, the result here was even more bizarre and
inappropriate than in Schiff's other titles BATMAN and BLACKHAWK.  (Maybe I'll review
one of those far-out frontier sagas another time.)