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First-person narrator Old Shatterhand encounters the Apache Winnetou, and after initial dramatic events, a true friendship arises between them; on many occasions, they give proof of great fighting skill, but also of compassion for other human beings. It portrays a belief in an innate “goodness” of mankind, albeit constantly threatened by ill-intentioned enemies.
Nondogmatic Christian feelings and values play an important role, and May’s heroes are often described as German Americans.
Winnetou became the chief of the tribe of the Mescalero Apaches (and of the Apaches in general, with the Navajo included) after his father Intschu-tschuna and his sister Nscho-tschi were slain by the white bandit Santer. He rode a horse called Iltschi (“Wind”) and had a famous rifle called Silberbüchse (The Silver Gun, a double-barrelled rifle whose stock and butt were decorated with silver studs). Old Shatterhand became the blood brother of Winnetou and rode the brother of Iltschi, called Hatatitla (Lightning).