“The Thunder-Rider” exists in the form of two incomplete drafts. The more extensive draft lacks the middle section of the story, which is supplemented by the shorter draft. This combination results in a complete narrative, though it’s apparent that some sections are merely outlines or summaries.

The story

“The Thunder-Rider” by Robert E. Howard tells the story of John Garfield, who is the reincarnation of a Comanche warrior named Iron Heart. Through a mystical experience, Garfield recalls his past life and the various exploits and conflicts of Iron Heart. The narrative alternates between Garfield’s current life and his past, exploring themes of identity, cultural heritage, and the timeless nature of certain human experiences. The story delves into the spiritual journey of its main character, his connection to his past, and his understanding of himself as a man of two worlds.

Plot - Spoiler alert

The frame story is narrated by John Garfield, a successful 20th century Comanche man who feels restless and disconnected from his heritage. John seeks out an old medicine man named Eagle Feather who gives him an ancient ritual to recover past life memories and “live over” those lives to find peace.

Through enduring this ritual ordeal, John gains full memory of his past life as 16th century Comanche warrior Iron Heart. The memories come as vivid dreams that then clearly unfold specific events and adventures from Iron Heart’s life centuries before.

Iron Heart gets his ruthless name after Sioux warriors capture and torture his brother Red Knife. Iron Heart chooses to send a smoke signal to warn his tribe rather than attempt to rescue his brother.

Iron Heart leads a raiding party south, but they get sidetracked into a battle with the Lipan tribe, leaving only 5 Comanche survivors fleeing back north. These 5 then encounter Pawnee fighters led by a warrior woman named Conchita. Conchita’s group attacks, overwhelms, and captures Iron Heart’s small party.

Conchita’s group accidentally crosses into a mystical, lost land controlled by an evil sorcerer named Tezcatlipoca. They are captured and imprisoned by Tezcatlipoca and his followers. Conchita kills Tezcatlipoca’s servant Xototl after he tries to assault her. She rescues Iron Heart from his cell.

Iron Heart and Conchita witness Tezcatlipoca using magic to torture and kill the Pawnee warriors. After Iron Heart fails to seriously harm Tezcatlipoca in combat, he grabs a mystical axe left as tribute and splits the sorcerer’s skull with it, appearing to kill Tezcatlipoca.

After the castle is destroyed, Iron Heart coerces and forces Conchita to ride off northward with him away from the site. The ultimate motives, intent, destination or fate of either character after these events is not revealed.


  • John Garfield/Iron Heart: The protagonist, living in modern times but recalling his past life as a Comanche warrior.
  • Eagle Feather: A medicine man who helps John Garfield remember his past life.
  • Conchita: A warrior-girl of the southern Pawnees, significant in Iron Heart’s past.
  • Red Knife: Iron Heart’s brother, whose death profoundly impacts him.
  • Tezcatlipoca: A powerful and ancient being, ruling a mysterious castle in the story.
  • Xototl: A servant of Tezcatlipoca, involved in the story’s climax.
  • Various Pawnee and Comanche warriors: Integral to the story’s action sequences and cultural backdrop.

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