Kearney McRaven comes down from the mountains, where he has been punching cows all winter, to find his father dead. According to several people, Mr. McRaven committed suicide after losing a poker game.
Except, as Kearney McRaven knows, his father was not a quitter. He had been gambling for several years now, and losing every time. Yet never before did he ever consider killing himself after losing a game. So why the sudden change?
Then Kearney overhears men in the tavern talking, and he learns that his father did not lose said card game. Actually, he won nine to ten thousand dollars that night. So if that is the case, then he could not have killed himself. He had won his first poker game, and he had won it big. He had no reason to commit suicide.
But whoever he was playing against had thousands of reasons to murder him.
Kearney goes to the town judge to get his father’s belongings, and the judge sticks to the story he was first told: his father lost the game and committed suicide. But Kearney is not having it. Keeping his father’s pistol on the judge, he tells him to take out the money – and the deed – that his father won in the poker game.
The judge does not like it, especially since Kearney is so young. He is not even eighteen. But he is in no position to argue with the pistol that Kearney is holding, despite having a gun of his own in his safe. He hands over the money and the deed, but not without trying to sweet talk Kearney into entrusting it to him.
Kearney would rather light it on fire and watch it burn. He gets out of town, heading back for the cabin where he lived while he kept watch over the cattle. He stashes the money and the deed along the way, just in case. This turns out to be fortuitous when, in the cabin where he lived for the last few months, he meets the judge and some thugs. They beat him up and demand that he tell them where he hid the money.
But Kearney knows that if he tells them where he hid it, they will kill him. So he lies and says it was stolen, in order to buy himself some time to make a plan. Eventually, he manages to escape the judge and his cronies. But he is so banged up that he would not survive if he did not run into a group of friendly Indians. The Indians take care of him until he is well enough to ride off.
Doing this, Kearney comes to another town. There he meets a man who, from behind, strongly resembles his father. He is so taken aback that he calls the man “Pa,” startling the man and making him turn.
He really, really should not have said anything to the man. Why?
Let’s just say the money Mr. McRaven won in that card game is not the only reason someone would want him dead. It turns out that Mr. McRaven came from somewhere in the American south. He went west to escape a family feud that has been tearing his clan apart for generations. They wanted him out of the way so they could claim sole possession of the land Mr. McRaven held through inheritance. Thinking the senior McRaven had no heirs, this branch of the family now believes they are in the clear because of his death….
Until Kearney calls this man “Pa.”
The Proving Trail is a fast paced, thrilling tale of murder and intrigue. It was the second L’Amour novel that I read, the first being The Cherokee Trail. The historical accuracy is, as usual, superb. Mr. L’Amour shows he is a knowledgeable man in this story. The McCoys and the Hatfields have nothing on the McRavens and the Yants. But you do not need to take my word for it, readers! Pick up The Proving Trail and find out for yourselves how good a story it is!