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Book Review – Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio by Peter Dawson

Forgotten Destiny By Peter Dawson | Used - Very Good ...

Well, I said no more anthology reviews for a while. But a while has passed, and here we are again. I am just glad there are only three stories in this collection. The idea of writing about more than three tales is daunting!

Peter Dawson – real name Jonathan Glidden – was a pulp western writer in the 1930s and ‘40s. Though he was no Louis L’Amour, the three stories in this compilation prove the man could write. Each of the three novellas within this tome has a different cast of characters and a relatively unique plot. Yes, there are recognizable tropes or archetypes in these pieces, but that is part of what makes them appealing. Dawson did not fail to make his characters interesting or his plots intriguing. While I think L’Amour tends to do this better, the fact is that his stronger grasp of the Western might be due to his transcendental view of the Old West.

By this I mean that Louis L’Amour believed the Old West never died. No, we do not have gunslingers and greedy land-grabbers like those in the West of yesteryear. Yes, we cross the country in vehicles rather than by horse or horse and carriage. So what? The values that made the West such an exciting place still exist. In many places, the original settlers’ descendants continue to live and work on the land their ancestors’ paid for with cash, blood, sweat, and tears. How can such a legacy ever be truly erased?

Mr. Dawson’s writings lack this eternal view of the West. While not a detriment per se, they do make his stories feel…different. Speaking as a diehard Louis L’Amour fan, I know that I am always expecting that sense of the transcendental when I pick up Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio. Not finding it is disappointing and tends to lower my enjoyment factor somewhat.

Nevertheless, A Western Trio is well worth reading. If ever this blogger stumbles upon some more works by Mr. Dawson, she will not be averse to picking them up. The man could write well and tell a darn good story. What more could a reader ask for?

All right, with those caveats out of the way it is time to get down to business. The first piece in this anthology is called “Brand of Luck.” Standing in front of his cabin, Hugh Conner glares down at the two men who have come to call. Having moved into the deserted building three months prior, Conner has worked hard to make the formerly desolate property his own.

The two men in front of him intend to change that fact. One of these two bullies is Wyatt Keyes, a man of ambition who has been buying up property in the area for reasons unknown. Just recently he bluffed the Chain Link outfit, the biggest in the area, into giving ten sections of good grazing ground over to him. Now he has come for Conner’s much smaller parcel of land, having already made offers on the land owned by the newcomer’s neighbors.

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With Keyes is his sheriff, Mace Dow. Formerly the ramrod of Keyes’ Key-Bar ranch, the man is a lean, mean hombre who has been enforcing his boss’ will throughout the territory. Although Dow has clearly been drinking, this does not mean he is not dangerous – perhaps as treacherous as Keyes.

Watching the two settle their hands on their gun belts, Conner realizes they have ridden in to shoot it out. As a newcomer and, essentially, a squatter on this property, they believe they can get rid of him without too much trouble. It will be their word against his dead body, and who can ask a corpse which man shot first?

Luckily for Conner, at that moment a wild dog races past the cabin in pursuit of a jack rabbit. Seizing the opportunity to make the men back off, Conner kills the creature before it can catch the rabbit. He is so quick that Dow is left gaping and Keyes’ cannot hide his surprise. But while the two men are convinced that leaving is in their best interests, Conner knows they will return. He also knows that they will bring reinforcements. Dodging trouble on his back trail, Hugh figures his best bet is to cut his losses and leave the territory – now.

But he doesn’t intend to let Keyes’ have the satisfaction of knowing he drove him off his property. After packing his belongings, Conner sets his own house on fire moments before he leaves. On his way out, he meets the daughter of George Baird, owner of the Chain Link outfit. Disappointed that he would leave without helping them, she admits that she came out to convince his neighbors to vote for a new sheriff to replace Dow. Seeing her so depressed and wanting to help the woman who has been such a good friend to him, Conner comes up with a plan…

“Brand of Luck” is probably my favorite piece in this book. It has just enough twists and turns to be interesting, while still feeling like a traditional Western that the style doesn’t jar the reader out of the story. Even if the other novellas were bad, I think I could recommend the collection based on this installment alone.

Fortunately, the next two tales are also good. “Death Brings in the Ophir” starts in court. Nick Treacher is ordered by Judge Byron Morgan to close down the Ophir Mine until he can make the property conform to regulation standards.

Nick Treacher’s response is for the regulations and their enforcers to go pound sand.

The “representative” for the minority stockholders in the Ophir Mine, Sam Poole, instantly jumps to his feet. He claims that Treacher is in contempt of court. Nick corrects him, saying he has no contempt for the law or the court. He has contempt for Poole, who bought the judge and has finagled the owner of the Ophir into this mess.

Although he doesn’t want to do it, Judge Morgan orders Nick’s arrest and the sheriff moves to do so. But since he is fat and out of shape, while Treacher is young and in shape, the owner of the mine is able to outmaneuver him easily. Jumping through the court’s window before he can be grasped, he fires a warning shot through the aperture when Poole jogs up to it and tries to fire after him.

Outside Nick meets up with his old friend, a cowpuncher named Ed Wright, who has been guarding his horse while waiting on his own steed. As the two head back to the mine Nick explains that he has put every penny he has into the Ophir. Many believed it to be played out, but he has discovered that there is still an active vein of silver ore in the rock. He is hoping to make back his money and more on by carefully mining this vein.

Poole knows all of this. And he wants the potential millions it could deliver for himself. With Judge Morgan on his side, he now has the means of getting it.

Nick then springs a surprise on his friend, offering Ed a share in the mine if he will stay and help him keep the property. Surprised, gratified, and excited, Ed is quick to agree. The two reach the mine and alert the men to what has happened. Having hired as many of the roughest, toughest, but honest miners he could find, Nick has a small army guarding the Ophir.

These men are also working the mine, however. And since they cannot increase their numbers, they have to be canny and careful. Poole has resources and can hire as many gunhands as he wants to get the Ophir. With his subversion of the law giving him cover, he can attack the mine at any time in any way he deems fit and – probably – get away with it.

So Treacher, Wright, and the miners settle in for the long haul. When the sheriff trundles up to the Ophir that evening to serve a warrant on Treacher, everyone is ready for him. Nick, Ed, and the men capture him (an easy thing to do) and they decide to holdthe sheriff for a ransom of five thousand dollars. Nick believes he can use that money to stall Poole’s legal beagles long enough to beat the other man at his own game.

Thus Treacher gives Ed the ransom note as the sheriff is hustled off to a cabin, where he can be held until the cash is delivered. In town, Ed posts the ransom note and stays to judge the reaction. While waiting for the townsfolk to notice the poster, however, he comes up with a corollary to Nick’s plan that should help put Poole on defense – if it works…

“Death Brings in the Ophir” is a good entry. It is more convoluted than “Brand of Luck,” but remains an enjoyable yarn nonetheless. The action ramps up quickly, keeping the tension without sacrificing the believability of the tale. For some reason, the ending never ceases to make me think of the film The Unsinkable Molly Brown. (If you have seen that film – shhh! No spoilers! 😉 )

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Finally, we have “Forgotten Destiny,” the story which gave this collection its title. Bill Duncan sets up camp in the desert a few miles from Halfway Springs. Four days ago he received a request for monetary aid from an old friend of his father. Though they have never met, Bill remembers his father speaking highly of one Tom Bostwick. And any friend of his father’s is a friend of Bill Duncan.

So he withdrew five thousand dollars from the bank and hightailed it for Halfway Springs. Now, less than a day away, he ponders what kind of trouble could force a man like Bostwick to ask for help. It would have to be big for him to request aid from his best friend and partner’s son. Worried, Bill stares into the fire, feeling the weight of the money belt around his waist.

Before he can turn in for the night, though, a shot rings out. Bill falls, apparently dead. A man walks up to him, taking the money belt and the horse. Then he leaves Bill for the vultures.

The next day, when Sheriff Ben Alcott is riding back into Halfway Springs, someone shoots at him. Diving for cover, Alcott finds himself face-to-face with a fevered, dehydrated stranger. The man passes out and collapses before he can fire again, giving the sheriff the opportunity to study him more closely. He has a head wound, one that isn’t deep but which has bled profusely.

Alcott brings the man in and sends for the doctor. Simultaneously, he tells someone to let his brother know he is back and wants to speak with him. During the brothers’ conversation, it is revealed that the two Alcotts are secretly trying to run Tom Bostwick off his property. They know Bill Duncan was bringing financial aid and, unbeknownst to his brother, Ben has seen to it that the money will not come through in time.

Or so he thinks. Not long after the doctor leaves, Ben’s deputy arrives with the cash. The younger man starts upon seeing the injured stranger in the jail. Frightened, he explains that the wounded man Sheriff Alcott brought in is the same one he wanted dead!

Things look bad for all concerned, until Bill wakes up with amnesia. Seeing an opportunity to get what he wants and keep Bill out of the way, Alcott decides to use him to capture Bostwick. Grateful for the help, Duncan is only too happy to oblige…

What follows is a rip-roaring good story that will leave a reader turning the pages. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Pick up Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio, at your earliest convenience and see for yourself. Peter Dawson was not on L’Amour’s level, but he was a darn good writer. For that, he deserves to be remembered, readers.

‘Til next time, partners!

The Mithril Guardian

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Coming West….

Everybody who came West was coming to build, some to build in the West, some merely to get rich and get out, but all were intending to do great things, to grow, to achieve.  She heard the talk of the stage passengers while they were eating.  None of them seemed to have any doubts; none of them seemed worried by Indians, by deserts, mountains, or the wilderness.

This was their land of Canaan, the land where dreams came true, but here there was a difference, for each one of them seemed sure that he had to make the dreams come true, that it would be the result of something he did. – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour

Book Review: Flint by Louis L’Amour

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Welcome back to the Wild, Wild West, readers! Here is yet another review for a Louis L’Amour novel that you may peruse at your pleasure. I am making up for lost time on this, am I not?

Well, it cannot be helped. I have reviewed lots of other books, and left one of my favorite authors on the shelf. That should not have happened. So now this blogger intends to see to it that a great man’s work is exposed to a good bit of daylight. This time, the focus is another western of Mr. L’Amour’s: Flint.

Jim Flint, under the alias of James T. Kettleman, is headed back west. Having come east to disappear, he is now headed west to do the same. See, Jim Flint is a big, powerful man. He has been strong since boyhood. Who his parents were he has no idea, for he was found and raised by a wandering gunman who only went by the name Flint.

Well, Flint met the end which was the doom of many a gun hand. Jim did not take this too well, and he had a lot to say about it – mostly with his own six-shooter. That is why he disappeared east, taking the name Kettleman when he did, a play on “cattleman.”

Now he is going back. Diagnosed with cancer, Jim Flint is headed back west to die.

His wife, whom he married simply because he wanted company, does not want to wait for the cancer to run its course. While he was back east, Flint made a fortune in the stock market and on many other business ventures. He is one of the wealthiest men in the nation, getting wealthier all the time. So, with her father’s help, Mrs. Kettleman planned to kill Jim.

But she does not know her husband very well, since Flint is a man of sparse speech and very reticent about his past. This meant that she and her father had no idea Jim was good with a gun – and better than the man they sent to kill him at a gambler’s table on a ferry.

They are also initially unaware of the fact that Jim knows they want his money. And he has no intention that they should see a penny more than he wishes to leave them (i.e., he will leave his wife enough to live on, but not in the way she wants to live on it). With his lawyer’s help, he sets up all his assets to be liquidated as he sees fit, making sure his wife and father-in-law will not get his fortune.

Now, on the train west, Flint spots a man who is definitely trouble. This man is Buckdun, a hired killer. Jim does not know his name yet, but he knows his type; dangerous as you can find. Jim Flint also spots a very pretty young woman on the train whose name he overhears: Nancy Kerrigan.

Now Nancy Kerrigan, owner of the Kaybar Ranch, has her own problems. Settlers are streaming west, and a former political animal – now styling himself a businessman – has come to the locale of her ranch from back east to make his fortune in the unimaginable wealth of the west. Port Baldwin is trying to become a power in the area. This concerns Nancy because her ranch, the Kaybar, is a land claim. She has no title, no deed, for it. Her father purchased some of the ranch land from the Indians, but Indians do not give out titles or deeds. What is more, one Indian can always claim that those Indians who sold the land had no right to sell it.

This puts her ranch and livelihood in serious jeopardy. Her father and her uncle built the ranch up over the years, held it against Indian attacks (which she lived through), and she does not want to lose it. The Kaybar is her home, and she intends to hold it no matter what.

The biggest, most immediate problem with this is that Port Baldwin has started to brew a range war. Range wars are ugly, violent affairs that can end very badly for those involved. And when Nancy sends one of her hands out to file a claim on the Kaybar so she can later buy the rights back from him, along with several others, the man is ambushed and left for dead.

Enter Jim Flint, who has no intention of getting caught up in a range war but who also does not care if he lives through it or dies in it, since he is going to die anyway. And a man who has nothing to lose is a one big bag of terrifying. With no fear of his own death, Flint cannot be forced to simply back down. If you want him out of your way, you will have to kill him. And he is a hard man to kill.

Flint is one of L’Amour’s more complex stories. Jim Flint does not fit the type of the western hero with which we are all familiar; even among L’Amour’s own stock of protagonists, he stands out. He is different, harsher, because he is going to die…

Or is he?

From here, you will have to break your own trail, readers. Have fun reading Flint, and may you find many more L’Amour stories to interest you as time goes by!

May there be a road!

The Mithril Guardian

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Book Review: Hondo by Louis L’Amour

Hondo Lane.

What a name that is. Some never heard it. Some heard it too late. Those who heard it received it second hand, or they were not on the wrong end of his gun. If they were there, and somehow survived, it was because he saw fit to spare them.

A tall, lean, wide-shouldered man with a hard-boned face was Hondo Lane. There was no softness in him, yet also no cruelty. At heart, a kind man, with gentleness in him that was hidden and well-protected. To show kindness and compassion at the wrong moment in his time could lead to a quick end.

And Hondo Lane is not interested in dying soon.

But at the beginning of his story, that seems hard to avoid. A couple of young Apaches shot his horse out from under him, thinking to make a quick kill. They end up dead alongside the horse – but a man without a horse in the desert is a man who will not live long.

Then Hondo comes upon a little ranch house in a nearby valley. In the house are Angie Lowe and her son, Johnny. They are situated smack dab in Apache territory, and currently the Apaches are not happy. They are on the war trail.

This is why Hondo lost his horse and was almost killed. The treaty made with the Apaches has been broken, and now they want the white man to pay. So the U.S. Army has moved in to take care of the trouble. Hondo is carrying dispatches for the Army, since he is a scout for them, and he needs to get them to the nearest fort as soon as possible. To do that, he needs a horse.

Angie Lowe has two horses to choose from, and she allows Hondo to pick out and borrow one. But she dismisses Hondo’s warnings about the Indians. Angie tells him that the Apaches have always gotten along well with them, and that her husband will be back soon.

Hondo, however, has read the spoor around her land. Not only are the Apaches running around the place on their way to war, the hoof prints from her husband’s horse are old. He has been gone a long time, long enough for the ranch he has not been taking care of to fall into further disrepair.

To pay for his meal, bed, and horse, Hondo sharpens the family’s axe and chops wood for them. He also re-shoes the plough horses, whose hooves have grown over the old shoes. He tells Angie again that she would be safer coming with him out of Indian Territory than staying in it, even if the land is hers through inheritance from her father. He also tells her that she is an “almighty poor liar,” and he knows her husband is not present or coming back any time soon.

Angie is most upset by this. Her husband, who was raised with her on the ranch, is actually a bum. The guy works little on maintaining the ranch and goes on “trips” to the fort and nearby towns. There he gambles, drinks, and pays attention to the saloon girls. Meanwhile, Angie is left to mind the ranch and raise Johnny. She cannot handle the ranch alone, but she loves it and it is hers. So she is determined to take care of it to the best of her ability.

But most of what upsets her is that she likes Hondo. She likes him very, very much. Of course, being married to another man, for better or worse, that kind of puts a damper on things for her and Hondo.

The story spins its way out from here, readers, and this is as much of the trail as I am going to guide you on. From here on, you will have to saddle, bridle, and rope this book yourselves. If you do all that, then you may do to ride the river with. If you have already crossed this and other trails of Louis L’Amour’s, then I salute you and am happy to ride in your company.

Hondo was Louis L’Amour’s first full-length publication. Before Hondo was published, Mr. L’Amour had only produced short stories for various magazines. Hondo was his breakout novel. After it hit the market, he had no need to look back. He was off to the races, and he kept going till the end of his days.

John Wayne was in a film based on Hondo. The film goes by the same name as the book. It is a good film – a great one, I think. And before some of you say that it is just a “cowboy movie,” let me step in here and make something clear. A “cowboy” is someone who “punches cows.” He manages another man’s herd for him, whether it is cattle or horses. He helps with the branding, driving, and protecting of the herd from outside attackers.

Hondo is not a cowboy. He is a scout for the Army. So when John Wayne played Hondo Lane in the film Hondo, he played a U.S. Army scout. There is plenty of daylight between the two positions, as much as there is between a military sniper and a beat cop. Do not ever go mixing the two up – especially around me.

You get that story straight, and you’ll do to ride the river with.

See ya around, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Shane by Jack Schaefer

“Call me Shane.”

I do not recollect seeing the film Shane. I know that Fonzie, of Happy Days fame, swore by the movie and would become highly upset with someone who admitted that they had never seen it.

But I have done one better. I have read the book.

“Call me Shane.” That is what the stranger who rides up to the Starrett farm tells the man of the house. Joe Starrett, owner of this homestead in the Wyoming territory, is trying to make the farm work. His son, Robert MacPherson Starrett – “Bob” because his full title is “too much name for a boy” – is the protagonist of the story. Having watched Shane approach from a distance, Bob is intrigued by the stranger. Of all the men he has seen in town, none are like Shane. Not even his father, whom he loves more than any other man, quite compares to Shane’s carefully concealed strength.

Joe Starrett invites Shane in for dinner and introduces him to his wife, Marian. Shane treats her like the lady from the East that she is, inspiring her to curtsy to him when he makes the proper opening gesture of respect. Shane accepts Joe’s offer of a place to sleep that night, though since the house only has enough room for the family, he will have to sleep in the barn.

The next day, Bob’s father tells the drifter that he is in a tight spot. One of the local ranchers – a man named Fletcher – is trying to “crowd” Mr. Starrett and a bunch of other farmers off of their land. Called “nesters” by Fletcher (and other ranchers like him) because they “nest” on the open range the ranchers used to let their herds feed on freely, the farmers are no match for Fletcher’s wealth, influence, and power. For instance, just a few months before, Joe’s young helper was chased off by some of Fletcher’s men. They beat him up badly, after which he packed his things, “cursed” Joe Starrett, and left without a backward glance.

Joe makes sure to mention this to Shane when he essentially offers to hire the other man. Shane states he knows nothing about farming, but he takes the job all the same. Months pass, and as they do, Bob watches Shane. Over the course of time he grows to love Shane as a second father.

Shane is a short book, but it is well worth reading. My description of it here is diminished because if I say much more, I will spoil the story completely. A longer book has more leeway for description; more happens that can be described without spoiling the novel too much.

Jack Schaefer’s book, while it is sixteen chapters, does not have a lot of flexibility in this regard. If I say too much more about the story, I will tell you a good deal more than I wish to say.

As a final note, I know why Fonzie swears by the film. If it was even half as good as the book, it is worth swearing by. Shane is a classic, without question. If you can grab a copy, readers, it will be well worth your money!

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour

The Cherokee Trail

Those of you who have attended to this blog for any length of time will recognize the title of this post. If you were to type The Cherokee Trail into the search engine on the right hand side of your screen, you would probably get more results than I care to calculate.

At the dawn of this blog’s existence, I wrote a post about a book which contained many quotes from Louis L’Amour’s stories. This book had been compiled by the famous author’s actress daughter, Angelique L’Amour. And yet, despite the fact that he is one of my favorite authors, I have not reviewed a novel written by the man who brought the West to life for so many people.

That ends today, readers. This post is about The Cherokee Trail, written by Louis L’Amour, published in 1982.

The Cherokee Trail focuses on one M. O. Breydon, the widow of Major M. O. Breydon. Mrs. Mary O. Breydon is on her way west with her daughter, Peg. She is riding the stagecoach to Cherokee Station, a stage station along the Cherokee Trail. This station is where her husband planned to get a job. Since he is dead, murdered by guerrillas, the job has fallen to her. She needs the money, and she intends to hold this job no matter what.

Mrs. Breydon and Peg are not the only passengers on this stage. There is an Irish girl just a few years younger than Mrs. Breydon herself and a well dressed, heavy set man. There is also a younger man, seated at the opposite end of the bench across from her and her daughter, whose insinuating glances discomfit Mrs. Breydon.

And there is a young, grey eyed man with three pistols in his belt and a black hat pulled low over his face who is seated right next to Peg.

The Irish girl, Matty Maginnis, initiates a conversation with Mrs. Breydon, which the men enter in on. During this conversation it is revealed that Cherokee Station is run by an uncouth drunk named Scant Luther. The man has a bad reputation and no respect for women. Nevertheless, Mary Breydon plans to dismiss him as her husband would have. And she plans to take his job, which her husband accepted before he was murdered: the management of Cherokee Station.

Well, the stage pulls into the station, a soused Luther comes out, and a scene ensues. Mary Breydon has the letter giving him notice of his discharge and replacement read out loud in front of him and the other stage passengers. Luther does not take kindly to being replaced – especially by a woman from back East. He sits down in the doorway of the station and challenges Mrs. Breydon to fire him.

And fire him she does – with a horsewhip! Right in the middle of his statement of the rules for the challenge, she takes the stage driver’s whip from his hand and it is obvious she knows how to use it. Four lashes later, plus one hard look from the grey eyed man on the stage, and Luther decides to hustle on out of the way. For now.

Mrs. Breydon cleans up some of the mess he left behind in the station building and gets a suitable lunch set out for the passengers. Two of the men ride on in the stage while Matty remains at the station, taking Mrs. Breydon’s offer of a job as maid and cook. The grey eyed man, Temple Boone, decides to stay the night as well, since he has a horse waiting for him in the station’s stables.

In addition, Mrs. Breydon finds a young boy named Wat Tanner standing outside the station building. She invites him to work for her as well, and he agrees, so long as its “man’s work” and not “women’s work” – such as washing the dishes!

The Cherokee Trail was, I believe, the first novel of Louis L’Amour’s which I ever read. It not only impressed me, it made me hungry for more. Mr. L’Amour led a colorful life, and he wrote something on the order of over two hundred books. He used a variety of pen names before signing his books with his real name. Apparently, the publishers did not believe a name like “Louis L’Amour” would catch people’s attention. John Wayne – real name Marion Morrison – had to use a pseudonym in his work for similar reasons.

Louis L’Amour researched all his novels carefully, and the Author’s Note which precedes The Cherokee Trail proves it. Someday soon I will review another novel of his. For the time being, readers, you have an assignment: search out and read The Cherokee Trail. It is worth the hunt, and if you do not love it for any reason, I am truly sorry to hear that. If you do like it – welcome to the range, partner! We’ve been expectin’ ya!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Wandering

The Cherokee Trail

“It’s like the rest of them, mum. No matter where you are, there is always something else that might be better, just a little further west.”

It was true, of course. Wandering got into the blood, and there were always those greener pastures that lay over the fence or over the next range of mountains.

Here all was strange and new and yet somehow familiar. Western men and women had little time for contemplation, although Temple Boone said he did most of his thinking alongside a campfire or when riding. Western men were thinking of how things could be done; they were used to making do. Since coming to Cherokee, she had heard several stories of men alone who had set their own broken bones, amputated limbs, doing what could be done to survive. Only a few miles away, two sisters had built their own log cabin. – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour