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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: Valley of the Sun by Louis L’Amour

Valley of the Sun - A collection of short stories by Louis ...

Valley of the Sun is a collection of nine of Louis L’Amour’s short stories. As the title suggests, each pice included in the anthology is a Western. None of the entries are among the noir detective shorts or sailing tales he liked to tell. That does not make the assortment bad; it just means that if you want a little variety, Valley of the Sun has that for Westerns but nothing else.

The first story in the anthology is “We Shaped the Land with Our Guns” and it is one of the best installments in Sun. Tap Henry and Ryan “Rye” Tyler, two cow punchers nearing the end of a cattle drive, discover a quite a few strays have settled in a neat little valley a few miles from the town where they are to deliver the current herd. After finishing the drive, Tap and Rye draw their pay and move into a cabin near the stray beast. They begin to fix the place up in order to start their own cattle outfit.

As they soon learn, however, the local ranchers don’t like having to make room for new men staking their claim in prime grazing land. One of the cattlemen named Chet Bayless wants them gone, in no small part because their new ranch threatens his plan to take over the territory. Unknown to him, he and Rye have a history – one that Rye knows will eventually end with lead.

“We Shaped the Land with Our Guns” is fantastic. Compact and full of action, it manages to convey the characters’ personalities quickly and completely. Nothing is missing from this tale. Reading it is like reading a book, since the story feels longer than it actually is. That is no mean feat, even for a writer of L’Amour’s skill!

Next is “West of the Pilot Range.” Ward McQueen, from Arizona, comes upon a herd of cattle protected by four men. Since two men already quit, the group is short-handed and looking for more help. The leader of the outfit, Iver Hoyt, asks if he wants a job protecting the cattle. McQueen says he does and is hired on the spot….

But something about the entire situation does not sit well with him. Hoyt and his ramrod, Red Naify, both seem too harsh and hurried. The other two hands – Baldy Jackson and Bud Fox – are friendlier and honest, so McQueen has no concerns about them, something is definitely off about the other two. When he comes upon the body of a nice young man with a good horse the night after joining the outfit, his suspicions increase. Something is definitely wrong. McQueen begins investigating the situation more thoroughly, only to become mired in a deadly rustling conspiracy.

“When a Texan Takes Over” follows the exploits of Matt Ryan. Matt has been living in the Slumbering Hills for about three months, quietly mining gold. In order to keep away from prying eyes, Matt moves his camp and stays out of everyone’s view. This means that, while they know he is around, they do not see him until he comes out in the open. And he usually becomes visible only when he goes to Hanna’s Stage Station for the food. And the girl.

Kitty Hanna helps her father run the stage station, cooking meals for passengers and drifters alike. Though she does not yet know his name, she likes Matt Ryan and makes certain to show it. But when a known rustler and his hanger on, Fred Hitch, arrive at the station, the former tries to brace Ryan. In order to avoid a fight with them in the station, Matt does not rise to their bait – something Kitty does not appreciate.

Put out, Ryan considers leaving. However, despite not being invested in the area (beyond his interest in Kitty), he respects the man who brought law and order to the Slumbering Hills. That man is Tom Hitch, the adopted father of Fred Hitch.

Tom is dying. He is also being robbed blind. His adopted son, who has very little strength of character, has been forced to go along with the stealing by the rustler he hired as a ramrod. Knowing this, Ryan makes a decision to tell Tom what is going on, only for the thieves to push Matt out. They’re just a bit late, however. Before they murder him in cold blood, Tom leaves a message for Ryan: Take over. By any means necessary.

Valley of the Sun: Stories eBook: Louis L'Amour: Amazon.ca ...

The next story is “No Man’s Mesa.” Matt Calou bought the Rafter H, a ranch situated near Black Mesa, and has arrived to settle his claim. But he soon finds that the locals are opposed to his moving into the abandoned farm. Whenever cattle go missing, crops fail, or unseasonable weather moves in, they blame Black Mesa for the trouble. Convinced it is cursed and spreads bad luck to those who live near it, they want no one to move within the rock’s shadow and spread the evil around.

Amused by their fallacy, Matt goes to the ranch and begins settling in. He soon finds he has some pretty company; Sue Reid, the daughter of an archaeologist who lives nearby, likes to drop into the Rafter H from time to time. Visiting with Matt, she tells him that the townspeople take their superstitions about Black Mesa very seriously. Having given him a week to leave of his own accord, they plan to run him off the farm if he does not go willingly.

Knowing there must be something going on for the cattle to continuously disappear without a trace, Matt begins investigating. What he finds makes the whole picture clear. It also gives him the high card when the townsfolk inevitably come to chase him off the Rafter H.

“Gila Crossing” is one of the longer stories in the collection. Texas Ranger Jim Sartain arrives in the town of Gila Crossing, which is simmering with resentment. A fire recently burned off several acres of good grazing land. It nearly burned out a group of nesters, who purposely moved into an area that they believed would be out of the cattlemen’s way.

Despite their efforts to avoid trouble, it has arrived. One of the nesters was murdered, his animals driven off, and his house set ablaze. Coupled with the fire that destroyed the range, things look suspicious. Both sides blame the other, but neither has anything to gain in a range war. They all lose if they set the country alight with their anger. So who benefits in such a despicable situation?

Jim Sartain aims to find out – preferably before more people die.

“Medicine Ground,” the following story in the anthology, is a Cactus Kid tale. It is a bit formulaic and dry in its presentation of events, much like a Zorro or Lone Ranger story would be when it was written by someone who was not totally invested in the character. I do not know if Mr. L’Amour created the Cactus Kid – I think he was a protagonist created by someone else, but whom many writers used in various stories in order to make a sale.

While L’Amour’s tale is strong and he does put effort into it, to me, there is some genuine heart missing from the piece. It feels like something he did simply to earn a few dollars and fill space in a magazine. There is nothing wrong with that; everyone has to eat, and L’Amour was as human as anyone else. But in my opinion “Medicine Ground” is not a particularly interesting story, despite the craftsmanship that went into it.

Anyway, the Kid is heading out to a date with Bess O’Neal, a local Irish girl from a ranching family. Having missed two dates with her already, he has been warned that to miss a third will be the end of their acquaintance. To avoid that fate the Kid has dressed accordingly. Riding a piebald horse with one blue eye, he heads off to the dance at the nearby school to meet his sweetheart.

Unfortunately, his trip is interrupted. While playing poker earlier in the day, the Cactus Kid happened to notice that one of the players was not dealing fairly. Ace Fernandez, the card sharp in question, got a little greedy and missed the Kid slip his sleeve cuff over a nail. When Fernandez reached to collect the pot, his sleeve tore and the sleeve holdout he had been using was revealed. On being thus discovered, Ace reached for his iron. He was slower than one of the other players, who shot him dead.

Ace’s brothers, Lobo and Miguel, have decided that the Kid is primarily to blame for these events. Thus they lie in wait for him between the town and the school. Being a scientific as well as a betting man, the Kid knows better than to argue with two unwavering guns. However, he also knows he has to live and make the dance with Bess. With that thought in mind, he begins trying to escape…

…Only to overhear the brothers say something about a senorita.

Valley of the Sun - Short Story | The Official Louis L ...

Following this installment we have the titular “Valley of the Sun,” which begins with Brett Larane waking slowly. Wounded and left to die in the desert, his memory takes time to return. But when it does, he realizes he has to get home – fast. Having accepted a job as Marta Malone’s foreman at the Hidden Valley Ranch, he worked there even after her other hands quit, making him foreman in name only.

Deeply in love with Marta, he had hoped to start a life with her at the ranch. Now that future is in serious jeopardy. Brett knows the men who shot him will go back to the Hidden Valley Ranch. One of the men wants Marta, the others want the ranch. They already have the money he had received upon selling her horses. It will be the easiest thing in the world for them to say that he ran off with the cash and left her.

Brett does not want to die. He does not want to leave Marta. But a wounded man afoot in the desert has to be careful if he wishes to survive. For Brett to make it back to Hidden Valley Ranch, he will have to cross the Valley of the Sun. And if he doesn’t do it right, he is a dead man.

Next we have “That Slash Seven Kid,” a rip-roaring good yarn if there ever was one. Johnny Lyle is the nephew of Tom West, the owner of the Slash Seven Ranch, and his uncle loves him dearly. However, he does consider the boy a guest and a greenhorn, an opinion shared by most of the hands.

More than a little tired of their babying, Johnny sets out to find a local rustler named Hook Lacey in order to win the respect of the hands. Though free with his talk, there is nothing wrong with his hearing, and Johnny has heard that Lacey seems to like Tierra Blanca Canyon, which is near the town of Victorio. While there, he discovers three disguised Slash Seven hides at the butcher’s shop. The butcher tries to chase him off, only to be given the beating of his life.

After telling the townsfolk that he intends to deal with Hook if he rustles another Slash Seven steer, Johnny makes the outlaw angrier by falling for the girl Lacey likes. Setting out the next morning, the so-called tenderfoot knows he has to make good on his brags to a degree if he wants to be considered a hand. The problem, of course, is to do it without dying in the process.

This is a very good story, one of the best in the volume. It’s got all the heart and style L’Amour is known for, as well as a good plot and strong characters. “That Slash Seven Kid” is a tale to ride the river with. 😉

The same can be said of the final story in the collection. “In Victorio’s Country” is a fantastic piece that follows the exploits of a set of bank robbers. Red Clanahan and his men successfully rob the bank in the town of Cholla. Red’s old friend Bill Gleason, who stayed on the right side of the law as the West was won, is the sheriff of Cholla. Having set out in pursuit of Apaches, he is not present when Red and his gang make their play.

While heading for the border, Red and his three companions find a set of tracks that makes them pause. The Apaches are indeed active in the area, but the four men know how to avoid being seen by them. However, it appears there is someone else out here as well: a couple of kids, boy and girl.

Identifying their tracks leaves the outlaws in a quandary. They have more than enough money to make them very rich, at least until they spend it on gambling, drinking, and women. And although they are well ahead of Gleason, the sheriff and his posse are even now tracking them down to bring them to justice. So the question before the thieves is: do they continue south as they had planned, or do they go help these two kids?

9780786205875: Valley of the Sun: Frontier Stories ...

This has to be one of the best short pieces L’Amour ever wrote. If I had to recommend Valley of the Sun on the basis of a single story, this would be it. The other tales in this anthology are worth reading, but “In Victorio’s Country” is the real prize. It epitomizes the Western ethos along with everything fans love about the genre. And it makes Valley of the Sun more than worth the purchase price.

But you do not need to take my word for it, readers! Pick up Valley of the Sun at your earliest opportunity. You won’t regret it! 😀

‘Til next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L’Amour

Last Stand at Papago Wells - Louis L'Amour Wiki

Here we are, readers – the first post of a new year! Today’s topic is a Louis L’Amour novel, one of my favorites. Last Stand at Papago Wells was one of the first two or three L’Amour books that I read, and it has a special place in my heart because of that.

This tale is a beauty. Full of suspense, action, intrigue, and tension, L’Amour poured a great deal into this story. It would make a fantastic film, and I hope someone gets the rights to it one of these days. This is a Western that deserves to be on the silver screen!

Okay, enough of the fan-ranting. It’s time to describe the story!

Logan Cates is drifting through the desert when he picks up a trail going toward Yuma. At roughly the same time, he spots a cloud of dust moving in the same general direction. It could be nothing more than a posse or a few travelers headed West….

But with Churupati, a half-Apache, half-Yaqui Indian raiding, pillaging, and murdering small farms and settlements throughout this section of Arizona, those explanations are not entirely satisfactory. Either set of trails Logan has seen and is following could belong to the renegade’s men. It is hard to make sure at a distance, though one trail definitely seems to have been made by white men and not Indians.

Worried by the flurry of activity in what should be a fairly empty desert, Logan pushes forward. This portion of the Territory is largely waterless; only a few tanks up ahead hold out any hope of water. Known as Papago Wells, these particular tanks fill up with water inch by inch over the desert months. Catch them at the right time and you will find enough water to help you along. Come upon them at the wrong time, and you are dead. Logan needs water, and so he is headed to the Wells to refill his canteens….

Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L'Amour ...

…And that’s the same place everyone else he has noticed seems to be heading as well.

Up ahead, Jennifer Fair and her fiancé, Grant Kimbrough, are on their way to Yuma to marry. Pursuing them is Jennifer’s father, Jim Fair, a well-known and well-respected cattleman. Having been to school back East for the last few years, Jennifer has come to hate her father and Arizona. This hatred has been fed to greater heights by the fact that she saw her father gun down a young man her ten or eleven year old self had a crush on. She is determined to leave the country by any means available or necessary.

Taking advantage of all this, Kimbrough proposed to her. When her father absolutely refused to accept him as a prospective son-in-law, he suggested they run away to marry, which Jennifer was all too happy to do. On the way toward Yuma they happen across the remains of two cowpunchers the Apaches killed and mutilated.

Lonnie Foreman, the only survivor of the attack, pops up from the rocks and explains what happened. Hitching a ride with the couple, they continue on to Papago Wells. There they meet an old buffalo hunter and his Pima Indian companion, who were pursued to Papago Wells by a posse from Yuma after they killed a young man intent on making a name for himself by murdering one or both of them.

Elsewhere, Junie Hatchet is taken captive by a band of marauding Indians. She escapes them temporarily, only to be chased into an outcropping of rock over the course of the following day. A cavalry patrol which was absorbed into the posse finds and rescues her before heading into Papago Wells, too.

Prior to their arrival Logan pulls into the tanks and mentions the Apaches are watching and waiting to strike at those who will congregate at the Wells. Not long after the gang is all together, Churupati puts them under siege. Elected leader of the group, Logan Cates must find a way to keep them all alive until search parties from Yuma, a nearby fort, or Jim Fair reaches them. Otherwise they are doomed to die at the hands of the Apache.

This book is a tense, action packed little novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat, readers. Part horror, part Treasure of the Sierra Madre, L’Amour’s Last Stand at Papago Wells is a worthy addition to any library. It is one of the best stories the man ever wrote. I recommend you pick it up and enjoy it at your earliest opportunity, because you won’t be disappointed by it. 😉

‘Til next time!

Flickriver: Photoset 'The Western Novels of Louis L'Amour ...

Responsibility

She remembered so well what her father had said, “Don’t waste time worrying about the mistakes of yesterday. Each morning is a beginning. Start from there.” – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour

“One day,” her father had often said, “this will all be yours, so you must learn how it functions. Never trust your affairs to anyone else. If you have a foreman or a super intendant, that’s fine, but be sure you know what is going on. You give the orders, you check to make sure your wishes are carried out.” – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour

Wind River – A Review

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For the most part, there is a general rule I have about films: I watch them (or their trailers) before I buy them. The last thing I want is to spend money on a film only to find out it is not worth the powder to dispose of it. Sometimes, however, I end up breaking my own rule. It is usually pretty bad when I do not like said film myself, but when I buy it as a present for someone else and we both have problems with it – oh, the mortification!

To be fair, Wind River is a good movie. It’s just not great. I will take on the plot deficits first to get the negativity out of the way before I get to the positive, because there IS a positive here. It just does not make my overeager mistake any less embarassing.

With few exceptions, modern Westerns do not excite or interest me. This is because it has been obvious for years now that Hollywood no longer respects or loves the Western; they mock the genre in general. Nevertheless, whenever I hear about a new “Western” coming out, my ears prick up and I pay attention. It does not usually take more than one viewing of the film’s trailer for me to decide whether or not the “Western” in question is a movie I want to watch.

This also explains why Wind River slipped past my defenses; I never really saw the trailers for the film. I read the description for it months after it came out (took that long for someone to actually write a proper report about it), and it sounded interesting, almost like an extended episode of Longmire. That is an impressive series which I can no longer watch and so, with this in mind, I got the film for a friend as a Christmas gift.

For the most part, I would say we were impressed with it. But there were problems with the story. If you do not want any spoilers for the movie, sorry, you are getting them. Here we go:

The premise for Wind River is that an Arapaho Indian girl is found raped and frozen to death out on the Wind River Reservation by a Fish and Wildlife hunter (Jeremy Renner). This brings up bad memories for him, since his own daughter died similarly three years ago. Plus, the current dead girl was his daughter’s best friend. So we have a one-two gut punch here, and a pretty compelling one at that; so far, so good.

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He alerts the Reservation police to his discovery and they call in the FBI. In their typically abstract, disinterested fashion, the Feds send in a young inexperienced agent from their Nevada office (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the girl’s death. Having recently transferred there from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Olsen’s character is far from prepared to deal with the Wyoming spring. They take her out and show her the body after getting her warm clothes. Once at the scene Renner’s character, Cory Lambert, positively identifies the dead girl (again).

Now we come to the disappointing parts of the film. One recurring difficulty in the movie was that the actors and actresses tended to speak Soto Voce. It meant we had to dial the sound up way too high for comfort to hear them, and even then they were hard to understand. Then we have the villains, identified as “oil field trash,” who are guarding a couple of nearby rigs which have been shut down.

This was a big, BIG sticking point for me and my friend. I knew of the plot point going in, and though it stuck in my craw, I was willing to watch the film anyway. My friend is more accustomed to the demonization of oil field workers than I am, so that was not mi compadre’s main difficulty with that part of the film (though it was still irritating). No, what got my amigo here was something else entirely.

During an after-film discussion, my friend explained that once oil rigs are started, they do not shut down until the rig strikes oil or gas. Only after this is it shut down and then dismantled to be moved to a different site or stored inactive for use at a future time and place. Drilling rigs are generally owned by third parties, who rent or lease them to a company or other corporate entity for the obvious purpose of drilling for and finding oil or natural gas. From the time the rigs are under contract, they cost everyone involved in running them constantly. This is whether they are moved from storage to active site, active site to active site, or from active site to storage. Lease or rent is due and payable, active or idle, by whatever entity is using the rig. Thus these rigs would not be set up, ready to go, and standing idle.

Yet in Wind River, this is exactly what is going on. There is no reason given for the rigs’ deactivation and there should be. Real rigs are run through rain, sleet, snow, or shine, in Wyoming and elsewhere. To have these two turned off on an active site for as long as the story implies is assinine because it would never happen in real life. Two idle rigs standing so close together anywhere in the world today is yet another affront to reality.

The next hitch with the story was the fact that none of the culprits scarpered after killing the dead girl’s boyfriend (guess why she was running away that night). They also all come back from town drunk on their snowmobiles. Uh, what? None of them have cars or trucks? None of them, after awakening from their drunken stupor, realize, “Oh bleep, we just killed a guy” and run for the border?

Yeah, right. One or two might have been stupid enough or mean enough to stick around and try to cover up the murder and the rape, but not the whole crew. Most people scram when they realize they have murdered someone, unintentionally or not. That did not happen in this story, and it should have.

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Next we have the O.K. Corral style standoff at the oil rigs. I can actually buy Olsen’s character getting everyone killed. It is (a) a typical, by-the-book rookie/junior mistake and (b), the Feds are all about throwing their weight around. In this case, they had Olsen’s character at least being sincere, so I can forgive her character a little for this fisaco.

What is unforgiveable is that the writers did not let the Wyoming deputies (whom they showed were obviously aware of immanent danger) protect themselves. This could have been done by placing one or two of the deputies in trailing or flanking positions for the rest of the law enforcement guys in case a problem arose. These might be jaded, cynical cops who are too accustomed to “getting no help” on the Res from the Feds, but that does NOT make them stupid or unwilling to preserve their lives. This was just typical, annoying Hollywood disdain here.

Another drawback for the film was that there was not enough for the main characters to do. This story takes place over the course of two or three days, and in that timeframe barely anything happens. Even as I watched the movie all I could think was, “Yes, I get that you want to convey Lambert’s grief, and you’re doing it really well. But come on – add a little extra dialogue, some banter, or some movement, a little action – SOMETHING to help carry this scene forward instead of letting it drag like this…”

The other big catch with the movie was the rape scene. Placed as it was in the film, it was utterly superfluous to the story. If it was truly necessary, the place to use it was at the earliest possible point in the film for the purpose of emotional impact. Its location before the gunfight wastes the opportunity. It would also have been much simpler and better if the writer(s) had skipped this and used Lambert’s forced confession from the bad guy at the climax of the movie to tell us what happened. We would have gotten the gist of the rape scene just fine with that; there was no need to show us what happened.

The fact that the writer(s) wasted film on the rape scene means they were either trying to make a point about how evil oil workers are, or they wanted to make a statement about how bad it is for Indian girls on the Res. Thanks, but I did not need this scene to know it was bad. The dead body near the beginning was a pretty big clue (which even the FBI could not miss), that things are bad out there; the movie really did not need this scene.

Something else important which the writer(s) for the film neglected to mention is that Federal law ends at the borders of every Indian Reservation in the country. If an Indian commits a crime – any crime – and gets back to the Res before he is caught, then the Feds cannot go in to get him without securing the help of the Reservation police. Their assistance – real or otherwise – must be obtained before a Fed can set foot on a Reservation.They also cannot wander around the Res looking for the culprit alone.

Likewise, you can literally do anything on an Indian Reservation and get away with it. The Reservation police are the only law and order on the Res, and they are either spread too thin to cover all the territory or they look the other way, allowing people to get away with whatever they are doing – except in certain cases, I am sure.

Another flaw in Wind River is that Renner’s character, Lambert, is apparently the only Fish and Wildlife hunter for the Wind River Reservation and the territory surrounding Lander, Wyoming. It also appears that he goes to Pineville a lot while on the job, since he was there with his wife on the night his own daughter was raped and froze to death.

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How could this be a problem for the movie? I did not understand it, either, until my friend pulled out a map to show me that Pineville is far too out of the way for an overnight trip, which is what was implied in the film. Thermopolis or another town closer to Lander would have been a better choice because it could have been reached within the stated timeframe.

This leads to another snag in the story: who in their right mind would leave their sixteen year old daughter home alone to babysit her five year old brother for the night? These days, misbehavior on the part of minors is encouraged. It is rare for anyone to leave their children home alone like the Lamberts supposedly did in Wind River. It would have been more sensible for the writer(s) of Wind River to have the Lamberts’ daughter be out at a party which got out of hand and ended badly, or something along those lines, than what we were told in the film.

Finally, we come to the point of intensity for the film. The climax for the movie was satisfying, but not as much as it could have been. As my friend said, Wind River could have been an update of The Searchers, showing a longer search over time and giving us more of a look at Wyoming’s scenery. (My friend would really have liked to seen Wyoming shown in all her glory through the four seasons.) The bad guy Lambert eventually does in could have been responsible not only for this girl’s death, but for the death of Lambert’s daughter as well. Taking him out would thus have been far more fulfilling for everyone involved. None of this is to say that the climax was bad. It just could have been better, like the rest of the plot for the movie.

You can see now, readers, why I feel embarrassed for getting Wind River for mi compadre without watching it first. After sifting the story a little, we are not left with much more than a carapace, a shell of what could have been. I felt more than a bit mortified after the first three or four conversations we had discussing this movie.

Still, my friend insists Wind River is a good film, and I did enjoy it. We both would have liked it more if these glaring plot holes and virtue signals had been absent or mended, but on the whole we actually came to the consensus that the film deserves three stars. Why?

For one thing, the acting by every member of the cast is superb. I do not often say this about a movie – I really do not – but the acting here was just that good. I have seen both Renner and Olsen in and out of the Avengers’ franchise, although I admit that that is where I like them best.

I have seen Renner in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and in advertisements for other movies. Frankly, while I liked Ghost Protocol and thought he was good in it, his performance there did not equal his work in the MCU. In Wind River, I think he managed to up his game; if the plot had been better, I would have enjoyed his performance even more than I did.

Olsen – I saw a little of her in the Godzilla remake. Blech, I hated it – not her, the film. My revulsion for the last Godzilla movie colored my appreciation for Olsen’s acting there. Not so in Wind River. She did a very, very good job in this film. Wind River should put her on half a dozen casting call lists at least.

Graham Greene was great as the world-weary, quietly cynical, yet still friendly Reservation police chief. I hated watching him die; for a minute there, I thought he might have been spared and that the description of the film had mistakenly listed him among the dead. No such luck – dang. He was really good; too good to croak.

The rest of the cast did a great job, too, absolutely phenominal. It will not get most of them put down for casting calls, unfortunately, but the fact is they all performed well. So the acting alone lands this movie, in my opinion, two full stars. And although we did not get to see near enough of Wyoming, I liked what I did see. Chalk up another half star for that. I should probably add that the bad guy getting his just desserts gives extra weight to this half a star.

I think, personally, that the subject matter earns the second half of the third star, along with the palpable conveyance of grief and loss. Like Longmire, Wind River tackled the issues on the Res. It did not do so in the same fearless manner that the TV series did, but that is because the writer(s) for the film played by Hollywood’s rules.

Longmire did not do this, which is why it got booted to Netflix from A&E. That series stared the rampant problems on the Res in the face and made its viewers do so, too. Wind River fell short of this mark, which is sad. While it certainly showed that the Feds do not care about the Indians on the Reservations (until the next election, of course), it also made it look like the rest of the country does not care about the people on the Res, either, and that is wrong. But the fact that anyone in Hollywood was willing to come within a hair’s breadth of admitting the real troubles on the Reservations in a film is something. Maybe it will get more people to pay attention to the Res.

We can but hope. I certainly will.

So, readers, this is my opinion of Wind River. It is worth watching – but not necessarily worth buying. If you love it, flaws and all, then go ahead and buy it. I will just sit here in my corner of the Internet and continue to suffer occasional, intense bouts of buyer’s remorse.

‘Til next time. 😉

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Book Review: The Virginian by Owen Wister

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Most followers of Thoughts on the Edge of Forever probably know by now that I enjoy Westerns. A lot. Films, books, TV shows – whatever the medium, I will happily devour tales set in the Old West.

In many ways, the men in the Old West were the American equivalent of Old World knights. They were our gallant heroes on horseback who defeated the villains, saved the fair damsel, and destroyed evil so good people might thrive on the unimaginable wealth of the American West. Have Gun, Will Travel even references this perception of the Western man in the theme song about its hero, Paladin: “A knight without armor in a savage land.”

I have reviewed some books about the Old West by one of my favorite authors, Louis L’Amour, here on this blog several times. But a little while back, I got to read a classic western that was, in many ways, the progenitor of the archetypes we recognize in the genre today. This was none other than Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

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This book has been made into a film several times. It also gave us the television series led by James Drury and Doug McClure. I began watching reruns of the show ages ago, so I knew something of the book’s characters and plot from research I did on the series.

But I have to say, studying the details really does not do the novel justice. It is something of a slow read, in the beginning. This book was written at the turn of the twentieth century, after all, when there was a certain form expected of a novel. The author used these forms liberally.

Of special interest to me is the fact that Wister dedicated his book to Theodore Roosevelt, even changing one page in the story because the President implied it was not well done or accurate. If that is not a stamp of approval, then I do not know what is!

The Virginian is told largely from the point of view of an unnamed Narrator. Due to poor health, our Narrator is invited west to get better by a friend named Judge Henry. The Judge sends his most “trustworthy man” to collect the Narrator at the train station. In case you have not guessed who this is yet, we know him throughout the story as the Virginian.

If you thought you knew the Virginian in James Drury’s portrayal of the character, readers, you have not seen anything yet! From start to finish he pulls surprise after surprise on you. Whether he is playing a devilishly brilliant prank on someone; dealing with his archenemy, Trampas, or expounding upon the equality of men, the Virginian is never still or dull.

Over time, the Narrator becomes a lovable character, too. Honorable mention goes to his and the Virginian’s mutual friend, Scipio le Moyne, who is absolutely wonderful. The Judge is an amicable character, and when you run into the preacher, Dr. MacBride – Holy cow! Do not read that section in the library. You will be laughing or choking so loud, people will have to shush you right out of the building!

There is only one thing about The Virginian which bothers me, and that is the damsel our lead falls in love with. Having been fed off of Louis L’Amour’s rich stories for so long, I expected Miss Molly Wood to have the same qualities as L’Amour’s women.

No such luck. Molly Wood is an absolute twit. More than once, I wanted to smack her upside the head and tell her how many buns make a dozen. I have never – not once – felt that way toward any of the women in L’Amour’s novels and stories, readers. It was a new and rather aggravating experience, which made reading this wonderful book a little trying at times.

Lest you think this was misogyny or sexism on Wister’s part, I will tell you that he characterizes two other women in the novel quite nicely. Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Henry are fine, smart Western women. They know their men and understand the Virginian better than Molly Wood does. Mrs. Taylor even goes so far as to say that if she could, she would marry him herself, and that she does not think Molly Wood is good enough for him. (I agree with her wholeheartedly on that.) I do not doubt that both these women also know how to handle guns, just like L’Amour’s women.

Another magnificently characterized woman in the story is Molly Wood’s great aunt. She is wise and capable, not to mention a deep thinker who knows her grandniece’s heart better than the girl’s mother, who is twice as irritating as Molly. So Wister did not think all women were airheads, readers. He respected women in general and treated three of them well in the book.

But this makes his decision to have Molly Wood be such a dense cluck more puzzling than before. I cannot help but wonder why he wrote her the way he did. Maybe she was based off of a real woman he knew; maybe she just walked into his head and he could not expel her. I do not know.

What I do know is that she drove me crazy enough to wish the Virginian had not selected her as his bride. To pair someone that amazing, that wonderful, off with a woman so stubbornly stupid seems pretty unfair to him and to readers like me.

Other than this quibble, I enjoyed reading The Virginian. I hope that you will, too, readers, in spite of all my griping. It really is a wonderful story that should be read more often than it is.

‘Til next time!

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