I’m fudging a little by calling this a pulp, because by 1947 WESTERN STORY, like all the Street & Smith pulps, had turned into a digest. But WESTERN STORY was a true pulp for several decades, so I think I can get by with using it as this week’s entry in this series.
Not only that, but I own this one and read it recently, so I can even comment on the stories.
First, though, a word about the cover, which is one of those non-action scenes that were a nice break from all the blazing guns on the Western pulps. This is a Christmas cover, appropriate for a December issue, and it’s cute in its way. I tend to prefer either shoot-outs or scenery, but H.W. Scott’s version of a Norman Rockwell painting isn't bad.
The issue leads off with Walt Coburn’s “book-length novel” (actually a novella), “Miracle at San Mateo”. By this time in his career Coburn reportedly had quite a problem with booze, and as a result his work was pretty inconsistent. This is a decent yarn about rustling along the Arizona/Mexico border and an election for sheriff. As usual with Coburn’s stories, there are a lot of characters and so much back-story that almost all of “Miracle at San Mateo” is devoted to explaining who everybody is and what the relationships between them are. When it comes time for a powder-burning showdown at the end, though, Coburn delivers just fine.
Next up is “Shooting Star” by L.L. Foreman, an author I hadn’t read before. It’s a good short story about a small-town blacksmith and the secret in his past, completely predictable but still satisfying.
"The Third Dog Musher" is an oddly-titled Northern by Frank Richardson Pierce, a prolific author in that subgenre. I've read some of Pierce's work in ARGOSY and other pulps and enjoyed it, so I wasn't surprised that I liked "The Third Dog Musher", which is about two men involved in a feud over a woman and the danger that forces them to work together. (I believe Pierce also wrote some traditional Westerns under the pseudonym "Seth Ranger".)
The always-dependable Peter Dawson follows that with the novelette “Tinhorn Tyranny”. This one has riverboats and frontier prizefighting, two things I like in a story, so I enjoyed it.
Ray Gaulden wrote a number of Western novels, including (I think) the one on which the movie FIVE CARD STUD is based. I don't recall ever reading any of them, or any of his short stories, either, for that matter. "Lawman's Gamble", his entry in this issue, is a short yarn about old friends who wind up on opposite sides of the law. Like the L.L. Foreman story, it's predictable but well-written.
Van Cort is yet another author I haven't read until now. His novelette "Forked Trails" is about an old outlaw hunting down three former partners who double-crossed him, only to find that they've changed considerably over the years. This story is also a variation of the Gunfightin' Preacher plot. Cort does a good job of mixing these familiar elements together to craft an enjoyable story.
Next up are two range war stories. The first one, about a conflict between cattlemen and sheepherders, is "When a Ranger Rides" by Wayne D. Overholser. When I first read that title I figured it referred to a Texas Ranger, but no, in this story the protagonist is a Forest Ranger, which is a nice change from the standard set-up. I'm not a big Overholser fan, but this is a pretty good story. So is "Ringer Roundup" by Harold R. Stoakes. The range war looming in this one is between a greedy cattle baron and some smaller ranchers, but Stoakes (who I'm not familiar with at all) provides a welcome twist by having his characters settle things with a game of horseshoes. There's some gunplay before the end, but it's still a nice, offbeat yarn.
Dean Owen finishes off the issue with "Choctaw Challenge". I'm a Dean Owen fan, but this is a pretty minor story about an attempted payroll robbery. There are some halfway decent twists but hardly any action, and hardboiled action is what I expect from Dean Owen.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable issue. It would have been nice if it had had a Christmas story in it, but I guess editor John Burr didn't have any on hand.
There probably won't be a new Saturday Morning Western Pulp next week, since Saturday is Christmas Eve, but I reserve the right to change my mind.
Commander Ellsberg's books back in print
1 hour ago