This is another issue I own and read recently, and the cover scan is from my copy. I don't know who the artist is, but the scene is a little too dimly lit for my taste. It has a nice sense of menace and impending violence to it, though, so it's not really a bad cover. I don't know what caused that streak of light across the center of the scan; it's not on the actual pulp. But I noticed that the scan of this issue on the Fictionmags Index has the same streak. Odd.
Anyway, on to the contents. The March 1952 issue of EXCITING WESTERN starts off with the novella "Brand for a Maverick" by one of my favorite Western pulp authors, Walker A. Tompkins. It's the story of a range feud as well as something of a Romeo and Juliet yarn, since the only surviving members of the feuding clans are Speck Seevy of the CV spread and Beth Adams of the Circle A, and Beth happens to be in love with Speck even though he doesn't return the feeling. There's also the local range hog, Jake Grote (with a name like that he might as well be sporting a neon sign that says VILLAIN), assorted colorful supporting characters, and a little orphan girl who's the catalyst for the action. This story is a bit more humorous and lightweight than most of Tompkins' work (hence the use of the word "rollicking" to describe it on the cover), and with the romance angle it probably would have been more at home in RANCH ROMANCES rather than EXCITING WESTERN, but that really doesn't matter. I found it very fast-moving and entertaining. Tompkins comes in for some criticism from some quarters, mostly because of his early serials that ran in WILD WEST WEEKLY which were, admittedly, pretty over the top. But by the Forties I think he had matured into a fine Western writer and I've always enjoyed his novels and stories.
Tom Roan's "Fight for Your Mate" is a wildlife short story, told entirely, and with no dialogue, naturally, from the point of view of a bull moose. I read quite a few novels and stories like this when I was a kid, but I really don't like them now and I didn't finish this one, despite the fact that I usually enjoy Tom Roan's work.
Next up is the novelette "Riders of the Haunted Hills" by A. Leslie, really Alexander Leslie Scott, who also wrote as Bradford Scott and under the house-name Jackson Cole created the Jim Hatfield series in TEXAS RANGERS and wrote more than 50 of the Hatfield novels in that pulp. His yarn in this issue of EXCITING WESTERN is about a new sheriff trying to find out who bushwhacked and killed the previous sheriff, and anybody who has read much of Scott's work will know immediately where this one is going. Scott had a tendency to use the same half-dozen or so plots over and over. That said, his sometimes flowery prose is under fairly good control in "Riders of the Haunted Hills" and he keeps the plot perking along nicely. I've read a lot of Scott's stories and have gotten a great deal of enjoyment from his work, but I'll admit he's probably best read in small doses.
"Gambler on the Range" is a noirish short-short from a writer whose work is new to me, Nick Selsky. In fact, this is the only story of his listed in the Fictionmags Index. It's fairly well-written but suffers from being extremely predictable.
T.C. McClary's "Shorthorn Outlaw" is a mild little tale about an aging badman and the widow who wants him to reform, settle down, and get married. Not much action, but it's well-written and had a nice elegiac feel to it. This is another one that would have been right at home in RANCH ROMANCES.
And finally we come to a story that actually did appear first in RANCH ROMANCES, a reprint of a long novella by L.P. Holmes called "Skyline Trail" that was originally published in the Second May 1944 number of that venerable pulp. It's a range war story, with cattleman Jim Coryell trying to save his Castle spread from the sinister plotting of a rival rancher. There's a beautiful girl with a crippled brother, a lynch mob, several shootouts, treachery, and romance (of course). There's not a thing in this one I didn't see coming, but that didn't keep me from getting caught up in it and really flipping the pages. I haven't read much if anything by L.P. Holmes, but based on this story I need to remedy that. He wrote really well, in a style that reminds me of Ernest Haycox and Luke Short. Predictable or not, this is the best story in the issue.
So EXCITING WESTERN for May 1952 turns out to be a mixed bag, with one excellent story, a couple of good ones, and the other yarns minor and forgettable. Still well worth reading as far as I'm concerned, and I'm glad I did.