Friday, August 03, 2012

Forgotten Books: Claiming of the Deerfoot - Peter Dawson (Jonathan Glidden)

In "Barbed Wire", Texan Jim Lance wins a small ranch in a poker game, but when he arrives on the place he finds that the previous owner was run out by Big Ed Nugent, the local cattle baron/range hog. Nugent sends his foreman to run off Lance, too, but the foreman comes back beaten up and with a bullet hole in his hand where Lance shot a gun out of it. This makes Nugent more determined than ever to force Lance off the range. Lance throws in with several other small ranchers whose spreads border his, and the war is on.

It's an old plot, of course, but Dawson (really Jonathan Glidden, the brother of Fred Glidden, aka Luke Short) throws in some refreshingly different angles. Instead of 30,000 words of ridin' and shootin', we get some legal and political maneuvering as Nugent first tries to get rid of the small ranchers without resorting to burning them out or some other violent means. Lance and his partners fight back with brains instead of bullets. Eventually this runs its course and everyone involved has no choice but to reach for their irons, and the story concludes with one good shootout and one that feels a bit contrived and tacked on.

As always, Dawson writes tight, fast-moving prose. This one suffers a little from a lack of characterization--Nugent, for example, seems to have no reason for being a range hog other than the fact that the story requires one--but the way Dawson twists the plot around helps make up for it.

This short novel was originally published under the title "Partner, Get Your Gun" in the July 18, 1942 issue of WESTERN STORY, and reprinted as half of the Leisure paperback CLAIMING OF THE DEERFOOT, where I read it.

The second half of that Leisure paperback, the title novella was originally published as "Trailblazer Wanted for Drive Through Hell" in the December 1939 issue of COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE. Although the pulp title makes it sound like a cattle drive story, at least to me, it's really a stagecoach yarn. Former stage driver Ed Thorn, who is in disgrace because of his alleged involvement with the robbery of a coach he was driving, drifts into a gold mining boomtown and takes a job with the Deerfoot Stage Line. In a coincidence that stretches credibility a little, the Deerfoot line is owned by the father of a man who was killed in the robbery that cost Thorn his reputation. Thorn wants to prove he was framed for that crime, but that becomes harder when someone from his past shows up and drags him into being the inside man on another stagecoach robbery. From that point it's a matter of double-cross and triple-cross until everything gets sorted out in the end.

This is a pretty good story with most of its action taking place in one eventful night. The one false note is that the romance between Thorn and the daughter of the stage line owner springs up awfully quickly. But the plot is nice and tight otherwise and comes to a satisfying resolution.

As I mentioned in my post about the H.A DeRosso collection RIDERS OF THE SHADOWLANDS a while back, I often prefer the authors' original titles to the more lurid titles stuck on by pulp editors. In this case, though, I think I like the pulp title better. Although "Trailblazer Wanted for Drive Through Hell" is a little misleading, it's better than the bland and inappropriate "Claiming of the Deerfoot". Nobody claims anything, and "Deerfoot" is just the name of the stage line and is mentioned only a couple of times in the course of the story. It could just as well be the Acme Stage Line (which would, of course, be run by Chuck Jones).

1 comment:

Walker Martin said...

Your review of these two short novels shows once again that the pulp magazines contained many interesting and well written stories. Here we are 70 years later and these stories do not appear dated at all. WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, with over 1200 issues during its 30 year life, is full of good western fiction.

It still is one of the pulp titles that you can collect without going broke.