Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, February 1948

I've probably read more issues of TEXAS RANGERS than any other pulp. Throw in all the Jim Hatfield novels that were reprinted in paperback during the Sixties and Seventies, and I may have read more novels about him than any other pulp character with the exception of Doc Savage. Jim Hatfield and TEXAS RANGERS have even influenced my writing career. It's safe to say that there wouldn't have been a Cody's Law series if the editor who was at Bantam at the time hadn't wanted a Texas Rangers series similar to the Lashtrow novels he'd edited earlier in his career at Leisure. But those Lashtrow novels by Roe Richmond were actually rewritten and expanded Jim Hatfield novels from TEXAS RANGERS.

There are still quite a few issues I haven't read, but I'd like to finish the whole series sooner or later. The one I've read most recently is from February 1948. It leads off with the Hatfield novel "Keep Off This Range". The vast Mace ranch in southwest Texas is under attack by the smaller ranches around it, as well as by the neighboring town of Mullen City. (There actually is a town in Texas called Mullin, but it doesn't have any connection with the one in this story. The real one is about halfway between Zephyr and Goldthwaite, which I know because my family comes from that general part of the country.) Anyway, the citizens of Mullen City think that Colonel Crile, owner of the Mace, is responsible for the mysterious disappearances of some of the townspeople. For his part, Crile feels so put upon by what's going on that he posts his range and warns everybody to keep off (hence the title). Hatfield is sent in to find out what's really going on, and as he often does, he works undercover to infiltrate the gang of outlaws that's really behind all the trouble.

The plot is pretty formulaic, but if you're a Hatfield fan like I am it's fun to watch the Lone Wolf go through his paces. I'm pretty sure this was written by Tom Curry. For one thing, it has a proxy hero, cowboy Corky Ellsworth, whose adventures take up the opening couple of chapters before Hatfield is even introduced. Almost every Curry story contains that element. The rest of the novel is structured like Curry's work, too, with Hatfield working his way into the gang, uncovering the motivation for the plot, finally revealing his true identity, and uniting the two feuding factions to smash the real villains. In places the writing strikes me as a little different from Curry's usual style, but that might indicate a more heavy-handed editing job than usual. Overall, "Keep Off This Range" is a very typical Hatfield yarn, entertaining (to me at least) but nothing really memorable.

Next up is an entry in the long-running Long Sam Littlejohn series by Lee Bond. Long Sam is an outlaw, but a falsely accused one who always winds up fighting on the side of good. In every story he's almost caught by Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe Fry, a derby-wearing lawman who pursues Long Sam with the dogged determination of an Inspector Javert or Lt. Gerard, even though you'd think that eventually he'd realize Long Sam is one of the good guys. In "Long Sam's Singing Six-Guns", the outlaw and his nemesis wind up involved with a beautiful young woman who's evidently the leader of a vicious outlaw gang. I enjoy this series quite a bit, although it's wise not to read too many of them too close together.

Harold F. Cruickshank had a long and prolific career as a pulp author, turning out mostly Westerns and war stories from the mid-Twenties to the mid-Fifties. He specialized in wild animal yarns and also wrote a series called the Pioneer Folk that ran in RANGE RIDERS. That series centered on a young married couple, Dal and Mary Baldwin, and was a fairly realistic depiction of the hardships ordinary settlers faced in the Old West. His story in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS, "Deadman's Trail", is a non-series tale about a Ranger searching for a prospector who's been kidnapped by a band of renegade Yaquis. I've never cared for Cruickshank's writing and didn't particularly like this story, but considering his lengthy career plenty of readers must have enjoyed his work.

Another long-running back-up series in TEXAS RANGERS concerns the adventures of Doc Swap, a Gabby Hayes-like character whose main interest in life is, you guessed it, making trades and trying to get the best deal. These were written by Ben Frank, a decent author who put together some fairly complicated plots. The Doc Swap stories are humorous Westerns, but they usually have some darker elements, such as the murder of a harness shop owner in this one, "Doc Swap's Watch Chain Wallop". While the series isn't a favorite of mine, I've found that the stories range from fair to pretty good. This is one of the pretty good ones.

The issue wraps up with William O'Sullivan's "No Skeletons Wanted". It's a good short story about the mysterious goings-on in a small town and the café owner with some secrets of his own who figures it all out. The Fictionmags Index says that O'Sullivan is probably a house-name. I have no idea if that's right, or if it is, who wrote this one. But I liked it anyway.

Overall, I'd say this is a slightly below-average issue of TEXAS RANGERS, fairly entertaining and worth reading but there were certainly plenty of better issues. They can't all be great, though.


George said...

At one time, those Jim Hatfield paperbacks from the Sixties and Seventies were everywhere: used bookstores, Library sales, and thrift stores. Now, I rarely see them anymore. I enjoy reading them, but they didn't have the effect on me that they had on you!

Oscar said...

Jim Hatfield was one of my early heroes that an older brother made me aware of in the '30's by bringing home a Texas Ranger mag. I read only one or two stories, but I always remembered Hatfield.

Robert Sankner said...

I only own one Texas Ranger pulp and this is the issue. Guess I better read it. I do have several PBs though.