Friday, September 23, 2016

Forgotten Books: Trails West - Eugene Cunningham

That's about as generic a title and bland a cover as you're ever likely to see. Ah, but inside are nine stories by Eugene Cunningham that originally appeared in FRONTIER STORIES in 1927 and '28. Generic they may be, in the technical sense of the word ("characteristic of or relating to a class or group of things"), but not bland by any stretch of the imagination. Instead they're colorful, action-packed, and very entertaining.

The hero of these yarns is a young Texas Ranger named Stephen Ware, often referred to rather awkwardly in the first few stories as "Ware's Kid", since his father Bill Ware was also a Texas Ranger. In the course of these tales, Ware justifies his admission into the Rangers by rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a rancher; tracks down a fugitive killer, then decides the man is innocent and sets out to find the real murderer; tames a couple of wild towns; rounds up some horse thieves; crosses the border into Mexico to capture an outlaw; solves some stagecoach robberies; and even resolves a domestic drama (with bank robbery added). Ware isn't the most nuanced character, but his adventures sure are fun.

For me, the key to Cunningham's appeal (along with his fast-moving prose and hardboiled attitude) is the authenticity of his work. Like Walt Coburn, he was writing about a time and place that was within the memory of people they knew as youngsters. The Wild West was only a generation removed from the early pulp writers, if that. Some of the plots may be exaggerated for dramatic effect; the setting and the attitudes of the characters aren't. I've become a Eugene Cunningham fan late in my pulp-reading career, but I really enjoy his work and TRAILS WEST gets a high recommendation from me.

Here are the stories and their original appearances in FRONTIER STORIES:
"Beginner's Luck", February 1927
"The Hermit of Tigerhead Butte", March 1927
"Wanted—?", May 1927
"The Hammer Thumb", June 1927
"The Trail of a Fool", July 1927
"The Ranger Way", August 1927
"Blotting the Triangle", September 1927
"Ware Calls It a Day", October 1927
"Spiderweb Trail", January 1928

There's also a fine biographical introduction by Cunningham's daughter, Murney Cunningham Call. This is a volume well worth having if you’re a pulp Western fan.

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