Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, March 1956

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy, which I try to do when possible.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, "Guns Across the River", was written by Peter Germano under the Jackson Cole house-name. It's a cattleman vs. sheepherders yarn, but Germano puts a lot more plot that that into the story. In fact, there are almost too many characters and too much plot for a novel that runs maybe 40,000 words. Hatfield is sent to Peaceful Valley to stop a bloody range war before it breaks out, but he's barely gotten there when he finds a dead body and then a would-be killer takes a shot at him. There's a weak sheriff, a stubborn deputy, a cattle baron, the cattle baron's two beautiful daughters, a former schoolteacher turned gunslinger, a kidnapped youngster, an old-timer who's supposed to be dead but apparently isn't, a blustering lawyer who seems to have been inspired by W.C. Fields (his name is H. Goldwyn Pepper), and a West Texas winter storm. The action hardly ever slows down for more than a few paragraphs.

Germano was the most hard-boiled and realistic of the Hatfield authors, and he was also capable of the occasional touch of poetry in his work. I was a little worried that he had crammed too much into this story, but he maintained control over the plot and I wound up liking it a great deal. The somewhat bittersweet ending is very effective. Germano rewrote and expanded this into the novel WAR IN PEACEFUL VALLEY, which was published three years later as half of an Ace Double under his usual Barry Cord pseudonym. Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield becomes Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Vickers, but everything else appears to be pretty much the same. I have this book but haven't read it, and I probably won't, now that I've read and enjoyed the original version.

George Roulston is an author I'm not familiar with. He appears to have published only half a dozen stories in the mid-Fifties. But his story in this issue, "Moment of Violence", is a good one. It's about an ex-convict returning to his home town after serving ten years for a stagecoach robbery in which the driver was killed. It was the convict's partner who actually pulled the trigger, but he never revealed who that was (although it's no secret from the reader). The reactions his return provokes lead to more violence. There's enough plot here for a novel, the sort that Gold Medal published during that era, but Roulston does a good job boiling it down to a short story.

H.G. Ashburn is another author unknown to me who published a few stories in the mid-Fifties. "Miguel's Private Miracle" is about scalphunters who show up at a small mission and try to terrorize the priest in revealing the hiding place of a group of Indian women and children. It's more about the nature of religious faith than anything else, making it a little offbeat for a Western pulp, but it's well-written and I enjoyed it.

The parade of unknown-to-me authors continues with Pat Pfeifer, another whose work appears to be confined to a handful of stories in the mid-Fifties. "Time Enough to Die" is about the showdown between a marshal and two brothers who want to either kill him or run him out of town. The marshal's newly hired deputy is a former friend of one of the brothers, so the lawman doesn't know if he's really facing two enemies, or three. Everything plays out like you'd expect it to, but the writing is good enough that it makes for an enjoyable yarn.

Even more obscure is Cameron Roosevelt, who has only two stories listed in the Fictionmags Index, "Showdown at Jericho" in this issue, and a story in an issue of 2-GUN WESTERN a couple of months later. "Showdown at Jericho" is a revenge tale, with the protagonist tracking down the man who stole both his wife and his money. The inevitable gunfight is resolved in a fairly clever manner, but what sets this story apart is its noirish tone and some excellent writing. This one is good enough that it's hard to believe Roosevelt sold only one other story, which makes me wonder if the name is a pseudonym for another, more well-known writer.

Finally we come to an author I've heard of, John Jo Carpenter, who was really John Reese. Reese used the Carpenter pseudonym for scores of stories in various Western pulps during the Forties and Fifties, while writing mystery and slick magazine stories under his real name. Later he wrote hardback and paperback Western novels as John Reese, a couple of which I've read and remember enjoying. His story in this issue, "The Reluctant Hangman", is a real oddity for a Western pulp in that there's no action in it at all. Instead it's a tale of psychological turmoil as a young deputy struggles with having to carry out a murderer's hanging because the sheriff is laid up with a heart attack. It's a gripping, very well-written story and makes me think I need to read more by Reese as John Jo Carpenter.

Eric Allen is another familiar name. He wrote a number of paperback Westerns, including a series set in a town called Whiskey Smith. I've never read any of them, but his novelette that wraps up this issue, "Death on the Chaco", is a good one, if a little by-the-numbers when it comes to the plot. It's a yarn about a young man who comes home to the ranch he just inherited from his murdered uncle, only find himself caught up in a brewing range war with a group of sodbusters. The plot twists in this one are pretty obvious, but Allen writes in a nice, easygoing style and I enjoyed the story.

There are also a few columns and features, but as usual I just skimmed them. My interest is in the fiction, and in that respect, this is an above-average issue. There's not a bad story in the bunch, and three of them—the Hatfield novel and the stories by Cameron Roosevelt and John Reese—are excellent. The quality of TEXAS RANGERS remained high right up until its end a couple of years later, and if you happen to have a copy of this issue on your shelves, it's well worth reading.


Walker Martin said...

Seeing the date of this issue is a nostalgic moment for me. I started buying fiction magazines off the newsstands in February 1956. I was just 13 and didn't realize that the pulp era was just about over. All the SF magazines were in the smaller digest format except for SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY. I remember looking at it and thinking how odd it looked compared to the digests. Little did I realize I would later amass an extensive collection of pulps.

By March 1956 TEXAS RANGERS was just about finished and only RANCH ROMANCES would continue until 1971. The pulp era lasted 50 or so years but was over. The digest era is still with us but just barely with only the 5 digests: EQMM, AHMM, ASIMOV'S, ANALOG, and F&SF.

I guess we are seeing the final days of the short story fiction magazines. Well, at least the genre magazines dealing with SF and mystery fiction. The literary magazines may continue because they can exist on far lower budgets and circulations.

Samuel Wilson said...

Just curious: how does one find out who "Jackson Cole" was in any given month? Is there a checklist someone can point me to? For now, you did a great job getting me interested in this particular issue. I'd imagine the quality of Texas Rangers rose with the quality of westerns in general in the Fifties, but it probably does depend on the authors.

James Reasoner said...

Start on this page of the Fictionmags Index:

and then go on to the next one, and it lists the actual authors of nearly all the Jim Hatfield stories. There are only a few that are still unattributed.

As one of the few Western pulps still around in the latter half of the Fifties, TEXAS RANGERS got stories from most of the top authors. Nearly any issue from that era will have several very good stories in it, although there are still some clunkers, too.