Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1949

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the picture, although it’s a photo and not a scan this time.

I’m a long, long time fan of Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, having first encountered the character approximately 50 years ago when I read a Popular Library paperback reprint of one of the novels that originally appeared in the pulp TEXAS RANGERS. I was in high school at the time, and I remember sitting in the old army barracks building my school used as a study hall and flipping the pages, absolutely enthralled by the yarn. (I seldom if ever actually studied in study hall, preferring to use that time to read paperbacks or library books, but as I’ve mentioned before, I really was studying for my future career, wasn’t I?) The book was titled GUNFIGHTER’S RETURN, but that was actually a retitling from the pulp, and I no longer recall what the original title was. At the time, I’d never heard of TEXAS RANGERS, didn’t know that the author listed on the cover, Jackson Cole, didn’t really exist but was actually a house-name, and had no idea that the real author was Tom Curry. But I learned all that later.

All that long-winded reminiscing leads up to the fact that Tom Curry is also the author of the Hatfield novel in this issue, “Rustlers of Black Range”. Curry wrote 55 of the Jim Hatfield novels, tied with series creator A. Leslie Scott for the most. (Actually, Scott later wrote a few paperback original novels featuring Hatfield, so technically, he wrote the most overall . . .) Curry’s entries are pretty easy to spot. He usually spends some time at the first of the novel setting up the situation and introducing a secondary hero before Hatfield ever appears, and his stories often have some sort of historical angle, too. That’s the case here, as “Rustlers of Black Range” centers around the Alsatian, Swiss, and German immigrants who settled in central Texas. It’s specifically set in and around the real town of Castroville, west of San Antonio in the rangeland between the Hill Country to the north and the thick chapparal to the south. The villain is a German baron who’s trying to take over the ranches in the area for some unknown reason. He has a gang of rustlers working for him, trying to drive the honest cattlemen out of business. The secondary hero is wandering cowpoke Aje Pickett, who first falls in with the rustlers, then goes over to the side of the good guys once he realizes what’s going on. The victimized settlers have written to Austin asking for help from the Rangers, and that’s where Jim Hatfield comes in.

For a stretch during the Forties, Curry introduced a couple of supporting characters in a number of his stories, pretty schoolteacher Anita Robertson and her teenage brother Buck. Anita, of course, was a low-key love interest for Hatfield, who’s much too devoted to his job to indulge in much actual romancin’, and Buck was Hatfield’s sidekick, helping him out with his assignments. I’ll be blunt: I never liked Anita and Buck. I mean, Hatfield is known far and wide as the Lone Wolf. Why saddle him with a kid sidekick? (It’s even worse in the Fifties, when author Roe Richmond introduces a whole gaggle of irritating sidekicks for the so-called Lone Wolf.) But I have to say, Buck isn’t too annoying in this novel and actually serves a purpose in the plot, and Anita barely appears, so there’s not too much of that sappy mush to steal pages from ridin’ and fightin’ and shootin’, which of course is what we’re there for.

Anyway, Hatfield, Buck, Aje Pickett, and the good guy settlers put the kibosh on the evil baron’s plans (did I mention that the evil baron has a pair of wolfhounds?) and the motivation behind the whole scheme won’t come as any surprise, making this a fairly undistinguished but still enjoyable yarn. And I really liked using the European immigrants and their transplanted culture as part of the setting and plot. That’s a little unusual. I mean, how many Western novels have you read where there’s a chapter entitled “Guns at the Biergarten”?

There are three short stories backing up the Hatfield novel in this issue. The first, “Long Sam’s Hangnoose Swap”, is part of a long-running series by Lee Bond about heroic outlaw Long Sam Littlejohn, who is always pursued by deputy U.S. marshal Joe Fry. The first Long Sam story appeared in the very first issue of TEXAS RANGERS in 1936, and the series continued to appear in almost every issue until 1952. The stories are very formulaic but still great fun if they’re spaced out. Bond was a good writer. In this one, Long Sam and Joe Fry are forced to team up (as they often are) in order to battle against a gang of vicious Comancheros. It’s an entertaining yarn.

“Louisiana Lobo” is by Clark Gray, a Western pulpster who was reasonably prolific for a time in the Forties and Fifties and who wrote a couple of Jim Hatfield novels as Jackson Cole. I read one of those Hatfield novels a long time ago in the paperback reprint (LOBO COLONEL) and recall not liking it much. That being said, this story is a pretty good hardboiled Western yarn about a Cajun ex-Confederate sergeant who travels to Texas after the war to help his old commanding officer start a ranch, but instead he winds up in the middle of a deadly hunt for a fortune in gold. I enjoyed this one enough that I may have to dig out the issue of TEXAS RANGERS containing Gray’s other Jim Hatfield novel, “Warpath”, and give it a try.

Clee Woods wrote hundreds of stories for a lot of different Western pulps, but his work appeared regularly in RANCH ROMANCES for almost three decades, from the mid-Twenties to the mid-Fifties. “Nurse’s Big Call”, his story in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS, could have just easily appeared in RANCH ROMANCES, since it’s a modern-day Western about a love triangle involving a nurse, the doctor she works for, and a young rancher. There’s a little action, a decent fistfight, but overall there’s not much to this one and it’s easily the weakest story in the issue.

So overall, this is a fairly average issue of TEXAS RANGERS, with a solidly entertaining, slightly unusual, but not top rank Hatfield novel by Tom Curry, and two out of three pretty good short stories. Not an issue to give somebody who’s never read an issue before, but if you’re already a TEXAS RANGERS fan, it’s well worth reading.


Todd Mason said...

Do we know who edited the magazine? G.B. Farnum stick with it for the whole run?

James Reasoner said...

Many of the Fifties issues list Jim Hendryx Jr. as the editor. Don't know when that started but will try to look it up later. This particular issue has no editor credit. Was G.B. Farnum a real person? I seem to remember reading that Morris Ogden Jones, who's credited as the editor on some of the Thrilling Group pulps, didn't really exist and was a group pseudonym for Mort Weisinger, Charles Stanley, Charles Green, and the rest of Margulies' stable of sub-editors.

Todd Mason said...

No idea. First saw his name today on the Galactic Central entry for the magazine.

Hendryx does seem a likely culprit. I wonder to what extent the group editorial efforts ended and when...