Friday, September 20, 2019

Forgotten Books: Stampede - Yukon Miles (Dan Cushman)

A little background is in order on this one before I talk about the book itself. I generally pick up any vintage Gold Medals I don’t have when I run across them and the price isn’t too high. So when I found this one in a used bookstore for three bucks, I didn’t hesitate to buy it even though I’d never heard of the author. At the very least, it has a nice A. Leslie Ross cover.

Then, a while after I’d bought it, I got to looking at it and read that back cover copy: “A novel of the daring men who grow only in the Great Northwest, by Yukon Miles, an author who lives there himself.”

My first thought was there was no way the author’s name was really “Yukon Miles”. That just screamed pseudonym to me. Something about the combination of the title, the name, the cover, and the 1951 publication date made me think, “Hmm, that’s about the time Dan Cushman started selling novels to Gold Medal, and Cushman wrote a lot of Northerns for the Fiction House pulps . . . and I know he expanded at least one of his Armless O’Neil novellas for JUNGLE STORIES into a novel for Gold Medal . . . I wonder if STAMPEDE could be an expansion of one of his Northerns!”

A little Internet research led me to a site claiming that “Yukon Miles” was indeed Dan Cushman, but there was no information about the genesis of this particular novel (which seemed to be the only one ever published under that by-line). There was only one site making that Miles/Cushman connection that I could find, however, so I wasn’t completely convinced. So I took the next logical step.

I read the book.

Which is what I should have done in the first place, because all the answers fell into my lap on the very first page. As soon as I read about how three drifting cowboys—Jonathan Calhoun Colter, better known as Johnny Colt; Big Bill Spooner; and José Julio Santiago Perez Garcia y Bolivar Murphy, called Josie—rode into the cowtown of Maverly, I knew beyond a doubt that Yukon Miles was really Dan Cushman, as well as where this particular novel came from.

I should back up a little more. Dan Cushman was a prolific contributor to the Fiction House pulps in the Forties and early Fifties, a star writer for LARIAT STORY, NORTHWEST ROMANCES, FRONTIER STORIES, ACTION STORIES, and JUNGLE STORIES. As the Fifties went on, he became a very successful novelist for Gold Medal, Dell, and Ace, turning out mostly adventure yarns set in Africa or the Far East, as well as the occasional Western. He wrote STAY AWAY, JOE, a hardback mainstream novel about life on the Indian reservations in Montana that netted him a movie sale (with Elvis Presley in the title role) and the enmity of certain political factions in his home state. He produced some historical non-fiction and then sort of faded out of the publishing scene for many years, before making a comeback in the Eighties and Nineties with some well-received Western and Northern novels for Walker and Five Star. He died in 2001.

Now that you know that, I can talk some more about STAMPEDE and its origins. That line on the cover “An Original Novel—Not a Reprint”? Well, not really. You see, in 1950 Popular Publications, one of Fiction House’s rivals, hired Cushman to create and write a series of short novels for a new Western pulp called THE PECOS KID WESTERN. The magazine would feature the adventures of a trio of trouble-seeking, gunswift hombres in the Old West: William Calhoun Warren, better known as the Pecos Kid; Big Jim Swing; and Hernandez Pedro Gonzales y Fuente Jesus Maria Flanagan, called Butch.

I trust you see where I’m going with this?

THE PECOS KID WESTERN ran for only five issues before succumbing to poor sales, but decades later all five Pecos Kid novels were reprinted by Leisure Books, two per paperback volume, except for the final one which appeared along with two stories featuring another of Cushman’s series characters, the road agent known as Comanche John. I had read the first four Pecos Kids and knew immediately that STAMPEDE was a rewrite/expansion of one of them, with the names of the three protagonists changed and the story beefed up a little. It took looking at the reprints to determine which pulp novel supplied the source material. Turns out it was “Three for the Deadwood Drive”, from the September 1950 issue of THE PECOS KID WESTERN. It’s not even much of an expansion. A lot of it is word-for-word except for the character names.

Once I’d determined all this, I almost put STAMPEDE aside without finishing it. After all, I’d read the original version, and to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of those Pecos Kid stories. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t grip me the way I want a pulp yarn to. But it had been more than a decade since I’d read “Three for the Deadwood Drive” (which was reprinted under the shorter title “The Deadwood Drive”), so I thought why not? and stuck with STAMPEDE.

And I’m glad I did. It’s really odd, but I liked this version a lot better. The characters are more appealing, the action is better, and the pace flows along just fine as Johnny Colt and his pards try to help out an old friend by driving nine hundred head of cattle to Deadwood through Indian country. The problem is, those nine hundred head are part of a combined herd and the hard-nosed Texas cattleman who’s heading up the drive is determined to own all of the cows, no matter what brand is on them, by the time the drive is over. It’s a simple story without any plot twists, really, but well told with some excellent gunfights and, yes, a few stampedes along the way.

Since this book came out in 1951, Cushman must have done the rewrite almost as soon as he was finished with the original. I’m not sure why he didn’t start with the first Pecos Kid story unless he just liked this one better. For all I know, he planned to turn all of them into “Yukon Miles” books. Why there’s only one is a mystery. It’s possible that someone at Popular Publications got wind of what he was doing and told him to stop. They owned the copyright on the original version, after all. Or Cushman could have abandoned the idea himself when his other books for Gold Medal (including that Armless O’Neil rewrite) sold extremely well. He may have wanted to devote his energies to them rather than rewriting more Pecos Kids.

Either way, we’re left with STAMPEDE, which is a pretty darned good book. I enjoyed reading it, and I like uncovering a little bit of pulp and paperback history. Seems to me that it was well worth the three bucks. And if you happen to have a copy of STAMPEDE on your shelves and are a Western fan, it’s worth reading, whether you know its history or not.

Which, I guess, you do if you’ve read this far. I hope I didn’t ruin it for you.

(Note: All five of the original Pecos Kid novels are available as inexpensive e-books. NO GOLD ON BOOTHILL contains the fifth Pecos Kid novel plus two Comanche John stories, as mentioned above.)


Richard Moore said...

Love the post! Great detective work. Not certain I've read much by Cushman. Time I checked him out. I certainly have several paperbacks by him scattered about and maybe one of the later hardbacks.

Will Robertson said...

Wow, James! -- what Richard Moore said! I really enjoy it when you lay out the steps you've taken to untangle these kinds of authorship mysteries -- lots of fun, and a help to me when I'm attempting the same kind of thing.

Speaking of mysteries, I hope your blog traffic is back up again. I remember the odd overnight drop you and other bloggers noticed a while back. Have you ever figured out what that was all about?

I really enjoy your blog posts. Thanks so much, James!


James Reasoner said...

The blog statistics have recovered somewhat but are still far below what they were a few years ago. Because of the suddenness of the drop, I think Blogger must have changed the way they calculate page views, or some other technical reason. I know blog readership has gone down since Facebook and other social media became popular, but I have a feeling most of my regular audience is still here. As long as people enjoy the blog, I'll keep it up, just as I'll continue with the WesternPulps email group as long as there's a platform available for it. I'm still having a great time doing this stuff.