Despite the excellent Frank McCarthy painting and the cover copy, William Heuman’s 1954 Gold Medal novel RIDE FOR TEXAS is not a Western. Rather, it’s a historical novel, set in 1835 and opening on the Mississippi River, as Joel Barnett, a fledgling lawyer from Kentucky, and two of his friends are on their way to New Orleans on a flatboat. Joel intends to set up a legal practice there. Then a sternwheeler riverboat roars past them, almost swamping them, but as the boat heads on downriver, Joel notices someone floundering around in the water and figures one of the riverboat’s passengers has fallen off. He jumps in to rescue the person, of course, and in what probably won’t be a surprise to many readers, that passenger turns out to be a beautiful young woman. Joel quickly figures out, as well, that she didn’t fall off accidentally but jumped instead, hoping to reach the flatboat, because she’s in danger. Before you know it, Joel and his sidekicks are helping the girl fend off a kidnapping attempt in New Orleans, after which they promise to help her get back to her home in Texas, which is still part of Mexico at this time, although revolution is brewing there because of the dictator Santa Anna’s mistreatment of the American colonists who have settled Texas. There’ll be a lot of danger and double-crosses and battles before they can reunite the girl with her father, though.
If you don’t go into RIDE FOR TEXAS expecting a high degree of historical and geographical accuracy, you can appreciate this book for what it is: a rousing, fast-paced adventure novel. Heuman’s knowledge of Texas seems to be about on the same level as that of a B-Western movie, but he can sure spin an entertaining yarn, a talent honed during a couple of decades as one of the top contributors to the Western pulps. I really enjoyed this book. Joel Barnett is a very likable protagonist, as are his friends and allies. The battle scenes set in San Antonio, as the Texans try to drive General Cos’s army out of the city, are excellent and probably the most historically accurate part of the novel. The ending is a bit downbeat because we all know what’s going to happen next, but on the other hand, we don’t know what the fate of these particular characters will be, so there’s that bit of optimism. The best pulp novels centered around the Texas Revolution that I’ve read are BOWIE KNIFE and TEXAS SHALL BE FREE!, both by H. Bedford-Jones, originally serialized in ARGOSY and reprinted in recent years by Altus Press. However, RIDE FOR TEXAS is well worth reading if you ever come across a copy of the original Gold Medal edition, which is likely the only one there’ll ever be.