Saturday, June 06, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second December Number 1957

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my beat-up copy in the scan. I don’t know who did the cover art.

When I sat down to read "Lone Hand" by T.V. Olsen, the lead novel, it didn't take me long to realize that the opening few pages of it are pretty blatantly plagiarized from Joseph Chadwick's 1951 novel RIDER FROM NOWHERE, published by Gold Medal, which I happen to have read earlier this year.

Consider these passages:

Chadwick: His cigarette grew short and finally scorched his fingers. He dropped the butt and deadened it under the heel of a shabby boot, very deliberately; he was a careful man, and, although he owned not a single acre of this vast sweep of range, or any range, he wanted to start no grass fire.

Olsen: His throat was parched with thirst, and the acrid dry taste of smoke wasn't helping. He ground the cigarette under his heel, mashing it deep into the earth. Trace Keene was a saddlebum who hadn't an acre of land to his name, but the scruples of a better past made him take care against starting a fire on the sweeping expanse of New Mexico grass.

Chadwick: He found himself trembling; it was partly from excitement, partly from the hunger that was a dull ache in his belly and a quivery weakness in the rest of him. He could see the brand mark on the horses from here, a curious brand unfamiliar to him.

Olsen: The horses were so close now that Trace could make out the brand mark on the hip of the nearest. It was a curious design unknown to him. Not that he cared who owned the animals. His legs were already cramped from miles of unaccustomed walking.

In Olsen's paragraph just prior to that, there's a line about "the quivering weakness of thirst and a belly-knotting hunger".

The first few pages of both are full of such similarities, and the action that takes place is the same: the protagonist watches a band of horses in hopes of catching one; they drift away from him; he moves closer; the horses finally come close enough for him to rope one of them and put his saddle on it. Then two cowboys who work for the ranch that owns the horses ride up and catch him.

I used the word "blatantly" above, because one of the characters introduced late in this scene is even named Chadwick.

Now, from that point on, the stories diverge from each other, and although there are minor similarities, it's more a case of both of them being save-the-ranch yarns, I think. And Olsen's novella is pretty darned good overall, a traditional plot but well-handled, with some nice writing and gritty action scenes. I'm baffled as to why he would have used Chadwick's opening like that, though. 1957 is pretty early in Olsen's career, but he was already selling regularly to the few remaining Western pulps by then and I believe had already sold a novel to Ace. At this point there aren't really any answers to be had, but I just found it curious. I'm used to pulp authors cannibalizing their own work but it seems rare for one of them to swipe something from another writer.

Edward Carr is an author whose work I’m not familiar with. His story in this issue, “Desert Chase”, is about the vengeance-seeking brother of a slain stagecoach guard pursuing the outlaws responsible for the killing into the brutal desert of northern Mexico. The owlhoots have a hostage, a young woman, who they leave behind thinking their pursuer will have to save her instead of coming after them. Carr, who published only about a dozen stories in the Fifties, spins a suspenseful, well-written yarn here.

From what I’ve read of his work, Robert E. Trevathan was a pretty solid author of traditional Westerns. He published about a dozen stories in various pulps during the Fifties and wrote approximately the same number of Western novels during the Sixties and Seventies. Unfortunately, most of his books were published by Avalon, the small, library market publisher, so they never got much attention. He’s almost completely forgotten these days. His story in this issue, “Cherokee Strip or Bust”, is an Oklahoma Land Rush yarn, and the protagonist is a little unusual. He’s a bookkeeper whose ambition is to run a general store. It’s well-written, and I enjoy offbeat tales like this now and then.

“Trouble at the Cimarron” by Leola Lehman is something a little unusual in RANCH ROMANCES during the Fifties—an actual romance story. And it’s a good one, with a female protagonist joining a wagon train headed out the Santa Fe Trail. Lehman is completely unknown to me and like Trevathan published only about a dozen stories, but she tells a good story here with some satisfying action at the end.

Unlike Carr, Trevathan, and Lehman, Ray G. Ellis was more prolific in the pulps, authoring more than three dozen stories during the Fifties and early Sixties. His “Piano Wrangler” also features a somewhat unusual protagonist, a former lunger from back east who came west for his health and wound up playing the piano in a saloon. Now he’s fallen for one of the girls who works there, wants to marry her and buy a ranch and get them both out of the saloon, but before he can do that, he has to face a challenge from one of the local bullies. This is a fine, well-written yarn.

There’s also a serial installment of a novel by James Keene (Will Cook) and the usual assorted features and fillers, but I didn’t read any of them.

Overall, this is a top-notch issue of RANCH ROMANCES. There’s not a bad story in the bunch. If I hadn’t happened to read Chadwick’s novel not long ago, I never would have known that Olsen lifted some of the opening from it, and even with that, it’s the best story in the issue and has made me want to read more by Olsen, an author whose work has never grabbed me in the past. If you have this one, it’s worth pulling down from the shelf and reading.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Just think. What are the chances that anyone would read these two stories so close together as to remember how each of them started, much less over 60 years later?

Slim and none, I'd say.