Saturday, April 20, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, October 1952

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, featuring the usual excellent cover by Sam Cherry. That guy must have been tireless. He turned out a ton of pulp and paperback covers, all of them fine work.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS has been attributed to Joseph Chadwick. It begins with Hatfield receiving a mysterious assignment from not only his regular Ranger boss, Cap’n Bill McDowell, but also from the governor of Texas his own self. In a clandestine meeting at the Capitol in Austin, the governor tells Hatfield to go to Fort Worth, check into a hotel there, and wait for someone to contact him and use the code word “Alamo”. It’s an intriguing opening.

Before you know it, there’s a beautiful girl involved, too, and Hatfield finds himself on a vast ranch in the Texas Panhandle impersonating the grandson of the owner and trying to get to the bottom of a deadly plot against the old-timer.

Having read a number of Chadwick’s non-series stories, I can easily believe that he wrote this Jim Hatfield novel. The story is extremely violent and hardboiled, and Hatfield comes in for a considerable amount of punishment, both physical and emotional. Chadwick always put his protagonists through the wringer, so this fits right in with his work. With a different character, this would have been a terrific novel.

But as a Jim Hatfield novel, it’s terrible. Chadwick’s grasp of the character and the series is fine up to a certain point: there are appearances by Cap’n Bill and Hatfield’s horse Goldy, and he refers to Hatfield as the Lone Wolf fairly often. But again and again, especially in the second half of the story, Chadwick has Hatfield doing things that he just doesn’t do in the stories by most of the other authors who wrote as Jackson Cole. He’s slow on the draw, he gets beaten up too easily, he gets too involved with the girl in the story, and he even talks about maneuvering one of the bad guys into a position where it’ll be easy to kill him. Quite a few years ago, I read another of Chadwick’s Hatfield yarns, “Death Rides the Star Route”, and while I don’t recall the details, I remember being displeased with it, too. I suspect it was for the same reasons. I believe he wrote only one other Hatfield novel, and I have a hunch I won’t be reading it any time soon, if ever.

“Spring Storm” is a short story by the prolific pulpster Giff Cheshire. I haven’t read a great deal by him, but I’ve found his work to be a little inconsistent, with a lot of it on the bland side. This yarn about a cattleman trying to drive off a nester fits that description, despite the fact that there’s some action. One of the supporting characters, an old cowboy, is very well-written and also redeems the story to a certain extent.

“The Sheriff Buys a Ring” is by Julian Hammer, one of only two stories credited to him in the Fictionmags Index. The title makes it sound like a comedy, but it’s actually a fairly hardboiled tale about a secret in a lawman’s past coming back to haunt him. It’s no lost classic, but it’s not bad.

“Double Dick and the Widow Woman” also sounds like a comedy, and it is. The author is Lee Priestly, and it’s the fourth and final story in a short series about old prospector Double Dick Richards, who roams around his with burro and pet cat getting into various scrapes. This one features a young cowboy who trades in his horse for a motorcycle and an attractive widow woman who owns a ranch plagued by rustlers. Hijinks, romantic and otherwise, ensue. This story isn’t particularly funny, although it’s supposed to be, but it’s mildly amusing in places and a lot more readable than some Western pulp humor I’ve encountered.

Not surprisingly, the best story in this issue is by Gordon D. Shirreffs. His novelette “Apache Ambush” is set in New Mexico and Arizona during the Civil War and finds a young Union army lieutenant battling Confederate spies and marauding Apaches. There’s a beautiful young woman to rescue and a massacre of Union troops to prevent. A colorful old-timer who is a civilian scout is on hand to help out, too. Shirreffs keeps things racing along with plenty of gritty action scenes and does his usual excellent job with the southwestern setting. This is a suspenseful, thoroughly entertaining yarn.

Charles A. Stearns wrote mostly science fiction for the pulps and digests in the Fifties, but he turned out a few Western stories as well. “Duel at Sundown” in this issue is a short but well-written story about a young man, the son of a legendary lawman, trying to work up the courage to face his first gunfight. It’s an effective tale with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming.

Finally, “Men of Steel” is a late pulp story from the prolific A. Leslie Scott, writing here as A. Leslie. He had already started writing paperbacks and would concentrate on that for the next two decades. In this one, set on the Texas coast along Matagorda Bay, the hero is Sheriff Neale Ross, who is trying to track down a gang of sheep rustlers believed by the local Mexican herders to be ghosts because they wear Conquistador armor. It’s a similar plot to ones that Scott used many times, but the descriptive writing is vivid and the action scenes are great. It’s a minor but very enjoyable yarn. And it got a new life when Scott rewrote it as the first chapter and a half of his Walt Slade novel BULLETS FOR A RANGER, published by Pyramid Books in 1963. The hero in that version is Texas Ranger Walt Slade, of course, with Sheriff Ross becoming a supporting character. I own that novel but I don’t think I’ve ever read it. Maybe now I should.

I’d say that, judged as a whole, this is a below-average issue of TEXAS RANGERS because the Jim Hatfield novel just doesn’t work very well, and only the stories by Shirreffs and Scott are really outstanding among the backup stories. As always, I’m glad to have read it, but I hope the next issue I pick up off the shelves will be better.

1 comment:

Charlie Steel said...

Pretty thorough summary. Too bad the stories were not up to the standard we all look for.

Charlie Steel