Painted Horses: My Review

Painted Horses Book CoverPainted Horses by Malcolm Brooks is a beautifully written novel that is at once homage to the vanishing American West, a window into history, social commentary on the clash between big business and progress versus cultural heritage and land preservation, and an enduring love story.

“And so out of yearning and cunning sprang tales of their own dimly recalled beginning, songs musing of the struggle of existence and the gods of the land and whatever eternity owned the glittering stars, legends of children birthed during astral events, under tailing comets or while red-and-green mists glowed weirdly in the northern sky, and the tales and the songs would pass down and pass down again and inspire ceremonies and rituals to ensure the arrival of migrating animals, the arrival of offspring, or to predict the lengthening of days into summer, and the rites would in turn compel one of them gifted with an impulse not unlike his own to create with his hand, his magical hand, images of the world in which he dwelled, a world and the beasts that occupied it now utterly gone save a single remnant etched in stone, deep in the heart of a canyon.”

Set in 1950’s Montana, it is the story of a young idealistic female archaeologist given the task of surveying a future dam site to ensure that no historical artifacts are lost, the Crow Indians on the Reservation desperately in need of economic development but torn between progress and preservation of their sacred traditions and rituals, and a veteran of World War II’s last mounted campaign in Italy on the lam from the authorities after refusing orders to execute the horses when their utility to the Army has ended.

All the characters and their back stories are richly drawn:

Catherine Lemay finds her love of archaeology while studying abroad. Trained as a classical pianist, she abandons her music studies at Cambridge after becoming entranced with the excavation of ancient ruins in post-Blitz London. Recognized for her archaeological work, she is asked to take on a survey back in the United States in Montana. Catherine soon realizes, however, that she is out of her depth. She faces daunting challenges from the rugged terrain and corporate America’s ruthless pursuit of wealth and power.

John H is a former “mustanger” whose skill with horses is a lost art that is no longer required or appreciated. He’s a loner out of necessity, living off the land, avoiding the encroachment of civilization and the law while still pursuing and painting the wild horses that are descended from thoroughbred Spanish blood lines.

Miriam is a young Crow Indian girl hired to assist Catherine look for ancient artifacts on land sacred to her tribe. With one foot in the past and one in the future, coming of age, becoming a woman, and unsure of what she really wants for herself or her people, she’ll be mislead into betraying both.

Jack Allen is another horseman who now slaughters wild mustangs for the money. Hired by Harris Power and Light to be Catherine’s guide as she conducts her survey, he is crude, deceptive, and dangerous. He’s really in the employ of businessman Dub Harris, who will not allow anything or anyone to impede or stop plans for the dam’s construction.

There is a timeless feel to Painted Horses. The lyrical style in which the story unfolds recalls works by Cormac McCarthy. You can visualize the land. You can relate to the characters. You can understand the conflict between the need for social progress and the fight to preserve the past.

Western, historical novel, drama, romance, or social commentary? Painted Horses doesn’t easily fit into any one category or genre, but Malcolm Brooks has crafted a book that is at once unique, mesmerizing, and haunting.

North To Alaska: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway

NORTH TO ALASKA

The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax, #6
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: August 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 414

Scroll down for the giveaway!
WEALTH AND FAME IN THE WILD WEST ARE WHAT LOMAX SEEKS . . . HIS OWN BAD LUCK IS WHAT STANDS IN HIS WAY.
Swindled out of a mining fortune in Colorado and blamed for an ensuing murder, H. H. Lomax two decades later must finally face up to his past in Skagway, Alaska. Along the way, he encounters legendary madam Mattie Silks, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, novelist Jack London, and a talking dog.
To survive his previous missteps and avoid a prison sentence for theft, Lomax must outshoot infamous Western conman Soapy Smith, outwit an unrelenting Wells Fargo investigator, and outrun Shotgun Jake Townsend, the greatest frontier assassin who never was.
Four Stars

Many a tall tale and legend have their origin in stories of the Wild Wild West. Few, however, are as colorful, humorous, often outrageous, and thoroughly enjoyable as the adventures of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax.

In the six novels by award winning author Preston Lewis, readers have followed the character’s journeys and escapades throughout the frontier from his origins in Northwest Arkansas to his latest efforts to find fame and fortune in Colorado and Alaska.

The recollection of his life and times are allegedly taken directly from Lomax’s memoirs found in the archives at Texas Tech University. Lewis admits that he “cannot vouch for their complete authenticity,” but also states that unlike many academic historians, rather than question Lomax’s credibility as an observer of historical events or his acquaintance with many famous icons of the Old West, he’s focused on Lomax’s ability as “a storyteller of the first rank… a chronicler of the historical and the hysterical West.”

North to Alaska picks up the saga in the year 1877. The previous year Lomax survived Custer’s ill-fated campaign against the Plains Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and settled for awhile in Deadwood in the Dakota Territory where he’s linked to Wild Bill Hickok who is gunned down in a saloon while playing poker. Since some observers believe that Lomax may have distracted the famed gunman allowing Jack McCall to shoot him from behind, he again hits the trail arriving in Denver, Colorado where he finds employment as a bodyguard to the famous Denver madam, Mattie Silks.

Certainly Henry Harrison is no shootist, but when he doesn’t discourage speculation that he was the one to teach Wild Bill Hickok the fast draw and how to shoot, he’s hired on to protect Mattie and her lover Cort Thomson from a rival madam, Kate Fulton, and a phantom assassin conjured from his own imagination, Shotgun Jake Townsend. With the help of Mattie’s cook and housekeeper, Lupe – Lomax describes her as having “the biggest heart of any woman he’d met in a brothel” – he devises an elaborate ruse that makes enough “protection money” to set her up for life and provide him with a grubstake for a mining venture in the town of Leadville.

It’s here that Lomax is introduced to Susan B. Anthony. “If ever a woman had been suckled on lemons and preserved in vinegar, she was it!” It’s only a brief encounter, but since rumors seem to spring up about anything or anybody Lomax is a party to, he’s forever romantically linked with the suffragist.

Lomax has never been good at holding onto money, and is soon scammed out of the mine and all his cash by an unscrupulous lawyer, Adam “Noose Neck” Scheisse, who, it turns out, works in cahoots with the notorious crime boss and conman, Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Not only that, but after drowning his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey, Lomax wakes up to find himself accused of murdering the lawyer who bilked him out of his claim and money.

There’s an interlude at this point in the book that briefly describes Lomax wandering the West while constantly looking over his shoulder for anyone looking to collect the $500 bounty on his head. He then ends up in San Francisco where an unexpected windfall (courtesy of an unlocked Wells Fargo strongbox) is the money he needs to head to the Alaska gold fields. “Finders keepers is what I always heard, and I didn’t see any point in countering that adage.” Of course, now there’s a Wells Fargo Special Investigator on his tail, so Lomax assumes the alias Jessie Murphy.

It’s now the year 1897 and the Klondike Gold Rush is luring hundreds of travelers to the Chilkoot Mountains looking to strike it rich. Initially intent on trying his luck, he instead partners up with Roger Meredith, a thespian and ventriloquist, to open the Gold Dust Saloon and Grand Opera House in Skagway, Alaska. But with every honest citizen he meets, to include the writer Jack London who he remembers as “Jack Paris or Jack Madrid or something like that,” there are conmen, pickpockets, thieves, and scoundrels of every stripe. Organized crime and escalating violence aren’t far behind, which soon brings Lomax back in contact with Soapy Smith and his gang.

It also brings Mattie Silks to Skagway to scope out a location for her new brothel. Fortuitously, she overhears a conversation in which Soapy admits to framing Lomax back in Leadville, plans for his assassination, and plans to kill her as well. Mattie doesn’t stick around long enough for the plan to be carried out, but she does expose the corruption in Skagway on her return to Seattle which sets up the final confrontation and shootout on Juneau Wharf.

History records that Soapy Smith was killed on Juneau Wharf July 8, 1898. It doesn’t comment on the personal losses suffered by Jessie Murphy (his dog Buck and Ella Wilson, a “soiled dove” who plied her trade at the Gold Dust, were both victims of the violence.) Nor does it record the arrival of a Wells Fargo Special Investigator by the name of Dayle Lymoine, looking to recover the cash pilfered by H.H. Lomax.

Looking to get his name and reputation back, Lomax sells his stake in the Gold Dust and returns to San Francisco with the detective. Even after repaying the money, he fully expects Wells Fargo to press charges. Instead, he’s asked by the lawyers if the rumors are true that he had a relationship with the famed suffragist.  “As for pressing charges, we’ve decided courting Susan B. Anthony was punishment enough for a man’s lifetime.”

So ends this chapter in H.H. Lomax’s life.

North to Alaska contains many of the same elements that make Preston Lewis’ books both accurate in historical fact and fun to read for his reinterpretation of these events and the people involved. Was H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax an eye witness to history? Did he really live to write his memoirs or is he solely the construct of Lewis’ imagination? Readers might think it absurd to even ask these questions, but it’s a credit to a very talented author that the mere mention of Lomax’s name evokes statements from people like… “I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he someone famous in the Old West?”

Each volume in this saga needs to be read and enjoyed, yet each stands alone. Preston Lewis does an excellent job of bringing new readers up to speed on Lomax’s past exploits, and he also summarizes his latest adventures and the people involved in the Introduction to each book. Knowing the plot before you open the first chapter may seem counterintuitive, but even my summation of North to Alaska doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s in store for readers. The joy is in the storytelling, not the historical facts. So, whether it’s H.H. Lomax or Preston Lewis that’s the master storyteller, the Old West is brought to life in a manner that makes you anxiously await the next release.

The archives tell us that H.H. Lomax passed away in 1933. This novel ends in 1898. I for one hope that there are many more adventures to come!

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series, The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.

———————–

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OCTOBER 20-30, 2020
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Forgotten
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10/24/20

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Reading
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10/26/20

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Mix-Up At The O.K. Corral: My Review

Mix-Up at the O.K. Corral Book CoverAsk anyone about the most famous shootout from the annals of the Old West, and invariably they will point to the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” The brief thirty second confrontation between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday on one side and the Clantons and the McLaurys on the other is arguably the most famous exchange of gunfire and gunsmoke ever recorded, and continued public awareness of the event that took place in  Tombstone, Arizona Territory on October 26, 1881 has been assured by numerous literary interpretations and movie depictions of the simmering feud that led to this moment in history.

One of the more original and outlandish accounts of the gunfight and the circumstances that led to it comes by way of author Preston Lewis in book #3 of the H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax memoirs. If you love western literature and especially western humor, you’re probably already acquainted with the series, but if not, I refer you to my earlier blog posts: The Demise of Billy the Kid, Jun 7, 2018; The Redemption of Jessie James, Feb 1, 2019; Bluster’s Last Stand, Aug 9, 2019; and First Herd to Abilene, Apr 29, 2020.

Invariably you’ll note that I previously bypassed this third entry into the account of Lomax’s adventures (the above titles should highlight the fact that he claims to have known many of the icons of the Old West and been involved in just about every pivotal event that ever occurred during the period.) At the time I wanted to jump ahead and read his take on Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and then I just naturally followed up that book with his telling of the first great cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. However, I knew that I would eventually return to the famous Tombstone shootout, and I was determined to have read all five books before the release of book #6, North to Alaska, due out August 5th.

Lomax’s braggadocio has always tempered historical accuracy with outrageous assertions of bravado, but he really lays it on thick in Mix-Up At The O.K. Corral. He claims to have spit into Doc Holliday’s drink and lived to tell the tale, to have fired the first shot in the faceoff at the corral, and to have killed the notorious gunman Johnny Ringo in the ongoing vendetta that occurred in the aftermath of the gunfight. In fact Lomax spreads so many rumors and tells so many lies in this entry into the series that you can fully understand why almost everyone in Tombstone is anticipating that not only will he be shot, but also openly betting on where the bullet will strike him… in the back, in the gut, in the head, etc. Even his own cat wants to scratch his eyes out, but somehow Lomax makes it out of Tombstone alive and hits the trail towards another misadventure, this time in Skagway, Alaska.

I’m obviously a big fan of Preston Lewis, and I’m always looking forward to the next chapter in the H.H. Lomax saga. His many exploits are told with humor, pathos, and a lot of historical detail (albeit stretched a good bit in keeping with Lewis’ ability to spin a good yarn.)  So, catch up if you haven’t yet read any of Henry Harrison’s memoirs and get ready for more action in the frozen North. You’ll be glad you did!

 

 

First Herd to Abilene: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway

FIRST HERD TO ABILENE

An H. H. Lomax Western, #5
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: February 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 449

Scroll down for the giveaway!
 

HISTORICALLY SOUND AND HILARIOUSLY FUNNY! H.H. Lomax meets Wild Bill Hickok in Springfield, Missouri, and is responsible for Hickok’s legendary gunfight with Davis Tutt. Fearing Hickok will hold a grudge, Lomax escapes Springfield and agrees to promote Joseph G. McCoy’s dream of building Abilene, Kansas, into a cattle town, ultimately leading the first herd to Abilene from Texas.

Along the way, he encounters Indians, rabid skunks, flash floods, a stampede, and the animosities of some fellow cowboys trying to steal profits from the drive. Lomax is saved by the timely arrival of now U.S. Marshal Hickok, but Lomax uses counterfeit wanted posters to convince Hickok his assailants are wanted felons with rewards on their heads.

Lomax and Wild Bill go their separate ways until they run into each other a decade later in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, where Hickok vows to kill Lomax for getting him fired.

First Herd to Abilene is an entertaining mix of historical and hysterical fiction.

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Review

Four Stars

First Herd to Abilene is the fifth book in this series featuring the hilarious exploits of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax, one of the most colorful characters to ever grace the pages of a western novel. If you’ve never read any of the previous entries into the outrageous circumstances and succession of adventures that puts H.H. at the confluence of every major event to ever be recorded about the Old West, don’t worry. Author Preston Lewis revisits those earlier escapades in Chapter One, while at the same time laying the groundwork for what is yet to come.

Lewis contends that he came across Lomax’s memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University, and though he “can’t vouch for their veracity,” these tales of encounters with the likes of Billy the Kid, Jessie James, Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, and George Armstrong Custer (to name just a few) are told with such insightful historical detail as well as wit and humor that readers will find themselves totally engaged. “While some may question his credentials as a credible chronicler of the occurrences Lomax claims to have witnessed, no one can doubt his abilities as a humorous story-teller of the first rank.”

First Herd to Abilene takes Henry Harrison Lomax from the end of the Civil War to three years past the turn of the century and, as in the earlier volumes, allows Lomax to weave another yarn about his encounters with some of the most memorable characters in the history of the Old West, folks such as James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok, Calamity Jane, Jessie Chisolm and Joseph G. McCoy.”

It begins with Lomax grousing about his disdain for all Texans, “a breed whose stupidity, greed, and depravity was exceeded only by that of politicians and lawyers.” His bitterness is really the result of a later tragedy, but at the outset of the book he begrudges Texans for making a fortune in the cattle industry while he “received nary a cent for all the hard work I put in and all risks I took to chart the course to Kansas.” Additionally,  Lomax feels slighted by Joseph G. McCoy, the entrepreneur who had the vision of transporting cattle by rail to Easterners starving for beef, but fails to give Lomax recognition and historical credit for being the first to blaze a trail from Texas to the stockyards and railheads in Abilene. That credit went to Jessie Chisolm, “an old coot who never traversed the route from Kansas to South Texas and back.”

It’s this bitterness that sets the tone for probably the most serious storyline of all the books in the series, with much of its 449 pages describing what it was like to be a part of the great cattle drives that defined this era in history. The arduous challenge of herding longhorn cattle over 700 miles from Texas to Kansas required months of backbreaking monotonous work that pitted cattlemen against the elements, disease, wild animals, hostile terrain, Indian attacks, and rustlers. It meant months of breathing in trail dust as well as the foul odors of the livestock, going without much sleep, eating the same food day-in day-out, no gambling or drinking, and very little human contact except between fellow trail riders… all of which grated on nerves and frequently resulted in the deaths of both man and beast. Preston Lewis certainly intersperses Lomax’s typical humor into this portrayal of a cowhand’s life, but he does so in a manner that doesn’t negate or gloss over the difficulties faced along the way.

Besides Lomax and the iconic historical figures mentioned above, Lewis creates a cast of characters that brings these hardships to life. Madlyn Dillon, an artist who has been spoiled and pampered her entire life, but the first Texan, male or female, to take an interest in Lomax and Joseph G. McCoy’s vision. Colonel Saul Dillon, her father. The Texas cattleman puts his trust in Lomax to get his cattle to Kansas and save his ranch. Ruth, orphaned by the Comanche but taken in and employed by Colonel Dillon. She falls in love with Lomax in an ill-fated relationship. Sainty Spencer, the ranch foreman who is sweet on Madlyn, and as trail boss is trusted to bring back the cash from the sale of the cattle in Abilene. Charlie Bitters, the cook, second in importance only to the trail boss, but whose cooking for the Army of Tennessee during the Civil War is said to have led to its defeat. Jose Munoz and Pedro Ramirez, Mexican hands that will tend to the remuda during the trail drive. Martin Michaels, a sketch artist on the side and the first cowhand hired, and Tom Errun, an Englishman with no experience pared up with Michaels to lead the herd. Silas Banty, a former slave, who looks to the future with optimism and learns to read from Lomax. Toad Beeline, little understood by his fellow trailhands because he tends to mumble when he speaks. He and Silas are assigned to ride flank. Trent Parsons, a former Confederate soldier wounded at Shiloh who spends his spare time with the Good Book, and Jurdon Mark, an affable sort who excels at the game of marbles, will ride swing. Lastly, Harry Dire, a skilled roper but a malcontent, Chuck Muscher, a Yankee troublemaker, and Bartholomew Henry O’Henry, another former slave angry about his past with a mean streak in him, will all be assigned to ride drag which only adds to their alienation and seditious attitudes. Their actions bode ill for the success of the cattle drive.

Bookending this description of the cattle drive and the fate of these characters is the story of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane told as only H.H. Lomax can, again putting himself right smack dab in the middle of the action over a span of years that begins in Springfield, Missouri and ends on that fateful day in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. But what does a “Rattle Jar,” head lice, an illicit game of poker at the library,  a stolen gold Waltham watch, cherry pie, an impromptu lynching, counterfeit wanted posters, and the “romance” between Wild Bill and Miss Martha Jane Canary and their final resting place  have to do with that narrative? For those insights, you really do need to read the book. In fact, once you do, I highly recommend that you go back and read the entire series. You won’t be disappointed!

Finally, to give a complete review of First Herd to Abilene, I need to mention errors in editing that I had not encountered in Lewis’ previous books. I seldom comment on SPAGs, but readers will undoubtedly come across them in the course of reading the novel. Preston Lewis is a great storyteller and a deserving winner of the Spur Award for western literature, but this book would have benefitted from a final edit before publication.

That said, as someone who once wrote that the “western genre no longer holds the public’s attention as it once did in cinema and published media,” I can definitely say that Preston Lewis’ books are the exception, helping keep western literature alive, vibrant, relevant and entertaining.

I received a free copy of First Herd to Abilene in exchange for my honest review.

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series, The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.

———————–

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Rio Ruidoso: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Excerpt

RIO RUIDOSO
Three Rivers Trilogy, 1
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Western
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Date of Publication: February 19, 2020
Number of Pages: 299

2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association:
Best Creative Work on West Texas

 

Scroll down for the giveaway!
 

 

Rio Ruidoso offers a gripping blend of history and story as two-time Spur Award-winner Preston Lewis explores the violent years before the famed Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory. Seamlessly weaving fact with fiction, the author details the county’s corruption, racism, and violence through the eyes of protagonist Wes Bracken, newly arrived in the region to start a horse ranch with his alcoholic brother.

 

Bracken’s dreams for the Mirror B Ranch are threatened by his brother’s drunkenness, the corruption of economic kingpin Lawrence G. Murphy, and the murderous rampages of the racist Horrell Brothers. To bring tranquility to Lincoln County, Bracken must defeat those threats and stand his ground against the ever-changing alliances that complicate life and prosperity in multi-racial Lincoln County.

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Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE OF

RIO RUIDOSO

BY PRESTON LEWIS

As he neared the bend in the stream, a woman’s screams and sobs grew discernible and louder. Then Wes heard the mocking laugh of amused men. Rounding the bend, Wes saw a small adobe dwelling with a small cultivated field between it and the Ruidoso. And in front of the house, he spied a circle of four men around a Hispanic woman. A fifth man sat horseback, holding the others’ mounts. All five were hurrahing the woman and someone else within their circle.

Wes held the stallion back while he studied the five men, all so intent on their mischief that not one had noticed their visitor less than a hundred yards away. Wes knew neither the dispute nor its cause, but he could see the odds were less than fair. He levered a cartridge into the Winchester, then shook the reins. The sorrel stepped forward, the gap between Wes and the men narrowing to eighty yards, sixty yards, then forty yards. Still the men remained oblivious to all but the prey within their small circle.

Wes watched a frail man stand up among them, only to be shoved back to the ground by a bigger assailant. The woman screamed and tried to help the victim, but another attacker grabbed her arm and jerked her away. She fell to the ground, then clambered toward the frail man. Everyone laughed, except Wes! He had seen enough.

“Get up, greaser, so I can plant you in the ground again,” taunted one attacker.

At twenty yards, Wes eased back on the sorrel’s reins. Swinging the barrel of his carbine toward the assailants, he shouted, “Afternoon.”

Five men flinched at the greeting, then stiffened. They slowly turned around, facing Wes, their hands frozen near the revolvers at their sides.

“What seems to be the trouble?” Wes called out.

The woman burst through the circle of men and rushed toward Wes. “Gracias, señor, muy gracias!

Her cry and the flash of her skirt spooked Charlie. The sorrel nervously backtracked a half-dozen steps. One man reached toward his pistol, his hand wrapping around the gun butt.

The Hispanic woman stopped dead still.

Wes jerked the carbine to his shoulder and fired over the foolhardy man. The fellow’s fingers widened and his arm went limp, releasing the pistol that slid back into its holster. His companions raised their hands away from their own sidearms.

The young woman’s hand flew to her throat. “Please, señor, stop them from hurting us.”

Wes nodded. “What’s the trouble?”

One troublemaker stepped ahead of the others. He had a stiff neck, his whole body turning with his head. “No trouble. Until you showed up, fellow!”

“The young lady wouldn’t agree, now would she?”

“She’s Mexican. What’s she know?”

“Enough to expect decent treatment from folks.”

Stiff neck turned his whole body toward the others. “He damn sure ain’t from Texas, now is he?” As they laughed, stiff neck twisted back to face Wes. “Hell, fellow, you remember the Alamo? This greaser’s kin likely killed good white folks there. We’re just paying them back.”

Wes shrugged. “That was near forty years ago, and this isn’t Texas. You best forget the Alamo, ride on and leave these folks alone.”

Raising his fist, stiff neck advanced a step. “Fellow, I don’t know who you are, but you got no business interfering in what my bunch does. The name’s Horrell, I’m Mart, and these are my brothers Tom, Merritt, Ben, and Sam. We’ll ride out, but you remember the Horrell name if you’re planning on staying in Lincoln County because we’ll meet again when we ain’t in such a good mood.” 

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.

 


———————-

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Riders of the Purple Sage: My Review

Every so often I like to pick up a book that I read as a young boy growing up. In this instance it was Zane Grey’s classic western Riders of the Purple Sage.Riders of the Purple Sage Book Cover

I remembered very little about the story other than the character known as Lassiter. His iconic image, a dreaded gunman dressed completely in black with two guns holstered at his side, is what stuck in my memory.

I’d totally forgotten that this was a western romance novel set in Utah telling the story of Jane Withersteen, a Mormon landowner who refuses to shun gentiles (non-Mormons) or enter into a loveless marriage with Elder Tull.

Written in 1912, the romantic characterizations and dialogue appear awkward and dated by today’s standards. But there is no denying that Grey’s descriptions of the landscape are stunning. He also captures the majesty, beauty, and might of horses. Some of his more enthralling passages describe them galloping the open range and the horsemanship of their riders.

Lassiter has come to Cottonwoods, Utah in search of his beloved sister’s grave when he happens upon a vigilante gathering of Mormons about to whip Bern Venters, the foreman at Withersteen ranch. Lassiter’s reputation as a deadly gunslinger drives them away, but sets in motion a series of events intended to ruin Jane Withersteen or force her into obeying the Mormon elders and bishop.

When Jane’s cattle herds are rustled, Bern Venters sets out to track down Rustler Oldring and the infamous “masked rider.” The pursuit results in the discovery of a hidden valley and a shootout with some of the rustlers. Bern wounds the masked rider only to discover that she’s only a teenage girl with a mysterious past. While nursing her back to health, the two fall in love.

Over time Lassiter also falls in love with Jane Withersteen, becoming her protector. He almost forswears the vengeance that brought him to Cottonwood, but the kidnapping of a young orphan girl whom both he and Jane have come to love reignites his hatred.

There are unforeseen plot twists before a final resolution of these two story lines, and the climatic ending is the reason why Riders of the Purple Sage remains one of the early westerns that excited a young boy’s imagination.

Does it hold up today? I admit skipping over passages that now seem quaint, but the book is over one hundred years old. My tastes in literature have changed as have those of most readers. Nonetheless, Riders of the Purple Sage is a timeless ode to the western  and to an author that brought the Old West to life.