One of my all time favorite songs.
Wes Tancred had roamed for nine years fleeing a song. He heard it everywhere he went, a ballad that told the tale of how the coward Wes Tancred had betrayed his best friend, Sam Older, shooting him in the back for the $10,000 reward and amnesty.
That was not how it happened. Older had tried to kill him and Wes struck first. The pair had rode with Quantrell during the war and had turned to robbery after. Much in the manner of Jesse James, Older had a reputation as a “Robin Hood,” although it wasn’t true. When Wes grew tired of the bloodshed and tried to leave, the falling out had happened. The ballad became very popular and he couldn’t get away from it. The funny part, although he got his pardon, he didn’t take the reward.
During his nine years of roaming, he quit wearing his gun, still carrying in his bags, and did whatever he could to get by, everything but what he knew: the newspaper business as a printer. he was John Bailey now. He’d settled in as a hostler at a stage station helping an old man named Vessner and his daughter Laura.
Things were going well until the three men rode in and he was forced to take a hand when they intended to rob the stage coming in. Vessner was bound to stop them and was killed for it. Wes was too late when he killed the three.
Time to move on again.
Sage City was where things come to a head. Two factions: the rich mayor, Jacob Fugger, his tame judge, a thuggish cattle boss, Hong Kong Smith, and his drovers, all lined up against the crusading newspaper owner and a handful of honest citizens. There wasn’t but one side Wes could take. He even gets sucked into a shooting match with Wild Bill Hickok just before he heads north to his destiny in Deadwood.
BITTER SAGE was made into a movie, TENSION AT TABLE ROCK, which starred Richard Egan as Wes Tancred and DeForest Kelly had a small part as a gunfighter.
My selection this week is another western by the creator of Mike Shayne, TWO-GUN RIO KID, published in hardcover in 1941. In fact, it lists four separate publishers before this 1954 Pocket Books edition. It has an introduction by Erle Stanley Gardner.
In his introduction, Gardner talks, and I quote:
“Indeed, there are too many areas in the world today where justice and the rights of men are constantly sacrificed to political advantage for us to be other than intensely aware of the necessity to guard them jealously.”
Considering the time of the writing, 1954, Gardner had to be speaking of the House Un-American Activities committee’s zealous pursuit of communism during that period. But that quote would certainly be relevant today in light of the last administration’s curbing of a number of our freedoms in the name of hunting down terrorism in every corner of our society.
But enough political talk.
Hugh Aiken was coming home to Arizona after three years. He wanted to clear his name and the letter he sent to his best friend, Charlie Barnes, said he finally would be able to prove he hadn’t shot the Sheriff in the back, if only he was given time before being shot or lynched. The wanted posters said $10,000 Dead or Alive. He wanted Barnes to meet him at the deserted Bar L ranch which he intended to use for a headquarters/hideout in a week.
But things had changed in the three years Aiken had been gone, both for himself and the folks at home. The Bar L had been taken over by a man named Henry Pelham and had prospered while other ranches were slowly going under to rustlers and mother nature, prospered some whispered illegally. He did have half a dozen gunslicks working for him and jealously guarded the borders of his land, not allowing anyone access. He also had designs on Aiken’s sister, Peggy, who owned he bordering ranch. Much to Barnes’ consternation. He’d loved Peggy since they were very young, but like all males, he was essentially clueless about women.
And Aiken wasn’t the same man who’d left so hastily three years ago. A reputation had grown around because of his skill with his guns. He defended himself more than once from would-be gun hands seeking a rep of their own. Which only led to more attempts to outdraw him. He’d also been hung with the name the Rio Kid, because he hung out just below the border in Mexico and his youthful, somewhat reminiscent of Billy The Kid, appearance.
All that was going to change though. He could prove that he hadn’t murdered the Sheriff and return to the life he’d led before.
Only the night of his return, the son of the late sheriff, now Sheriff himself, was found murdered, shot in the same manner as his father. Things just got a lot tougher for the Rio Kid.
This was the fourth novel featuring this Rio Kid. I don’t have the others, but did acquire two of the pulp magazine character written by Tom Curry at the same time.
From 1970, TRINITY IS MY NAME(THEY CALL ME TRINITY) did several things. It revitalized spaghetti western films, creating a new sub-genre, the comedy western, while making a star of Terence Hill, blond, blue-eyed Italian, and really sparked my interest in the group of movies. Oh, I’d seen the Eastwood/Leone Dollar trilogy, but my interest hadn’t hit yet. This one did it.
Trinity(Hill) and Bambino(Spencer) are brothers, lazy, dirty, petty thieves. Trinity smiles all the time, Bambino wears perpetual gloom like another piece of clothes. Trinity has a gun on his right hip, Bambino on his left. We learn early on, when Trinity accosts a couple of bounty hunters with a wounded Mexican, that he has a nickname when introduced. “The right hand of the devil!” spoken in awed tones. Naturally later, when Bambino draws and kills three men, he’s “the left hand of the devil!”
The story here is not new: the greedy rancher, Major Harriman(Farley Granger), wants to drive the community of farmers building in a valley out so that his own horse herd has more grazing land, Never mind that there’s plenty for all, he wants them out and he doesn’t care how it’s done.
Bambino is hiding out in town as the Sheriff while waiting for his men to find him. He came by that job as he was fleeing his escape from Yuma prison and shot a man he thought was after him. Turns out he was just the new Sheriff, to replace the former killed in the line of duty, headed in the same direction. So he takes the badge and poses as Sheriff in order to hide out.
He reluctantly offers Trinity the job of deputy, just wanting things to remain quiet. Their relationship as brothers is one of amusement on Trinity’s part, tolerance on Bambino’s. Refusing at first, Trinity’s eye is caught by a pair of attractive blonds in need of aid,
The farmers are Mormons and Harriman is not their only trouble. A Mexican bandit, Mezcal, and his outlaws drop in frequently, amused at the non-violence of the Mormons, taking great delight in smacking them around. Nothing more violent. For now anyway.
Throw in a plot where Bambino plans to steal the Major’s horse herd when his men show up and it makes for some interesting hi-jinks. Weasel and Timmy show up and Trinity has to convince his brother to help the farmers. Of course that involves getting them to realzie that self-defense wouldn’t be against the Lord’s teachings. No killing though.
Funny sequences with the four of them teaching the men to fight with hands, feet, a piece of lumber, table, whatever’s handy fuel the humor.
One of my favorite spaghetti westerns. It sparked a sequel and a host of lame imitations infringing on the Trinity name.
Jason Storm was a man with no close friends. He’d been a Marshall for twenty-five years when he made the momentous decision to retire from that line of work. It stemmed from his last chase of two bank robbers that has killed a clerk and his wife. One of them hadn’t been much more than a boy, swayed by his partner of an easier life, and the son of locals that he respected. They didn’t blame him for killing the boy, who’d proclaimed that when he ran into Storm, one of them was going to end up dead. The shooting bothered him much more than the partner and when he delivered the body to the boy’s parents, it set him to considering retirement.
He headed for a valley in the Montana territory he remembered riding through five years before. He’d thought then it might be a good place to start a ranch, isolated enough to give him solitude, but only a few day from civilization. Getting to Paradise Valley, changes began to show immediately. Signs of people here and there, he came to a small town, very small, known simply as Paradise. A saloon, general store, blacksmith shop, corral, sheriff’s office, a few houses. The law was part-time. The sheriff was a farmer who spent little time in town. What was there to do? The deputy was a very young man who worked for the blacksmith.
The town was the brainchild of a rich man named Raymond Pryor, a man interested in helping people get started, building a community of friendly folks. In that regard, if he like your looks, he would back you, remaining a silent partner, leaving you to run your business the way you saw fit.
Jason was offered a great deal. The perfect spot, a small off-shoot valley a day’s ride away, one hundred-fifty acres of prime land. The terms were generous: a dollar an acre, no payment due for a year, and he would even help with the stock the ex-lawman would need. Accepting the offer, with the help of Pryor and his men, he began to build a home, barn, corral, ready for his new life as a small rancher.
It was only a short time later that the six hardcases, Mace Cantrell and his band of outlaws, rode into town. They were looking for easy pickings, but Paradise didn’t look like much. Until they heard the story of Raymond Pryor’s generosity. Since there was no bank in town, Pryor must have a large chunk of money at his ranch.
By the time it was over, everyone at Pryor’s ranch was dead, net gain for Cantrell forty-eight dollars and a few baubles. In revenge, he burned the ranch to the ground and headed back to Paradise, intent on looting it of everything of value. The farmer/Sheriff quit the job. It was not anything for which he’d signed up. He had a family to protect. The deputy, though willing, was very young and inexperienced.
Enter Jason Storm.
Though he’d quit the Marshaling business and came way up here to get away from anyone who knew him, he couldn’t let the murder of his benefactor and the threat to the decent people of Paradise go unchallenged.
A fine new novel by Mr. West. Worth a look.