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Jim McKay arrived in Texas to marry his fiancee. Not having seen her in six months, he’d used the time to end his affairs in Baltimore, sell his interest in the ship line his father had left him. The new steam ships didn’t interest him, he was a sailing man, and his uncles were more in line with the new stuff. He had a plan. There was a ranch up for sale and he wanted to get it as a surprise wedding gift for his bride, Patricia Terrill.

He didn’t realize he was walking into the middle of an old feud.

The Terrills were the land barons, fancy living, dressing, talking. The Hanneseys were “Tennessee Trash,” looked down on by the Terrils. The ranch he wanted lay between the two properties they owned. Known as the Big Muddy for the river that ran through the property, both sides coveted it to control the water rights. Owned by the granddaughter of the original owner, Julie Maragon, she’d refused to sell to either party, knowing the bloodshed that would arise if one controlled it. She wanted to sell it to a third party not in line with either of the two families in the hope that they could manage it. It cost her her friendship with Patricia.

Jim, when he realizes all this, reveals his aims to her and bows out gracefully.

He’s still pressed from all sides. In his early thirties, he resists ploys to get him to fight or embarrass him from all sides. He’s just stubborn enough to not perform for anybody to demonstrate his courage. Buck Hannesey, son of the head of the clan, gives him a short beating. Steve Leech, the foreman of the Terrill spread saddles him a bad horse that doesn’t like riders. McKay senses it and walks away, only to get a Mexican to saddle the animal later in private just to satisfy himself that he could do it. The animal only throws twenty or so times before he wears him down.

Patricia, a spoiled young woman, is upset at his cowardice. Steve Leech is jealous of him because he’d always figured he’d marry Patricia. Buck Hannesey wants to marry Julie Maragon as part of his clan’s plan to gain the Big Muddy. Also he’s never had a woman turn him down and that eats at his ego.

Jim Mckay’s values are at a clash with everyone but Julie Maragon. She ends up selling him the Big Muddy and that’s when everyone finds out just how different Jim McKay is and just how tough an ex-sea captain can be when not performing.

Quite liked this one. It was made into a movie in 1958 with an all-star cast. Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charles Bickford, and Chuck Connors.

Here’s a link to the trailer:

THE BIG COUNTRY

Richard Robinson is hosting Forgotten Books this week and can be found HERE.

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