T(heodore) V(ictor) Olsen(1932-1993) was born and lived in Wisconsin for his whole life, venturing into the west for a few trips. He still managed to be one of the best western writers of his day. He actually began his first novel while still in high school, went on to write for the pulps, and finally finished and had that novel, HAVEN OF THE HUNTED, published in 1956.
BLOOD OF THE BREED was published later in his life, 1985. It’s the story of a family and the jealousies and the rage that tore it apart.
The story begins long before that though with three men: Ike Banner, Jack Lynch, and Angus Drew, mountain men all, friends, each eventually going his own way. Banner started a ranch, Swallowtail, it growing to be the largest in the territory. Jack Lynch went completely Navajo, living with and as them, working his way up to elder and leader. Angus Drew at fifteen had stowed away on a ship leaving Scotland for the Americas. Though taking a Navajo woman, Horse Woman, as his wife and raising a son, he never embraced the life as his friend Jack Lynch.
Nathan Drew is the main protagonist of the novel. When his father Angus died, he was only six and his mother and he were taken in by the Banners. His mother died when he was twelve and “Aunt” Dru Banner took up the job of finishing his raising. At the same time she was raising her three sons. After her death, Old Ike lost something. At the time of this book, his aged limbs were arthritic. He had a special saddle built with straps that tied his legs and torso so that he could ride for brief spells.
He was closer to Nathan than his three sons, an odd lot all three. Thorp was the eldest, foreman of Swallowtail, was a cold man. The middle son, Tyrone, never took to ranching. He had talents as an artist. In an attempt to prove himself trying to break a horse, he was thrown wrong and suffered an injury. He know used a crutch and drank most of every day away. Freeman, “Free,” was the youngest, twenty, and fast with a gun. And had no morals at all.
Nathan had grown into the job of horse breaker for Swallowtail, a big moneymaker for the ranch selling to the army.
Old Ike had ceded a northern portion of his land, good grazing land, to Jack Lynch and his people. It had come to be called Lynchtown and other Indian folks had gravitated to live there.It was looked on by most white folks as a shantytown and it especially grated on Thorp Banner.
As mentioned earlier, old Ike had grown closer to Nathan than his sons, there’s a story there for later, and he knew his three couldn’t wait for him to die. Though old and arthritis ridden, he still commanded a certain fear from all. Not a lot, and shrinking, but enough.
Our story opens when Nathan is out hunting and comes upon three men who worked for Thorp, the Purley clan, Snake and his two sons, Claud and Sheb, a motley bunch that were Appalachian trash that had come west when their welcome was worn out. They were rousting a young Navajo, Old Snake using a whip to cut the young man to ribbons, one eye had been plucked out. Nathan rode in and stopped it, Just in time too. he Purleys were about to thrown down on him when they were all suddenly surrounded by Navajo, all with blood in their eyes, some of them Nathan’s family members. That wouldn’t help if things broke down though. As a half breed that has lived most of his life among whites, he was tolerated. The white world didn’t much like him either.
That sets the scene for the rest of the book. Old Ike, when told what happened, demands that Thorp fire that trash. Which infuriates the eldest son. He ran the ranch these days and did what he wanted. He knew his will would dominate his brothers when they got the ranch.
In due course, the old man is murdered and a shocking reveal in his will sets up the ending with Nathan and TY Banner, the same age, on one side and the other brothers on the other.
A solid tale with lots of action and a look at a family going bad.
This week the Forgotten Books are being compiled by Evan Lewis over at his blog, Davy Crockett’s Alamanack.