I finished the Rancho Bravo series last night and I thoroughly enjoyed all five of them. I’ve decided this group of books is my favorite of Ben Haas’ works that I’ve read. Steve Lewis suggested that in a comment on the first book and I can’t disagree, despite my affection for both Sundance and Fargo under the John Benteen pseudonym.
To be fair, I’ve not read any titles published under the Haas name and only one of the Richard Meade books.
The first four books all take place within one year’s time, involving the building of a dream that started with two men and spread to the two other partners. 1866 is the time and a post-Civil War Texas is the setting. I like that each of the partners is the main protagonist in one of the books. It gives one a look at four different view points as events unfold.
Calhoon is a former South Carolina plantation owner that fought in the war and was a prisoner in a Yankee prison where a sadistic ex-Texas official tortured him, causing him to lose his right hand. He comes to Texas on the trail of that man.
Henry Gannon fought for the South and found, upon returning home, that carpetbaggers, in the form of a North leaning judge, had levied taxes against his ranch that he couldn’t pay. Like most southerners he was cash poor.
Elias Whitton was an ex-slave who’d escaped years before the war and went west where he was taken by the Comanche, adopted because of his skill at horsemanship, something they admired. After the war, with wife and baby dying in childbirth, he returns to Texas to “see” freedom.
Gannon and Whitton hook up and concoct the scheme that eventually becomes Rancho Bravo. In ninety days, Gannon loses his ranch. The brush is choked with wild Longhorns, left alone and breeding during the War.
They decide to round up and brand as many cattle as possible to drive west to the lush grasslands of the Pecos, there to establish Rancho Bravo to supply beef to meat starved Colorado gold and silver miners. They want 2000 for a drive, but there’s only ninety days.
Calhoon becomes the third partner and figures out how to hire help when they have no money. For every Rancho Bravo steer they brand, each drover gets one branded with his own ID.
Philip Killraine is a U.S. Army Captain in charge of the Cavalry backing Federal authorities. He refuses to let those in charge do what they want, insisting on treating everyone fairly. It gets him replaced and transfered out. Resigning his commission, he becomes the fourth partner.
And what a partnership. Two Rebels, a black man, and a Yankee.
Each man has a specialty. Calhoon, an expert fighter, is in charge of defense of the herd and drovers. Gannon is the cowman, in charge of the trail drive. Whitton IS a Comanche now and feels he can convince the tribes to let them establish a ranch on their land. Killraine, a New Englander, finances the drive and is in charge of the books, as well as negotiating the deals for the cattle.
By the end of the first book, after battle with Regulators sent by the Judge(who happens to be the father of the man Calhoon is seeking), they have 4000 cattle ready to drive.
Gannon becomes the lead protagonist in The Big Drive. They fight Mother Nature, rustlers in the form of the Tryon brothers and their men, Apaches, and a long dry spell in pushing the herd west.
By the third book, Killraine, the herd has been split, Whitton and Calhoon taking 1500 head to get Rancho Bravo started, while Gannon and Killraine take the rest on up to Colorado to sell, then buy supplies for the ranch, as well as goods and weapons promised the Comanche as part of the deal.
Heading out for Rancho Bravo after deals are made, the caravan is shortly attacked and a $100,000 in gold stolen. Gannon is severely wounded. They know the thieves were the Lawrence family, a west Virginia group with an impregnable fortress. Authorities tell Killraine that it can’t be taken without severe loss of life.
So he goes after them alone. You see, they have something else very precious to him: the young woman with which he’s fallen in love.
The third and fourth books have overlapping time frames. In the fourth, Whitton takes center stage in his dealings with the Comanche.
The Comanche are getting impatient. The weapons and trade goods don’t arrive when promised. They keep getting put off, wait a little longer. Winter is approaching, the buffalo hunt should have started two weeks before. Whitton makes a fateful decision: give the Comanche all their spare Henrys, thirty of them, and handguns, as well as powder and bullets, teaching them efficient ways to use them on the hunt.
An old enemy surfaces, a mountain man responsible for Whitton’s child’s still birth, as well as his wife’s death because of an attempted rape that she never mentioned till her deathbed. He brings goods and weapons, offering them free for exclusive trade rights, not to mention the liquor that some of the chiefs want.
By the fifth book, Rancho Bravo is well established. It’s four years down the road and they are branching out, starting a horse ranch to supply army mounts and train their own stock for cattle work.
The main protagonist here is Shan Tyree, a man looking for a fresh start. He’d had a passion that colored his early years that was different from most men. Not liquor. Not women. But fine horses. Whenever he saw a fine horse, he had to have it. By whatever means necessary.
Tyree was a horse thief.
But a close call makes him decide to go straight and breaks up a partnership. He wanders down into Texas a nd gets hooked up with Rancho Bravo while trying to break a wild stallion.
Here was what he’d been looking for, a chance to belong, put his past behind him, training horses. The horse ranch manager and he don’t get along from the start though. Different methods of braking the animals is only the beginning.
Then he sees the manager’s young wife and suddenly he has another passion. He’s still determined to play it straight.
Then his old partner turns up with a gang after the herd of Spanish horses just bought from Mexicans, ruining everything.
How will he get out of this?
I would like to have seen more after reading these five. The fifth was published in the same year as his passing. I don’t know a lot about the particulars of Haas’s death, but I think we lost a great writer that was just hitting his stride.