For this week’s edition of Friday’s Forgotten Books, I’m going with a very old one that I first heard about on Harlan Ellison’s website. “DRAG HARLAN” was sent to Mr. Ellison by a friend for obvious reasons and he seemed to be enjoying it. No author was mentioned, so I went looking to find Mr. Seltzer’s name.
Charles Alden Seltzer was born in 1875 in Wisconsin, but spent a lot of years in New Mexico. Wanting to be a writer, he turned out two hundred stories before he sold one, thirteen years of working various jobs: carpenter, newspaper editor, building inspector, appraiser, whatever he could find to support his family(he was the father of newspaper editor Louis B. Seltzer). To poor to afford the paper upon which to write his stories, his wife managed to get butcher paper for his use. Most of his work was published first as serials in Argosy magazine.
Seltzer became one of the best selling novelists of his time and many of his stories made it into film, going all the way back to the silent era, and starred such actors as William. S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Harry Carey. Drag Harlan was a 1920 silent starring William Farnum in the title role.
Drag Harlan is a gunfighter with a fearsome reputation. As with all such things, it grew in the telling. A big man with a two gun rig, he was not nearly the killer that people had painted him. That’s not to say he wasn’t fast and hadn’t killed a number of gunmen defending himself. He’d also been hung with a number of killings and robberies he hadn’t committed. He came by the name Drag because of his peculiar style in a showdown. It can best be described as a feint with a quick pause that made his opponents nervous and going for their guns first. His speed negated that advantage.
Riding through the desert on his big, black horse, known as Purgatory, headed for Rancho Seco, Drag comes upon two men shooting at a third hidden in some rocks. One of the two is a man, one of two, that had shot his partner in the back and Drag gets revenge when he outdraws him, letting the other man go because he had no grudge against him.
He finds a dying man named Morgan, owner of his destination, amongst the rocks, who senses something in the big man and tells him a story. A rancher with a daughter, he’d discovered a vein of gold, he’d estimated at $100,000, and had been transporting it back to his ranch, hiding it there. He’d been seen by a member of an outlaw gang run by Deveny, a man who controlled every illegal activity for two hundred miles. They wanted the gold and watched him constantly now, following him everywhere he went. The two, and a third who’d actually shot him before leaving, had caught him out away from his ranch. Shot at night, he didn’t see the third man’s face, the man behind it all, called only Chief by the other two, but in the struggle had ripped a piece of an oddly designed watch chain from him.
Drag stays with him until he dies, burying him before heading for the town of Lamo, armed now with the gold’s location, the piece of watch chain, and having given a vow to break up the gang, rescue Morgan’s daughter, and make sure she gets the gold. Morgan had said there was only one man in the town he trusted, but Drag was to use his best judgment in revealing anything to him.
In Lamo, he ends up having to deal with an attempt to frame him for Morgan’s murder, convincing Barbara Morgan of his intentions, protecting her at the same time, ferreting out the identity of the Chief, sending for help so that he could take on the gang alone. A lot for one man to accomplish.
Drag does it all with flair and flashing guns.
I liked this one. The writing style is old pulp, maybe putting off some readers. Most of you will likely take to it though. It readily available on all the usual book sites at reasonable prices(some going all the way back to a 1921 edition). Amazon has a new paperback for sale(cover pictured here) and there’s a Kindle edition for $.99. Project Gutenberg has it, as well as other Seltzer novels.
Worth a look.
Here’s a link to more forgotten books. PATTINASE