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The four principles in this novel were as different as could be.

Cassidy was a gunman, a reluctant one, but still… He was also a happy go lucky fellow with an eternal smile, always ready with a song, a joke, a kind word. Not a bad man, but circumstances made him a constant roamer. He had a reputation that was forever being challenged by any fast “young” gun that crossed his path.

So far he had always been faster.

And not a hard man to find. His gun hand was missing the trigger finger, the forefinger, and he made up for it with a pistol with no trigger. The spring in the hammer had been loosened and the sear filed so that the hammer couldn’t be cocked. Just thumb it back and let go.

Belle Breckenridge was still a beautiful woman despite a hard life and two children. Her husband, known simply as Mr B was an old Southern gentleman running from his past, continually moving the family. He was a drunkard and a bombastic talker to cover his cowardice.

Dana Stribling was the man in black, a man with a badge, a man on a mission.

Cassidy knew someone was hunting him and had been for about six months. He’d spotted him once ot twice before losing him or had someone mention, when seeing his missing finger, that a man in black on a gray horse had been asking for such a man as himself.

When he rode up to the Breckenridge ranch in southwestern Texas, he was immediately entranced by Belle Breckenridge and her two children, eight year old Susan and ten year old Oliver. They seemed to be alone, but he wasn’t the sort of man to assume.

Then Mr B returns home with a new plan. Southwestern Texas had very little rain under the best of circumstances. This season had been especially dry. Mr B had sold the ranch, very cheap, and intended to gather up a thousand head of cattle and drive them up to Crazy Horse Creek in Wyoming where the army purchasers were headquartered. Eastern buyers wouldn’t buy tick infested Texas beef, but the army and the Indian agents weren’t so particular.

How Mr. B was going to do all this he hadn’t considered. He only had a few Mexican hands and no one in the local town took him serious, so he was unable to sign anyone. “We’ll find some on the way.” Cassidy signs on for a dollar a day and a twenty-five bonus on sale of the herd, immediately starting to gather the herd with the other men.

Then one day, he sees a man in black on a gray horse sitting on a hill watching.

Dana Stribling rides down and introduces himself, saying he has a warrant for Cassidy. It seems one of the men that had tried Cassidy was Stribling’s kid brother. Drunk at the time, Stribling didn’t really believe it was a fair fight and had obtained a murder warrant, intending to enforce it right now. One way or the other.

Ready to have it out, Belle Breckenridge stepped in and Stribling was taken as fast as Cassidy had been. The two men make an agreement, each giving their word, that they would work together and have their showdown at Crazy Horse.

The drive begins.

A long, dusty drive, they encounter outlaws, Arapahos, Mother Nature in all her fury, and here’s one for Bill, quicksand. Deaths happen, each man saves the other’s life, and they steadfastly stand together to protect Belle and the children. They recognize Mr B for what he is, each man wishing circumstances were different, but know how things are in the real world.

And neither forget what’s waiting at the end of the trail.

Liked this one. It was made into a film in 1961, THE LAST SUNSET, that starred Rock Hudson as Stribling, Kirk Douglas as Cassidy(called Bren O’Malley in the movie), Dorothy Malone as Belle, and Joseph Cotten as Mr B. Considerably different from the movie, the basic plot is there. But here O’Malley knew Belle in the distant past and had, in fact, deliberately headed for the ranch to see her. Only one child, a daughter(played by eighteen year old Carol Lynley), who develops an infatuation with O’Malley. The director was Robert Aldrich from a script by Dalton Trumbo.

Finally, I have an extra copy of this one. Anyone interested, email your address and I’ll send it to you. In case of multiple requests, I’ll draw names out of a hat. So to speak.