The plot of RIDERS IN THE STORM is not new, though it was considerably newer when this book appeared in 1955. You have a farmer, Ed Cotton, that has legally acquired acreage that cuts a cattle rancher, Big Jim Wilford, off from his favorite grazing and watering.
But author Lee Floren puts in a few twists. Wilford is a decent sort that doesn’t throw his weight around. He just doesn’t like that Cotton has put barbed wire across the driving lanes of the valley. And Cotton likes the big rancher and his daughter, Connie, who responds in kind.
1899 Montana is experiencing a brutal winter. Below zero temperatures, nearly continuous snow.
Ed Cotton is out working his barbed wire when he spots two men riding toward him. One is deputy Sheriff Fred Rome and the other is a local gambler. He thinks nothing of it until Rome announces he’s there to place Ed under arrest for first degree murder
Apparently one of Big Jim Wilford’s punchers had been found shot to death while cutting Ed’s fence. Just a few days before, the two men had gotten into a fight during a poker game when Ed caught the man dealing off the bottom of the deck. They’d ended up swearing to kill each other. Big Jim had been convinced to swear out a warrant.
Ed was willing to ride in with them to straighten things out, but Rome seemed to be pushing things toward a more violent end. All that ends as Big Jim rides up and stops things and agrees to ride in with Ed to jail. He even promises to send someone to his farm to do his chorse, feed all the animals, milk the cows, keep a fire going in the house so the dog doesn’t freeze.
Bail is set at twenty-five thousand dollars “Might as well be twenty-five million,” Ed thinks. Then two odd things happen. First Connie comes in and wants to go his bail if it can be reduced to something more respectable. Then the second richest man in town, Saloon owner Downing, who also owns the bank, is into trapping, wants to go his bail.
Ed refuses both, pride being what it is.
So he breaks jail. With a bit of help. His partner had arrived in town and kept his ears open until he had the lay. Ed and the black man Booger Sam had grown up together, been the best of friends since almost birth. Ed’s mother had died during his birth and Sam’s mother had raised them both. She’d worked for Ed’s father.
They’d even went into the army together and served in the Spanish-American War. As veterans, they gotten the parcel of government land as a reward.
They keep moving in the storms, the bitter cold, determined to find out who killed the puncher and tried to lay the blame on him. One problem Ed had been having was the cutting of his barbed wire.
In the two men’s roamings over the frozen land, they ran across the game warden, Faver, numerous times. Why was he out in this hell so much? He was obviously looking for something. Was it connected?
A nice mystery wrapped up in a western tale.
For more forgotten books, check in with Todd Mason , who’s doing the collecting this week.