H. V. Elkin took over the Cutler series with book three and added four more to the tales of John Cutler. In part one last week,I mentioned I couldn’t find much on Elkin and James Reasoner filled me in on a comment(thanks James). Elkin was the pseudonym of Vernon Winkle. In addition to the four Cutler books, Winkle wrote a standalone under the Elkin name and two under his real name. That’s all apparently.
The capture the flavor of Benteen’s writing pretty well, down to describing his weaponry and equipment, a hallmark of Benteen’s westerns.
This one takes up a few months after the previous novel. It’s very early Spring, 1895, and Cutler is back up in the Bighorn Mountains looking for the grizzly that had killed his wife. Too late, Big Red, his huge Airedale, had tracked down the den and the missing left paw told Cutler it was the right one. The tracks end at a fresh avalanche, the trail lost again.
Back in Tenspeed visiting, a letter tracks him down from an old friend from his marshaling days asking for help with a problem. Wouldn’t talk about it in the letter. Come fast if he can. Since it was a man he owed his life to when he’d been a bit green, he headed there to see what was up.
In Oklahoma, he heads to Guthrie, one of the towns that grew up on account of the land rush of 1889, and to find his friend.
People were being found dead on their land claims, lying on the ground, their chests ripped apart by some sort of claws. No \footprints leading to or from the victims could be found. Some folks said it was an eagle, a big one, others said it was an Indian.
A different sort of problem than Cutler was used to, But one he wouldn’t shy away from.
A final note on the book. There’s a sub-plot early that involves a young farm boy, Bill Taylor, that has delusions of being a tough gunman who braces Cutler in the saloon. Cutler takes him down fairly gently, if you can call knocking a couple of teeth out gentle, and the pair become fast friends, Cutler even gives him a lesson in shooting and sends him back to the farm. He doesn’t appear again in the book, but does paly a prominent part in YELLOWSTONE below.
Cutler is in Cheyenne in response to a letter from Iris Shannon, the beautiful saloon owner. Word had come of a rogue grizzly up in Yellowstone, not the one he’d been searching for for years, and the federal government wanted help before the tourist traffic in the new national Park fell off.
Cutler had recently survived a rattlesnake bite and had been thinking of his own mortality lately.
He decides to take the job and heads out, planning to stop at the farm outside Tenspeed to visit his friend, young Bill Taylor. The boy had been practicing his draw and shooting and, after a day there and a couple of good meals, Cutler agrees to take him on as a partner. Bill’s parents were agreeable, knowing the boy had no future as a farmer, and that Cutler had already taught him valuable lessons about surviving.
When they arrive at the fort that guards the park, the Captain fills them in. The grizzly was one, along with more than a few grizzlies, that had gotten used to feeding off the trash heaps around the tourist hotel. When they were finally cleaned up, this one was the only one that continued to hang around. It raided homes and barns, wherever people lived, stealing food, and finally killing one man. The government wanted him found and killed before it hurt the tourist trade.
Cutler reluctantly accepts help from two men the Captain recommended, they seemed like good men, and they head into the park.
There’s also a poacher in the park taking buffalo heads for mounting and sale to trophy hunters. One of the men with Cutler, a scout, was also a Federal marshal in charge of the park.
The final showdown at the spot of Old Faithful is tense and dangerous when the bear pops up unexpectedly even though they are looking for him.
I’m enjoying the Cutler books almost as much as the two Ben Haas, as John Benteen of course, titles.
A final thought on the cover. The publisher apparently had this one just lying around as it bears no relationship to anything that happened in the novel. Cutler only wears one gun and the book happens in early winter. The team of men use skis to get into the interior.
Next week, I’ll cover the final two books in the series.
For more forgotten books, as always, check out Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase, on Fridays.