JUDAS GUN was published in 1964 by Gold Medal. My copy is the 1974 reprint. It was made into a 1968 spaghetti western starring strong man Steve Reeves, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL.
In reading the novel, the film sticks pretty much to the prose story with a few minor changes, mostly names.
Ken Sturgis and his brother Roy, along with friend Bobcat bates, were out tracking horses stolen from their ranch. They’d been counting on the sale for the mortgage payment. Ken had been out scouting and when he gets back to the camp, near a railroad water tower, there’s company, an old friend of ken’s he hadn’t seen in years, Marl Mayner. he eats with them and, as he leaves, he suggests they be away from the area before daylight. The railroad owned the right of way and was nervous about people around because of recent robberies. Mayner was a railroad detective for them.
Later, Ken goes out scouting around again. At midnight, he hears the sound of a train coming through, rides toward the area, only to have his horse slip on some loose rock on the steep trail and fall, breaking it’s neck and trapping his leg under the body. From that position, he witnesses the train stop for water, a group of men pop up. killing everybody and blowing the express coach.
It takes time, but he manages to get from under the bulky body and limps down to see if anyone survives. He’s chilled to find the dead body of his friend, Bobcat, shot in the back. He’s looking for his brother when he collapses and comes to to find himself surrounded by a posse, the sheriff demanding where the rest of them went. $80,000 in newly minted gold five dollar pieces from the Denver mint had been taken. Roy is dragged in, a bullet wound in his head, and savagely beaten. No one believes his story and he quickly learns there is no railroad detective named Marl Mayner
The two brothers get sent to Yuma Prison and Ken just wants to do his time. Roy is out of his head from the head wound and the beatings and a brutal guard takes great delight in tormenting the boy. He wants Ken, but the man remains stoic.
Some of the prisoners are planning an escape. Ken knows the area and knows it’s impossible. Surrounded by deserts and the Colorado river, Indian tribes in the area hate white men and get fifty dollars a head for escaped prisoners no matter the shape. he wants no part of it.
But when Roy dies at the hands of the guard, he starts thinking more on escape. His chance comes while digging graves in the cemetery outside the walls. One con smashes a guard’s face with a shovel and the bunch scatters. Ken takes a different rout, dragging the dead guard into the grave he’d been working on and swiftly switching clothes. In the confusion, he puts the body out of the grave, grabs some dirty potato sacks, and covers himself with them. Daylight is falling fast and he remains undiscovered. After dark, he slips to the nearby river and aboard a steamship unattended, hiding in the paddle wheel well.
Now he has only one thing in mind. Clearing his and his brother’s, and Bobcat’s, names. A little revenge wouldn’t be bad. It had become obvious that the Judas was his old friend Marl. And the sheriff. Both are ultimately responsible for the deaths and two years in prison. Not to mention the brutal guard that was the actual killer.
Nice compact little tale.
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