Alexander Burdick drove his wagon toward Santa Clara. A photographer by trade, he planned to open a business in the small town. Along the road, he picks up a young cowboy walking, carrying a saddle, and gives him a lift. Lou Grace is his name and Burdick is surprised when he gets off at the city limits, saying he’ll walk from there.
He learns why when a few minutes later he is accosted by a half dozen men who block his way. Their leader, Jack Mort, an obvious gun man, demands to know who he is and what he wants in town. Burdick is a mild-natured man from the East, but he will not be pushed. When Mort orders one of his men to look in the back of his wagon without asking permission, the man suddenly has a double-barreled shotgun aimed right at his chest from about fifteen feet. An aging man, Mort was just so because he was always careful and he sees something in Burdick’s eyes that makes him realize he is a hair trigger away from death. Backing off, they ride off, the youngest yelling threats back at Burdick.
Burdick didn’t know it yet, but he’d just run afoul of the Flying V ranch owned by Tom Justice, the power in the town. Mort was the foreman and the big mouthed kid was Tom Justice, son of the old man, Dan. He soon learns there are two daughters in the family as well, one spoiled brat of a teenager and one mid-twenties blond.
Burdick went about his business, managing to talk Laura Nelson, a young woman who owned a ramshackle building that had once been her father’s photography business before Tom Justice had ran him out of town years ago, abandoning her, leaving her to be taken in by the woman who ran the hotel.
Almost everybody in town had a grievance against the Justices. The hotel owner’s husband and Lou Grace’s father, supposedly friends of Dan Justice at the time, had been killed for chasing a wounded buck onto Flying V land to finish it off. Justice was constantly worried about rustling and every time cattle disappeared, his men, mostly gun hands these days, would ride to the other ranches and search them.
Because of his actions and backing down young Tom Justice when the young fellow was spoiling for a fight(at twenty, he fancied himself a gunfighter for having killed one man), Burdick was taken for someone brought in to handle the Justices.
He was a quiet fellow who didn’t even wear a short gun, but was never without the double-barreled twelve gauge. He didn’t go looking for trouble, wouldn’t indulge if he didn’t have to, but wouldn’t back down either. Mort had seen that from the first moment he’d seen him.
So when the deadly and dirty fighting started, Burdick was dragged into it. Reluctantly, he took out the big, two-shoot gun(a nickname hung onto it) and began hunting down the killers who were turning the range land into a blood-soaked horror.
In reading this novel, I knew this man from the East had a past he was, not fleeing, but heading away from. Trough comments he makes and thoughts we gradually piece it together. Every time I think I’ve got a handle on the story, Hamilton would throw in a twist. To the tune of about four or five. Kept me guessing and I was wrong most of the time.
My favorite line in the book comes from a young man, a really jealous young man, who, believing Burdick the hired gun they’ve been wanting to back them says,
“Just you say the word, Mr. Burdick: and we’ll make this valley a peaceful place for decent people to live in, even if we have to do it with gun and rope!”
The edition I have is a November, 1971 Fawcett book. It was first published in 1960 as THE MAN FROM SANTA CLARA. This makes the fourth Hamilton western I’ve posted on. One more to go. Links to the first three are below.
THE BIG COUNTRY
For more forgotten books, go to PATTINASE