Lately, Ive been on a Frank Gruber kick. He seemed to be able to do it all: books, movies, and television. He wrote westerns, mysteries, and created television series, writing most of the scripts for them. Many of his novels, both westerns and mysteries, were made into films(some he did, others by different writers). My selection for Forgotten books this week is a western, THE DAWN RIDERS. by Gruber published in 1968.
No one knew how long Sam Parker had been in prison(except perhaps the warden). With the turnover in both convicts and guards, it wasn’t known. He’d always been there. Everyone left him alone. They saw the scars from the lash that covered his body and knew he was a man with which one didn’t bother.
They’d tried to break him, but no one had succeeded.
And then one day, his sentence was up. Until he’d seen a date, 1874, Sam didn’t even realize himself how long he’d been in. Eleven years.
All he wanted now was to be left alone, to stay out of trouble, to make a few dollars here and there. Survive. You see, Sam Parker wasn’t his real name, a name very infamous in certain circles. A man people thought was long dead in the war. Parker preferred that man remain dead.
It wasn’t to be.
He would never have taken a hand in the saloon, where he was having a drink with his last dollar, when the fight broke out between rich cattleman Jim Duke, rich cattleman celebrating the sale of his herd, and the pickpocket he caught going through his pockets. When the thief’s partner went for Duke, truncheon in hand, he jostled Parker and took an angry swing at him.
The fight was over in short order and Parker found himself helping the wounded Duke, a knife slash from the pickpocket, to the doctor and back to his room. He tries to avoid the job offer, but Duke won’t hear of it, finally accepting. He wants to get out of Kansas anyway. On the riverboat headed south, he helps Duke again when he spots him being cheated by a couple of cardsharps in a game, helping turn the tables on the pair, even winning $10,000 back he’d lost to them on a previous trip.
At Duke’s ranch, he just wants to do honest work and learn, having never worked a cattle ranch. Before the war, he’d been a teacher. And keep his too well known in certain places face out of Kansas.
Again, it wasn’t to be.
The ramrod didn’t like him, another one of Duke’s foundlings, and rode him hard, assigning him to breaking horses. When he does that too well, the ramrod goads him into a fight. Parker beats the man no one else had beaten before.
Duke was planning two more drives into Kansas before the winter and because Parker wouldn’t go back to Kansas, the ramrod took the first herd, with Duke to follow a few weeks later after the second had been gathered. The two herds would head to a new town, Lodge Pole, just started up that had advantages over Dodge City, that being plenty of grazing grounds to fatten the cattle. Parker was made ramrod of the ranch while the main one was gone.
Fate intervenes again.
Duke gets his leg badly broken in a fall and Parker is bound to take the second herd to Kansas.
Trouble in several forms awaits him there. The ramrod gets himself fired, by telegram, and Parker has the first herd waiting for him when he arrives. What wasn’t known was that the rich man, a former Union officer, that owns Lodge Pole owns the grazing grounds. You sell the cattle to him at his price or you get charged ten cents a day per head for grazing rights. He has a sadistic Marshall and two tough deputies, as well as a judge, backing him. The first herd had already built up a six thousand charge and were being held. Finally, there’s man there that knows him from the old days and can tell the rich man, the Union officer upon which Parker’s bloody reputation, mainly a pack of lies, had been built.
A fine western. I’m looking forward to more of Mr. Gruber’s work, both westerns and mysteries.