Posts tagged ‘max brand’

September 3, 2009

Elmer Kelton 1926-2009; or, Happy Trails

by cowboylands

“I have often been asked how my characters differ from the traditional, larger-than-life heroes of the mythical West,” Mr. Kelton said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News in 2007. “ ‘Those,’ I reply, ‘are seven feet tall and invincible. My characters are 5-8 and nervous.’ ”

Elmer Kelton died August 22 in Texas, after a long and profitable career of a western writer’s western writer. He didn’t have the populist appeal of Louis L’Amour–Kelton’s writing apparently being a little more, um, literary–but he had the kudos of his comrades: in 1995, the Western Writers of America voted him the greatest western writer of all time. (whew!)

His prose is stark and detailed, the way a West Texas landscape appears in the hard morning light. I prefer my heroes seven feet tall, but I can’t deny Kelton’s ability to develop characters that just happened to be cowboys or ranchers or oil men. And after reading an excellent obit in today’s New York Times (click here to read it) I am even more impressed. The man worked for a living–first as a ranch hand and then as a reporter and editor, so when did he write his sixty-odd books? (no excuses permitted anymore, you writers out there) He wrote them in his spare time.

And the song sung as he was laid to rest? “Happy Trails.” Naturally.

The book cover above is from my collection. (Have I told you yet that I have almost three hundred of these beauties? Oh, yeah? Well, lemme tell you again.) It’s a well-loved copy of a book, perhaps a serviceman’s, that was printed during wartime “in accordance with the government’s regulations for conserving paper and other essential materials.” It also has the phrase “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas” opposite the title page, which I find kinda creepy given the aggressive and ultimately very flawed trajectories of recent military endeavors. Elmer Kelton, a master of truthiness, would hate the ridonkulousness of the title. Singing Guns was written by Max Brand, who unlike Elmer Kelton, was neither a Westerner nor a cowboy.

August 5, 2008

What Does Ida Hoe?

by cowboylands

I’ll let you know.

For a few days I’ll be on real trails, hunting down cowboys and cow patties, spuds and starlit nights, lava bombs and limpid lakes, and real live rigamorole. And when I am back, I will deal with the wackness that is the site. (Anyone notice the blessed space that appears and disappears on the sides? Not supposed to happen. If you see nothing but white space on the sides, scroll down to find links to blog, sites, my Librarything library, archives, and scintillating commentary.)

Until then, thought I would leave you with this:


Destry Rides Again, by Max Brand

Cover illustration by Michael Aviano

Pocket Books, 1959

from the collection of es

Stunned and bitter, Harry Destry, the young, headstrong firebrand who had already earned the reputation for reckless bravery and flashing speed of hand and eye in the use of a “six gun”….



June 29, 2008

A Cowboy's Life; 51…32…

by cowboylands

32. Life is more interesting as a Cowboy. 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, you’ve got to be careful with this Cowboy thing, but with judicious application, the most mundane duties become charged with Mythic meaning. 

from Gunman’s Gold, by Max Brand

Pocket Books, 1960

illustrator unknown

Last Stand! Trapped! Brush Fire! or Die! When this is truly the case, you have a problem. Until then, when you find yourself in a pinch, try running those words through your mind to get the adrenalin going. But be careful, you might end up kicking out a window or something. 

Western popular novels are true romances and were practically eaten like sage-flavored candy by both buckos and buckettes. The story lines satisfied, momentarily but intensely, the yearning to be a real Man/Woman and kick a bully’s ass/take the love interest into your arms/own a big spread/look good in cowboy boots.

Pre-1960, these stories have heroes who are stone-rugged; their heroines are pliable yet composed. Problems in these pages were solved with a one-two punch and if that didn’t work, with a gimlet-eyed stare and threat of deadly aim. 

It seems that many problems arise when one realizes that making decisions and getting respect are not easy–rarely are decisions or people simply good or bad, for example, and our western culture is rabidly anti-hero and anti-respect.

So when the going gets tough, and I get mired down in my own wishy-washiness or faced with less old-fashioned kowtowing than I think I deserve, I like to appropriate pulp western moments. What would the Cowboy hero do? Drink a whiskey/kill; kiss/kill; shoot/kiss; ride/don’t ride; drift/stay… It makes things so much more interesting. And simple. 

Along with the prized back cover copy of the 1960 version of Gunman’s Gold by Max Brand (called the “Shakespeare of the Western range”) here are a few more epithets you might find appropriate. Use cautiously. 

[Why this is just a] TRAIL DRIVE TO HELL!

[insert name of town here] is BAD…devilish bad, dirty, evil, stinking.


DRIFT OR DIE [makes any decision easy]

[I’m just a] LONE MAN against RANGE RATS!

And I’ll leave you as I: RIDE LIKE HELL!

P.S. Hand and gun illustration from Lazy H Feud by Ed La Vanway, published by Dell in 1955, with cover illustration by the great Robert Stanley.