Posts tagged ‘robert stanley’

January 11, 2009

Shoot-Out at the Viral Corral

by cowboylands

If I’m going to battle a cold, I would want Ernest Haycox to write the story. 

The Whispering Range, by Ernest Haycox. Wherever the hell that mountain chain is, it also exists in my throat, which is as raw as the dark borderlands and filled with rustlers herding my healthy cells through secret byways.  

Night time: Coughs explode like the pound of six-guns. Sneezes erupt like the hiss and pop of whips cracking over mule teams. Sighs rise as mournful as a woman’s, left behind for a horse. 

Whispering Range, by Ernest Haycox
cover illustrator unknown but Robert Stanley-ish
Popular Library/ Eagle Books 1953
from the collection of ES

I was dry-gulched by some varmint bug, before I could even draw my Airborne from my holster. I just wasn’t fast enough. I’d like to think, paraphrasing the back cover of Whispering Range, that after the first surprise my battle cry shattered the tense silence and my men burst from hiding to follow their fighting leader in a desperate but courageous charge against the outlaws. A lifetime feud would be settled at long last–settled by thundering six-guns! Alas, I’d be the one left behind to on a pioneer wagon train, or forced to chop wood for Cookie on a cattle drive. I can’t even cross the narrow straits of my railroad apartment without complaining bitterly. 

It’s the Haycox mood that settles over me when the phlegm is high. Moody, dark, and full of people feeling sorry for themselves and getting over it, Ernest “Erny” Haycox’s stories still rock my world, a full seventy years after they were first published. He crafted the ambience in his stories meticulously, rising each morning to don business attire, and sitting at his desk to write in the morning, and to revise and edit in the afternoon. About 300,000 words per year arose from his diligence, including the short story that became Stagecoach, an epic-in-a-handbasket, 

Haycox’s characters hold sorrow in their eyes, old hurts in their stoop, ferocity in their stance, and–I have to admit–the only time they get sick is when there is a beautiful woman to lay a cool hand on a forehead, silently offering more. 

Wish I could say I deserved to be a protagonist in one of his novels. I’ll dream about it, though, if the coughing lets me sleep. 

For my reading pleasure, and yours, an excerpt from “Stage to Lordsburg,” which originally appeared in the April 10, 1937 issue of Collier’s. The rest is here, with thanks to Bob Gay. 

This was one of those years in the Territory when Apache smoke signals spiraled up from the stony mountain summits and many a ranch cabin lay as a square of blackened ashes on the ground and the departure of a stage from Tonto was the beginning of an adventure that had no certain happy ending….

The stage and its six horses wafted in front of Weilner’s store on the north side of Tonto’s square. Happy Stuart was on the box, the ribbons between his fingers and one foot teetering on the brake. John Strang rode shotgun guard and an escort of ten cavalrymen waited behind the coach, half asleep in their saddles.

At four-thirty in the morning this high air was quite cold, though the sun had begun to flush the sky eastward. A small crowd stood in the square, presenting their final messages to the passengers now entering the coach. There was a girl going down to marry an infantry officer, a whisky drummer from St. Louis, an Englishman all length and bony corners and bearing with him an enormous sporting rifle, a gambler, a solid-shouldered cattleman on his way to New Mexico and a blond young man upon whom both Happy Stuart and the shotgun guard placed a narrow-eyed interest.

This seemed all until the blond man drew back from the coach door; and then a girl known commonly throughout the Territory as Henriette came quietly from the crowd. She was small and quiet, with a touch of paleness in her cheeks and her quite dark eyes lifted at the blond man’s unexpected courtesy, showing surprise. There was this moment of delay and then the girl caught up her dress and stepped into the coach.

Men in the crowd were smiling but the blond one turned, his motion like the swift cut of a knife, and his attention covered that group until the smiling quit. He was tail, hollow-flanked, and definitely stamped by the guns slung low on his hips. But it wasn’t the guns alone; something in his face, so watchful and so smooth, also showed his trade. Afterwards he got into the coach and slammed the door.

Happy Stuart kicked off the brakes and yelled, “Hi!” Tonto’s people were calling out -their last farewells and the six horses broke into a trot and the stage lunged on its fore and aft springs and rolled from town with dust dripping off its wheels like water the cavalrymen trotting briskly behind. So they tipped down the long grade, bound on a journey no stage had attempted during the last forty-five days. Out below in the desert’s distance stood the relay stations they hoped to reach and pass. Between lay a country swept empty by the quick raids of Geronimo’s men.

 

 

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September 13, 2008

Gunlock; or, From Cowboy to Taxi Driver

by cowboylands

In times of moral confusion, I turn to my collection of a gajillion western paperbacks from the 1940s and 1950s*. Their bold colors and bolder titles (such as Action by Night, Gunsmoke Justice, Dig the Spurs Deep) bring me back to my center. Good/bad. Right/wrong. Yes/no. 

The one-two punch of pulp writers, who must have banged these out on typewriters by the fistful, combined with the powerfully graphic work of the artists, always tell me that I can be as tough as their cowboy heroes. At least in my imagination.**

 

 Gunlock, by Wayne D. Overholser

cover illustration by Robert Stanley

Dell Paperbacks, 1956

from the collection of es

Gunlock, by Wayne D. Overholser, has a remarkably prosaic voice, given the usual purple prose of these western romances-for-men.

When  I got my eyes on Dillingham, he was bending over, reaching for his .45 with his left hand. I shot him. He fell, and I fired again. 

Not exactly blood-stirring, yet somehow this author got ‘er done and won two Silver Spur awards from the Western Writers of America. And the New York Times review for this book was “Grade A.” Oh, and Hoofs and Horns (???) called it “right out of the top drawer.”

Using the “I” of first person was also unusual; most westerns rely on the reader seeing the hero as god–the “he” of third person setting the hero apart from common mortals. A reader could be like writer Ernest Haycox’s moody protagonist, but not be him. In Gunlock, the reader is the vengeance-driven hero-next-door, who is about as matter-of-fact as a cab driver.*** Which pulls me right away to the incomparable Taxi Driver, about a young man-next-door who, driven by vengeance (and driving a cab), gives a rather nihilistic view of the self-aware and moral individual and his/her place in the world. 

In 1956 the protagonist of Gunlock instinctively does what’s right (shooting from the hip!), cleaving his way through good and bad, straightforward and twisted, until he gets vengeance on the bad guys, gets a spread, and gets the girl. Travis Bickle of Martin Scorsese’s film, twenty years later, also does what he does instinctively, getting vengeance but not the girl–and he becomes the hero he sees himself to be. The viewer who does not identify with him, or who is plain confused about whether this is a good guy or a bad guy, is then treated to the slickest and most chilling foreshadowing of more bloody vengeance on the horizon–ever

The blurb on the front of the novel could be for the film (or good for the campaign trail of 2008):

He was a peaceful man but there were some things which only a gun can settle. 

 

 The back cover adds a cautionary note, if one cares to read a yellow flag in it: LEGACY OF VIOLENCE, with a jarring color contrast. But then, who ever pays attention to the back cover? 

Dammit! My comfort routine has become disrupted and charged with meaning–what I exactly do not want. I who had desired a simple world may have to find it within myself…

You…you talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. You talking to me?

 

 

*302 to be exact. 

**Case in point. Across-the-street car service drivers on the whoop-up trail until 5 in the morning. Just thinking about the men, women, and children trying to enjoy their Friday night sleep (like me) gets me ticked. A cowboy of any gender would shout out the window, call the establishment, whatever. I tried to go back to sleep. But I guess I’m not the only non-cowboy on my city block, as no one else drilled them in any fashion. 

*** Although there are a number of poetic drivers out there. I know two as friends, and prosaic wouldn’t be in their vocabularies…

**** I wonder if the Taxi Driver analogy has come from a sleepless night due to livery drivers? One can say that the taxi drivers are the mavericks, while the livery cab drivers are more like the cowboy organizations. Well, whoever they are, they are doing the equivalent of shooting up the town. 

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.

My personal favorite: “I DRAW THE LINE AT DRINKING WITH A POLE-CAT!”

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.