Heroes come in all sizes and shapes and genders. They might be clad in shining armor or crinolines, spacesuits or wimples, bobby sox or sneakers. But the ones who helped settle the American West hold a special place in our hearts.
Perhaps it’s because we watched a lot of westerns in our childhoods. From Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, in theaters and in front of the TV at home, we watched, mesmerized, as the hero on a horse vanquished the bag guys and (usually) rode into the sunset, with or without the maiden fair.
Of course, not all westerns had to do with cowboys. There were miners too, and railroad builders, and riverboat gamblers, and settlers, and mountain men, and… and…
A couple of our favorite westerns often get overlooked when we talk about our titles. Mostly because their authors are no longer around to remind folks about their books. We haven’t forgotten them, though, and we hope you haven’t either.
The Bitterroot Trail, by James W. Johnson, was first published back in 1935. It went out of print a few years later, but eventually the author’s grandsons decided it was too good a story to be forgotten. We were honored and delighted to be offered the chance to re-issue it. Here’s the story:
Bob Bainbridge found a gold nugget the size of his thumb. Now everyone in Idaho Territory wants to take it, but Bob is out to bring justice to the Territory.
Men with dreams of gold flocked to the strikes in Idaho Territory in the early 1860s. Some were lucky, but only a few people managed to hang onto their fortunes. The Plummer Gang jumped claims, robbed miners, and murdered anyone who got in their way. Until Pokerface Bob Bainbridge showed up, seeking the man who'd ruined his sister--and out for personal revenge.
From the saloons of Oro Fino to the tent cities of the Boise Basin, Bob follows the iniquitous gang, determined to bring law and order to the Territory and to save the woman he has grown to love from a fate far worse than death -- at the hands of Plummer himself. Only incredible courage and steely determination will win the day.
When Return to Four Corners appeared in our submissions inbox, we were initially skeptical. Another “classic” western (they are few and far between), but written in first person and in the vernacular. Would anyone want to read it? Did we?
We decided to give it a chance, and from the first page we were enchanted. LeRoy Williams could have been sitting across the room, telling his story in a deep voice colored by his Texas drawl. But we were quickly drawn into the story and the narrator became Will Ballard, speaking from the past:
The War is over, but some battles remain...
Will Ballard fought for the South, but he's not ready to go home when he walks away from Appomattox. Old wounds still fester and only time will heal them.
He joins a wagon train heading West, and finds a ready-made family. When events drive him away, he becomes a cowpuncher, just in time to fight land grabbers and a rancher who figures his land is more important than men's lives. Before he can make up his mind to go home, he's got himself a job building a railroad. All goes well until the carpetbaggers set their sights on it, and once more he's adrift.
On the move again, he hires on with a freighter and finds a temporary home on the seat of a wagon. Hard work and friendship finish his healing, and it's finally time for him to go home. Trouble is, those men in their fancy black suits are still grabbing land in the South and West. It's more than Will can take, and he's not shy about saying so.
Eventually he fights his way back to Four Corners, only to discover the same land grabbers and carpetbaggers at work, and a pretty girl who thinks highly of him. There's only one thing for Will to do: hold onto his home, keep the land, marry the girl. And it ain't gonna be easy.