Western Wednesdays—THE TALL MEN + Giveaway

Today’s edition of Western Wednesdays is a real treat! I’m previewing the first chapter o Will Henry’s The Tall Men from the Classic Film Collection. This classic Western eventually found its way to the big screen starring Clark Gable, Jane Russell, and Robert Ryan. The stage is set from the first page for one explosive adventure. Check it out for yourself.

Giveaway: Fans of the movie? How do you think Westerns compare to their big screen adaptations? Jump in the discussion and be entered to win a mass market copy of The Tall Men.

Happy Reading,

Allison Carroll

Editorial and Web Coordinator

 

Chapter One

They came from the south, riding ahead of the February twilight. Where the stage road crossed the last of the brooding hills they pulled their horses in. They sat them in silence, staring long into the valley below.

Two miles down the gulch, beyond the main settlement, could be seen the lights of a second town. And beyond that, those of a third.

The two riders shook their heads, moved uneasily in their saddles.

They were lonely, wandering men, little taken with the ways of civilization and having, by hard reason of professional calling, ample cause for caution in regard to those ways. The year was 1866, the war nearly twelve months over. Lately they had been soldiers and before that, cowboys. But they had come home to find the herds scattered, the ranches deserted, the owners departed. Bread was no longer to be earned, nor board provided, by the practice of their sole art—the care and feeding of longhorn cattle on the open range.

But the belly, in particular the ravenous, demanding belly of youth, had to be filled.

In the following hunt to fillll that belly it was inevitable that the old profession be replaced by the new. The war had taught them one proficiency. That of the gun. Within sixty days of Appomattox they were in business.

It had proved a poor one.

Along the Smokey Hill and Santa Fe stage roads which traversed their native Texas and Indian Territory heath, paying stage traffic was still but a trickle. And the hostile Kiowas and Cheyennes, grown overbold through the four- year absence of the Union troops, were shutting that trickle down to a starvation drip. Shortly it became impossible for an honest young road agent to earn a decent living.

At this turn, hopeful word filtered down from the north. The gold strikes were still continuing in the country of Grasshopper Creek, Bannack and the Last Chance. It was information which caused the two youthful businessmen to look toward the land of the Sioux and the prospect of paying color at the grassroots with a cool and calculating eye.

Where there was gold in the ground there would be men to dig it out. Those men would be wearing pants and those pants would have pockets. Before long that gold would wind up in those pockets. Men with gold in their pockets were apt to travel. Where they were, other men with no gold in their pockets were apt to gather.

The two riders upon the hill had no gold in their pockets.

“So thet’s her,” the first rider said at last. “Ben, she makes Fort Worth look like a cowtown.”

“Fort Worth is a cowtown,” said the second rider.

He made the statement simply and without apparent imagination, as a schoolboy would say Iowa is noted for her corn, or the Mississippi River begins in the north and ends in the south.

He was a man who saw things that way.

The sun rose in the east, sank in the west. Water flowed downhill, a tree bent to the wind, grass grew in the spring.

It was what fooled you about Ben Allison. Men first meeting him looked at one another superiorly, shrugged, called him slow. It was an obvious judgment and one with which Ben seldom argued. But in the Southwest where he had come from men who had seen him move no longer called Ben Allison slow.

“But this ain’t Fort Worth,” he continued now to his companion, breaking the long, thoughtful pause, “and it ain’t no cowtown.”

“It sure ain’t!” agreed the other fervently. “Though I wish to Gawd it was. This here north wind has got my Dixie backside shakin’ like a hounddawg passin’ peach seeds. Let’s ride on down before we’re froze solid.”

“All right, we’re gone. Mind you now, Clint, don’t be callin’ me Ben once we’re down yonder, you hear?” With the warning, he put his black gelding down the hillside, Clint following him.

“Sure. What’ll it be this time?” Clint was cold and hungry and long without whiskey. And tired of changing names every time they rode over a new hill.

“I think I’ll be ‘Sam’ this time,” grinned Ben goodnaturedly. “Sam Allen. Say mebbe fer full, Sam Houston Allen.”

“Ain’t thet a little fancy fer you? ”

“Could be I’m feelin’ a little fancy.”

“Fair enough.” Clint returned the slow grin. “I’ll be Tom. Tom Pickett. Tom Jefferson Davis Pickett. Thet flossy enough fer you, sport?”

Ben nodded soberly, accepting the other’s Mason and Dixon alias. “Yonder’s the town,” he gestured, reining his pony to a walk. “Now remember, bud, you see you don’t leave your liquor do your talkin’ fer you.” He paused, eying the younger man. “You hear me, Clint Allison?”

“You handle your load, I’ll handle mine,” said his brother shortly.

Again Ben nodded.

“All right, Clint, you’re a man growed. You know why we’re here and what we come fer. It ain’t fer fun and it ain’t fer whiskey. Nor,” he added meaningfully, “fer women.”

“Hard work,” announced Clint straightfaced. “Thet’s what makes the world go round. Lead on, good brother.”

They turned the corner of Wallace and Van Buren Streets, squinting to the sudden blaze of the full city lights.

The first things as always with such camps were the saloons. Slowing their horses they read them off: the Shades, the Big Horn, Barney Bailey’s, the Black Nuggett— as many as a dozen others. There seemed no end to them, nor to the brawling mill of loudvoiced, bearded miners crowding their entrances.

“Good Gawd Amighty,” muttered Clint, “lookit all them cussed muckers and powder monkeys. I never see sech a herd of hardrock gophers in my life.”

“What’d you expect?” asked Ben slowly. “Cowboys? This here is Montana, son. Gold is what they grow here, not beef.”

“I reckon it is,” said Clint wonderingly. “But I cain’t gentle myse’f to it. Man, I allowed I’d seen some sizable diggin’s in my time, but this here— good Gawd Amighty!” 

“Diggin’s come and diggin’s go,” nodded Ben quietly. “But they don’t come no bigger nor go no richer than Virginia City—”

They left their horses at Bailey’s corral. As they stepped into the outer glare of the street, they paused in the shadows of the stable alley only long enough to check their business assets. There was no conversation. They eased the long Colts from their halffrozen leathers, checked the capping of the nipples, eased the weapons back into the low holsters beneath the threadbare gray of the Confederate- issue cavalry overcoats.

“Don’t fergit, Clint,” Ben grunted, “right off we do nothin’. Jest look and listen and size up our best bet.”

“I want a circuit rider, I’ll send fer you,” growled Clint impatiently. “Right now my belly’s yellin’ fer sourmash, not sermons. Let’s drift.”

“All right, watch yerse’f. Leave me do the talkin’.”

“It’s a deal.” Clint stepped out of the alley. “I’ll do the drinkin’.”

Ben watched him a minute, narrow- eyed, then hunched his shoulders and moved after him into the surge of the street crowd. Clint was a handful when the wind blew from where the women wore stockings and the city lights came served up with a bottle of forty rod. Sweet as a desert peach, sober, he was a pure crazy Comanche, drunk.

Likely, Ben had always figured, it was their Indian grandmother showing up in him. For when you used that word Comanche on Clint, you weren’t more than three quarters fooling. The old lady had been a fullblood Kwanhadi. That red blood was strong, especially when mixed with the Virginia and Tennessee mountain strain which lay back of his and Clint’s dad.

Nobody in God’s green world, excepting maybe Ben, could push Clint an inch once he’d got started on the Taos Lightning. He could hold more than a charred oak barrel and looked to see no higher reward in this life than setting out to prove it at the first pop of a quart stopper.

Well, that had been fine for the old days when they were cowboys and had ridden into Lampasas or Paint Rock to tie one on. But the old days were long gone. The cow business as he and Clint had known it before the war would never come back. Nor would West Texas. The North Concho and San Saba country no longer had any more use for cowboys than it did for cows. And never would again. Meantime, in the tight game they were playing there was no room for whiskey. When you made your living with a gun you shot from taw, bare knuckles at, and you didn’t play for chalkies. And when you checked your cylinders on the way to work, you never poured your powder from a bottle.

Shouldering through the polygot human ore of Virginia City’s mainstreet vein, Ben caught up with the restless, long- striding Clint.

“We’ll hit the Black Nugget, first.” He sidemouthed his orders. “She’s hooked onto the hotel and looks to be drawin’ the flashiest crowd.”

“Lead on, brother!” Clint’s quicksilver character shifted to the spread of the big grin. “Our few bucks ain’t goin’ to last no longer in thet plush parlor than a Kansas darkie in a Kentucky crap game. But I’m your man, Sam. Jest show me the way!”

“Clint,” said Ben slowly, “happen you don’t wash out on me, I’ll likely show you more than the way.” He paused, his eyes looking through and past his brother and far away, as they had a habit of doing to a man when that sober-dark mind of his was turning on a thought. “I got a hunch we’re goin’ to make the biggest strike since Comstock stumbled on his lode in Six- Mile Canyon.”

In his quiet, slow way, unknown to himself or Clint or any man then living, Ben Allison spoke in words as tall as the shadow of history itself.

 

 

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6 Responses to Western Wednesdays—THE TALL MEN + Giveaway

  1. Craig Clarke says:

    Will Henry is one of the great, undersung Western authors. I’m glad he’s getting a little more notice. And I love the Classic Film Collection; people just usually aren’t aware that these great movies came from novels. The Tall Men is one I’ve missed, so it would be great to get a copy. Are there any more upcoming in the series?

    As for movies from books, well… the book is always better, right? But the recent True Grit came awful close to equaling the novel.

    • Allison Carroll, Editorial and Web Coordinator says:

      Congrats Craig—you’ve won the giveaway of The Tall Men by Will Henry. I’m glad to see your number finally come up. You’ve been such a great voice on the Dorchester Community Blog!

      As far as the Classic Film Collection is concerned, we are in the process of building our 2012 schedule right now and are hoping to continue with the series. That said, no specific titles in the series have been finalized yet. So, keep your fingers crossed!

      Your copy of The Tall Men will be in the mail today.

      Best,
      Allison Carroll
      Editorial and Web Coordinator
      Dorcheste Publishing

      • Craig Clarke says:

        Thanks so much for the book, Allison. I’m gratified to know my input is welcome on a subject of which I still have a lot to learn! 🙂

  2. Lad Castle says:

    The excerpt from the book sounds fabulous, but I saw the movie. You mix in three of the top actors of their era Clark Gable, Robert Ryan, and the voluptuous Jane Russell, and the movie takes on a life of its own. I am sure if I read the book it would not spoil my enjoyment of the movie. I don’t think you have a contest here of which one is better the book or the movie—but rather how good each one is—on its own merit…

    Accolades to all…

  3. Christy says:

    Book or movie? It all depends. I always enjoy the book and the way I picture the characters, etc.
    The movie is more of a visual experience.

  4. Kathy Vogel says:

    I would say that usually the book is better, but in some rare cases the movie is better. So far I have never found them to be equal.

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