Doom Trail by "Bradford Scott" (A. Leslie Scott) (1962)
Leslie Scott (1893-1974) was a prolific writer of westerns, first in the pulps and then as paperback originals. One of his most popular characters was Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, who Scott created in the first issue of Texas Rangers (October 1936) under the house pseudonym "Jackson Cole." Texas Rangers continued on a monthly or bimonthly basis until April 1958, with 55 of those issues containing a Hatfield novel/novella by Scott -- who ties with writer Tom Curry for the most Hatfield stories in the magazine. For another pulp from the same publisher. Thrilling Western, Scott created Walt Slade, another Texas Ranger, who could have been a clone of Jim Hatfield except for a few minor differences. Scott wrote a Walt Slade western for over 70 issues, ending in 1951. In the early Fifties, Scott moved from the pulps to paperbacks, taking the Jim Hatfield character with him. Ned Pines, the publisher of Texas Rangers, soon objected to Scott using Jim Hatfield as the hero of the paperback series because he was still publishing Hatfield stories and the "Jackson Cole" house name in his magazine. Scott responded by dropping Jim Hatfield and using instead Walt Slade, the Hatfield clone written under the "Bradford Scott" pseudonym. Scott went on to publish well over 100 Walt Slade westerns for the paperback market, most of them original novels, although a few of them were rewritten from the Thrilling Western stories.
Scott's western stories are entertaining, action-packed shoot-em-ups, perfect for afternoon or evening reading. Scott was never a great stylist, but his tales of the mythic west that was Texas are un-put-downable.
Walt Slade was an ideal western hero -- tall, strong, handsome, a deadly shot, and a man with a strict moral code. Slade had no compunctions about killing as long as the dead 'un deserved it. Doom Trail opens with a courtroom scene being "convicted of two delibarate killings, by a jury of your peers." For this crime he was sentenced to imprisonment for one hour at the Hogwaller saloon, buying the court and the jury a drink. (The coroner, who acted as judge in the trial, had a weird sense of humor.) The
victims (whoops, can't call them that), the deceased were two of outlaw Tarp Henry's hired killers. Henry was the name used by the leader of a murderous outlaw gang; nobody knew who he really was; nobody had even seen him. Tarp Henry was the man Walt Slade had been sent to the West Texas town of Signal to stop.
Slade was an educated man, trained as an engineer and given to reading books. He had somehow drifted into law enforcement and found that he was good at it. Working under the Commander of the Border Battalion, Captain McNulty, Slade had garnered two distinct reputations. For those who knew he was a lawman, Slade "was the smartest and most fearless Ranger of them all." But along the Rio Grand border, he was El Halcon, the Hawk, a supposed outlaw with a fast draw. For an outlaw, El Halcon was pretty considerate and kind to the poor people and working classes he met. Slade had never been in Signal before and was surprised to see two men he knew fairly well: Tom Bowles, the coroner, and Doc McChesney. Both had wandered into Signal months earlier and had become respeted members of the community. These two were the only ones who knew Walt Slade's true purpose.
Tarp Henry, whoever he was, did not take kindly to Slade killing two of his men, so he sent a couple of gunhands to avenge their deaths. Big mistake. Soon there were two bodies decorating the floor of the Hogwaller. The next day, while riding outside of town Slade came across a bumch of toughs attacking a grizzled old man on a mule. They began firing at Slade and Slade fired back, killing one of the five men, wounding another in the leg, while another had his face ruined when Slade's bullet tore his lips and nose to shreds. The four surviving members of the shoot-out skedaddled. The man the gang had originally attacked was an old prospector named Ben Grady but everyone knew him as Uncle Ben. Ben lived in a solid old cabin presumably build by Spaniards centuries ago. The cabin was large and had been well fortified by its original owners. It backed to a swift-moving stream where Uncle Ben would pan for gold, taking out large nuggets after every rain. On the other side of the stream was a large unscalable mountian with sheer cliffs. Slade's engineering background told him the somewhere on the mountain was the source of the gold Ben had been panning. Slade decided to help Uncle Ben and devised a way to traverse the wild stream. On the other side and around a bend, they found a place to land and an old mine entrance partway up the mountain. It was a large mine and its age had made it liable to collapse at any time. Most of the gold had been played out but enough remained to keep uncle Ben comfortable for the rest of his life.
Getting back to Tarp Henry. His gang had been rustling cattle from young rancher named Allen Curtis. Curtis, like his two neighbors who owned large ranches, was originally British and was suspected of being remittance man; that is, one whose activities had stained the family escutcheon and were then paid to stay out of England. His neighbor, Val Parker, had been losing cattle in small numbers to the rustlers -- twenty head here, fifty head there, perhaps a hundred head elsewhere -- but those numbers added up. If the rustling kept up, soon Parker would lose the ranch. The neighbor to the south was "a dossolute young Englishman named Ragnal," Ragnal spent his time drinking and let his freman run the ranch. Ragnal had a secret: when drunk he evidently stabbed and killed a man. Curtis had been blackmailing Ragnal over this, and soon demanded Ragnal's ranch.
That's the set-up and those are the players. Along the way there are more gunfights, some fast-moving fists, and some harrowing escapes as the plot chugs along like a reliable, fast-moving locomotive.
Can Walt Slade come our on top? Well, duh.
Pure popcorn for the mind when you wish to purge yourself of the serious problems of the day.
I have to mention one drawback, though. Although Walt Slade and many of those around him are bright, they can all be dim bulbs whnever it necessary for the plot. No matter how many times you yell at a movie screen for the innocent young woman not to seek shelter in that creepy old abandoned house, you just know she's going to do it. I got the same kind of feeling with parts of this book. But, then, not enough to ruin my enjoyment.
For more on Leslie Scott, Walt Slade, "Bradford Scott," Ranger Jim Hatfield, and "Jackson Cole," check out this FFB review by James Reasoner from December 26, 2014: