Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, July 19, 2022


 "Indian Sign" by Robert Bloch  (first published in West, January 1943; reprinted in Pulse Pounding Adventure Stories #2, December 1987)

I know I am not alone in having Robert Bloch serve as a gateway drug to a lifetime of reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror.  My junior high and high school years were made much more tolerable because of Bloch's collections Terror in the Night, Pleasant Dreams, Blood Runs Cold, Atoms and Evil, Bogey Men, Horror-7, Tales in a Jugular Vein, and The Skull of Marquis de Sade.  And then there were the novels -- Psycho (of course), The Dead Beat, The Kidnapper, Firebug, The Scarf (aka The Scarf of Passion), and The Will to Kill -- pristine jewels of writing that explored the (much) darker side of the human psyche.  There was Bloch donning his Damon Runyon hat for the Lefty Feep fantasies long before I knew who Damon Runyon was.  And Bloch channeling his inner Thorne Smith.  And Bloch the scriptwriter; Bloch (along with Richard Matheson) was the reason I began to pay attention  to television and film credits.  Back in those halcyon days I had no idea of Robert Bloch the fan, nor had I any idea of how much loved he was by his colleagues.  The Bloch of my youth hit all the buttons -- he was funny, he was scary, he understood the weird psyche of the human being.  Bloch was the first writer to truly knock my socks off.

Not everything Bloch wrote was a gem.  Far from it.  But enough of his work had a special brilliance that, even today, keeps me going back to the well over and over.

Bloch was uncomfortable with the western story.  He published only two in the western pulps.  One of these was "Indian Sign," a short tale whose singular virtue was his name as the author.

Kiowa half-breed Johnny Marsh was riding his pinto through a canyon when he heard the shots and then came across the two men.  One was dead and the other was leaning over the corpse with a smoking gun in his hand.  Johnny, handy with a lariat, was able to capture the survivor and, binding him, took him and the corpse to town.  

It looks like Johnny had made a grave mistake.  The man he had captured carried the identity of Rex Blinn, the Indian agent just assigned to the area.  The corpse, Blinn said, was Jack Parsons, a gambler and confidence man who had attempted to waylay Blinn.  Blinn drew faster.  That settled, the sheriff releases Blinn, who claims he holds no hard feelings against Johnny.  Blinn is in town to sign a new treaty with Kiowa Chief Lone Bull.  The treaty would guarantee land for the Kiowa; in return, they would cede some land to the government.  Blinn asks Johnny to serve as a go-between between himself and Lone Bull.  Johnny suspects some shady dealings and soon discovers that the man known as Blinn was really the gambler Parsons, who had managed to swap identities with the Indian agent just before Johnny came on the scene.  Because Lone Bull could not read English, Parsons felt it would be a simple task to have the Kiowa chief actually sign a document that gave him -- Parsons -- the land.  Parsons manages to capture Johnny and has his men surreptitiously hold a gun on him while Lone Bull signs the treaty.  With a gun poking in his ribs, Johnny cannot warn Lone Bull.  How can he stop the "treaty" from being signed without being shot by Parson's men?

A minor tale whose resolution would make no sense in the real world.  Luckily, we're talking 1943 western pulp rather than the real world.

Bloch's other western short story, "Chinaman's Chance," appeared in Mammoth Western, August 1950.  I have not been able to locate a copy of that story.  I suspect, given "Indian Sign," that other western tale could be a good indication why Bloch never returned to the western short story.

The December 1987 issue of Pulse Pounding Adventure Stories is available on-line at Luminist Archives.  That issue also contains interesting stories from Richard L. Tierney, Carl Jacobi, and C. J. Henderson.  Check it out.


  1. I am far more familiar with him as a TV writer than a print writer.

  2. Easy to rectify, Patti! As good a screenwriter Bloch was, he often had to work with lesser talents in that world...while what was on the page was more likely more in his hands, even given editors...and his willingness to work for markets, particularly Ziff-Davis fiction magazines such as MAMMOTH WESTERN, which would rely heavily for copy on a cadre of Midwest-based writers (ZD in those years based in Chicago, Bloch a Chicago boy who had relocated to Waukegan, WI--and living the next town over from Ed Gein--before relocating to Los Angeles when he took up screenwriting as well). His better work awaits you in his better collections.

    Thanks for pointing us to, and waving us off from, this one, Jerry...Bloch became a sought-out writer for me by the time I finished my first encounter with his prose, "The Man Who Collected Poe", at age 8. Seeing his HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: and THRILLER scripts as produced certainly didn't dissuade me from continuing to seek out his fiction, either...

  3. Jerry, I remember sitting in the back of a Study Hall in High School reading Robert Bloch's The Skull of Marquis de Sade instead of doing my Geometry homework. Each story in that collection thrilled me!

    1. George, we are the generation that Bloch's talent spawned!