A ranch foreman must tame a bunch of cutthroat cowboys—or die trying—in this rowdy, action-packed western from a master storyteller.
San Jon may be the sorriest town Jim Wade has ever set foot in. Its dry river, ramshackle buildings, and vicious lawlessness make it the spitting image of hell on earth . . . so Wade feels right at home. He's used to solving problems with his fists and his gun.
Wade's come to take a job as foreman for a ranching outfit, which he finds in just as bad of shape as the town itself. The killers his employer calls cowboys are the roughest bunch he's ever seen, and they've schemed up an awful plan that could cost Wade his neck. To survive, he'll have to do what he's done all his life: shoot fast and ride hard.
Classic Luke Short, from the pitch-perfect setting to the hard-driving action, Savage Range is western fiction at its most intense.
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About the Author
Born in Kewanee, Illinois, Glidden graduated in 1930 from the University of Missouri where he studied journalism. After working for several newspapers, he became a trapper in Canada and, later, an archaeologist's assistant in New Mexico. His first story, “Six-Gun Lawyer,” was published in Cowboy Stories magazine in 1935 under the name F. D. Glidden. At the suggestion of his publisher, he used the pseudonym Luke Short, not realizing it was the name of a real gunman and gambler who was a friend of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. In addition to his prolific writing career, Glidden worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He moved to Aspen, Colorado, in 1946, and became an active member of the Aspen Town Council, where he initiated the zoning laws that helped preserve the town.
Read an Excerpt
By Luke Short
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1966 Frederick D. Glidden
All rights reserved.
STRANGER FROM TEXAS
Where the long plateaus of New Mexico lift to join the towering march of the Rockies the clean length of Colorado, there is the town of San Jon, and Jim Wade, riding into it in a raw rain, thought it was the sorriest town he had ever looked upon. He was from Texas, too, used to little Spanish towns of rain-gutted adobe and sagging corrals of upended cedar poles.
But this town was different; it didn't follow any rules. To begin with, it lay on the west side of a wide and dry river, the Rio Puerco, and according to Jim Wade's judgment, the rivers in this high country should be narrow and wet. A sandy road, free of dripping underbrush, cut through the tall cottonwoods lining the river bottom, and then before the road properly pulled up off the bottom lands to a dry townsite, you were in San Jon.
Because a man likes things clear-cut, likes things either black or white and not gray, Jim Wade didn't like San Jon. It was neither American nor Spanish, but a sorry, wet jumble of the two. Along the wide and rutted road, which was always damp from the ground seep and was now pooled with dirty water, adobe houses squatted cheek by jowl with log shacks, and immediately, then, a man was in the plaza.
In the raw and whipping rain of late afternoon, the sight was disheartening. A freighting-outfit, ten teams and two tarp-hooded wagons in tandem, blocked out half the south side of the tiny plaza. The other three sides were a hodgepodge of frame, log, and adobe buildings, lighted against the early dusk.
The sight put Jim Wade in a truculent and restless frame of mind. His Levi's were soaking in spite of his slicker, for he had faced the rain all this day, and it was a cold rain, too soon off the Rockies to be warm and friendly.
Pulled up at one corner of the Plaza, he saw a man cut in front of him on the run for shelter across the street. Jim let him achieve the awninged walk and then pulled his horse over.
"Where'll I find shelter for my horse, amigo?" he asked in a soft Texas drawl.
The man paused, wheeled slowly in his tracks, and in that half-light appeared to be examining Jim. Then he said, "You can cut him up and wrap the chunks in your slicker for all I give a damn, mister," and went on down the walk.
There is a limit to a man's patience, and Jim Wade had reached his, although there was little about his long, tough-shaped face to indicate it. In a better light, a man might have taken warning from gray eyes, which were already smoldering a little from fourteen hours of discomfort.
He did not answer, only touched his pony's sides with his heels. Slowly, almost gracefully, Sleepy, his tired chestnut, stepped into motion, and Jim Wade reached down for his rope. He shook it out noiselessly, swiftly, built a big loop to allow for the darkness, and then, his eyes on the jogging back of the man on the sidewalk, made a swift, underhand cast beneath the wooden awning.
The whistle of the wet rope sounded a second's warning, so that the man half whirled when the loop settled around him. Then Sleepy sat on his haunches, backed up, and Jim Wade stepped out of the saddle. A good cutting horse never guessed, and Sleepy was a good cutting horse. He traveled slowly backward, keeping the rope taut, until the man's chest met the tie rail. Jim spoke softly, and Sleepy stopped, leaning a little of his magnificent weight backward to keep the rope taut and the man pinned.
Slowly, with an aching saddle stiffness, Jim Wade sloshed through the mud. Erect, he was a tall man, his slicker showing only his overwide flat shoulders and hiding the lean hips and the long, hard legs. He paused now in front of the man and cuffed his hat back off his forehead, revealing a shock of raven-black hair plastered to his forehead where the rain had crept up under his hatbrim.
"You couldn't be in a hurry, could you?" Jim asked.
The man made a violent move to grab for a gun holstered at his hip, but the rope cast had been expert, pinning his arms below the elbow. When he saw the futility of fighting it, he started to curse Jim in measured, level tones.
Jim smiled wolfishly and leaned his back against the tie rail. He didn't talk immediately, but brought out a cold pipe and placed it upside down in his mouth. The match he struck showed his face in bright and momentary relief, and it was an amused face, one primed for trouble and laughter and gaunted by long, hard rides.
"Down in Texas," he began, "we never ask questions, mister. That is, we never ask private questions that a man might resent. On the other hand, we can ask directions, the way to a drink, where we can find a bed — and where we can put up a horse. Now where was it you said I could find horse shelter? I'm some hard of hearin' in the rain."
"I dunno who you are," the man answered savagely, "but you better throw my gun out in the mud and get the hell out of here while you can!"
"Funny," Jim mused. "I can't make a thing out of them directions."
The man raised his head and bawled, "Ball! Miles!"
Idly, almost, Jim reached down, scooped up a handful of the thick adobe clay of the street, and plastered it in the man's mouth. His speech was shut off as abruptly as if cut with a knife. Carefully, Jim wiped his hand on his slicker while the man struggled to spit out the mud. It stayed.
Jim began again. "Now, a right smart hostler would locate a stable pretty close to the plaza, because that's where all his business centers. Reckon that buildin' over there on the southeast corner could be it?" He looked at his man. "If it is, you can nod your head yes."
He couldn't see the man's eyes, but he almost felt their savage glare. The man made a choking sound and then shook his head in negation.
Jim chuckled and shuttled his gaze along the row of buildings on the opposite side of the plaza. "Now that looks like a road comin' in from the northeast. Reckon it could be on that road?" Again he looked at the man, and this time the man mutely nodded in the affirmative.
"So?" Jim murmured. "That's what I thought to begin with, but I only aimed to make sure."
He reached down and pulled out the man's single gun. "I remember now. You wanted that gun throwed in the street, didn't you?" He threw it out into the mud and heard, but didn't see it splash in the pooled water. Then he spoke gently to Sleepy, who slacked off on the rope, and he slipped the noose over the man's shoulders.
The man's first act was to claw the mud out of his mouth, and Jim left him that way, spitting and coughing and swearing.
Halfway around the plaza, Jim heard his lifted voice, "You better ride, cowboy!"
For a few seconds, Jim was almost ashamed of himself, but it passed as he entered the long arch of the stable, located next to a corner of the plaza. A lantern had been put in the doorway, and an old man sat under it in a tilted-back chair, just out of the half circle of rain-swept planking.
He regarded Jim cautiously as he dismounted and off-saddled, and was close at hand when Jim said, "Feed him oats, old-timer. He's earned 'em."
The old man nodded and said tonelessly, "That'll be a dollar."
Jim grinned. "I'm not leavin' right away."
"You're a stranger, ain't you?"
"Then you pay now."
Jim scowled, regarding the old man with a puzzled suspicion. By long experience he knew that hostlers, as a class of men, are likely to be graveled by queer things, but he had never run up against such a demand as this.
"I don't get it," he drawled. "If I don't pay, you keep the horse. That's the way it runs, don't it?"
"Mebbe. Only you pay now." The old man looked bored, but it was a kindly boredom, and he almost smiled. "You see, this town ain't healthy for strangers, mister. Lots of 'em leaves a horse here and don't live to claim it. You" — he motioned briefly with his thumb to Jim — "being the new Excelsior foreman, I'd say your chances was even less than average. I'll take the dollar now, and you tell me who to send the money to when I sell your horse."
"So I'm the Excelsior foreman?" Jim asked. "Now, how do you know that? Nobody wrote it on the back of my slicker, did they?"
"No, but Bonsell made his brag."
"He'd bring a man in here that would ram Excelsior down the throat of this country and make it stick. You look like you might be the man."
Jim's eyes narrowed slightly. "He did, did he? You mean he knew there was trouble comin' up?"
"Knew it!" The old man chuckled. "Hell, he's been here, ain't he? And he's got eyes, ain't he?" He surveyed Jim with a shrewdness that was not without kindliness. "Never told you, then, when he seen you at Dodge?"
Jim shook his head faintly.
"Well, he said he caught you when you was broke, and that he had to put up a stake to get you out here. It's too late to turn back now." He put out a hand. "That'll be a dollar."
Jim handed him one and turned on his heel.
"One more thing," the old man called, and Jim paused. "I'd take off that slicker if I was you."
"It'll be like goin' into a gun fight with a woman's dress on."
Jim gazed speculatively at him, indecision in his face, and then he slowly unbuttoned his slicker and tied it on behind his saddle.
Tramping out the door and crossing the street in the rain, Jim Wade suddenly decided that he had more to learn about a company outfit than he expected. He was used to tough towns, almost expected them, but what the old hostler had told him disturbed him. He tried to remember what Bonsell had told him of his job when they met in Dodge, but the words wouldn't come. The gist of it was that the Excelsior outfit was taking over one of the old Spanish grants and they needed a man with cow savvy to set things right. And a man who has just lost a whole trail herd — twenty-five hundred head of prime Nueces long-horns — to Texas fever on the banks of the Cimarron, can't be very choosy where he works. It had sounded good to Jim Wade, and Jim Wade's reputation had sounded good to Max Bonsell. A fair exchange, money for experience. Only this sounded a bit different. He stopped under the wooden awning and, with the pelting of the rain above him, counted the days he had been on the trail. Yes, it came out exactly what Bonsell predicted. Therefore, since Bonsell said he'd meet him at the town's biggest saloon on the night of his arrival, the explanation wouldn't be far off.
He turned, then, satisfied, and set out to look for San Jon's biggest saloon.CHAPTER 2
BATTLE IN THE MUD
It wasn't hard to find. Evidently the surly puncher Jim had argued with had been on his way to it, for it lay on the southwest corner of the plaza, and its doors, at the angle formed by the corner, let out clean shafts of light over the swing doors to turn the rain gray and thick and the street a wet wallow.
A scattering of ponies standing before it in the rain made Jim swear a little under his breath. The interior was typical, with a bar immediately to the left, and behind it the gambling-layouts. An ornate and heavy mirror backed the bar and reflected the glitter of row upon row of glasses, and beyond them the rough crowd. There were many men here, some prospectors, a few businessmen, one or two Mexican merchants in black broadcloth, the freighter, drunk as a lord, and the rest punchers and cattlemen.
Smoke was layered heavily under the overhead kerosene lamps at the gaming-tables, and a rough clatter of glasses and tall gave it the comfortable din of a social gathering.
Jim slipped in quietly and went immediately to the near end of the bar. "Where'll I find Max Bonsell?" he asked.
"Sittin' along one of the walls," the bartender said.
Walking slowly back toward the tables, Jim was aware that men were watching him in the bar mirror, and that there was no friendliness in their glances. Without a head being turned, he knew that word of his coming was traveling ahead of him up the room. He paused by the first table of poker and let his glance rove the room. Against the back wall, alone at a wall bench, Max Bonsell was seated over a drink. His wave attracted Jim's attention, and Jim crossed over to him. Sly and covert glances from the men at the gaming-tables did not escape him. It seemed that they were prepared for him, and it occurred to him that Max Bonsell might have appointed this saloon for a meeting-place so as to acquaint every man in the country with the new Excelsior foreman. It angered him a little, so that when he shook hands with Bonsell his greeting was a curt, "Howdy, Bonsell."
"Howdy, Jim. This is cutting the time as close as a man could ask for."
"Ain't it?" Jim murmured, and sat down.
The two of them made a sight that a man would look at twice. To a cowman it was obvious that they were both from Texas. It was in their speech, in their clothes, in their movements, in the shape of their faces. Only there was a difference. Max Bonsell had a length of leg that matched Jim's, only he was a little leaner, and there was something about his face that was inert and impassive and faintly wicked. His bleached eyes were cold and clear as mountain water, but a man couldn't look into them. It was as if a wall of arrogance were built behind them, so they were only surface-deep, guarding some quiet threat that lay in the man's mind. The skin of his face, oak-brown with lines ironed in it by the weather, was plastered close to his skull, and when he spoke tiny muscles flicked and sawed and reminded a man of a coiled spring. Jim's face, with that same long, bony shape, was more relaxed, gaunted only in the way a good race horse is gaunted. His gray eyes were slow and two miles deep, and he had a quick grin that would make a man stop cursing him and a woman feel all warm inside. He carried himself straighter, and if his look right now was be-damned-to-you, you felt it wasn't always that way.
He took the whisky Max Bonsell poured for him and downed it, then scoured his mouth with the back of his hand and said, "You didn't tell me at Dodge you were payin' fightin' wages."
"That's right, I didn't," Max Bonsell answered.
"Wanted to get you out here first."
"What if I don't take the job?"
Bonsell smiled meagerly at the room in general. "You got to live, don't you?"
"Not that way."
"I don't mind a fight when it's for somethin' I want," Jim murmured. "But other men's fights — no thanks."
"Somebody must have spooked you," Bonsell said after a pause.
"First man I talked to had sand in his craw, and the second one told me to pack a gun loose."
"That scare you?"
Jim's mouth tightened at the corners. "Quit it. I'm not a kid."
"All right. You got hired because I wanted a man that could handle a crew. I never knowed a Texan yet that didn't figure a scrap now and then was part of handlin' a crew."
Jim almost smiled. "Let's hear this setup before I promise anything."
Max Bonsell slipped out a sack of tobacco and rolled a smoke, and Jim packed his pipe and lighted it.
"Nothin' to tell except what I told you," Bonsell murmured. "My outfit, the Excelsior, has bought out this grant — the old Ulibarri grant. They picked it up for a lot of back taxes, and the title's clear. It's been fifteen years since an Ulibarri lived on it, and in that time a whole damn countryful of seven-cow outfits has moved in on its free grass. They got no right on it and they've never paid lease money. They treat it like open range. The first job Excelsior faces is runnin' them off. We warn them first, then push their beef off, and if it comes to trouble we fight for our property." He looked over lazily at Jim. "That sound like I lied to you?"
"Not any. I told you we was takin' over a Spanish grant. You've seen enough of that stuff to know what to expect."
"That's right," Jim agreed.
"I named a good wage — not a fightin' wage, exactly — because I figured you were a good man. You wouldn't run from a bluff and you wouldn't hunt trouble. And you knew cattle. If I'm wrong, tell me different."
Jim drawled, "And yet you got the whole country fightin' me to start with."
"That bother you? I've been sittin' here all evenin'."
"Had a drink with anybody?" Jim asked dryly, and he saw the flush creep into Bonsell's face.
Bonsell said, "No. They've got no love for Excelsior. But they're scared."
"They can get over that."
Excerpted from Savage Range by Luke Short. Copyright © 1966 Frederick D. Glidden. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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