Wednesday, 31 October 2018


Brent Towns (who also writes as B. S. Dunn, Jake Henry, and Sam Clancy) tells me a favourite of his own novels is his first Black Horse Western FURY AT BENT FORK – credited to B.S. Dunn - ‘because I felt a great sense of achievement.’ (Something I’m sure all us published novelists feel about their debut novel.)

Four big ranchers, known as the Committee, seek to dominate their section of Colorado. They hire a pack of gunmen under Slade Johnson, but smaller ranchers resist – led by young Chad Hunter. Chad’s also being pursued by a cold-blooded murderer just escaped from prison.

‘It became known as the Stone Creek Valley War and for a time, the valley ran red with the blood of innocents and killers alike.

Range Wars are a popular feature of western fiction but they’re rooted firmly in the history of the Old West. Here I’m referring to conflicts between large-scale cattle owners versus small cattlemen or homesteaders. I’ve dealt with clashes between cattlemen and sheep herders in an earlier blog: 

Probably the two most famous of these Range Wars were the ‘Lincoln County War’ and the ‘Johnson County War.’ I’ll blog about the latter another day.

Actually the Lincoln County War in New Mexico of the late 1870s saw small ranchers such as JOHN TUNSTALL, an Englishman originally from London,

aligned with cattle baron JOHN CHISUM

and local lawyer ALEXANDER McSWEEN.

Their main beef (pardon the pun) was against two businessmen running a powerful conglomerate based in the town of Lincoln. This pair of Irishmen – J. J. DOLAN and JOHN RILEY – owned a big general store called ‘The House.’  They also controlled most government contracts for supplying beef to army posts and Indian reservations. On top of that they had the law, fronted by Lincoln County Sheriff WILLIAM BRADY, in their pocket.

William Brady in 1872

The other faction didn’t see why Dolan and Riley should have a monopoly on either trade in Lincoln or beef contracts.

Tension between the two sides exploded into violence in February 1878. Brady sent a posse to seize some of Tunstall’s horses as payment for an outstanding debt. They encountered Tunstall out on the range. When Tunstall refused to hand the horses over, Deputy Sheriff WILLIAM MORTON shot him in the head.

Men in the employ of Tunstall and Chisum formed a posse of their own – nicknamed The Regulators – and set out to get their revenge. Which is when The Lincoln County War enters the realms of legend: one of these ‘Regulators’ was a slight young man – probably in his early 20s - called HENRY ANTRIM or HENRY McCARTY. It’s wrongly claimed he was born William Bonney, but history remembers him as BILLY THE KID.

I’ve already blogged about Billy the Kid here:

To briefly summarise the violence that ensued: The Regulators captured Morton and another of his posse and shot them. In an even more audacious move they ambushed Sheriff Brady as he walked the streets of Lincoln. Brady and another deputy were felled by a hail of bullets from cover.

Events culminated in a 5-day siege (the so-called ‘Battle of Lincoln’) in July 1878. The Regulators were cornered in McSween’s home in Lincoln by supporters of ‘The House.’ Despite desultory exchanges of gunfire there were no casualties until the fifth day, when McSween’s house was fired. The besieged fled the burning building, braving a blizzard of gunfire that cut down McSween. In total perhaps seven men (two of the ‘House’ faction, and five Regulators) were killed. The remaining Regulators scattered.

The Lincoln County Cattle War was over and ‘Billy the Kid’s’ side had convincingly lost.  

Legend attributes the prominent role in these actions to Billy and claims he did most of the killing. In reality he was only one of a number of participants. He only seems to have taken over as leader during the ‘Battle of Lincoln.’

Most fictional depictions of the Lincoln County War show teenage Billy as looking up to Tunstall as a wise elder, a kindly uncle if not father figure. As it happens Tunstall at the time of his death was 24, possibly only two years older than Billy.

The FURY AT BENT FORK scenario of small ranchers/homesteaders versus big ranchers naturally brings to mind SHANE.

Alan Ladd in ‘Shane’ (1953)

The hero being unjustly convicted of cattle rustling, when his real crime was standing up to a powerful conglomerate, made me think of BROKEN LANCE.

Richard Widmark, Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner in ‘Broken Lance’ (1954)

Reviewer for FURY AT BENT FORK: ‘Wow! Great book.’ and

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


John Lindermuth (writing as J. R.) writes across genres. Like me he writes westerns for Sundown Press. He tells me a favourite of his novels is SOONER THAN GOLD, second of his books featuring Sylvester Tilghman, sheriff of a small Pennsylvania town.

It’s 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Tilghman is investigating the murder of a miner. A local band of gypsies claim the victim stole one of their young women. Tilghman is also investigating one of the first instances of auto-theft. As if that wasn’t enough, he also has a run-in with a female horse thief. Meanwhile in his personal life he’s edging closer to his goal of finally marrying long-time girlfriend Lydia Longlow.

A Pennsylvania policeman of the 1890s:

A car of 1900 – a Bradley Gasoline Runabout

I thought I’d take a brief look at Gypsies in this blog, using Wikipedia as a source.
Gypsy is the colloquial term for the Romani/ Roma/ Romany people. The Romani language is divided into several dialects which together have more than two million speakers. 
Genetic findings appear to confirm the Romani "came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago." The English term Gypsy (or Gipsy) originates from ‘gypcian,’ short for ‘Egipcien.’ This comes from the belief, common in the Middle Ages, that the Romani originated in Egypt.
Gypsies are first recorded in Europe in 1322, appearing in Crete. Romani arrived in North America in colonial times, with small groups recorded in Virginia and French Louisiana.

Gypsies in the U.S. c. 1900
There are an estimated 3.8 million Romani people in Europe although some estimates go as high as 14 million. Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkans, Central Europe, Spain, France, Russia and Ukraine. Several million more Romanies live outside Europe, in particular in the Middle East and in the Americas.
As outsiders and itinerants, gypsies have been subject to discrimination and persecution throughout their history. In times of social tension, the Romani became scapegoats. For instance, they were accused of bringing the plague when epidemics broke out.
In England, Romani were sometimes hanged. In France, they were branded and their heads were shaved. In Moravia and Bohemia, the women were marked by their ears being severed.
The worst persecution was by the Nazis, who started by stripping them of German citizenship in 1935 and then embarked on a systematic genocide. Romani were sentenced to forced labour, imprisonment and extermination in concentration camps. They were often killed on sight, especially by paramilitary death squads on the Russian Front.  
Ever after World War Two persecution continued. After 1945 in Czechoslovakia gypsies were labeled a "socially degraded stratum," and Romani women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population, something that was still occurring up to 2001.
On a lighter note (literally): Many musical instruments like violins and guitars are said to have originated from the Romani, as are dances such as the flamenco of Spain. Romani music has also strongly influenced musical forms like bolero and jazz. 

Acclaimed jazz guitarist DJANGO REINHARDT, of Romani descent, incorporated Romani influences into his music and is regarded as the founder of the hybrid known as ‘gypsy jazz.’


‘Characters are diverse and well-drawn,’

‘This is a sneaky, twisty, fun ride of a mystery.’

‘Kept me guessing. The plot is exciting. Characters are fun. The writing is superb with colorful descriptions and snappy dialogue.’

Wednesday, 17 October 2018


John Lindermuth (writing as J. R.) writes westerns for Sundown Press, as I do. He tells me a favourite of his earlier novels is FALLEN FROM GRACE. In 1897 Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman is investigating two murders in a small Pennsylvania town, whilst trying to convince his true love, Lydia, to marry him.

I picture some late 19th Century Pennsylvania policemen, before the Pennsylvania State Police force was established in 1905.

Pennsylvania policemen in 1888

Two Pennsylvania policemen from the 1890s:

I thought I’d take a quick look at the origins of the storied office of ‘sheriff’, using information I got from the website of the PENNSYLVANIA SHERIFF’S ASSOCIATION. 

While some historians maintain that the office of sheriff from either the Roman proconsul or the Arab Sharif (nobleman) it’s generally accepted that the title goes back to Anglo-Saxon England, when KING ALFRED (who reigned 871-899) divided England into counties or shires.


The shires were run by men called reeves, leading to the title ‘shire reeve’ (meaning ‘keeper and chief of his county.’) ‘Shire Reeve’ was eventually shortened to sheriff. After the Normans conquered Saxon England in 1066 they kept the office of sheriff, who was to govern the county and collect taxes for the king. He headed the local military and kept the peace in the monarch’s name.

The most famous sheriff of this period is, of course, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood’s dastardly foe. Robin Hood deserves (probably many) blogs of his own. Briefly, this legendary outlaw is generally located in English history between 1180 and 1320. The actual title of such an official in this time frame would be ‘Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests.’ In the earliest Robin Hood ballads, dating from the late 15th Century, several ‘Sheriffs of Nottingham’ are slain by Robin Hood, Little John or other outlaws. Which shows that – regardless of whether a ‘real ‘Robin Hood ever existed – these early tales are largely folklore. Official records show no Sheriff of Nottingham was ever slain by an outlaw!

This epitome of villainy has featured in numerous movies and TV shows about Robin Hood. Here’s PETER CUSHING in ‘Sword of Sherwood Forest’ (1960):  

When settlers left England to colonise the New World, the office of sheriff went with them. The first were appointed when counties were established in Virginia in 1634. As in England respect for the sheriff was strictly enforced. He had a special seat reserved for him in churches. Contempt against him was an offense punishable by whipping.

Sheriffs were brought to the colony of Pennsylvania by English and Dutch settlers before William Penn in 1682.

The sheriff of the county and the high-constable in the towns didn't wear a uniform or display a badge. Early Pennsylvania law provided that the sheriff would be provided with a staff of his office, at least six feet in length and bearing the King's Coat of Arms on the top. It is doubtful these officers carried firearms, except on special occasions.
To this day the sheriff still has the power – as he had in Dark Age and Medieval England - of the ‘posse comitatus,’ i.e. the power to call upon ‘the entire population of the county above the age of 15… to aid him in keeping the peace, and in pursuing and arresting felons.’

In American lore, the heyday of the sheriff was in the Old West of the Nineteenth Century when colourful characters from WILD BILL HICKOK to BAT MASTERSON to WYATT EARP donned the badge. No time to cover their adventurous lives here!


‘Intriguing… My favorite aspect of this book is the narrator's voice and personality.’

‘The novel achieves a texture and richness that sets it apart.… Lindermuth's writing style is practiced and assured and always a pleasure to read.’

‘I enjoyed this entertaining historical mystery.’

‘Truly a treasure!’

Wednesday, 10 October 2018


Brent Towns (who also writes as B. S. Dunn, Jake Henry, and Sam Clancy) tells me a favourite of his novels is the first LARAMIE DAVIS book, HIGH VALLEY MANHUNT (credited to B.S. Dunn) ‘because I felt a great sense of achievement’ with it.

When ageing gunfighter Laramie Davis enters a Montana town all he wants is a hot meal. Instead he finds himself in a deadly shoot out with a town lawman, then pursued by the law man’s kin. On top of that he tangles with a gang of outlaws and hostile Blackfeet Indians seeking revenge.

I thought I’d take a brief look at the history of the Blackfoot Indians.

They consist of four bands. The Siksika (‘Blackfoot’), the Kainai or Kainah (‘Blood’) and the Northern Piegan (or 'Poor Robes') reside in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada; the Southern Piegan or Pikuni are located in Montana in the United States. All speak one of the Algonquian languages. The unrelated Sarcee became merged into the Blackfoot Confederacy and, (for a time) the Gros Ventre. The Gros Ventre call themselves the ‘white clay people.’ The French called them Gros Ventres (‘fat bellies,') misinterpreting a sign language gesture for waterfall.

The name Blackfoot is said to have come from the color of the soles of their moccasins, typically dyed or painted black. One legend claimed that tradition arose after some Blackfeet blackened the soles of their moccasins by walking through the ashes of a prairie fire.
The Blackfoot had adopted the use of the horse by 1730. The Blackfoot called horses ‘elk dogs.’ They became buffalo hunters and established themselves as one of the most powerful and warlike tribes on the Plains by the late 18th century, earning themselves the name ‘The Lords of the Plains’.
Canadian traders established friendly trading relations with the Blackfoot from 1754. But, in tragic contrast, relations between the Blackfoot and the Americans soured almost from their first encounter.
In 1806 members of the Lewis and Clark expedition encountered a group of young Blackfoot warriors in Montana. The group camped together that night, and at dawn there was a scuffle as it was discovered that the Blackfoot were trying to steal guns and run off horses while the Americans slept. In the ensuing struggle, one warrior was fatally stabbed and another shot by MERIWETHER LEWIS himself, and presumed killed.
This set off decades of conflict between Blackfeet and Americans. They were bitter enemies of American ‘mountain men’ trapping their country. In 1809 they captured JOHN COLTER and allowed him to run for his life. Colter survived after stumbling into what later became Yellowstone National Park. (An incredible adventure that deserves a blog of its own.)
Despite these hostilities, around 1840 acclaimed painters KARL BODMER and GEORGE CATLIN were both able to paint and draw the Blackfoot.

Painting by Karl Bodmer
In 1837 Blackfoot resistance was much weakened when smallpox struck them, killing an estimated 6,000. In 1851 they were restricted to land assigned to them by the Fort Laramie Treaty. When gold strikes brought thousands of settlers to Montana from 1862 onwards the Blackfoot mounted small-scale resistance.
The most notable action in subsequent hostilities was the Marias River Massacre when one of their villages was destroyed by the US Army on January 23, 1870. Controversy surrounds this incident but evidence suggests this was a peaceful camp attacked by mistake and that of 173 Blackfeet killed, only 15 were warriors.

Blackfoot resistance was fading. When the Sioux were engaged in fighting the United States Army in 1876, they sent runners into Blackfoot territory, urging them to join the fight. CROWFOOT, one of the most influential Blackfoot chiefs, dismissed the Sioux messengers.
In Canada the Blackfeet largely stayed out of conflicts with the North West Mounted police, and the two serious Indian rebellions of 1869 and 1885. When news of continued Blackfoot neutrality reached the Canadian government, LORD LANDSDOWNE, the governor general, expressed his thanks to Crowfoot on behalf of QUEEN VICTORIA. The cabinet of the current Prime Minister even gave Crowfoot a round of applause.

Blackfoot medicine man by George Catlin
Nowadays there are approximately 32,000 Blackfeet living in the U.S.A. and Canada.

The Montana setting and ageing hero aspect of HIGH VALLEY MANHUNT brought to mind the classic 1967 western ‘Will Penny’ with CHARLTON HESTON. 

Meanwhile the small town run by a corrupt family who provide judge and sheriff etc. reminded me of ‘Buchanan Rides Alone’ with RANDOLPH SCOTT


‘The plot was well thought-out and original, the writing style was sharp and entertaining, and the hero was compelling.’

‘I love the pace of Dunn's writing. He seems to balance the characters, the scenery and the action perfectly.’

‘A great fast-paced read. Strong characters people this action-packed western.’


Wednesday, 3 October 2018


Brent Towns (who also writes as B. S. Dunn, Jake Henry, and Sam Clancy) tells me an overall favourite of his novels is VALLEY OF THUNDER by Sam Clancy. ‘I really enjoy writing about Josh Ford.’

Marshal Josh Ford investigates a wagon train that has disappeared in the wilderness of Montana and the Pacific North West. He comes up against a brutal autocrat who rules the area with his private army, rather like the historical Henry Plummer.

WILLIAM HENRY HANDY PLUMMER was born in 1832 in Addison, Maine. In 1852, aged 19, he headed west to the California gold fields. In 1856, he was elected sheriff and city manager in Nevada City, California. His tenure as sheriff ended in controversy a year later when he shot and killed John Vedder. Convicted of second-degree murder, he served time in San Quentin Prison but was granted a pardon due to poor health as he was suffering from tuberculosis.

Plummer left California and drifted across the Pacific Northwest. In 1862 he arrived in Bannack, Montana, where gold had been recently discovered. Despite (or perhaps because of) having killed several men in gun duels he was elected sheriff of Bannack.
Between October and December 1863, the rate of robberies and murders in the area increased significantly. Local citizens formed the Vigilance Committee of Alder Gulch in Virginia City, Montana. Between January 4 and February 3, 1864, the vigilantes arrested and summarily executed at least 20 alleged ‘road agents.’ One was ‘Erastus Red’ Yeager. Before his hanging, Yeager made a complete confession, naming Henry Plummer as leader of the gang, ironically nicknamed ‘The Innocents.’ At their peak it’s claimed ‘The Innocents’ numbered almost 200 men. One of their specialities was to waylay stages that had been marked with chalk by Plummer’s informants, indicating they carried gold.
Plummer was arrested by the vigilantes on the morning of January 10, 1864. Standing before his captors, Plummer asked them, ‘You wouldn’t hang your own sheriff, would you?’
They would and did – the same day.
Plummer was given a posthumous trial in 1993 which led to a mistrial. The jury was split 6-6.
I’d expected Plummer to feature quite a lot in western movies and TV but I could only find him being portrayed by TOM McKEE in an episode of ‘Tales of Wells Fargo’ and JOHN DEHNER in an episode of ‘Stories of the Century.’

John Dehner as Henry Plummer

The Nez Perce Indians also feature in VALLEY OF THUNDER. These remarkable people, and particularly the tragic war they fought against the white man in 1877, deserve at least one separate blog.

The wagon train aspect reminded me of movies like MEEKS CUTOFF

and one of my favourite westerns, John Ford’s lyrical masterpiece ‘WAGONMASTER.’

Ward Bond, Jane Darwell and Russell Simpson in ‘Wagonmaster

‘A great read.’


‘The descriptive writing is superb and I saw each landscape and action sequence in full technicolour as though it were playing out on a cinema screen. There was no fat in this story, no padding. It promised sweeping adventure and it delivered in spades.’

‘A great adventure yarn.’


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Andrew McBride on how THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS by JOHN PREBBLE inspired his writing

One of the biggest influences on me, writing THE PEACEMAKER and my other western novels, was THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS by JOHN PREBBLE which I re-read recently.

John Prebble (1915-2001) was (like me) an Englishman who wrote westerns. His short story ‘My Great Aunt Appearing Day’ was turned into the 1955 movie ‘White Feather.’

Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter in ‘White Feather

But he also wrote thrillers, some distinguished histories of Scotland, one of which was made into the acclaimed 1964 documentary ‘Culloden,’

and co-wrote the screenplay of the epic movie ‘Zulu,’ also 1964.

Michael Caine in ‘Zulu

His novel ‘The Buffalo Soldiers’ is the story of Lt. Garrett Byrne, a white officer commanding a patrol of black troopers of the 10th U.S. Cavalry – the so-called ‘buffalo soldiers’ - in Oklahoma c. 1869. He is tasked with escorting a party of Comanches living on the reservation on a buffalo hunt; then, when they turn renegade and flee into the wilderness of the Texas Staked Plains, of hunting them down.

This is the most un-western western I’ve ever read – as well as being one of the best. Although it deals with wildly familiar subject matter – the U.S. Cavalry versus the Indians, the Texas Rangers, Comancheros etc. – I’d defy anybody to find a cliché in the entire book. Prebble, as an outsider, seems to have no pre-conditioning about the Old West. All aspects are looked at with a fresh eye, particularly his startling depiction of the Texas Rangers. This is partly through absolutely authenticity, shown by small, convincing details, (down to using brandy to treat gum sores,) partly through complex characterisation.

These are flawed, ambiguous individuals. We can see heroism behind the cavalrymen, rangers and Comanches, but also obstinacy, cruelty and confusion. Byrne is no lantern-jawed idealist. He’s a middle-aged loner, unhandsome, socially awkward and makes mistakes – including some very bad ones. Born in Ireland, he’s struggled to escape the hatred that his father tried to instil in him – but then he finds himself hating the Comanches, something that drives and tortures him through the second half of the book.

This is a realistic – and therefore hard-hitting – novel, with elements of tragedy. There’s one chapter I find particularly tough to read. But the writing is superb. Prebble has the absolute knack (which he shares with the likes of A.B. Guthrie Jnr.) of capturing vast cinematic landscapes concisely and vividly. ‘The set of the sun revealed a long tableland in the far west, an indigo pencil-stroke between the red of the sky and the yellow grass.’ ‘The whole plain was miraculous, an ocean of grass moving against the far escarpments, and a wind rushing ceaselessly.’

The Buffalo Soldiers’ throws up a portrait of tragic racial conflict and issues, asking questions that the world is still trying to answer. Revisiting it, I realised the book was a tremendous influence on me. Stimulating, disturbing and powerful, it never loses its humanity even when showing humanity at its worst.

Prebble's western short stories - including My Great Aunt Appearing Day’ - were gathered together in a collection, 'SPANISH STIRRUP', that I would also highly recommend.  

 Some of the background to THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS:

Formed in 1866 the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry were the U.S. army units comprised of black enlisted men and white officers. Their nickname may have originated with Plains Indians - buffalo hunting tribes. ("We called them 'buffalo soldiers' because they had curly, kinky hair... like bisons.")

Buffalo soldiers, a 10th Cavalry chaplain observed, 'are possessed of the notion that the coloured people of the whole country are more or less affected by their performance in the Army.'
These regiments enjoyed high re-enlistment rates and - in contrast to much of the frontier army - low desertion rates. 

In 1874 General Sherman said of them: ‘They are good troops, they make first-rate sentinels, are faithful to their trust, and are as brave as the occasion calls for.’

Despite this, black regiments were the subject of what Robert M. Utley, in ‘Frontier Regulars’ calls ‘searing racial prejudice.’ Utley writes: ‘The black regiments endured discrimination in both the quantity and quality of supplies, equipment and horses, and for 25 years they remained without relief in the most disagreeable sectors of the frontier.’

Buffalo soldiers have featured in film westerns like John Ford’s ‘SERGEANT RUTLEDGE’ (1960.)

On TV they were featured in shows like ‘THE HIGH CHAPARRAL’ (‘The Buffalo Soldiers’, ‘Ride the Savage Land.’)

High Chaparral episode: ‘Ride the Savage Land.’

You can find my 5 Star review of THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS on and on Goodreads