Wednesday, 21 February 2018


Juliette Douglas mentioned 3 favourites of her own books to me. She tells me COPPERHEAD, the first of her ‘Freckled Venom trilogy,’ is dear to her heart because it was her first book. And it did win the Laramie Award for best debut western. Juliette’s heroine in COPPERHEAD is Lacy Watson, a female bounty hunter pursuing outlaws who is also pursued by demons in her own past. She joins up with Wyoming Marshal Rawley Lovett to bring three psychopathic brothers to justice.

I’ve blogged about bounty hunters before, a staple of western fiction although hard to find in the real history of the Old West – male or female. One gun-toting western woman who was real was CALAMITY JANE – real name MARTHA JANE CANARY (or CANNARY.)

Much of Jane’s life – like the origin of her nickname - is shrouded in legends of her own making. She was born in Missouri, although her given birth year of 1852 has been questioned.  She claimed to have been a muleskinner working for the U.S. Cavalry. Captain John G. Bourke, who was on General Crook’s campaign against the Sioux in 1876, wrote: ‘It was whispered that one of our teamsters was a woman, and no other than ‘Calamity Jane’ a character famed in border story.’ Jane claimed also to have been an army scout who fought Indians, but another cavalry officer, Captain Jack Crawford, stated: Jane… never was in an Indian fight. She was simply a notorious character, dissolute and devilish, but possessed a generous streak which made her popular.’ As a sign of her generosity, she once gave a destitute woman her shoes.

There doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence that she worked as a guard on a stage coach. She was acquainted with Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood shortly before his murder there in August 1876, but as to whether she secretly married him or gave birth to his child… who knows? The story that she confronted Hickok’s murderer, Jack McCall with a meat cleaver also can’t be verified.

Jane did appear in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1893 as a story-teller. It would appear that she lived in various locations in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota and did work as a laundress and a prostitute, drink heavily, carouse loudly and sometimes wear men’s clothes. She also married several times and had two daughters. She died of pneumonia in 1903.

Jane has been widely portrayed in romanticised form by actresses from Doris Day, in the musical named after her,

to Stefanie Powers in an episode of ‘Bonanza’ (where she has an unhistorical relationship with Doc Holliday!)

Stefanie Powers  (as Calamity Jane) with Michael Landon in 'Bonanza'

Anjelica Huston’s portrayal in ‘Buffalo Girls’ (1995) was undoubtedly nearer the truth.

Sharon Stone in the movie ‘The Quick & the Dead’ isn’t exactly a bounty-hunter, but she’s the nearest to one I could find!

The last time I looked all reviews for COPPERHEAD are 4 and 5 star.

‘A gripping and compelling western with an engaging heroine’

‘Truly outstanding’

’The dialogue was wonderful’

‘I’d like to see it made into a film’

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


Matthew P. Mayo won the Spur Award for TUCKER'S RECKONING. He tells me one of his favourite of his own novels is WINTER’S WAR. A characteristic of Matthew’s work is a great opening, and WINTER’S WAR certainly has one. Here Niall Winter, ranching in the Wyoming Rockies, finds his ranch burned down and his wife kidnapped by an enemy from his past. Niall goes in pursuit, even as a blizzard rages.

Life in winter could be brutal on the cattle ranges of the 19th Century West, particularly in mountain country and/or on the northern Great Plains. Indeed one particularly severe winter, known as the ‘Great’ or ‘Big Die-up,’ more or less destroyed the so-called ‘Open Range.’

The Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming suffered a drought-stricken summer in 1886. Then November became a month of relentless snowfall – it snowed every day. The ranchers had neglected to stockpile feed. So when snow and blizzards hit, cattle had to use their hooves to dig through the snow to uncover what meagre grasses they could find. The already thin animals grew weak from hunger. After a brief reprieve when a ‘Chinook’ blew in, temperatures plummeted again to -50F and the greatest blizzard in living memory struck the northwest.

Starving livestock invaded the outskirts of towns, eating whatever shrubs and bushes they could find. Over half of the cattle alive in October, 1886 were dead by April, 1887, probably about a million animals. Rotting carcasses were scattered all over the landscape and dead animals fouled the creeks and streams. 

Many ranchers went bankrupt, and the rest struggled to hang on. So ended the days of the ‘open’ unfenced range and a whole way of life.

A cowboy rescues a calf from a blizzard

For more on the great ‘Die-up’ see Jacquie Rogers’ excellent blog on the subject:

A number of western movies have snowbound and/or wintry backdrops, among them: ‘Track of the Cat,’

Day of the Outlaw,’

and ‘The Hateful Eight.’

Reviews of WINTER’S WAR:

‘A fine hardboiled revenge Western.’

‘Mayo's skewed vision of the world … shows us the mythic West with the sharp, clear eye of a realist looking through rippled glass.’

‘An original voice.’

‘Gritty, and peppered with enough fierce and spunky characters to populate two novels.’

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


Matthew P. Mayo – who won the Spur Award for TUCKER'S RECKONING - tells me a favourite of his own books is WRONG TOWN, first of the ROAMER books.

Circumstance (not helped by his homely face) has made Matthew’s hero ROAMER into what his name suggests – a lone drifter. Roamer’s day begins with him being attacked by a grizzly bear – and then gets worse! With the zippy beginning and black humour characteristic of Matthew, WRONG TOWN takes Roamer from wrestling a grizzly for breakfast into a Rocky Mountain town where he’s locked up for a murder he didn’t commit. And then a lynch mob comes after him…

We authors are always being told our books need ‘grabby’ beginnings. WRONG TOWN certainly has an opening line that’s hard to beat: ‘My eyes snapped open in the strange gray light of early morning as a grizzly grunted hot breath in my face.’

There are plenty of instances of lynching in the real Old West, where official law and order officers were rare. Sometimes they had racial (not to say racist) motivations. Between 1848 and 1860, white Americans lynched at least 163 Mexicans in California alone. On July 5, 1851, a mob in Downieville, California, lynched a Mexican woman named Josefa Segovia. She was accused of killing a white man who had attempted to assault her after breaking into her home. On October 24, 1871, a mob rampaged through Old Chinatown in Los Angeles, killing at least 18 Chinese-Americans, after a white businessman had inadvertently been killed, caught in the crossfire of a Tong battle within the Chinese community.

Sometimes lynching’s were carried out when groups of individuals banded together to deal with outlawry in areas where there was no official law. Or, as in early 1860s in Montana, where the ‘official law’ turned out to law-breakers themselves. HENRY PLUMMER, Sheriff of Bannack, was suspected of being part of a gang of road agents plundering the area. He was dragged off to a hanging tree by The Vigilance Committee of Alder Gulch in 1864.

Henry Plummer
In 1884 cattlemen in Montana organised against rustlers operating in the Musselshell River region. Led by prominent rancher, GRANVILLE STUART, this group of vigilantes, known as "Stuart's Stranglers", were responsible for the deaths of at least 20 thieves in July 1884, by hanging, shootings or fire.

Granville Stuart
Many outlaws fell foul of ‘lynch law,’ particularly the gang led by the RENO BROTHERS. They robbed and killed across the Midwest in the years immediately after the American Civil War, and carried out the first train robbery in U.S. history at Seymour, Indiana on October 6th 1866. Later three of the gang were captured and taken by train to gaol. On July 10, 1868, three miles outside Seymour, the prisoners were taken off the train, and hanged from a nearby tree by a group of masked men calling itself the Scarlet Mask Society or the Jackson County Vigilance Committee. Three other gang members were captured shortly after. In a grisly repeat, they too fell into the hands of vigilantes and were hanged from the same tree. The site became known as ‘Hangman’s Crossing, Indiana.’

Frank Reno
Finally FRANK RENO and three more gang members were captured and held in the New Albany, Indiana gaol. On the night of December 11, about 65 hooded men forced their way into the gaol and dragged the prisoners from their cells and lynched them – making a total of 10 Reno gang members lynched in the course of 1868.
Grizzly bears deserve a blog all to themselves. Movies about grizzly attacks include THE REVENANT and MAN IN THE WILDERNESS, both about HUGH GLASS, a ‘mountain man’ mauled by a grizzly in 1823.

Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant

Lynch law features in many a western including books/movies like THE OX BOW INCIDENT


‘Mayo is a breezy yarn-spinner… steeped in authenticity and boiled in action’


‘An original piece of work’

‘In the great tradition of noirish Westerns’

Wednesday, 31 January 2018


Mike Linaker is, like me, a Brit who writes westerns. He’s written under various names, producing traditional Westerns under the name RICHARD WYLER, creating and writing a pair of successful Western series, Bodie the Stalker and Brand, under the name NEIL HUNTER, and continuing the Frank Angel series as FREDERICK H. CHRISTIAN. In addition, he's written a number of Mack Bolan novels, as well as contributing entries to some of the Bolan spin-off series, and authoring the science fiction/police procedural series Cade.

Mike, writing as NEIL HUNTER, began his series featuring bounty hunter Bodie ‘The Stalker’ with TRACKDOWN. Bodie is hired by tycoon and aspiring politician Lyle Trask to hunt down the notorious Reefer gang, who terrorise the lawless U.S./ Mexico border country.

Historical evidence for old west bounty-hunters (at least those not after Native American scalps) seems to be sketchy. I have blogged about some of these men – from Charles Siringo to scalp-hunters like James Kirker – before.

Scalp-hunter James Kirker

The most famous was probably Tom Horn, (1860 – 1903) but even he never called himself a bounty hunter. He referred to himself as a ‘cattle detective’ or a ‘range detective.’ Horn started off as an army scout pursuing Apaches in Arizona, and was present at Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886.

A young Tom Horn with Apache scouts

He later served as a deputy sheriff in Colorado, went on to work for the Pinkerton Detective Agency and hired out to various Wyoming cattle outfits. A rancher said of him: ‘He classed cattle thieves with wolves and coyotes, and looked upon himself as a benefactor of society in destroying them.’ He was reported to have said: ‘Killing men is my speciality. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.’  His controversial life ended after he was accused of shooting a 14-year old boy from ambush. Found guilty of murder, he climbed the Cheyenne, Wyoming gallows on November 20th 1903.

Tom Horn in gaol awaiting execution

Whatever the reality, bounty hunters are certainly popular with western writers. As well as featuring often in western novels, they were common on screen during the heyday of the TV Western. Steve McQueen made an appearance as bounty hunter Josh Randall in the 50s TV western series also called ‘Trackdown.’ This made such an impact it got him his own spin off TV series ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’

Steve McQueen and Robert Culp in ‘Trackdown

In the movies bounty hunters have been played by everyone from Henry Fonda to Randolph Scott. After ‘Rawhide’ Clint Eastwood re-launched his career spectacularly playing ‘the man with no name’ in the so-called ‘Dollar Trilogy’ of ‘Spaghetti Westerns.’

Reviews of TRACKDOWN:

‘This is an action-packed story and I didn't put it down until I finished it.’

‘This book starts with a bang and just rockets along, propelled by Hunters lean prose.’

‘Top notch western.’

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Mike Linaker is, like me, a Brit who writes westerns. He’s written under various names, producing traditional Westerns as RICHARD WYLER, creating and writing a pair of successful Western series, Bodie the Stalker and Brand, under the name NEIL HUNTER, and continuing the Frank Angel series as FREDERICK H. CHRISTIAN. In addition, he's written a number of Mack Bolan novels, as well as contributing entries to some of the Bolan spin-off series, and authoring the science fiction/police procedural series Cade.

Mike, writing as NEIL HUNTER, began his series featuring Jason Brand, former army scout and deputy U.S. marshal, with GUN FOR HIRE. Brand has lost his deputy marshal’s badge due to perceived brutality and is now a bounty hunter. A wealthy rancher in New Mexico hires Brand to rescue his daughter from kidnappers. The pursuit leads Brand into Mexico and ultimately into a Rurales prison – ‘El Casa Muerte’ - the House of Death.
Rurales is Spanish for ‘rurals.’ This mounted rural police force was founded by BENITO JUAREZ in 1861. Four corps, each with 20 officers and 255 other ranks, were established. They were too few and poorly organised to effectively control the banditry widespread in Mexico during the 1860s and 1870s. Following his accession to power in 1877, President PORFIRIO DÍAZ expanded the Rurales to nearly 2,000 by 1889. Initially some captured bandits were forcibly inducted into the Rurales. Officers were usually seconded from the Federal Army.

Rurales officer
The Rurales were heavily armed; carrying cavalry sabres, Remington carbines, lassos and pistols. They wore a distinctive grey uniform braided in silver, which was modelled on the national charro dress and included wide felt sombreros, bolero jackets, tight fitting trousers with silver buttons down the seams, and red or black neckties. They were variously described as ‘the world's most picturesque policemen’ and ‘mostly bandits.’ 

Under Diaz, the Rurales became increasingly politicised, as much an arm of repressive government as a law-enforcement force. They acquired an image as a ruthless organization which – under the notorious ‘ley fuga’ - ‘law of flight’ – seldom took prisoners, shot captives without trial or arranged to have them killed ‘trying to escape.’ However, research by Professor Paul J. Vanderwood during the 1970s indicated that the Rurales were neither as effective nor as brutal as regime publicists had suggested.

Rurales execute prisoners
In the later years of the regime they were increasingly used to control industrial unrest, in addition to the traditional task of patrolling country areas.
The remains of the Guardia Rural were finally disarmed and disbanded during July–August 1914, during the Mexican Revolution.
Historical evidence for bounty hunters in the Old West is scant but they’re certainly popular in western fiction. They’ve been portrayed by everyone from Randolph Scott in ‘Ride Lonesome

to Clint Eastwood as the mysterious ‘Man with No Name’ in the so-called ‘Dollar Trilogy.’

Steve McQueen came to fame as the bounty hunter hero of the TV series ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’

A mission to rescue a woman held captive in Mexico made me think of the 1966 movie ‘The Professionals.’

Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Lee Marvin in 'The Professionals'

Reviews of GUN FOR HIRE:

‘Linaker spins a fine yarn here. Brand is a good, well-developed character, not wholly sympathetic but enough so that the reader has no trouble rooting for him… The prose is suitably gritty, dusty, and hardboiled, and the action scenes, of which there are plenty, are excellent… It's a fast, very entertaining Western novel.’

‘Very exciting situations… a good sense of humour.’

‘This is a fast action western with twist and turns. Well written… with a great ending. I loved it.’

Wednesday, 17 January 2018


Harlan Hague had already won wide acclaim for his non-fiction (‘One of our great western historians’) before he turned his hand to western novels. One of Harlan’s strengths is tackling stories and settings largely over-looked in western fiction: A PLACE FOR MEI LIN (winner of the GOLD WILL ROGERS MEDALLION AWARD) is set in the gold-mining camps of the Sawtooth Mountains region of Idaho.

Mining camp Atlanta, Idaho late 19th Century

Aimless drifter Caleb Willis rescues a young Chinese girl, Mei Lin, from prostitution and begins to find himself again. At the same time they face threats from both locals and federal government trying to remove the Chinese from Idaho, by violence if need be.

In 1848 there were only an estimated 323 Chinese immigrants in the U.S.A. By 1852 there were 25,000 – 2,000 arriving in one day. The reason, of course, was the California gold rush. Over the next decades Chinese immigrants arrived to work as labourers, particularly on transcontinental railroads such as the Central Pacific Railroad, and in the mines.

Chinese workers in the 19th Century West:

While industrial employers were eager to get this cheap labour, basic racial prejudice among the ordinary white public led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, extended by the Geary Act in 1892. These laws not only prevented new immigration from China but also brought additional suffering as they prevented the reunion of the families of thousands of Chinese men already living in the United States (that is, men who had left China without their wives and children); anti-miscegenation laws in many states prohibited Chinese men from marrying white women.

They had to pay special taxes and couldn’t acquire American citizenship. They were sometimes subject to acts of violence, such as the massacre in Hells Canyon, Oregon in 1887, where as many as 34 Chinese miners were murdered.

Only in 1943 was Chinese immigration to the United States once again permitted, by way of the Magnuson Act, and the Chinese in America gradually achieved their full rights.

The issue of prostitution on the frontier deserves at least another blog all to itself!

A PLACE FOR MEI LIN’s setting of a Northwestern mining camp made me think of McCABE AND MRS. MILLER (which also has a turn-of-the-century dating)

WARREN BEATTY in 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller'

PALE RIDER (set in California but partly filmed in the Sawtooth Mountains)

CLINT EASTWOOD (and the Sawtooth Mountains) in 'Pale Rider'

and RIVER OF NO RETURN (which is Idaho’s Salmon River.)


The Chinese element naturally brought to mind the TV series ‘Kung Fu.


The Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Reviewers of A PLACE FOR MEI LIN:

‘A marvellously researched and detailed work, recommended for historical and romance novel fans alike.’

‘A wonderful, enjoyable read.’

‘A splendidly written tale of danger and prejudice, of redemption and unexpected love… sure to become a Western classic.’

A PLACE FOR MEI LIN is an exceptionally satisfying story that warms the heart .... Written by a master story teller, A PLACE FOR MEI LIN will find a welcome place on any bookshelf.’