In a switch from prolifically reading British wartime (that would be the Second World War) and American science fiction tales, I will be reading henceforward a series of books ostensibly nearly printed in the format of dime novels, issued by Garden City Publications, during the 1920s.
It is unclear how or when the first true issues were released, but one thing is known for certain, the series initially began with 12 issues. The earliest ads (the oldest being in February 1923) clearly advertised 12 titles.
What I believe, after years of exhaustive research, to be the Second Editions, would be the Sears, Roebuck & Co. editions. These feature white spines again, but, support ads on the reverse for owners to buy other titles in the series (see image below). Furthermore, unlike the above ad, this ad showcases 16 titles.
Oddly enough, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. advert notes that the first dozen titles are broken into two series, representing 8 each. Garden City would come to eventually run off 8 more in the original adventure stories series to bring the total to 24.
A third edition exists with blank spine and ads on the rear cover and with FIRST EDITION firmly stamped on the copyright page. Quite irksome….
A fourth edition also features a blank spine, with various miscellaneous adverts per title on the rear, but no FIRST EDITION designation. These are fun to collect for the rear cover ads, honestly. They each advertise for Garden City Publications, but one ad is uniquely adapted strictly for the series (see below). Most (not all) of the first 24 titles in the run all borrowed their origins from Short Stories magazine.
After this, the series morphed into the Famous Authors Series (numbers 25 through 36), then veered off into the Mystery and Detection Series (37 through 48). Numbers 49 and 50 are non-fiction, self-help titles. Numbers 51 though 60 returned to the publishers roots with The Western Series. Numbers 61 and 62 are denoted as Boy’s Adventure Series, and 63 returned, bafflingly, to a non-fiction edition.
Hereafter the number can become mind-boggling. The run ostensibly becomes known as The New Western Series, and totals 24 in all, though it appears the series was cancelled precisely at the 16th title, despite announcing on the rear of these later editions forthcoming titles and dates! Theoretically, these last 16 published editions ought to represent numbers 64 through 79, however, the 75th title is the last (that I have found) to sport that sequential numbering upon the spine. What should be numbers 76, 77, 78, and 79 actually sport spine numbers 13, 14, 15, and 16, a clear indication that Garden City had decided to treat the run, entirely, as a NEW SERIES separate from the original 63 titles.
Overall, the whole series has never had an official designation, though an interview with one of the original staffers at Garden City Publications (the infamous Robert de Graff, later of Pocket Books fame) comically referred to the items as the Omelet Library series. Sadly, several researchers have taken this to heart and continue to refer to the “dime novels” as this, even though this is far from accurate. It was de Graff’s first venture into trying to offer the American reading public a soft cover of quality at a reasonable price. History shows that he eventually would come to succeed….
Switching gears, slightly, de Graff and staff editors further confused the publications. Rather than resort to utilizing the covers featured on the original pulp magazines in which the stories were featured, they recycled alternative covers that they felt were more appropriately connected to the tales themselves, since the covers on the pulps did not necessarily pertain to the novelette itself.
So, without further ado, let us proceed to the first book in the series which I am covering….
“Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande,” by Stephen Chalmers, was originally printed in Short Stories (25 October 1921). However, the book’s cover originated with Short Stories (25 August 1922) edition. The story itself was translated into a motion picture (4 June 1923) in America, and later, overseas in English and foreign-speaking countries.
The story opens with our hero, William John Pepper, a bored cowpuncher on a ranch, mentally lamenting that he, not his bunk-mates, is the freak, the outcast, working the ranch. He dresses and behaves exactly like a throwback western character, down to the dress code, the guns, the mannerisms, etc. His mates are literate, pursue music endeavors, and are most notably modernly dressed. Regretting that he was born decades too late, he yearns for that earlier era into which he was born. While digressing upon his lamentations, the literary member of the group discusses with him Don Quixote.
Impulsive and fickle by nature, with a queer sense of humor, Pepper is enthralled with the ideals of the character. He immediately takes to calling himself Don Quickshot and resigns his post at the ranch to pursue livelier pursuits.
His first job entails a railroad hold-up, in which he brings the local to a stop, and instructs the workers to issue refunds to those aboard, detailing that the rail industry is a hoax and ought to be freely giving rides, that they are clearly overcharging. This leads to much mirth, especially when he breaks out into comedic sing-song banter. He facetiously flaunts his new chosen name, and his middle name is “Lookin’-f’r-Trouble.” (NOTE: Pepper returns in the 10 March 1925 issue of Short Stories magazine with his nickname being the story’s title; this is also #69 in the soft cover series as “Don Quickshot Looking for Trouble”).
The story is briefly marred by Chalmers referencing the black railway staff as “colored staff” and as “Niggers,” though he does not do so in a racial manner.
While aboard, a young lady, Miss Tulip Hellier, can’t resist laughing at the man’s antics. While most are afraid for their lives, Tulip, returning from her Eastern formal education, finds Pepper to be amusing. Their eyes meet and while winking playfully at her, he unwittingly reveals his identity. The wink causes his red handkerchief to fall off his face for a brief second. Despite this, she does not reveal the knowledge to the sheriff, whom is dang-blasted elated to welcome her back home to Los Indios.
The sheriff drafts a wanted poster, and in breezes Ranger Bolton, on the trail of some other unmentioned desperado. Reading the poster, Bolton takes on the task of bringing the hold-up man to justice. He rides out to where the hold-up occurred and finds one set of horse tracks leading north. The horse is clearly lame, and he follows the tracks to Tres Hermanas ranch, where her father is holding a dance party in honor of his returning daughter, Tulip.
Pepper, erstwhile known to us as the playful Don Quickshot, crashes the party, politely, and asks for Tulip’s hand in the dance. They do the twirl and she teasingly states “You must be looking for trouble,” indicating she knows his true identity. He snatches a playful kiss but defends his motion by stating he is impulsive by nature, that it was harmless.
In walks the Ranger, and he confronts the father, asking if there are any strangers present (which seems absurd, since clearly the hold-up man need not be a stranger, but an employee). Annoyed that the Ranger is there on business while he is holding his daughter’s party, Mr. Hellier is gruff and unhelpful. Unfortunately for Pepper, song breaks out and he takes to boisterously singing the same as that which he sang on the train! Ranger Bolton notices and taps Pepper on the shoulder, and Pepper denies him the right to “cut in,” tells him to beg off and find another gal. Pepper then catches on that the law has caught up to him, trips Bolton, bolts for an exit, only to find that barred access by the local sheriff. The girl snatches a whisper to him to jump to the rafters and out the ceiling, onto the roof.
While performing aerial acrobatics up to the sky, Bolton recovers from his fall and escapes without and waits Pepper’s arrival at his lame horse. Pepper, upon the roof, takes in the situation, dives off the other side and ends up accidentally stealing Bolton’s ultra-fast black steed!
Bolton is denied access to the rancher’s horses, and ends up pursuing using Pepper’s lame horse, all the way back to Los Indios. Here, he gambles away some of his money and discovers the wheel is fixed by the man running it, Lazaire. Plying the wheel with his waning earnings is Hale, a drunkard with a wife (Jenny, an old childhood friend of Tulip’s) and four children, waiting for him back home. Seeing a bad situation, Pepper draws Lazaire into drawing his gun and shoots him dead, but not before telling him to return the misbegotten funds to Hale. He instructs Hale to head home, never spend his money the like again, and reform himself, which, remarkably, Hale takes to heart and does just that!
Before escaping, Pepper is arrested on the spot by Bolton, whom arrived and heard the gunshot. Locked away in Los Idios’ pathetic excuse for a jail cell (a converted clothes’ closet), Bolton listens to Pepper’s life story as Don Quickshot and his rationale behind everything. The next day Bolton manacles the man, stops a federal express loaded to bear with firearms and ammunition, and boards the last rail car with his man, to be brought to trial.
Unbeknownst to all (save the savvy readers) we are further introduced to the Mexican desperado Chico Villegas. He has arranged to heist the train within the Grand Canyon, just across the border. He and his men succeed and the train derails, rolls, and most on-board die or are shot dead by Chico’s men.
Pepper comes to, and finds Bolton either dead or unconscious. Neither way matters to him at the moment. He is unclear what happened, save that the train flipped, he’s alive, and must escape. Finding the keys inside Bolton’s pocket, and unlocks the manacles and makes to blow, when Bolton finally groggily comes to. Unable to leave the man to die in the raging inferno, he assists Bolton out of the train, steals a horse from Chico’s men, borrows one of Bolton’s revolvers, and takes off, but only after ascertaining that Bolton is safe and will survive.
While crossing the border, the train explodes and the local brush erupts into a wildfire and burns north toward the nearest ranch. Hale and Jenny’s! Realizing they’ll die, he declines freedom and races his horse to their rescue. Alerting Hale of impending doom, together they hoe and hack away all the brush nearby while Jenny hits and sparks with her brush into submission. This goes on all day long, and they find themselves in a bitter battle against a raging fire. Likely to lose, they are astounded to see a figure appear out of the flames. It’s Bolton!
Pepper curses himself, for he left Bolton’s revolver at the ranch. Unarmed, he finds himself shocked to learn that Bolton is more interested in saving the ranchers, too. Pepper insists the best way to save them is for Bolton to ride like the wind to Hellier’s ranch, and get help. He promises Bolton that he won’t flee. Bolton believes him, and does just that.
Halfway there, a rainstorm miraculously kicks up and saves the day. Desperately in need of rest, rather than return and arrest Pepper, Bolton continues on to Hellier’s. He returns the next day with Hellier, Tulip, and others. They beg him not to arrest Pepper, and he agrees to give Pepper a 30-minute head start. Tulip surrenders her pinto, which is nicknamed “Pep.” Turns out “Pep” is a real pip, for sure can sure churn up the dirt under her hooves!
Pepper barely beats out Bolton to the border and crosses safely. Unfortunately, the plot becomes further twisted when he comes across the Mexican bandit again, and overhears a plot to raid the town with their weapons, and worst yet, kidnap Tulip, for a hefty ransom.
Pepper returns to Los Indios, alerts the town, and flees toward the Hellier ranch to save girl. He fails. The bandit, Chico, has already been there, and even now, is fleeing toward Mexico. However, he is burdened by his horse carrying two. Pepper eventually overtakes Chico and draws him into a gun-battle that leaves Chico blinded in an eye when sand spurts in from one of Pepper’s shots. Tulip alerts him to this fact, and permits Chico to escape, since he respects the hombre’s motives, on some level.
Faced with the unerring reality of impending doom, Pepper saddles up and returns to the ranch with Tulip. Bolton is waiting for him. While all try to argue with Bolton, begging for him to not arrest Pepper, Bolton explains that he represents the law, and must perform his duties, but, however, explains that Pepper will be tried by a jury of his peers, and might either get off or do light time in a penitentiary.
The book ends with him being taken away and a last parting kiss with Tulip, asserting that unless they put him away for the next 67-years, she can rest assured that he will be back!