The 25 December 1921 pulp issue of Short Stories boasted the above pictured novelette, “The Canyon of the Green Death,” which, in all honesty, is a real humdinger. It ticks off numerous points that I found to be quite pleasing out of what should only have been a western.
Unlike our preceding authors, Buckley was neither American nor Canadian. Frederick Robert Buckley was born the 20 December 1896 in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England. He became a naturalized citizen on 2 May 1923 via the Superior Ct. in Fairfield County.
But to return to the novelette…. It begins with a fellow riding into a small town and finding the sheriff winged. He makes polite with the sheriff, a very young man, and then boldly asks what happened to him. He’s already properly surmised what did happen, but asks anyway. The sheriff becomes annoyed and hurls questions of his own.
We find our hero to be one J. C. Lonnergan (a name never mentioned again) in favor of his nickname, Lanky Lon, working currently as an officer for the United States Secret Service. His mission: to track down Chinese illegals. Rumor has it that tons of them have been making their way through this area, but Lon has temporarily lost the trail. Sheriff hasn’t heard anything of this, so Lon makes to leave but they are assaulted by a madman.
They beat off the fellow, and find that the madman has dropped a locket, depicting a lovely young lady whom the sheriff had seen weeks earlier, but vanished. He’s sweet on her, love at first sight, I suppose. Either way, he’s hooked on her. That aside, Lon decides to ride out into the desert and help track the assailant. But, when they ride out afar, Lon announces he must part ways with the green sheriff, since his mission is not that of the sheriff’s.
However, whilst riding away, the sheriff had ridden partly into a canyon and fires off a salvo of shots, bringing Lon back. The sheriff shows him what he has found. A dead Chinaman. Worse, aside from the part about being dead, he is gaunt and his body looks hollowed out beyond natural human conditions. Baffled and likely wanting to puke from their grisly discovery, they are soon assaulted by a long-distance rifle-man, whom pops off shots at their horses with the intent of popping holes through their water bags.
Lon realizes the dire predicament, and they grab what is left of the bags and the horses eventually are shot down. Stranded, miles from town, and without enough water, they are dead. Oddly enough, another cowboy rides in, and he is promptly shot down. Turns out he is another law enforcer, known to Lon. They rescue and pull the wounded Billy to safety. Realizing they are dead meat, they ride with the unconscious Billy upon a horse, toward the killer, and surrender.
Here, they are bodily searched and stripped of weapons, all save for a few hide-aways are found. They are led into a canyon, which around a corner, they find huts and buildings, etc., a small mining community. And tons of seemingly blind, gaunt, Chinamen, with a mixture of whites thrown into the mix.
Aside from the badly wounded Billy, the pair of shackled and sent down into a mine. The killers do not follow, for the mine means death to all that remain. It glows green in the darkness, and the sheriff and Lon come to realize they are in a radium mine, picking away chips and shoveling it into a barrow. Realizing the full import of the dire situation, impending blindness in the daylight and perpetual green behind their eyelids in the dark and eventual insanity, and death, Lon and the sheriff discuss escape, when, to their surprise, Billy comes around and proclaims he has some weapons secreted about his person.
They make good their escape, kick in the cabin the villains are in, and rescue the girl, whom was being forced to marry the madman, whom turns out to be a psycho imbecile. The whole end of the story has the makings of a really good (or really bad, depending on your interpretation) SPICY pulp story, with the Chinese, the torture devices the villains utilize, the lecherous half-wit madman, the wealth of deadly radium, etc. It would have made for a wonderful Spicy pulp cover, no doubt.
The story ends with the sheriff and the girl hooking up, the harassed miners, on their deathbeds, walling themselves up in the mine and detonating a bomb to seal themselves in forever, and Lon riding away, with Buckley noting that Lon is carrying onward, ever onward, on a personal mission of his very own….
The implication is that Lon will return in another pulp story. Whether he ever did or not, is unknown to me. Buckley went on to eventual pulp fame with the Luigi Caradosso series in Adventure magazine, and, contributing several dozen westerns starring Peg-Leg Garfield, a sheriff whom clearly has physical restraints yet manages to fulfill his occupational hazards throughout each story, within the pages of Western Story Magazine.
I happily recommend this tale to anyone to read, but wish there had been many more tales of Lanky Lon, whom, for all intents and purposes, it truly does appear that Buckley had desired to continue building a story-line around. Oh well !!!