“The Lone Hand Tracker” by William West Winter

66 The Lone Hand Tracker

Book 66 is “The Lone Hand Tracker” by William West Winter.

It’s unclear (to me) where this long novelette first appeared. The book sports an original copyright notice of 1924. None of the tales recorded thus far, on FictionMags, remotely match this story. The cover art hails from an unknown edition of Short Stories magazine. While unsigned, it appears to be the work of James Reynolds.

The tale itself is dreadfully slow and drags on. It is nearly a Western nor a true wilderness tale, although it clearly leans more toward the latter.

Hartley Peckham is, essentially, a bounty hunter. He is also an excellent tracker. With the state overrun by outlaws, the governor contracts Peckham and desires to swear him in as an officer of the law, but Peckham works alone, and works according to his own rules. Thus retained, we find Peckham in the opening pages trailing a wagon heading deep into the wilderness, when he spots foot prints running back away from the tracks of the wagon. Then he notes that the tracks reverse direction and return in the direction of the wagon. It is not long before he also notes that a bear is running after the wagon, and he rightly surmises that the girl foolishly tried to pot the bear and it charged them.

The bear chose to pursue the wagon, leaving the girl stranded. She attempts to find her own way but becomes hopelessly lost. Peckham tracks her down and, rescuing her, brings her to the local settlement. Here, she is handed over to her fiance, Doctor Bristow.

Peckham seems interested in some recent news of a heist, but you can feel the tension radiating between the doctor and himself. Further, he alludes to the fact that he is aware that the girl’s father is a wanted man, having stolen bank funds.

She immediately throws in her lot with the doctor and anyone (legal or otherwise) to overthrow the shackles of Peckham. She doesn’t want her father caught, and doesn’t realize that she is entirely in a bad situation.

As the novel progresses, we eventually learn that she hardly knows the doctor, that he himself is not as he seems (actually a convict whom fled from the West and assumed another man’s identity who IS a doctor in Chicago), and further that, he is in league with local outlaws and they plan to strip her father and her of the bank funds and leave them, in all likelihood, for dead.

Finally realizing her predicament, she is left to self-pity and vainly hoping that Peckham, a man she has made clear to plainly detest and vocally wish death upon, would come and rescue her!

Instead, she makes good her escape, accidentally, with the aid of one of Peckham’s friends, a cripple. They totter over the side and into a valley, falling most a long way down and bloodying themselves up real good.

Three of the outlaws try to pursue them, but to no avail. They ride off to the nearest town to obtain the loot, which the father had hid in a bank vault. They have the key and papers now in their possession, having obtained the key from the father and slaying him. The daughter feels no remorse for him, for her father turned out to be more interested in his own well-being than for hers.

Three remaining outlaws from the bank heist remain at the camp site, and Peckham and two others ride hard in and gun them down. Immediately Peckham puts his tracking abilities to work and most the day later, finally finds a way down to the bottom of the ravine, and nearing night, discovers the pair, asleep against a tree. They would have frozen to death over night.

Safe and secure again, Peckham takes the girl to town, beating the outlaws, since he knows short-cuts, and while at the bank in the morning to withdraw the funds they are beset upon by the criminals. Guns are drawn and they die while Peckham is creased across the ribs.

The tale clumsily wraps up with the girl acknowledging her interest in this beastly man, and he eventually takes her back to the deep woods, to claim as his own.

In conclusion, the book isn’t awful, but, it simply was not for me. I’ve never read a story by Winter prior, but, this one didn’t instill any interest in me to pursue him any further. That aside, his working knowledge of the wilderness, etc, is well-written indeed, but the flow of the story simply did not appeal to this reader.

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“The Lone Hand Tracker” by William West Winter

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