Taking a brief sojourn from reading crime and science fiction stories, I’ve briefly returned to reading Western stories. Not just any Western, either. These continue my further exploratory readings into author Frederick C. Davis. Having previously read some of his crime tales, as reprinted by the British publishers Sharman Ellis Ltd., I decided to extract another Western chosen by the same publisher.
Forgotten Trails carries Davis’ “Garry Grant” pseudonym and is the first in their Western Novel Library series, however, the tale did not originally appear under this alias. The novelette actually debuted under his own name in the 30 July 1927 issue of Argosy All-Story Weekly. Initially, this excited me, for the simple fact (to me) that ARGOSY ran either stories of decent quality or of arousing interest. And having recently just finished reading the author’s lost 1921 crime thriller The Copper Room, I was very much ready for a Western.
Reprinted here in a trim digest-paperback format, this Western fills out all 64 pages, and likely was reprinted around 1935-1936. The rear cover advertises their new mystery series, both also by Davis, indicating the mystery and western series each began about the same time.
The story opens with Arthur Post speeding along a dirt road in Arizona towards an old ranch, in search of the last known whereabouts of his nearly identical brother. Years earlier, his brother had written their father a letter from that location, and then vanished. Now, their father, on his death bed, has died and left the entire family fortune equally divided among his two sons. A gentleman rather than a greedy cretin, Arthur now drives West from the Big City out East, hunting his brother, to learn whether he is dead or alive.
Arriving at the ranch, he finds that the home is aflame, and lends a hand in putting out the fire. Seems the kitchen caught fire. Having finished, a young lady exclaims “Ben!” in shock. Seems she has mistaken Arthur for his brother. However, he is thrilled as this means his first lead has paid off. He has found a clue, and that clue did not turn out to be a dead end. After explaining his actual identity to the young lady (Reita Burnett) he asks for her assistance in providing further leads.
Sadly, she doesn’t know where his brother went to. He remained only a short while, determined to move along and make a man of himself. Prove himself worthy to his father, who rejected him years earlier, for being likewise rejected by the army during The Great War as unfit to serve. This failure to meet the needs of the nation was too great for their father and he was cast out and banished. On his death-bed, the father informs Arthur that the will was unchanged and that he loves his son, Ben.
And so began Arthur’s adventures in the far West, and Reita supplies him with the names of the local sheriff and neighbors, to perhaps supply further details. Jumping once more into his coupe, he tears off and not long after, is assaulted from behind by the stereotypical “yellow menace” that pulps thrilled to have thrown into the mix. The Oriental apparently smuggled himself aboard the coupe by holding onto the rear of the vehicle and pounced upon Arthur. Having stabbed Arthur, the latter manages to dislodge his assailant and brings his coupe back upon the roadway before pitching over the precipice to his death.
Wounded and bloodied from the stabbing, he returns to Reita’s ranch to be mended. Mortified by the assault, they clean his wounds and put him to bed in a room to be shared with another man visiting from out East, a college-aged youth who is studying the local rocks, etc., for a large enterprise. The next day, they hear a noise outside and find that same man dead, bitten by a snake. He has some of his samples about his body and on his horse. Investigating the findings, Reita is nonplussed, but her husband-to-be (the ranch boss) is certain that there is great wealth in the form of coal on the lands.
Arthur visits the ranch’s neighbors, who they know has an Oriental cook and housekeeper, and the dilapidated structure is bossed by a Mexican (racially referred to as a “greaser”). Here, he finds the very same Oriental that assaulted him, an aging Mexican, who is shocked or scared at the sight of seeing Arthur (thinking he is Ben) and that man’s fiery spiteful daughter, who wields a rifle and has her sights on introducing his innards to the outside world.
Making haste his departure in search for healthier grounds, Arthur visits the town sheriff and learns that Ben left for parts unknown with two other men, one of whom was later found dead, stabbed to death. The mystery and plot thickens, and then a young boy arrives while they are talking and he appears shocked to see Arthur, as well. This boy leaves and is later found to be trying to murder the old Mexican!
Rescuing the kid from near-death at the nefarious hands of the Chinaman, Arthur compels the boy to come with him and takes his gun from him. The boy confesses that he knows who Arthur is, and that he grew up in Ben’s care, after his own father was murdered by the Mexican, years earlier.
The reader, led to believe that there is a much deeper motive at work, eventually has the tables turned on them to learn that while Davis has adroitly woven a tale with racial slurs, informs us that our preconceived notions are all wrong, and that we should not judge a person by the color of their skin. While it is true that the Mexican did murder the boy’s father, it was out of revenge for what they did earlier to him.
While on the Mexican’s own death-bed, he confesses that many years earlier, his wife was dying, and he had sent the loyal Chinaman in search of a doctor. He was captured and detained, not knowing how to speak English. Following in his steps, the Mexican went in search of a doctor but did not have a horse to speed his travels. Seeing the young boy (then as a child with three men), he spots that they have horses and steals one. Not realizing that he has performed a grave injustice, because he can only think of his own world crashing down if his wife dies, he speeds off. The men quickly jump the remaining horses, and being better riders, capture the Mexican. They tie him up and beat him mercilessly, then leave him to die. He didn’t speak English, so couldn’t convey to them his need for their horse. Extricating himself from the ropes, he knifes one man to death and pursues the others. But they have made good their escape.
Ben had gone to California and took care of the boy. Going into the cannery business, his education and developed physique eventually moved him up in the business to the point of owning a controlling interest. Fairly wealthy by his own right and hard work, he has become the man his father was assured he never would be.
All are surprised when he eventually arrives on the scene, having left California in hot pursuit of the youth, fearing the boy would attempt to murder his father’s killer. He is equally nonplussed to see his own brother. The story ends on the natural path that the brothers shake, their father’s will is explained, and while he returns West to his business with the boy (and a lot richer), Arthur remains behind to win Reita’s heart.
What? Oh, I forgot to tell you…her fiancee turns out to be a double-crossing creep, who was playing up to the Mexican’s daughter, and is already married (falsely) to her. I say falsely, because she believes she IS married to him, but, he had a fake preacher marry them. Learning that he intends to marry Reita, and confused over the matter, she eventually learns of the deceit, captures him and the preacher that intends to marry he and Reita, and wielding her rifle, with Arthur as a legal witness, holds her own version of a shotgun wedding. Removing the creep from Reita’s path, Arthur’s path is now clear to date the young lady. Turns out in typical literary fashion that Reita actually had already fallen in love with Arthur, never really loved the creep, and they sell the ranch to the rock mining interest, who arrive on the scene to proclaim that they aren’t interested in the low-grade coal found on the lands, but the large deposits of asbestos (which I find amusing that something deemed illegal these last few decades was once-upon-a-time a hot commodity). Ranch sold, the youngish couple head back East together, married.
All-in-all, it’s actually a brilliant story, all the more because Davis throws the era’s racial biases in the reader’s face(s) and then explodes it all to smithereens. This story was well-worth the read!