W. C. TUTTLE – Straws in the Wind. Hillman #26, paperback, no date stated [1949?]. Hardcover edition: Houghton Mifflin, February 1948. First published as a 38 page story in Short Stories, July 10, 1938.
I remember reading a lot of Tuttle’s work back when I first started reading paperback westerns in the late 1950s: Luke Short, Max Brand and so on, the early Gold Medal’s, westerns published by Popular Library and lots and lots of Dell’s by authors no one but me would me would remember, and me only barely.
I also remember listening to the Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens radio show on Mutual, two of Tuttle’s most famous characters — a pair of cattlemen’s detectives, as I recall, whose adventures took them all over the Old West.
Not too many collectors of old time radio shows know about the program, by the way, and as far as I know, only two of the programs still exist, both badly trimmed to fit into the Armed Forces redistribution format. I remember the program distinctly, however, surprisingly so, given my extreme youth at the time. As a matter of fact, it was Tuttle himself who appeared and introduced each episode on the air – but I digress.
In any case, when I started Straws in the Wind, it had been a long time since I’d read anything at all by Tuttle, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect — you can’t always go back to old favorites and expect them to be new favorites all over again — but as soon as I started reading it – see if this makes sense – it was exactly as I expected.
That’s from the very first paragraph on. See what you think:
No one seemed to know the exact age of Granny Miles. Over a hundred, they said. She was a small, antiquated morsel of humanity, her little face etched with a million fine lines which seemed multiplied around her eyes, which were clear and still very blue. She carried a gnarled stick in lieu of a cane, and thumped herself around with an alacrity seldom seen in one of her age.
Granny, as it happens, is an oracle of sorts, forecasting to Donna Weir as soon as the book begins that trouble is coming. If Tuttle is not exactly a teller of tall tales, he comes awfully close – a yarn spinner of some magnitude. The usual kind of opening that almost every western begins with comes at the start of Chapter Two:
Jack Dean drew rein at the top of the grade and looked back at the long slope, where the dirt road twisted over the hills out of the haze of the distance. The old road looked like broken bits of dirty-yellow ribbon, stretched over the hills out of the haze.
Ahead of him the road ran through a natural cut in the hills, after which it sloped sharply into Council Valley.
At the age of 22, Dean is returning to the valley after an absence of twelve years. His father, Wolf Dean, had ruled Council Valley for 25 years, and Jack assumes that the reason the telegram had requested his return was that his father was dead. Which is true. The older man had been murdered, shot through a window in his home, and the killer has not been found.
Confronting one of the residents of Lost Horse, a moonshiners’ settlement in the other end of the valley, here’s Jack Dean in action (pages 26-27 of the Hillman edition):
Jack’s left hand flashed out, his fingers hooking into the collar of Sol Feeney’s shirt. Then he fairly lifted Feeney off his feet and pulled him so close that their noses almost touched. Feeney struggled for a moment, but realized he was no match for this hard-muscled young man.
“You and your dirty gang of murderers killed my father,” said Jack quietly, “and you’ve got the gall to threaten me. Feeney, I’m not afraid of you and your killers, and you can pack that word to them. You’ll find that Wolf Pup can cut and slash as hard as the Old Wolf. You killed him, hoping that I wouldn’t come back. Well, I’m back – so make the most of it.”
I would imagine that those paragraphs would constitute a review in themselves, if the purpose of a review is allow you to decide whether a given book is one that you’d care to read, or not.
There is a girl, of course, if you’ll allow me to keep on talking anyway. We met Donna in Chapter One, and of course she lives in the wrong end of the valley. She favors Jack, however, and she is willing to risk the wrath of her father by giving Jack a heads-up warning when she knows he is about to get into trouble. In return, her father is determined to marry her off to someone else, and she is made a prisoner in her own home, all the way up to her wedding day.
Jack is asked to take his father’s place on the local ruling Council – Lost Horse having no representation, to their continuing and growing irritation – but he is not sure that the Council really wants anything to do with his new ideas, most of which would mean their giving up some of the power they are used to having.
With an open seat at stake, the whole valley is about to explode. It’s about as stable as – a straw in the wind, you might say – and Jack Dean is at the center of it. Another straw is Donna’s grandmother, who just might be able to say who her granddaughter should be marrying, and that does not mean the intellectually challenged Len McFee, the fellow chosen by her father.
There is more than a modicum of gunfire in this book, as you can tell from the cover, but I don’t imagine that I am giving anything away when I say that in spite of the obstacles in their way, good hearts do prevail. It all turns out well, in other words, especially when you consider how much (or how little) of the valley is left standing when everything is over. Whatever anyone might say, they certainly don’t write them very much like this any more.
And all seriousness aside — keeping in mind that I mentioned Tuttle as very much a teller of tall tales, didn’t I? — there are also parts of Straws in the Wind that tickled my funny bone considerably, this way and the other, and the book just might affect you that way, too.
— Reprinted from Durn Tootin’ #7 , July
2005 (considerably shortened and revised).
[UPDATE] 02-28-14. A chunk of the earlier version of this review contained a checklist of all of Tuttle’s fiction that ever appeared in paperback, along with some comments and other discussion of his overall body of work by me. I’ll not include the commentary here, as much of it is out of date, but I see no reason why the checklist should not be included here.
I have made no attempt to expand or update this list, so please take this as a work in progress. Whitledge-Clark refers to a mimeographed checklist of all of Tuttle’s western fiction, not just that which appeared in paperback. Said I at the time:
“… someone offered for sale on eBay [and I won] a complete checklist of Tuttle’s works – a fanzine titled The Hitching Rail
, published by Fred C. Whitledge and William J. Clark.
“This issue, done in mimeo, is Volume 2, #1, and it came out ‘Sometime in 1975.’”
● Indicates a title not listed in Whitledge-Clark.
●● Indicates a title listed in Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Second Edition, but for which no further confirmation of its existence has been discovered.
● The Devil’s Payday. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, October 10, 1922.
● The Law of the Range. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? Found on ABE only in a hardcover four-in-one edition with three other authors.
● Powder Law. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
●● Sad Sontag Plays His Hunch. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, —? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
● Sontag of Sundown. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, July 10, 1922.
● Spawn of the Desert. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, May 10, 1922.
● Straight Shooting. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, August 10, 1924. No copies found on ABE.
● Tramps of the Range. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
The Mystery of the Red Triangle, Avon #53, 1944.
● Blind Trail at Sunrise, Royce Quick Reader #148, small-sized (approx. 3″ x 5″), 1945. NOTE: A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, April 10, 1933.
Bluffer’s Luck, Western Novel of the Month #27, digest-sized, 1945; Hillman #5, 1948
Tumbling River Range, Western Novel of the Month ##33, digest-sized, 1945; Hillman #2, 1948.
The Keeper of Red Horse Pass, Western Novel of the Month #41, digest-sized, 1945.
The Tin God of Twisted River, Western Novel of the Month #46, digest-sized, 1945.
The Dead-Line, Western Novel of the Month #50, digest-sized, 1945.
Hashknife of the Double Bar 8. Western Novel of the Month #55, digest-sized, 1945.
Singing River, Popular Library #96, 1946.
● The Vultures of Vacaville, Western Novel of the Month #108, digest-sized, 1946. No prior appearance of a Tuttle story by this name is known.
Hidden Blood, Popular Library #149, 1948.
Valley of Vanishing Herds, Popular Library #165, 1948.
Straws in the Wind, Hillman #26, 1949.
The Redhead from Sun Dog, Hillman #28, 1949.
Trouble at the JHC, Hillman #40, 1949. Original title: The Mystery at the JHC Ranch.
Wild Horse Valley, Popular Library #203, 1949.
Twisted Trails, Popular Library #249, 1950. Original title: The Santa Dolores Stage (Houghton Mifflin, 1934). NOTE: There is some confusion about this attribution. According to some sources, the hardcover edition of this book was The Valley of the Twisted Trails (Houghton Mifflin, 1931), but this assertion does not appear to be substantiated.
Hashknife of Stormy River, Hillman #37, 1950.
Shotgun Gold, Popular Library #297, Dec 1950.
The Trouble Trailer, Popular Library #330, Apr 1951.
Gun Feud, Popular Library #354, July 1951. Abridged edition. Original title: Wandering Dogies.
Thunderbird Range, Pyramid #370, 1958.
● The Redhead of Aztec Wells [+] Trouble at War Eagle, Tor Western Double #14, Jan 1991. Book #1 appeared in West, August 1946. Book #2 has a 1950 copyright date, but where it first appeared, no one seems to know.