Authors: Louis L'Amour
HE TRAIL TO Crazy Man
contains three novel-length stories I wrote not quite four decades ago for publication in “pulp” magazines long before my first book was released. (I had been working on a novel of the sea when I went into the army for World War II, but it was never completed.) Longer on action than on characterization or background, these “magazine novels” are chapters from my early writing history. In creating them, I became so involved with my characters that their lives were still as much a part of me as I was of them long after the issues in which they appeared became collector’s items. Pleased as I was about how I brought the characters and their adventures to life in the pages of the magazines, I still wanted the reader to know more about my people and why they did what they did.
So, years later, after establishing myself as an author of books, I went back and revised and expanded these magazine works into full-length novels I published as paperbacks with different titles.
The stories in this book have long been the subject of great speculation by my avid readers. People are curious about how my paperback novels evolved from my “magazine novels” and have very much wanted to read these early versions that I’ve collected here in book form for the very first time.
“The Trail to Crazy Man,” the lead story, begins at sea, as many American life stories did, and proceeds to the Rocky Mountain region. It is the original telling of the novel
. “Riders of the Dawn” later became
in a somewhat longer version. “Showdown on the Hogback” was slightly expanded to
Showdown at Yellow Butte
The “pulp” action magazines in which these stories were first published were available on every newsstand throughout the twenties, thirties, and forties. They offered readers a wide variety of stories, from western, mystery, romance, science fiction, air, and sea backgrounds. They also offered a substantial market for a working writer. Many of us honed our skills in the “pulps,” often writing under pseudonyms, before going on to other genres or literary forms. The essentials demanded by our editors were action and color, but, above all, one had to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the story had to
In those years, before paperback books and then television rendered them obsolete seemingly in a matter of days, the action-adventure magazines could be found in every bunkhouse or ship’s forecastle, being read by the very men of whom the stories were told.
For a writer who had to make a living from his work, they were a rich lode. The pay was small, but if he could write enough he might make ends meet, even though the payment usually started at a half cent per word and rarely got above two cents a word.
Fortunately, I had lived a life of action and knew the sort of men and women I was to write about. I had been over the country, worked in the mines and lumber camps, on ranches and construction outfits, and knew the people and the language. Much of what I was to write about had happened to me, so I knew how men felt and how they reacted.
One does not suddenly become a good writer. No matter how much innate talent one has, skills must be developed and then sharpened by practice. As I have said elsewhere, a writer never knows enough and is never good enough.
The reading public is much more aware than some imagine, and among them are experts in almost any field one can name.
No field of writing demands more intimate knowledge than stories of the frontier. Conditions were changing rapidly: towns grew and died. New styles of rifles and pistols were constantly coming into being. Saddles were always being altered, and the ropes used in California were different from those used in Texas or Montana. Clothing changed, too, from any castoff or otherwise available garment to apparel designed for specific conditions and types of work.
Frontier terrain varied considerably, and nothing could be taken for granted. To speak of “desert” is not enough, for a desert in Arizona can be much different from one in California.
Oddly enough, many people do not consider California to be “western,” yet only Texas surpassed it in numbers of cattle on the range, and no greater ropers existed than the Californios with ropes so long that few Texans would attempt to use them. Los Angeles was as wild and rough as Dodge City and Deadwood.
A writer must know and understand to interpret, and the greatest of writers are those who understand human nature the best. For, in the last analysis, stories are about people, their ideas, emotions, characteristics, and how they react to stress.
Research is essential, and I have always done my own. I have no staff, not even a secretary. If mistakes are made, they are my mistakes, to be blamed upon no one else. I do not feel that I should trust research that has been filtered through somebody else’s mind. I want to find the facts myself, weigh them with my own experience, and share them with you in stories like those you are about to read.
The Trail to Crazy Man
IT WAS “CRAZY Woman” in the original story I turned in, but the editor decided he preferred to call it “Crazy Man.” I made no protest, as I was glad to sell the story and get the check that resulted. Crazy Woman Creek is in the Hole-in-the-Wall Country not far from the town of Kaycee, where Nate Champion cashed in his checks.
For many years this was the heart of Sioux Country, and later a hangout for outlaws who rode up the Middle Fork of the Powder River and through the Hole-in-the-Wall into the country beyond. The ranchers there were on friendly terms with the outlaws of the Butch Cassidy Wild Bunch.
As with the Charles Rodney of this story, many a man rode away from home and never returned. Traveling was hard and always dangerous. If a man was carrying money, he had to ride with care, as only too many were prepared to take it from him.
There are some baking-powder cans filled with gold cached someplace up on the Crazy Woman, but nobody knows exactly where, or even where to start looking.
N THE DANK, odorous forecastle, a big man with wide shoulders sat at a scarred mess table, his feet spread to brace himself against the roll of the ship. A brass hurricane lantern, its light turned low, swung from a beam overhead, and in the vague light the big man studied a worn and sweat-stained chart.
There was no sound in the forecastle but the distant rustle of the bow wash about the hull, the lazy creak of the square-rigger’s timbers, a few snores from sleeping men, and the hoarse, rasping breath of a man who was dying in the lower bunk.
The big man who bent over the chart wore a slipover jersey with alternate red and white stripes, a broad leather belt and a brass buckle, and coarse jeans. On his feet were woven leather sandals of soft, much-oiled leather. His hair was shaggy and uncut, but he was clean-shaven except for a mustache and burnsides.
The chart he studied showed the coast of northern California. He marked a point on it with the tip of his knife and then checked the time with a heavy gold watch. After a swift calculation, he folded the chart and replaced it in an oilskin packet with other papers and tucked the packet under his jersey, above his belt.
Rising, he stood for an instant, canting to the roll of the ship, staring down at the white-haired man in the lower bunk. There was that about the big man to make him stand out in any crowd. He was a man born to command, not only because of his splendid physique and the strength of his character, but because of his personality.
He knelt beside the bunk and touched the dying man’s wrist. The pulse was feeble. Rafe Caradec crouched there, waiting, watching, thinking.
In a few hours at most, possibly even in a few minutes, this man would die. In the long year at sea his health had broken down under forced labor and constant beatings, and this last one had broken him up internally. When Charles Rodney was dead he, Rafe Caradec, would do what he must.
HE SHIP ROLLED slightly, and the older man sighed and his lids opened suddenly. For a moment he stared upward into the ill-smelling darkness. Then his head turned. He saw the big man crouched beside him, and he smiled. His hand fumbled for Rafe’s.
“You—you’ve got the papers? You won’t forget?”
“I won’t forget.”
“You must be careful.”
“See my wife, Carol. Explain to her that I didn’t run away, that I wasn’t afraid. Tell her I had the money and was comin’ back. I’m worried about the mortgage I paid. I don’t trust Barkow.”
The man lay silent, breathing deeply, hoarsely. For the first time in three days he was conscious and aware.
“Take care of ’em, Rafe,” he said. “I’ve got to trust you! You’re the only chance I have! Dyin’ ain’t bad, except for them. And to think—a whole year has gone by. Anything may have happened!”
“You’d better rest,” Rafe said gently.
“It’s late for that. He’s done me in this time. Why did this happen to me, Rafe? To us?”
Caradec shrugged his powerful shoulders. “I don’t know. No reason, I guess. We were just there at the wrong time. We took a drink we shouldn’t have taken.”
The old man’s voice lowered. “You’re goin’ to try—tonight?”
Rafe smiled then. “Try? Tonight we’re goin’ ashore, Rodney. This is our only chance. I’m goin’ to see the captain first.”
Rodney smiled and lay back, his face a shade whiter, his breathing more gentle.
A year they had been together, a brutal, ugly, awful year of labor, blood, and bitterness. It had begun, that year, one night in San Francisco in Hongkong Bohl’s place on the Barbary Coast. Rafe Caradec was just back from Central America with a pocketful of money. His latest revolution was cleaned up, and the proceeds were mostly in his pocket, with some in the bank.
The months just past had been jungle months, dripping jungle, fever ridden and stifling with heat and humidity. It had been a period of raids and battles, but finally it was over, and Rafe had taken his payment in cash and moved on. He had been on the town, making up for lost time—Rafe Caradec, gambler, soldier of fortune, wanderer of the far places.
Somewhere along the route that night he had met Charles Rodney, a sun-browned cattleman who had come to Frisco to raise money for his ranch in Wyoming. They had had a couple of drinks and dropped in at Hongkong Bohl’s dive. They’d had a drink there, too, and when they awakened it had been to the slow, long roll of the sea, and the brutal voice of Bully Borger, skipper of the
Rafe had cursed himself for a tenderfoot and a fool. To have been shanghaied like any drunken farmer! He had shrugged it off, knowing the uselessness of resistance. After all, it was not his first trip to sea.
Rodney had been wild. He had rushed to the captain and demanded to be put ashore, and Bully Borger had knocked him down and booted him senseless while the mate stood by with a pistol. That had happened twice more, until Rodney returned to work almost a cripple and frantic with worry over his wife and daughter.
As always, the crew had split into cliques. One of these consisted of Rafe, Rodney, Roy Penn, Rock Mullaney and Tex Brisco. Penn had been a law student and occasional prospector. Mullaney was an able-bodied seaman, hard-rock miner, and cowhand. They had been shanghaied in Frisco in the same lot with Rafe and Rodney. Tex Brisco was a Texas cowhand who had been shanghaied from a waterfront dive in Galveston, where he had gone to look at the sea.
Finding a friend in Rafe, Rodney had told him the whole story of his coming to Wyoming with his wife and daughter, of what drouth and Indians had done to his herd, and how finally he had mortgaged his ranch to a man named Barkow.
Rustlers had invaded the country, and he had lost cattle. Finally reaching the end of his rope he had gone to San Francisco to get a loan from an old friend. In San Francisco, surprisingly, he had met Barkow and some others, and paid off the mortgage. A few hours later, wandering into Hongkong Bohl’s place, which had been recommended to him by Barkow’s friends, he had been doped, robbed, and shanghaied.
HEN THE SHIP returned to Frisco after a year, Rodney had demanded to be put ashore, and Borger had laughed at him. Then Charles Rodney had tackled the big man again, and that time the beating had been final. With Rodney dying, the
. had finished her loading and slipped out of port so he could be conveniently “lost at sea.”
The cattleman’s breathing had grown gentler, and Rafe leaned his head on the edge of the bunk, dozing.
Rodney had given him a deed to the ranch, a deed that gave him a half share, the other half belonging to Rodney’s wife and daughter. Caradec had promised to save the ranch if he possibly could. Rodney had also given him Barkow’s signed receipt for the money.
Rafe’s head came up with a jerk. How long he had slept he did not know, yet.…He stiffened as he glanced at Charles Rodney. The hoarse, rasping breath was gone; the even, gentle breath was no more. Rodney was dead.
For an instant, Rafe held the old man’s wrist. Then he drew the blanket over Rodney’s face. Abruptly, then, he got up. A quick glance at his watch told him they had only a few minutes until they would sight Cape Mendocino. Grabbing a small bag of things off the upper bunk, he turned quickly to the companionway.
Two big feet and two hairy ankles were visible on the top step. They moved, and step by step a man came down the ladder. He was a big man, bigger than Rafe, and his small, cruel eyes stared at him and then at Rodney’s bunk.
The big man rubbed a fist along his unshaven jowl. He grinned at Rafe.
“I heard him speak about the ranch. It could be a nice thing, that. I heard about them ranches. Money in ’em.” His eyes brightened with cupidity and cunning. “We share an’ share alike, eh?”
“No.” Caradec’s voice was flat. “The deed is made out to his daughter and me. His wife is to share, also. I aim to keep nothin’ for myself.”
The big man chuckled hoarsely. “I can see that!” he said. “Josh Briggs is no fool, Caradec! You’re intendin’ to get it all for yourself. I want mine!” He leaned on the handrail of the ladder. “We can have a nice thing, Caradec. They said there was trouble over there? Huh! I guess we can handle any trouble, an’ make some ourselves.”
“The Rodneys get it all,” Rafe said. “Stand aside. I’m in a hurry.”
Briggs’s face was ugly. “Don’t get high an’ mighty with me!” he said roughly. “Unless you split even with me, you don’t get away. I know about the boat you’ve got ready. I can stop you there, or here.”
Rafe Caradec knew the futility of words. There are some natures to whom only violence is an argument. His left hand shot up suddenly, his stiffened fingers and thumb making a V that caught Briggs where his jawbone joined his throat.
The blow was short, vicious, unexpected. Briggs’s head jerked back, and Rafe hooked short and hard with his right, following through with a smashing elbow that flattened Briggs’s nose and showered him with blood.
Rafe dropped his bag and then struck, left and right to the body, then left and right to the chin. The last two blows cracked like pistol shots. Josh Briggs hit the foot of the ladder in a heap, rolled over, and lay still, his head partly under the table. Rafe picked up his bag and went up the ladder without so much as a backward glance.
On the dark deck Rafe Caradec moved aft along the starboard side. A shadow moved out from the mainmast.
Two more men got up from the darkness near the foot of the mast, and all four hauled the boat from its place and got it to the side.
“This the right place?” Penn asked.
“Almost.” Caradec straightened. “Get her ready. I’m going to call on the old man.”
In the darkness he could feel their eyes on him. “You think that’s wise?”
“No, but he killed Rodney. I’ve got to see him.”
“You goin’ to kill Borger?”
It was like them that they did not doubt he could if he wished. Somehow he had always impressed men so, that what he wanted to accomplish, he would accomplish.
“No, just a good beatin’. He’s had it comin’ for a long time.”
Mullaney spat. He was a stocky, muscular man. “You’re cussed right he has! I’d like to help.”
“No, there’ll be no help for either of us. Stand by and watch for the mate.”
Penn chuckled. “He’s tied up aft, by the wheel.”
Rafe Caradec turned and walked forward. His soft leather sandals made no noise on the hardwood deck or on the companionway as he descended. He moved like a shadow along the bulkhead and saw the door of the captain’s cabin standing open. He was inside and had taken two steps before the captain looked up.
Bully Borger was big, almost a giant. He had a red beard around his jawbone under his chin. He squinted from cold, gray eyes at Rafe.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded. “Trouble on deck?”
“No, Captain,” Rafe said shortly, “there’s trouble here. I’ve come to beat you within an inch of your life, Captain. Charles Rodney is dead. You ruined his life, Captain, and then you killed him.”
Borger was on his feet, catlike. Somehow, he had always known this moment would come. A dozen times he had told himself he should kill Caradec, but the man was a seaman, a first-class, able-bodied seaman, and in the lot of shanghaied crews there were few. So he had delayed.
He lunged at the drawer for his brass knuckles.
Rafe had been waiting for that, poised on the balls of his feet. His left hand dropped to the captain’s wrist in a grip like steel, and his right hand sank to the wrist in the captain’s middle. It stopped Borger, that punch did, stopped him flat-footed for only an instant, but that instant was enough. Rafe’s head darted forward, butting the bigger man in the face, and Rafe felt the bones crunch under his hard skull.
Yet the agony gave Borger a burst of strength, and he tore the hand with the knucks loose and got his fingers through their holes. He lunged, swinging a roundhouse blow that would have dropped a bull elephant. Rafe went under the swing, his movements timed perfectly, his actions almost negligent. He smashed left and right to the wind. The punches drove wind from Borger’s stomach, and he doubled up, gasping.
Rafe dropped a palm to the back of the man’s head and shoved down hard. At the same instant, his knee came up, smashing Borger’s face into a gory pulp.
Bully Borger, the dirtiest fighter on many a waterfront, staggered back, moaning with pain. His face expressionless, Rafe Caradec stepped in and threw punches with both hands, driving, wicked punches that had the power of those broad shoulders behind them, and timed with the rolling of the ship. Left, right, left, right, blows that cut and chopped like meat cleavers. Borger tottered and fell back across the settee.