Valorous Spanish soldiers, fiery maidens, savage Injuns, flinty adventurers, and a mean herd of longhorns populate this passable but hokey account of the first cattle drive. It's 1775, and the American colonies are preparing for war with England. While on business in Spanish-ruled New Orleans, stalwart frontiersman Ben Cross and his woolly mountaineer uncle Ezra Allen—who punctuates his every utterance with a ripe stream of tobacco spittle—are enlisted by Governor Bernardo de Galvez to help Lieutenant Joseph Menchaca bring badly needed beef cattle to his hungry protectorate. Never ones to back away from an adventure, Ben and Ezra are further persuaded by the fact that Spanish intervention in America's fledgling revolution quite possibly hinges on the drive's success. According to the governor, his plan is simple: Round up a few good men, traipse across hundreds of miles of hostile territory to the Spanish colony of Texas, round up a few thousand head of wild longhorns, forge a trail home, and deliver the goods. So where's the beef? Well, the drive's progress is certain to be hampered by a longstanding rule preventing direct trade between Spain's colonies in the New World. That and a forbidden romance between Ben and Pilar Menchaca, the beautiful but willful cousin of the governor's adjutant, make for unhappy trails- -even before they get to the herds. The return is made even more troublesome when the trade interdict is enforced with officious zeal by Spanish General Ramon Padilla, whose interference halts the drive's progress at the Texas border and nearly allows our heroes to be overtaken by a party of bloodthirsty Comanches. Not to give away the ending, but how many Louisianian vegetarians can you name? An interesting subject, but the trail is littered with corny dialogue and situations long before the first wagons pass through. Still, the brisk pacing helps make this slim debut western a mostly enjoyable read.
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