THE OPEN RANGE MEN by Lauran Paine


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Under the name of Richard Clarke, Paine has published several of the finest Westerns of the past decade (The Copperdust Hills, The Arizona Panhandle, The Open Range Men, etc.), stories that even non-Western readers can enjoy. This time out, Paine/Clarke offers an elegy for the free-grazing cattleman. The ranchers have taken over, and the man with a wandering, free-grazing herd in the Fort Harmon territory is seen with the contempt most often given sheepherders and sodbusters. Four men, led by Boss Spearman--all of whom have spent their lives looking at the back ends of cattle--find that their herd grazes near land claimed by coldhearted rancher Denton Baxter. Baxter's way of dealing with free-grazers: scare them with a murder or two, scatter their cattle, then later round up the herd and sell it as his own. When Spearman's hand Mose is shot dead and a second hand, 16-year-old Button, has his head laid open, Boss and Charley Waite go into Harmonsville for revenge. But Harmonsville hates free-grazers. And suddenly the sky opens with a gully-washing storm that turns the town to mud and sinkholes--a marvelous downpour that goes on for chapters, keeps the action down to a slog, and allows Paine to draw the interiors of rooming house, doctor's office, livery stable, saloon, jail, and mercantile store to his heart's fullness. The final shootout is resolved realistically--while sounding the death knell for free-grazers--and then the novel fulfills its lust for detail for 30 more pages while graves are dug. Nobody alive writes better westerns.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
Publisher: Walker