Jack Schaefer’s book, Shane, has been classified in many sub-genres, but to me, it will always remain my favorite western romance.
This story cannot have a truly happy-ever-after ending for all the principal characters, so it normally wouldn’t make it to my “Top Ten” list for that very reason. But the story itself is so compelling, so riveting, that there is no choice once you’ve read page one—you are going to finish it. And it’s not just a story about a very odd love triangle, but also about Shane discovering that he is worthy, and a good person, despite what he’s done in his past.
Shane is the perfect hero—a drifter, a loner, and no one knows why. He plans to keep it that way. If only his pesky conscience didn’t get in the way, he might have stopped briefly at the Starrett’s homestead, then moved on.
But from the beginning of the book, we know there is something different about Shane. The story is told through the eyes of Bob Starrett, the young son of Joe and Marion. Bob is about ten years old, and his account of the people and action that takes place are colored with the wonderment and naivete of a child who will be well on his way to becoming a young man before the story is over.
The book starts with tension, as Bob is watching the stranger, Shane, ride in. Shane comes to a fork in the road. One way leads down toward Luke Fletcher’s, the cattle baron who is trying to force the homesteaders out of the valley. The other branch of the fork leads toward the Starretts, the homesteaders who will ultimately force Fletcher’s hand. Shane chooses that path, toward the Starretts, and the die is cast.
He would have looked frail alongside father’s square, solid bulk. But even I could read the endurance in the lines of that dark figure and the quiet power in his effortless, unthinking adjustment to every movement of the tired horse.
He was clean-shaven and his face was lean and hard and burned from high forehead to firm, tapering chin. His eyes seemed hooded in the shadow of the hat’s brim. He came closer and I could see that this was because the brows were drawn into a frown of fixed and habitual alertness. Beneath them the eyes were endlessly searching from side to side and forward, checking off every item in view, missing nothing. As I noticed this, a sudden chill, and I could not have told why, struck through me there in the warm and open sun.
In a nutshell, Shane drifts into the Wyoming valley, and is befriended by the Starretts. Once there, he is quickly made aware of the brewing trouble between the homesteaders and the powerful local cattle baron, Luke Fletcher, who is set on running them all out of the valley. Shane is firmly committed to helping Joe Starrett and the homesteaders who want to stay. Fletcher’s men get into a fistfight with Shane and Joe in the general store, and Fletcher vows his men will kill the next time Joe or Shane come back into town.
Fletcher hires Stark Wilson, a well-known gunhawk, who kills one of the homesteaders that stands up to him. Joe Starrett feels it is his duty, since he convinced the others to stay, to go kill Fletcher and Wilson.
Shane knocks Joe out, knowing that, though Joe’s heart is in the right place, he’s no match for a hired gun like Wilson. There’s only one man who is—Shane himself, and that’s going to set him back on the path he’s so desperately trying to escape.
Shane rides into town and Bob follows him, witnessing the entire battle. Shane faces Wilson down first, and then Fletcher. Shane turns to leave and Bob warns him of another man, who Shane also kills. But Shane doesn’t escape unscathed—Wilson has wounded him in the earlier gunplay.
Shane rides out of town, and though Bob wishes so much that Shane could stay, he understands why he can’t. No. Bob does not utter one of the most famous lines in cinema history—“Shane! Come back!” There’s good reason for this. In the book, Bob’s growth is shown because of what he learns from Shane. To call him back would negate that growth process.
He describes Shane throughout the book, and in many ways, with a child’s intuition, understands innately that Shane is a good man and will do the right thing, which is proven out time and again. So, he also realizes that there is no place for Shane there in the valley, now that the trouble has been handled.
Bob witnesses the conversation between his mother and Shane, as well, where so much is said—and not said. It’s one of the major turning points in the book, though Bob, in his telling of it, doesn’t realize it—but the reader is painfully aware of it. If Shane really is a good man, he will have no recourse but to leave.
This happens as the novel is drawing to a close, when Marian, Bob’s mother, asks Shane if he’s going after Wilson just for her. He has knocked her husband out to keep him from going after the gunman.
Shane hesitated for a long, long moment. “No, Marian.” His gaze seemed to widen and encompass us all, mother and the still figure of father huddled on a chair by the window and somehow the room and the house and the whole place. Then he was looking only at mother and she was all he could see.
“No, Marian. Could I separate you in my mind and afterwards be a man?”
Shane was Jack Schaefer’s debut novel, published in 1949. It was honored in 1985 by the Western Writers of America as the best Western novel ever written—beating out other works such as Owen Wister’s The Virginian, Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, and Louis L’Amour’s Hondo.
In 1963, Schaefer wrote Monte Walsh, a book that chronicles the passing of the Old West and the lifestyle of the American cowboy.
Though Schaefer never deliberately wrote for young adults, many of his works have become increasingly popular among younger readers. Universal themes such as the transformation and changes of growing up, the life lessons learned, and rites of passage from childhood to becoming a young adult in his writing have been responsible for the upswing in popularity with this age group.
Though I consider Shane a romance novel, it’s a very different and memorable love triangle because of the unshakable honor of the three characters. I love the subtlety that Schaefer is such a master of, and the way he has Bob describing the action, seeing everything, but with the eyes of a child. If you haven’t read Shane, I highly recommend it—at less than 200 pages, it’s a quick, easy read, and unforgettable.
A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that. (Shane to Marian)
A man is what he is, Bob, and there’s no breaking the mold. I’ve tried that and I’ve lost. But I reckon it was in the cards from the moment I saw a freckled kid on a rail up the road there and a real man behind him, the kind that could back him for the chance another kid never had. (Shane to Bob)
With its powerful narrative voice, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, reads like fiction, but tragically, the book’s content is all painfully true. This heartbreaking 1970 classic, subtitled An Indian History of the American West, conveys, according to the Washington Post, “not how the West was won, but how it was lost.”
My copy sits beside me now, dog-eared to death, pages browned with time and coffee spills. Dates and names highlighted include such beautiful and poetic calendar terms as Time of the Big Leaves, Yellow Leaves Moon, and Moon When the Chokecherries Are Ripe.
Such beauty aside, this is not a book for the faint-hearted. There are chapters I can’t bear to re-read, and many of today’s words have been hard to write. But since we at Wildflower Junction, whether authors, readers, guests and commenters, love the American West, this book is not to be missed. The title comes from the last “Indian War” in December 1890 –the Moon When the Deer Shed —against the vastly outmatched Minneconjou (Sioux) chief Big Foot at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. (This “battle” deserves its own blog post sometime.)
The TV and movie Westerns of my childhood often presented Indians as bloodcurdling enemies out to massacre innocent settlers. The occasional good “brave” was a mono-syllabic caricature, often a doofus. No American history class I’d ever taken explained the truth about “Manifest Destiny.” Maybe because we couldn’t handle the truth? As a youth himself, Dee Brown bore a reaction similar to mine. He did something about it. A born researcher, he wrote this well-documented book of America’s westward expansion through the eyes and words of the great chiefs, vividly explaining four hundred years of injustice, broken treaties, and betrayal.
I hope things are different in classrooms now. No teacher or professor ever told me the complete truth about, say, Christopher “Kit” Carson (1809-1868). I knew him as a national hero –his expeditions through the Rockies made him such. His first two wives were Indian. Yet in 1864, he relentlessly hunted down a group of Navajo. Not content with destroying their hogans (homes) and livestock, he chopped down their carefully tended grove of peach trees.
No one ever told me about the horrors of Sand Creek, Colorado, where friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children were mutilated by the Cavalry. Or of Fort Robinson in Nebraska gifting a camp of Cheyenne, Lakota and Oglala with blankets infected with smallpox.
Or of Palo Duro Canyon, The Place of Chinaberry Trees. Only a few white men knew of this well-hidden north Texas canyon in the late summer of 1874. Without fear and stocked with food to last until spring, Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne sought sanctuary from the whites. Almost two thousand horses shared rich grass with the buffalo. On September 26, the Bluecoats descended upon them, the warriors holding off long enough for their women and children to escape. But by days’ end, General Ranald “Three Fingers” Mackenzie rounded up the tribes’ treasured horses and had more than a thousand ponies shot to death. (In a subsequent book, I learned that the horse-loving Cavalry greatly resisted these orders, and that the slaughter of the terrified beasts took more than eight hours to complete.)
From the Nez Perce of the Pacific Northwest, I learned their poignant history in a personal way because my husband’s relatives hail from this area. Of the many massacres and betrayals in the book, I elected today to share a bit about the Nez Perce’s heartrending struggle.
As with Squanto who helped the Pilgrims in 1620 and the Taino who treated Christopher Columbus like a god in 1492, the Nez Perce tribe met the white man in peace. In 1805, the tribe saved the Lewis and Clark expedition from starvation and dysentery, fed and welcomed them, and tended their horses for months while the Corps of Discovery explored the Pacific shore. The Nez Perce themselves would gain recognition for their Appaloosa horses. For seven decades of friendship, the Nez Perce proudly declared they had never shed white blood.
Their home turf was Oregon’s Wallowa Valley, the Valley of Winding Waters. By the 1870’s, simply put, settlers and gold-seekers wanted the valley. Negotiations failed, treaties cast aside despite the Great Father, Ulysses S. Grant, having promised the Wallowa to the Nez Perce “forever.” In May 1877, the young Nez Perce peace chief Heinmot Tooyalaket (1840-1904) chose to lead the tribe to refuge in Canada, the “Grandmother’s Land” (referring to Queen Victoria), following in the footsteps of Sitting Bull. The whites called this young chief, Joseph. By all accounts, he was a highly respected peace chief among Indians and whites alike.
The fleeing Nez Perce consisted of 800: 450 “noncombatants” and 250 warriors, and 2,000 horses. Outsmarting the U.S. Cavalry for 1,700 miles through the Bitterroot Mountains and Yellowstone country, the Nez Perce journey has been called the most brilliant retreat in American military history. Newspaper accounts of the day had Americans cheering them on.
However, the Nez Perce were severely weakened by the capture of many of their horses. In October, the weary Joseph and his band stopped to rest only 30 miles from their destination. By that time, U.S. reinforcements and sharpshooters had arrived. After five days in bitter snow, Joseph surrendered.
Then he delivered the most quoted of all the great chiefs’ speeches, of which I include a few lines.
“…I am tired of fighting… it is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. ..I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I will find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where he sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
Lieutenant Charles Erskine Scott Wood, who translated Joseph’s heart-rending speech, resigned his commission not long after and became a powerful attorney who fought for the rights of the dispossessed.
When Joseph died September 21, 1904, exiled at the Colville Reservation in Washington State, his physician claimed “a broken heart” was the cause of death. (photo below courtesy http://www.juntosociety.com)
His name, Heinmot Tooyalaket, translates as Thunder Rolling in the Mountains.
Listen for him. Read this book. Try to keep your eyes dry and your heart from cracking while you do.
The night Tye stepped between his brother and a bullet changed them both forever. Now their trail pointed west, to a lawless frontier town called Sante Fe. Orrin took the job of marshal, while Tye commanded respect without a badge. When a loose end from their past turns up, one brother will be forced to revert to his old ways—if the other’s dreams are to be realized.…
When we decided to do classic western novels, I grabbed this one FAST before the other Petticoats & Pistols fillies could snag it.
Out of all the estimated one zillion book Louis L’Amour has written, this is my favorite. It’s got a few elements that make it my top choice…and let me say here that I LOVE Louis L’Amour. I’ve read everything he’s written…yes…even the poetry.
But his dynastic family, The Sacketts, were my favorites. Jubal Sackett is epic. But The Daybreakers is the first Sackett novel set in the true cowboy era.
Tyrel Sackett is a dangerous man. He doesn’t like being pushed and when he is, he doesn’t waste a lot of time giving a man a chance to see the error of his ways and back down. Orrin is a silver tongued devil. He’s got the charm, the winning ways, the story telling and singing gifts. He’s a hard man but he’s got a nice polish.
Tye shoots a man with a lot of friends to save Orrin. The need to get out of town because a lot of people are after then. They light a shuck for the western lands and push a herd of cattle along with them.
Tye and Orrin team up with gentleman scholar Tom Sunday and old time mountain man Cap Roundtree as they make their way west.
It is a Louis L’Amour-ism that the west stripped all the artifice off a man’s character. It revealed who he really was. It was a land that a strong man grew into. If he was weak, there was nowhere to hide, no law to smooth his way.
Tyrel and Orrin are strong men and the freedom of the west reveals that. They face the challenges along the way west and find a home. But the real twist in this book is what the west does to Tom Sunday. As it molds Tyrel, Orrin and Cap into hard, honorable men, it reveals an ugliness inside Tom Sunday. The book tells through Tyrel and Orrin the story of the settling of the west, but it also progresses to that day when Orrin Sackett may be forced to kill a man he once called friend, and Tyrel Sackett may once again have to step in between his brother and a bullet.
Tell Sackett is my favorite of the brothers–and off the top of my head I know he starred in three books and had bit parts in several others–so I’m thinking he was L’Amour’s favorite, too. But Tyrel is the best of them, I’d say. He has the mean streak and the speed to be a gunfighter. But he wants home and family and peace. His is an unusually wise and powerful personality and he creates a home for himself that is the envy of all who knows him, and he is wise enough to hold that home, treasure it and defend it with his lightning fast guns–while only using those guns to fight evil.
Orrin isn’t as fast as Tye, though that may make him the SECOND fastest fun in the west. But Orrin would rather talk his way out of trouble. I felt bad about Orrin. He married poorly and that seemed wrong considering that the Sacketts are supposed to be smarter than that. That beautiful, nasty wife of his causes trouble for the Sackett family for years to come.
L’Amour may have written other books as good as this one. But none better. I pick it up and re-read it every once in a while when I want to revisit the wild west.
The movie The Sacketts is a combination of Daybreakers and The Sackett Brand, which is part of Tell Sackett’s story. And nobody does a cowboy better than Sam Elliot–and he’s Tell, so maybe that’s part of why I like Tell so much. Tom Selleck is Orrin and he’s a fine cowboy, too, right there in Elliot’s league. It’s ironic that the character I consider the real foundation of The Daybreakers is played in the movie by someone I’ve never heard of since.
The Daybreakers…if you haven’t read it, you’re reallly missing out.
Your Victorian ancestor probably had one shocking vice up her leg o’mutton sleeve—or tucked in her apron. If she was the typical nineteenth century woman she was lashed to social mores in dress, manner and speech but, oh, did she enjoy her lurid dime novels!
The first dime novel “Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter” was published in 1860 and quickly sold 65,000. That book started a craze that would remain popular until 1915. Melodramatic? You bet, but that was part of the fun. The stories were lurid—the purple prose outrageous—but readers couldn’t seem to get enough.
The root of the dime novel can be traced back to James Fenimore Cooper’s popular Leatherstocking Tales, which romanticized the wild frontier, and explains why most dimers were set in the west. Dime novels actually sold anywhere from a nickel to twenty-five cents–far cheaper than the dollar charged for literary books. Called Penny Dreadfuls and Shilling Shockers in Europe, worldwide readership was estimated to be in the millions.
A series of events led to the proliferation of dime novels. Mandatory education resulted in more literacy and the invention of the steam printing press lowered the cost of printing. Railroads made distribution easier and books more accessible. Sales of dime novels surged during the Civil War. Confederates and Union soldiers were on opposing sides politically but both camps shared the same passion for pirates, mountain men, adventurers and detectives.
These formulaic stories ranged between thirty-five to fifty-five thousand words. The small four by six hundred page format could be conveniently carried in pocket or purse. Most dime novels like the popular Deadwood Dick’s Doom; or Calamity Jane’s Last Adventure, had two titles, probably to persuade readers that the story was too big and exciting for only one.
From Dimes to Crimes
Though the lurid cover art and violent stories were severely criticized by moralists as having a bad influence on youth—and corrupting the delicate brains of women—the stories actually reinforced the values of patriotism, courage and self-reliance. This, however, didn’t stop critics from blaming them for everything from childish pranks to violent crimes and even the Women’s Rights movement.
Voracious Readers Made Cranky Writers
Popular writers were expected to produce a book every few days. Some writers reportedly could turn out a thousand words an hour for twelve hour stretches.
Eugene T. Sawyer, the so-called “King of Dime Novelists” and author of seventy-five Nick Carter novels, claimed to have written three 50,000-word novels in a month, and to have finished a 60,000-word novel in just two days—while his wife plied him with coffee. Considering his remarkable output, perhaps we can forgive his ill-regard for readers whom he claimed were “…people of narrow, dull, monotonous lives, who never get any thrills out of real life and must compensate in stories that give them a thrill per page.”
A New Kind of Hero
Books based on real people such as Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson and Jesse James were especially popular, though the stories were purely fiction. The good guys battled evil and no bad deed was left unpunished. Chaste damsels in distress needed rescuing and dashing heroes were only too happy to oblige. By today’s standards the books were racist, but they reflected the times. They also helped to establish a new social order where males were judged by deeds rather than social status. For this reason the western hero became the symbol of the ideal man.
One dime novel featuring Kit Carson had an unexpected impact on him. He chased down a group of Apache Indians to rescue a kidnapped white woman only to discover her dead. In her belongings was a copy of the book Kit Carson, the Happy Warrior. He later told the story in his autobiography: “We found a book in the camp, the first of the kind I had ever seen, in which I was represented as a great hero, slaying Indians by the hundred. I have often thought that Mrs. White must have read it, and knowing that I lived nearby, must have prayed for my appearance in order that she might be saved. I did come, but I lacked the power to persuade those that were in command over me to follow my plan for her rescue.”
The Demise of the Dime Novel
By the late 1800s pulp magazines replaced dime novels in popularity and the world was getting ready to greet a new type of story-telling—the motion picture.
I hope everyone had fun remembering their jaunts to the fair. Miss Susan picked a good subject.
And now for the moment you’re waiting for…………
The winner of Miss Susan’s ANDI’S FAIR SURPRISE is…………
I’m dancin’ a jig for you, Gillian! To claim your prize, send Miss Susan your mailing particulars through her website at www.susankmarlow.com. Just click on “Email Me” and she’ll get the book out on the next stage.
Don’t forget our Western Classics week starting tomorrow right here at the Junction.
“Oh, it’s fair time, fair time, fair time. The excitement is all over town . . .”
Fairs have been around for a long time. They date as far back as the days of Rome. So it stands to reason that the American colonies would want to continue the tradition of showing off livestock, agricultural products, and trade wares in the New World. Life was grim, and any excuse for a good time was welcome indeed. The first American fair was held in York, Pennsylvania, in 1765, eleven years before our nation was founded. The York Fair spread out over the town’s commons, and folks considered those two days as “the liveliest days of the whole year.”
Fast forward about a hundred years. By now, many American states had some kind of exposition, from a few cows and horses on display to full-blown extravaganzas! The California State Fair is a good example of how a little exposition in 1854 to enhance the state’s reputation as the ideal place for farming and industry became one of the largest fairs around (Minnesota and Texas being the largest in attendance).
San Francisco hosted that first fair, but the next year, the fair organizers decided “fair’s fair” (no pun intended) and travel was hard. The fair went on the road for the next four years so more people could enjoy it. Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton, and Marysville hosted the fair to thousands of visitors (15,000 a day) until those in charge decided to permanently locate the fair in Sacramento.
So, what did our great-grandparents enjoy about the fair? For one thing, the state fair was the #1 entertainment of the whole year. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but there weren’t a lot of diversions in the 1800s. Work, work, work, and boredom in between. The highlight of the work week was riding into town to attend church (if you were a God-fearing individual) or spending your pay at the saloon (if you were the wild type). Looking forward to the yearly fair added a sense of excitement and anticipation that could carry your family through the long, back-breaking days of mundane work.
Folks liked to eye the produce at the fair, like a 3-foot-long, 10-pound carrot, a 72-pound beet, or 2-inch-long peanuts. The farmers shook their heads at the “new-fangled” inventions on display, like a post-hole digger or a new well driller. The men hung around exhibits of pumps, plows, and gopher traps, while the ladies oohed and ahhed over a demonstration of “The Light Running Domestic Sewing Machine.”
The ladies also enjoyed watching the judging of everything from butter to biscuits and from stockings to sweaters. Most hoped to win a ribbon. The best “six jars” of jelly won a blue ribbon and a premium of $5.00; the best needlework, $3.00. For the men, the best two-year-old bull won $50. Even a chicken was worth entering in the fair. The best chicken won a $5.00 premium. Children got into the act as well, entering their best pin cushions, embroidered hankies, and patchwork quilts.
And those races! What would a California state fair be without a horse race—especially one worth a purse of $5,000 in 1874, with a brand-new grandstand up and ready to seat 7,000 people?
Instead of rides, the 1880s fair midway offered attractions no 21st century fair-goer is likely to see: the thrill show (i.e. sideshow). Besides the usual sword-swallower, fire-eater, and the strong man lifting a pony, there were also the ever-popular freaks of nature, like a (live) two-headed calf, human deformities, and bizarre animals no one in America could imagine. One year, near the turn of the 20th century, the California State Fair even staged a train wreck of two locomotives crashing head-on into a jumble of twisted, steaming steel! I’m sure that would be considered a real “thrill” back then.
An interesting aspect of one world’s fair was the practice of giving away prizes. On “Exhibitor Day” at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909, exhibitors gave away items in a raffle-like contest. Fair-goers’ ticket numbers were drawn at random. If you carried that ticket, you won a prize. A pony was given away, as were other prizes from exhibitors. The most unusual was the prize given away by the children’s home. A month-old baby boy name Ernest was offered. Although the winning ticket was drawn, nobody claimed this human “prize.”
We’ve come a long way since then. Now, it’s rides and games and rock bands and rodeos. But one thing has remained the same: fair food. Is there anything like it in the whole world?
Andi’s Fair Surprise is a peek into the 1874 California State Fair through the eyes of six-year-old Andi. If she can’t take her new foal to the fair, she doesn’t even want to go. After all, what fun is a fair if Taffy can’t win a blue ribbon? But the fair turns out to be so exciting that Andi is glad she came . . . until her big brother tells her she can’t keep the prize she won fair and square!
There are free coloring pages and learning activities to download at www.andiandtaffy.com. We’re giving away Andi’s Fair Surprise to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment and share your favorite childhood Fair Memory.
The Fillies are taking a week off from their regular schedule. Durn their hides! But before they get all cozy in their chairs, they’re leaving a treat for all you little darlin’s.
From Monday, March 28th until Friday, April 1st we’re having a Western Classics Week.
Each day we’ll post a classic novel written by a Western author. We have a passel of interesting books, nearly all have been made into a movie, for your enjoyment. I dare say you won’t be bored ’cause we have humdingers lined up.
Mark your calendar and be sure to drop by and see what this Western Classics Week is all about.
Woo-Hoo! Two of our Fillies are finalists in Romance of America’s RITA Award contest.
Our own Cheryl St. John was nominated in the Romance Novella Category for her story MOUNTAIN ROSEin the “To Be a Mother anthology.”
And Mary Connealy got the nod in the Inspirational Category for DOCTOR IN PETTICOATS.
Things are hopping around the Junction! Let me tell you, this is quite a feather in these ladies’ caps. We’re proud as punch. Our Filly sisters have really outdone themselves. I’m sure you want to give them your best wishes. Let’s pray they both win.
The winner will be announced in New York City on July 1st. And if you’d like to get a gander of the full list of finalists, click HERE.