Sheriff at Waterstop

Title: Sheriff at Waterstop
Author: Andy Thomson
Illustrator: Timothy Davis & Stephanie True
Pages: 125
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Western for kids!

The Story.

Micah Huggins was used to livin’ alone. As a surveyor, he had done a good bit of solitary riding in his time. Of course, that all changed when Joseph turned up at his door. The boy had lived with both cowboys and Indians, if his manners and cooking were anything to go by. He was quiet and clever – a perfect companion. But when a cowboy comes to the ranch claiming to be Joseph’s cousin – a claim which Joseph acknowledges – there’s nothing Micah can do. Joseph rides off, leaving Micah lonely – a new feeling.

In the nearby town of Waterstop, a search has been conducted – a search for a new sheriff. And the town thinks they’ve found just the man they’ve book looking for – Felix Jensen. He’s just ridden into town, but boy can he fight! He’s quick on the draw, too.

A new Christian, Felix is determined to turn Waterstop into a town of law and order. But some of the ranch hands would prefer a bit of rough-housing to a new, preachin’ sheriff.

Will Micah and Joseph be reunited? And will Felix survive the murderous threats of the unruly cowboys?

Discussion.

Although I didn’t have the chance to mention him in my synopsis, Felix’s son, Bret, is one of the main characters in Sheriff at Waterstop. The relationship between him and his father is a key element of the story.

When we first meet the Jensens, Felix is a new convert to Christianity. Prior to his conversion he worked at a bar, serving liquor to troublemakers, then thrashing them when they started to make trouble. He was a hard man for whom neither his wife or son had any respect.

But then he became a Christian. He realized that he needed to be a better example for his son and a better leader for his wife. He set about trying to win back their love and respect. When we join the story, Felix’s wife trusts him again, but Bret is unsure. He’s been so hurt by his father’s absence and meanness that he isn’t even sure that he wants to try to reestablish a relationship with him. And besides that, he’s sure that it’s just a temporary improvement.

But as the story progresses, Felix’s principled commitment to bringing justice to the community and humble attitude wins Bret over. They become close friends, each respecting the other. They are proud to stand side by side as Felix enforces the law and Bret assists him.

I really enjoyed watching as their relationship progresses. So often stories depict relationships where the children are either unrealistically willing to forgive past abuse or they harbor bitterness for petty wrongs. I thought Sheriff at Waterstop showed a good balance – Bret wasn’t bitter. He just didn’t trust his dad, and for good reason. His father had proven himself unworthy of being trusted. But he wasn’t obstinate in his distrust; as his father became more and more respectable, Bret began to give him the respect he had earned. In the end, resolution has been achieved.

The Christianity in Sheriff at Waterstop feels more modern than is likely would have been preached at the times, but it has several good points. For one thing, no one is ever urged to “ask Jesus into their heart”. Instead, they are urged to repent for the sins that they have committed and place trust in Christ’s promise of salvation. Also, instead of just “becoming a Christian” and moving on with life, those who convert actually begin to implement the word of God in their lives. I appreciated this bit from Felix when he was explaining to his wife why he had excepted the position of Sheriff.

“If a person believes in living decent, Nance, he might just have to make a place decent. If Christian folks want to live where there’s law and order, then some of them Christian folks have got to be the law and order. We can’t let other people do all the dangerous work while we set back at ease.” [pgs. 22-23]

Apart from the bad grammar, I agree wholeheartedly! : )

Conclusion. Good. Boys especially will enjoy this story.

Where the Long Grass Blows

Title: Where the Long Grass Blows
Author: Louis L’Amour
Pages:
Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Western…

The Story.

Bill Canavan has wanted a ranch for several years. But he’s not content to rest with some dingy set of acres. He wants to own the most lush and fertile land in the valley. The scary thing is, he’s got it, deed and all. But the other, more powerful ranchers in the valley don’t know of his claim and are fighting over Canavan’s land. They’re ready to kill each other over it. They’d be willing to kill Canavan over it, too…

But, for now, Canavan is content to sit back and watch the fight without announcing his prior claim. After all, it makes more sense to let his enemies destroy themselves so that he’ll have less of a battle. But he hadn’t counted on one thing. He hadn’t planned on meeting Dixie Venable and he hadn’t planned on falling in love with her. But she’s engaged to Star Levitt, the most powerful, unscrupulous man in the valley.

Does Dixie truly love this scheming man? And will Canavan’s love for Dixie cause him to tip his cards too soon?

Discussion.

The first person Canavan meets when he rides into the valley is Dixie Venable. He immediately evaluates her and declares her “The kind of woman who’s made for a man.” [pg. 6] He forms an immediate attachment to her and is not deterred by the fact that she is engaged to another man. He questions her on the subject and informs her that “Until you tell me you love him [her fiancé], and look me in the eye when you say it, I’ll play my hand the best way I can.” [pg. 88] Their romance is not detailed, frivolous, or inappropriate.

When Canavan has just ridden into the valley, he tells his horse, Rio, that “There’s an old law that only the strong survive.” [pg. 5] He goes on to tell his horse how he plans be the strongest man in the valley.

While sleeping on the mountain, Canavan hears a “low mounting rumble, far down in the rock beneath him – as though the very spirit of the mountain was beneath him in his sleep.” [pg. 50]

When Canavan’s enemies have captured him, he tries to worm his way out by telling his captors that he is the seventh son of a seventh son and can see into the future. He says that one of the men will not live out the day, but he does.

Several gun and fist fights are described. They’re not gory – certainly not sickening – but they do mention blood and cracking sounds…

The word “prehistoric” is used twice to describe geological oddities.

Canavan goes into a bar a few times but never gets tipsy. There are no barmaids.

‘Damn’ is used fourteen times, ‘hell’ five; ‘by the lord Harry’ and ‘durn’ are each used once.

Conclusion. I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it along with The Ferguson Rifle and The Sackett Brand as the more worthwhile L’Amour novels.

The Sackett Brand

Title: The Sackett Brand
Author: Louis L’Amour
Pages: 151
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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More L’Amour…

The Story.

If Tell Sackett hadn’t moved when he did, he’d be a dead man. For as he turned, a bullet grazed his head, knocking him off balance and causing him to plummet down a cliff side. When he finally regained consciousness, his brain was fuzzy, but his thoughts were clear – who just shot at him? And why?

Apparently, whoever aimed at Sackett wasn’t taking a pot shot. He was purposely trying to kill him. Sackett can’t figure out why – he has no enemies in this part of the country, and there’s no reason… Ange!

When Sackett drags himself back to his campsite, he finds everything he had once called his own vanished – wagon, mules… and wife. They’ve disappeared without a trace! But traces or no, Sackett is determined to track down his would-be murderer and recover what is rightfully his!

Discussion.

Okay, a quick revelation of everything that happened after my synopsis (not quite everything, you understand…). Sackett quickly discovers his wagon, burned to a crisp with all of his belongings. All of his mules have been slaughtered and dumped over a cliff. Sackett learns that the reason for this destruction is his wife – while Sackett was out scouting, a man rode into camp and, when Ange repudiated his advances, this man murdered her. He immediately realized the consequence of what he had done, and sets out to remove all traces of his evil deed. This means that he must also kill Sackett, and most of the novel recounts the man’s desperate hunt for Sackett.

There was one thing that I loved about The Sackett Brand. And that was, as the news spread across the country that Tell Sackett was in trouble, Sacketts began pouring in from all across the country to help out their fellow family member. I especially liked this because often, westerns depict a main character who is cut from all family ties – he rides for himself and is uncomfortable in a family setting. But this story was all about family – the reason Sackett is in so much trouble is because he wishes to bring those who murdered his wife to justice. In the end, it is his family that rescues him. It was kinda sweet the way they all showed up with their six-guns. :’)

And then there’s the revenge factor. Immediately after being attacked, Sackett decides that he will find the person who arranged it and will make him pay. Once he discovers that his wife has been murdered, this resolve is doubled and reinforced with venom.

Sackett’s first move is to travel to Camp Verde where he implores the soldiers stationed there to help him in his pursuit of justice. They refuse. But Sackett will not let his wife’s death go unpunished, and decides to execute justice himself. His quest is definitely a mixture of justice and revenge.

There was the taste of anger in my mouth, the taste of a deep abiding hate within me. I didn’t like the feeling, but it was there, and these were days when the land where I rode had no law beyond what each man could deliver with his own had. [pg. 89]

He justifies his vengeful desires thus:

There’s some, I’m told, who frown upon revenge, and perhaps it is better so, but I was a mountain boy, reared in a feudal land, living my life through by the feaudal code, and our law was the Mosaic law of an eye for an eye. [pg. 142-143]

Because Ange’s murderer wishes to destroy all traces of his crime, he employs his band of hired hands to murder Sackett, too. They try to kill him on numerous occasions, but Sackett usually succeeds in killing them first. I felt that he could have had a degree or two more respect for the lives that he took (many of those chasing him had been deceived into thinking that Sackett deserved to die), but I also understood that had he hesitated on the draw, they would have killed him without hesitation.

The inciting incident of the story is, of course, the murder of Ange, Sackett’s wife. She was murdered by a man who first attempted to seduce her (this scene really isn’t described and the word ‘seduce’ isn’t actually used). However, the incident is mentioned several times and Sackett thinks of his wife’s murder often.

On one occasion, Sackett is hiding out in a cave when a young woman seeks refuge with him from an oncoming storm. Because she seems so comfortable alone with him, Sackett quickly comes to the conclusion that she is bait being used by his pursuers who hope to hang him (hurting or molesting a woman was a hanging crime). He quickly clears out. Nothing inappropriate occurs, but older readers will know the woman’s obvious profession.

Sackett mentions that there is a Mormon settlement a few miles away, and says that “from all I’d heard they were God-fearing folk” [pg. 38].

There are a few violent scenes. The action is intense, but by no means sickening.

‘Hell’ is used eleven times, ‘damn’ ten, and ‘by God’ once.

Conclusion. Due to the familial theme, I enjoyed The Sackett Brand. However, it is not what I would call ‘edifying’ reading.

Conagher

Title: Conagher
Author: Louis L’Amour
Pages: 120
Reading Level: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Although I’d picked up several Louis L’Amour books here and there for super cheap – read twenty cents or less – I hadn’t read any of them. I decided that it might be wise to actually read a few of them to see if they’re worth money before buying any more of ‘em…

The Story.

Evie Teale’s husband, Jacob had just moved his family to a new home when he up and disappeared, along with the four hundred and twenty dollars that he was carrying with him to purchase stock. Evie is concerned – terrified even, but she is determined that if or whenever he returns, he will not find her idle. So she goes about cultivating their farm, earning money with her cooking, and defending her family from marauding Indians. Will her husband ever return? If he doesn’t, will she and the children be able to survive the harsh winter?

Conn Conagher is a tough man; his reputation isn’t one of picking fights, but once he lands in one, he is almost sure to win. And he’s just landed in one – the shady Ladder Five outfit is trying to steal cattle from his employer, and Conagher won’t stand for it! But can he convince his fellow ranch hands to join in the struggle, or must he fight this battle alone?

Praises.

Romance wasn’t a problem in this book. When the story begins, Evie is married to Jacob Teale, a man whom she respects if she does not love. But Evie understands her role as his wife is that of a helper who gives him aid, not one of wanting more attention or affection from him. When he brings her to an unsophisticated claim on the western frontier she is disappointed. But instead of accusing or blaming him, she thinks,

Drab it might be, barren it was, but to Jacob, a middle-aged man with years of hard work behind him, it was home. She warned herself that she must never forget that, and that she must do what she could to help him. [pg. 2]

And later,

She said nothing, for she had never complained; she never would complain. Jacob had thought of this too long, and he would need help, not complaints or arguments. [pg. 3]

I think that what I appreciated most about the two main characters was their maturity. Both Evie and Conagher are individuals who understand their duties and work hard to fulfill them. They don’t spend their time belly-aching over their wishes, wants, and desires, or complaining that no one understands them. Mind you, they are both lonely – terribly lonely – and they each wish that they had someone who did understand them, but this does not distract them from their life’s work. Evie works hard to feed and protect her children, and Conagher pours himself into his job.

I was surprised by this sentiment expressed by Conagher.

“A boy should know his pa – he needs somebody to look up to. A boy or a girl, they learn how to be a man or a woman by watching their folk.” [pg. 51]

He also says,

“A man who kills when he can do otherwise is crazy . . . plumb crazy.” [pg. 52]

I also thought that this bit from Charlie McCloud was interesting.

“A man can get throwed by his horse out there on the plains and he can die of thirst before he can get anywhere. That’s why they hang horse thieves, ma’am, because out here if you take a man’s horse you may have taken his life along with it.” [pg. 37]

This caused me to stop and think. I had always thought that capital punishment for horse stealing was an unbiblical rule because it was harsher than what is found in the Scriptures. Now, understanding the reason behind the punishment, it makes a lot more sense.

Cautions.

After Evie’s husband has been missing for six months, a good friend advises her to marry again. She agrees to consider the idea. In the end it is proven that her husband did in fact die, and she chooses another man.

As is natural for a western, there are several fights of a varied nature – fistfights, gunfights, etc. This scene, which I would consider to be the most violently descriptive passage of the book, occurs when a man deliberately picks a fight with Conagher.

Outside he threw it into position behind his saddle and was about to hang the coil of rope over the horn when he heard a step behind him. “All right, Conagher. This time it won’t be fists.”

It was Staples’ voice, and Conn turned on one heel, swinging the tightly coiled rope in a sweeping blow that caught the gunman across the face. It was a brutal blow; the coiled rope was like iron and it caught Staples across the mouth and nose, knocking him staggering into the hitching rail.

Coolly, matter-of-factly, and without hurry, Conagher swung the coil again, smashing him across the mouth as Staples clawed for his gun.

The gunman never had a chance. He had expected a gun battle or an argument – anything but this. Conagher stood wide-legged in front of him and, backing the gunman against the rail, he proceeded to beat him unmercifully with the swinging coil of rope.

No matter how Staples tried to turn, the rope was there to meet him. His nose was broken, his lips smashed to pulp, his cheeks and ears bloody, and when he finally got his gun out a sweeping blow with the coiled rope struck it from his hand into the dust.

At no time did Conagher seem hurried. He whipped Staples coldly, almost casually, as though it were of no importance. The crowd that gathered watched silently and in awe.

When Kiowa went to his knees, Conagher struck him one more swinging blow that knocked him into the dust, and then he said, “You better ride out of here, Staples. An’ leave that gun alone. You ain’t fit to handle one. And don’t you cross my trail again. I don’t like bein’ braced by no tinhorn.” [pg. 21]

When asked if he ever thinks about the hereafter, Conagher responds by saying,

“Not much. I figure it’s like the Plains Indians say – a happy hunting ground. Leastaways, that’s how I’d like it to be. A place with mountains, springs, running streams, and some green, grassy banks where a man can lie with his hat over his eyes and let the bees buzz.” [pg. 71]

Although presented as hardened, evil men, when they have Conagher at their mercy, the Ladder Five gang does the honorable thing and allows him to live. While I realize that this was necessary for the story to turn out right, I don’t believe a group of morally depraved men would hesitate to take out their greatest enemy when given the chance, regardless of how much they might respect him as a person.

In one scene, a man asks a very discouraged Conagher what he plans to do next. Conagher responds,

“Charlie, I’m going to get drunk. I’m going to get mean drunk and then sleepy drunk, and when I wake up I’m going to ride clean to Montana or Oregon or somewhere far off.” [pg. 116]

He thereupon goes to a tavern, but before he can start drinking a fight breaks out between him and a Ladder Five man.

‘Damn’ is used thirty-one times, ‘hell’ eleven times, and God’s name is used flippantly twice. Most of this cursing occurs in rashes whenever there is an action scene.

Conclusion. What one might call stereotypical Western fiction, Conagher isn’t a book for the ‘top favorites’ shelf, but it doesn’t deserve to get thrown in the trash, either. Although stereotypical, the writing was good, if a little too generous with curse words.

Shane

Title: Shane
Author: Jack Shaefer
Pages: 119
Recommended Ages: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Although it is considered a ‘classic western’ novel that has been adapted as an Academy Award winning film, I had never heard of Shane before picking it up ‘randomly’ at a recent library sale. Now, after devouring it, I understand how it has attained such popularity. Although it follows a typical western scenario, it is a singular story.

The Story.

It was a clear summer’s day when Shane first rode onto the Starrett’s farm in Wyoming. From the first moment young Bob glimpsed his lean figure and cool intensity, he knew that Shane was a special man. Bob’s father Joe and mother Marian agreed with him, and together they asked Shane to stay on and help with their ranch. He agreed.

The more time the Starretts spend with Shane the more they love him. Although not physically imposing, he radiates a quiet energy which alternately thrills and scares young Bob. Obviously a man with a painful history, Shane settles comfortably into his life with the Starretts but maintains a strict silence in regard to his past life.

But greed is beginning to threaten the peaceful happiness of the Starrett’s lifestyle. Fletcher, a grasping landowner, desires to control the entire valley and tries to scare the small farmers off their lands. Joe and Shane band the men of the valley together in defiance of Fletcher and the pressure slackens off a bit. But only for a brief moment.

Fletcher is determined to gain the valley all for himself and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. He hires the brutal gunslinger, Stark Wilson, to pick off a few of the ranchers. It is then, for the first time since he rode into their valley, that Shane straps on his polished gun. As tempers and stakes shoot sky high, can Shane protect the family he loves without returning to his violent past? Who will emerge the victor in this battle of wills and bullets?

Praises.

I have only read a half dozen or so books that were as emotionally involving as Shane. It left me with a yearning feeling; an aching desire to rush into the pages and comfort someone. Who? I’m not sure. But somebody needed comforting. Or maybe that was me…..

I loved the warmth and security that oozed from the Starrett farm. The family was happy together. They loved each other. They were bright and cheerful. Bob says of his mother,

Father and I would have painted the house three times over and in rainbow colors to please her. [pg. 6]

Because their family life is so affectionate and thriving, I felt personally involved when Fletcher and his cronies tried to threaten them out of the valley. It’s as though he was trying to destroy my own family, my own happiness, my own life.

I loved this bit of wisdom that Shane passed on to Bob,

“Listen, Bob. A gun is just a tool. No better and no worse than any other tool, a shovel – or an axe or a saddle or a stove or anything. Think of it always that way. A gun is as good – and as bad – as the man who carries it. Remember that.” [pg. 44]

Cautions.

My only real concern about Shane is the relationship between Shane and Bob’s mother, Marian. It was so subtly communicated, relying almost entirely on implications, that I’m still not even a hundred percent sure that it was, as I furiously suspect, illicit. Nothing is ever definitely stated; there is certainly never a physical relationship between the two, but significant phrases and almost equivocal hints all point towards Shane and Marian silently loving each other.

This theme does not infiltrate the book; there were only four scenes that I marked down in the back of the book as ‘Romance’ and as I re-read them I found myself wondering, “Is there a way that I could explain this scene away? Couldn’t this be the result of a brotherly/sisterly affection?” And taken each individually, they could have been. But as a cumulative whole they cannot.

Here is probably the most suggestive passage from the entire book. It occurs immediately after both Shane and Mr. Starrett are wounded in a fight.

Her [Marian’s] voice was climbing and she was looking back and forth and losing control of herself. “Did ever a woman have two such men?” And she turned from them and reached out blindly for a chair and sank into it and dropped her face into her hands and the tears came.

The two men stared at her and then at each other in that adult knowledge beyond my understanding. Shane rose and stepped over by mother. He put a hand gently on her head and I felt again his fingers in my hair and the affection flooding through me. He walked quietly out the door and into the night.

Father drew on his pipe. It was out and absently he lit it. He rose and went to the door and out on the porch. I could see him there dimly in the darkness, gazing across the river.

Gradually mother’s sobs died down. She rasied her head and wiped away the tears.

“Joe.”

He turned and started in and waited then by the door. She stood up. She stretched her hands toward him and he was there and had her in his arms.

“Do you think I don’t know, Marian?”

“But you don’t. Not really. You can’t. Because I don’t know myself.”

Father was staring over her head at the kitchen wall, not seeing anything there. “Don’t fret yourself, Marian. I’m man enough to know a better when his trail meets mine. Whatever happens will be all right.”

“Oh, Joe. . . Joe! Kiss me. Hold me tight and don’t ever let go.” [pg. 80]

It’s that close to being stated – but it isn’t. If Shane and Marion’s love had been overt or explicit I would never even think of publishing a favorable review of Shane. But it was so subtle that I doubt if most readers less mature than I would have noticed it. And here is where my dilemma is. If this book could be slipped into that short time slot when readers are old enough to handle the reading level but still too young to notice the relationship, it would be perfect. But can that be achieved? And is it worth taking that chance, or should Shane be postponed until much later? I don’t know.

There are four fight scenes, each of which take place in a saloon. They are described in detail, but are not disgusting. Here is an example.

He flowed into action so swift you could hardly believe what was happening. He scooped up his half-filled glass from the bar, whipped it and its contents into Morgan’s face, and when Morgan’s hands came up reaching for him, he grasped the wrists and flung himself backwards, dragging Morgan with him. His body rolled to meet the floor and his legs doubled and his feet, catching Morgan just below the belt, sent him flying on and over to fall flat in a grotesque spraddle and slide along the boards in a tangle of chairs and a table. [pg. 71]

‘By Godfrey’, ‘darn’, ‘shucks’ and ‘heck’, are used regularly; ‘great jumping Jehoshaphat’, and ‘my God’ are used once each.

Conclusion. I can’t give a cut-and-dry opinion about this book. You will have to make your own decision based upon the maturity level of your reader and his level of exposure to these things. Shane is worth reading eventually – as an older reader I enjoyed it immensely. Ulitmately, I would suggest that you as a parent read it and make your decision. Purchase a copy here.