Robert E. Howard's western stories

It might not come as a surprise, that Howard didn't write only humorous westerns. These all are stories with one-off characters, that didn't show up in any other stores as far I know.

The Golden Hope of Christmas isn't a particularly great story. It's not terrible, but it does come out a bit gimmicky in the end. It's a story of Red Ghallinan, a gunslinger with a temper and a bad mentality, who scams a young man to buy a dried up mine off his hands. As luck has it, the young man ends up striking rich of the mine and Red decides to kill the man, as he manages to convince himself that it was him that was ripped off. In the end, he decides not to kill him, as a Christmas song reminds him of childhood.

I don't really have much else to say about the story itself. It's a simple tale of jealousy, but with a terribly sentimental finish to it. It was originally published in 1922 in a high school paper so Howard would have been around 14 or 15 when he wrote it. In that contrast, it's a decent little tale, but other than that it doesn't have much going for it.

Drums of the Sunset or Riders of the Sunset is a pretty typical western adventure. It's not the greatest thing Howard wrote during his short career, but as a whole, it's an okay story about love and gold lust.

Steve Harmer is a young Texan, who happens to meet a young girl with her uncle when he's trying to find a way past mountains. They point him in the right direction and urge him to take it, as the mountains are dangerous. On his way, Harmer meets an old gold miner called Hard Luck Harper, who tells him of the people he just met up in the mountains as well as a lost gold claim he's been trying to find again since he lost it after an Indian attack. The gold gives Harmer a good reason to stay in the mountains, but in truth, he's head over heels in love with the girl, Joan Farrel, who's in a care of Gila Murken.

In the end, the whole thing is solved after Indians, who are mad at Murken because he and his men have cheated them, kill the mountain dwellers and Harmer accompanied with Hard Luck ride to rescue Joan, who's been taken as a prisoner. On the process, they manage to trap a troop of Indian warriors under a landslide and find the gold treasure as well, So the trio lives happily ever after.

What it all really boils to is, that Drums of the Sunset is a pretty forgettable little story. While it is readable, it's by no means anywhere near Howard at his best.

Vultures' Sanctuary is a nice little story of, where a grim, yet righteous man manages to wipe out a band of outlaws while rescuing a damsel in distress.  It all begins on a road to California when a crook named Chekotah Kid manages to bamboozle a young girl and her father to take him along.

Kid's idea is to rob and kill the man and take the loot and the girl as a prize to the head of a local gang so he can get under their protection.  But as luck has it, there's a cowpuncher named Bill McClanahan, who takes it upon to himself to rescue the woman and the father, as he feels responsible for their dilemma.

There's really nothing much else to say about the story itself, as it's pretty short and runs a predictable course to the end, where there's a shootout between Bill and the gang. After that, all's well that ends well. Still, it's a fun story, despite it's pretty void of any deeper meaning.

The Vultures of Whapeton (also known as The Vultures and the Vultures of Teton Gulch) is a great story and definitely one of the best western stories Howard wrote, if not one of the best stories he ever wrote. It's a story that shows Howard at his strongest, while he's telling a story of greed and deception set in a gold rush town of Whapeton terrorized by a gang calling themselves the Vultures.

It all begins with a murder of a deputy and the sheriff of the town, Middleton, telling people, that if they aren't willing to testify, then he's going to hire a gunslinger to take care of the riff-raff. He's through detaining people just to let them out when the yellow-bellied townsfolk are too afraid to testify against them.

The gunslinger in question is a grim man called Corcoran, who has no qualms at shooting people who deserve it, which is something he proves immediately when he takes the badge and shoots three Vultures, who tried to ambush him at a local tavern. And that's actually all I want to say about the story, as it is a somewhat atypical tale. In fact, while I was reading it, I couldn't help but the think of how nicely the story could have worked as a spaghetti western done by Sergio Leone. The nature of the story and the bleakness it has would work well as a basis for a spaghetti western.

As a note, the version of the story I have has two endings, a bleaker one, where no-one gets what they want and a happier one, where Corcoran comes a bit better off. Overall, of the two endings, the bleaker ending felt more fitting to the thematics of the story, whereas the happy ending just felt like something the publisher might have wanted to please the readers.

But in any case, The Vultures is definitely one western story I can really recommend. It has a great style and a story, accompanied by a good cast of characters. And like I said, I can fully imagine it as a western with someone like Clint Eastwood playing Corcoran.

Boot-Hill Payoff is a story I can say exists, but I never did get very far with it. I tried to read it, but something about it just turned me off in the early stages, so besides noting that it exists, I have nothing else to say about it.

And that's the end of the Howard stories that were placed under a tag "western" in the collection I have at my disposal. Up next will be Howard's "historical" novels, which I'm really looking forward to.