THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Friday, August 12, 2016

WINDING STAIR by Douglas C. Jones

"Jones has taken believable crimes of a real gang of desperadoes from the 1890s, has surrounded the real criminals with fictitious lawmen, and given them a fictitious trial before the real 'hanging judge,' Isaac Parker....None of the moral forces of The Ox-Bow Incident perhaps -- but a gritty, lovingly etched Western-crime re-creation." -- Kirkus Review

Winding Stair takes place in Fort Smith, Arkansas and the Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) during the 1890s when the U.S. Federal Court for Western Arkansas, with Judge Isaac "The Hanging Judge" Parker at the helm, also had federal jurisdiction over much of the Indian Territory.

Federal courthouse in Fort Smith as it appeared in 1890 and today

Reconstructed gallows at Fort Smith

Young Eben Pay is reading for the law in the U.S. Attorney's office in Fort Smith when a gang of five murderous thieves, rapists, and killers (loosely based on the Rufus Buck gang) go on a killing and raping rampage in the Territory.  Deputy Marshal Oscar Schiller invites Pay to go along in an effort to capture the gang.

As events unfold Pay becomes much more personally involved than he had planned.

The reader is also introduced to Marshal Schiller's Osage tracker, Joe Mountain. The marshal, Joe, and Eben made subsequent appearances in other Jones' novels.

"Jones relies on none of the usual Western trappings; he eschews stereotypes....The historical research is seamless -- the story never slows down to admit dull exposition.  Winding Stair convinces, utterly, that this is how life must have been in that place at that time...a significant and highly entertaining contribution to the popular literature of the American West." -- New York Times

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