The men of the Big Bend of Texas are willing to welcome William C Rains when he arrives at the Paducah Cattle Company. The short Englishman has come out to expand and improve the ranch by any means necessary. But when Josh Thunder rides into some barbed wire strung right across the trail, tempers start to get short.
Rains has a will of steel that allies and friends alike underestimate, but Thunder and his friends from the Rocking W want to keep the land free. Range war is inevitable and soon sabotage leads to ruthless murder. The men of the Rocking W are fighting for their lives with revenge in their hearts.
After Rocking W was accepted and published, I wrote a couple more westerns which weren't taken. I decided to return to the Rocking W characters, and to go on with their story. This time I chose the story that told how Josh and Paul became outlaws, setting the scene for the still unpublished Rio de Sangre. It was time to introduce Sandy Daniels, the reckless young man with a talent for trouble. I had already decided that it was a range war which caused the trouble so I made the enemy the Paducah Cattle Company, who had been mentioned in passing in Rocking W. I wrote almost a whole novel but I wasn't happy with it. Although there seemed to be plenty of action, something was lacking. As the Paducah Cattle Company is owned by foreigners, the story was lacking a principal bad guy for the heroes to overcome. There was no focus for the enemy's side of the story. In the end, I scrapped everything I had written and started against from scratch. This time I introduced William C Rains, and the story came together much better. In the end, The Paducah War was good enough to get published and I didn't even have to change the title this time.
The character of Sandy Daniels was already clear to me from writing about him in Rio de Sangre. He was energetic and restless, a natural leader and fearless. The relationship between Josh, Paul and Sandy is complex. Sandy admires Josh's fighting skill but wants to prove himself as better. He is always looking for a way to challenge Josh, and when he does provoke a fight, he discovers that Josh's reflexes and wild temper are more than he can cope with. Paul intervenes, the only person Josh will listen to when angry. After that, Sandy is caught between fear and admiration for Josh, the only person in the world that Sandy fears. It's a one-sided match, as Josh is patently uninterested in either being leader or in proving himself better than Sandy. Sandy is also jealous of Paul's influence over Josh. This relationship begins in The Paducah War. As the story led to a range war, I had plenty of opportunities for Sandy to show his reckless and yet brave character. He is the first to push for action, sweeping the other cowhands along with his talk:
"I reckon we should show them how folks feel about it," Sandy said
"What do you mean ?" George asked.
"We should go cut their wire."
"We can't do that," Paul said immediately. He was watching Sandy but he sensed Josh's interest.
"Why not ?" Sandy grinned, his face bright with mischief. "It'll be fun."
"No it won't," Paul objected.
George glanced admiringly at Sandy. "I'll go with you," he said.
"That's good ! You got the right spirit, boy," Sandy praised.
"I'm in," Boyd said. "I don't want to see more stock lost."
"What about you ? Don't you want to help out your cousin ?" Sandy asked Fernando.
Fernando paused for a moment, looking at Paul, then his face lit up with his flashing smile. "I'm there, amigo."
"And I," Miguel offered.
"Wade won't like it," Paul said, staring at Sandy.
"Wade don't have to know about it," Sandy answered brightly.
Naturally, Sandy gets his way. Wire cutting soon escalates to brawling and sabotage and eventually the two ranches reach all-out war. Getting the development of events right was tricky. The heroes had to be in the right morally, but I wanted them to end up on the wrong side of the law in the end. To get it right, I had to give them an interesting villian, which was what the first draft had lacked
Probably the most successful British writer of westerns is J T Edson. His later books are lacking but the stories from the 60's and 70's are generally good. One of my favourites is The Rio Hondo Kid (1963). The book is fast-moving and enjoyable but what really makes it memorable is the bad guy. He could have been a good and useful man but he's been overlooked all his life for something that is not his fault and he becomes filled with hate, but even at the end he shows his good qualities and courage. I wanted to create a villian like this that the readers could like and admire. One of my favourite actors is Claude Rains, ('Casablanca', 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', 'The Invisible Man', etc), a short, British actor of immense presence. He was Oscar nominated four times, the last occasion for his portrayal of the Nazi sympathiser, in 'Notorious'. Rains is the villian, but you feel sorry for his character who has been betrayed by the woman he loves.
Claude Rains in 'Casablanca'.
As the Paducah Cattle Company had already been established as foreign-owned, I could cast an Englishman as the bad guy and write him as though he were being played by Claude Rains. I decided that the owner Rains had come out west for a while to expand his ranch and to fence it in, as is normal in Britain but which went against the open range policy of the early West. I gave him a love of horses, including one he had rescued from a cruel owner; this also gave him some common ground with Josh. Rains is charismatic and brave, even facing down armed men through sheer force of personality. On the other hand, he is ruthless and determined to expand his ownings regardless of the consequences:
"I came out here to expand the Paducah Cattle Company and this is what I shall do. I will let no one, no one, get in my way. I don't care if they are Mexican, Indian, illiterate cowhands or gentlemen. That kind of distinction is unimportant. If I have the means to break entire ranches, I shall certainly not be stopped by a couple of fools like you." Rains snapped out the last words then turned his back on them to walk away.
Flushed with fury, Marley reached to the gun on his hip. Taybeck grabbed his wrist. Marley snatched himself free of the rangy man's grip, but his chance was lost. He glared at Rains as the Englishman left the stable, then turned on his friend.
"Who does that runt reckon he is ?" he cursed. "I'll give him a whipping he'll never forget."
With the character of Rains in place, The Paducah War came together quickly. Rains' ruthlessness and Sandy's recklessness bring about the outright war at the end. I needed a name in a hurry for one of the minor characters in the fight, so I called him Beswick, after a friend of mine. I thought Iain would be amused at having a bad guy named after him, and he was.
The Paducah War was published three years after Rocking W. It was a tremendous relief to know I wasn't going to be a one-hit wonder after all. When my copies finally arrived, I turned eagerly to the front pages and there saw the magic words:
By the same author
It was my favourite bit of the whole book !
I was also keen to see whether the cover had any resemblence to anything in the story this time. It shows a generic fight, taking place in a town, to judge by the false-fronted store in the background.
The main gunfight in the book takes place out on the range but I don't really care. What matters is that it looked good on my shelf stacked alongside the first one. I was also happy that the story of Josh, Paul and Sandy, which I've spent a lot of time on over the years in one format or another, was steadily being published for others to share. One of the most frustrating things about writing a book that doesn't get published, is knowing that no one else will get a chance to read about the characters you've enjoyed working with so much. At least I've achieved some of those dreams. Sometimes I think I have the best job in the world.
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