Friday, July 11, 2014

The Lone Ranger on Powderhorn Trail

Pressed for time, as a result of his constant output for Green Hornet and Lone Ranger radio scripts, Fran Striker took a number of his Lone Ranger pulp novels and expanded them into feasible hardcover books for Grosset & Dunlap. The Phantom Rider (The Lone Ranger Magazine, April 1937) was published as The Lone Ranger and the Mystery Ranch (1938). Killer Round-Up (The Lone Ranger Magazine, June 1937) was published as The Lone Ranger and the Outlaw Stronghold (1939). Striker even borrowed plots from the radio scripts for the G&D novels. The shooting contest dramatized in the February 4, 1935 radio broadcast was a scene written in The Lone Ranger and the Gold Robbery (1939). The May 21, 1941 radio broadcast became the basis for The Lone Ranger Traps the Smugglers (1941).

The Lone Ranger and the Powderhorn Trail (spelled “Powder Horn,” two words, only on the cover but as one word inside), published in 1949, was originally based on a three-part radio broadcast from March of 1937 (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Since only two broadcasts from 1937 are known to exist in recorded form, none of them from March, this novel appeals to radio fans. The three-part story, concerning The Lone Ranger’s manhunt for The Arizona Kid, was featured in the October 1937 issue of The Lone Ranger Magazine as Lone Star Renegade (with the names of some of the characters changed). The same story was put to book form in 1939 as Hi Yo Silver: The Lone Ranger to the Rescue as a Dell feature book). The same story was adapted for the newspaper dailies one year later, April to August, 1940. The same newspaper strip was reprinted in edited form for the February 1947 Dell Four-Color comic.

But nothing beats the prose of Fran Striker with the opening paragraphs:

    It was mid-afternoon when the Lone Ranger reined up abruptly and stared aghast. Two men sprawled motionless in a woodland clearing. The masked man felt instinctively that both were dead.
    He had been riding south through the forest for the better part of two hours. The sun filtering through the leaky roof, a soft breeze stirring the trees, and the frequent trickle of clear streams had given no hint of violence. Yet here was death, twofold, in its most violent form.

The death of two Texas Rangers forced The Lone Ranger, a former Ranger himself, to swear a vow to apprehend the guilty party and bring him to justice. The suspect was Dave Lowery, a.k.a. “The Arizona Kid.” Despite an intensive manhunt, four days brought nothing tangible in the way of results until The Lone Ranger and Tonto managed to pick up his trail. Tonto, having spent a few days with his own tribe in a valley near Powderhorn Trail, joins The Lone Ranger as they ride north to track The Arizona Kid. “I swear upon my sacred honor to do my best to deliver the Arizona Kid alive to the Texas Rangers,” The Lone Ranger tells Texas Ranger Hastings.

Dave Lowry used to be a stubborn, but brave lad, before he joined the Army. After the war, he traveled around considerable and then went south to Texas. Down there he got pretty handy with his six guns and became known as The Arizona Kid, an outlaw people feared only by reputation. He built a reputation as a gunslinger.

Along the trail, The Lone Ranger and Tonto meet Lem Loftus and his wife, Mary. The couple came from the East when they were young. Lem went prospecting for gold in the hills and had a stroke of good luck. For a long time they were mighty well off. They bought a piece of property and put it into farm land. They built a big house and fancy furniture shipped in from the East. One day, Ebenezer Gorman introduced himself and offered ready cash to grubstake Lem. While sleeping in camp, Lem discovered the pouch was stolen. In debt, Lem and Mary were forced to sell the house and land over to Gorman, auction off the furniture and found they had to work ten years to repay the balance.

Gorman had bought the land for a pittance when Lem had been forced to sell at auction, and ever since that sorry day, the old man and his wife had been compelled to work as field hands on the Gorman property… until the truth came out. Courtesy of Dave Lowry, Gorman’s crooked scheme is exposed. The sack of gold rally contained four hundred dollars -- not $3,000 -- the rest was worthless stuff to weigh the sack down. Thanks to the reputation of The Arizona Kid, and the virtuous heart of The Lone Ranger, Gorman is forced to hand $3,000 over to Lem and Mary. The property is deeded back to the old couple and Gorman refurnishes the big house for them. Forcing Gorman to make restitution, Lowry leaves while The Lone Ranger makes sure that justice is served… before setting out to capture Lowry.
With a few hours head start, Lowry proves to be a challenge for The Lone Ranger and Tonto, who spend long days and nights in the saddle. They traveled with a minimum of rest and frequently ate cold food as they rode, rather than lose time making camp to prepare a hot meal. Their course continued north across the terrain that was increasingly rough and mountainous. The Lone Ranger almost caught up with The Arizona Kid except for Tonto’s brief bullet wound from Lowry’s girlfriend, trying to defend his honor and hold the lawmen at bay long enough for Lowry to make good an escape. Dave Lowry soon discovered that both lack of water and exposure to the noon day sun put a damper on his trail and is eventually forced to take a stand behind huge rocks. The Lone Ranger, however, doesn’t believe Lowry is a true killer and slowly walks up to the youth to disarm him.

Lowry tells The Lone Ranger his true, but unbelievable story. Captain Scarsdale wanted an outlaw named Ring Durango, a quarter-breed, wanted for committing just about every crime a man could think of. The Texas Rangers has been trying for a long time to get Durango, but they never came close. Out of desperation, he suggested Lowry build up a reputation as an outlaw. He made sure wanted posters for The Arizona Kid be plastered across the West. The masquerade eventually worked and Lowry became pals with Durango. Lowry even suggested a bank stick-up and then leaked information to Captain Scarsdale. The trap was sprung and gunfire was exchanged. Ring Durango was apprehended and Scarsdale was killed. When Dave Lowry was captured, he learned how the situation was not in his favor. Only the Captain knew of The Arizona Kid’s true status as an undercover agent for the Texas Rangers. Lowry, always wanting to be a Texas Ranger, was now in custody and awaiting trial. Lowry had no other choice but to escape. If it wasn’t for The Lone Ranger’s perseverance, The Arizona Kid would be out of U.S. jurisdiction.

“I vowed I would find you and take you back to Texas, to be placed on trial for the murder of Texas Ranger Brelt. I intend to keep that vow,” The Lone Ranger explains to Lowry. “It will be fulfilled when I deliver you as a prisoner to the authorities… From that moment on -- from the moment I deliver you, I’ll begin fighting on your side.”
The Lone Ranger pulp magazine
The Arizona Kid thanked The Lone Ranger for believing his story and rode back to Orlando to face trial. Judge Pearson Kenny, respected and dreaded for his justice, which he doled out with an impartial hand, proceeded with amazing swiftness. Texas Ranger testimony against Lowry was all circumstantial, but was almost conclusive coming from men whose word could not be doubted. Lowry was found guilty and sentenced to hang Tuesday morning. While Lowry sat in jail, awaiting his fate, The Lone Ranger and Tonto set into motion a scheme to save Lowry and prove his innocence. Two days after the trial, Matilda Scarsdale, widow of Captain Scarsdale, arrived in town to take up temporary residence. There, she took in boarders who traveled far distances at the request of the Masked Man and his faithful Indian companion.

The night before the hanging, Judge Kenny was called to Matilda’s residence for a special meeting. There, he was introduced to Mary and Lem Loftus, Martha Westerly and his daughter Abigail (Lowry’s girlfriend), and Colonel Carter, commandant at Fort Bardow. Bert Hastings, Texas Ranger, arrived to the meeting and finally the discussion began about saving Dave Lowry. Lem Loftus told how Dave Lowry had risked capture by The Lone Ranger to help him and his wife out of their trouble with the moneylender, Gorman. Abigail gave her testimony, telling how Dave had left for the Badlands of Texas, in the hope of becoming a Texas Ranger. Captain Norton and his superior officer, Colonel Carter, told about Dave’s Army life, going into detail about a number of heroic incidents in the boy’s career. Then The Lone Ranger told the account of how his life was saved by Dave Lowry, when he was trapped by a landslide. “Does that sound like the act of a hardened killer?” the Masked Man asked.

Illustration of The Lone Ranger trapped in the landslide from the pulp magazine version.

Matilda Scarsdale shows the judge a book her husband was reading, about a Scotland Yard detective who employs the same method of undercover operation. On the margin of the page, in her late husband’s own handwriting, was a message: “To whom it may concern -- In the event of my sudden death, this is to state that Dave Lowry, known as The Arizona Kid, is acting under my orders, along lines suggested by this book. Dave Lowry should not be considered a criminal in the eyes of the law.” In the excited turmoil that followed this pronouncement, The Lone Ranger explained how he had felt sure that Captain Scarsdale, aware of the hazards of his work, never would have allowed young Lowry to undertake his secret assignment without some sort of legal protection in case of the Captain’s death. The Lone Ranger even reveals another member of the late-night meeting, the governor, who has the authority to delay the execution. The prisoner was granted a new trial, and this time the verdict was different. Abigail, proud of her boyfriend for his heroic efforts, watches as Captain Bert Hastings and five men in uniform presented Dave Lowry with a badge, making him an official Texas Ranger. 

In chapter thirteen, it is revealed that The Lone Ranger carries on his person, a powerful field glass for long range sight across the plains. In chapter twenty, Tonto’s paint horse is mentioned by name, “Scout,” as it was on the radio program. In the earliest of radio adventures, Tonto rode a pony. Later graduating to a horse named “White Feller,” for obvious reasons the name of the horse was changed to “Scout,” as reflected in this novel. The early Lone Ranger novels reflect “White Feller,” but whether faithful readers of the hardcover novels ever caught the inconsistency of continuity remains unclear.

For fans of the radio program who want to enjoy further adventures of “lost” radio broadcasts, I suggest the first Grosset & Dunlap novel, The Lone Ranger (1936), adapted from seven radio scripts from 1935. The Lone Ranger and the Mystery Ranch (1938), described above, was also based on the July 6, 1936 radio broadcast. If you enjoy Big Little Books, I recommend The Lone Ranger and his Horse Silver (1935), based on two radio broadcasts, July 27, 1934 and April 26, 1935. The Lone Ranger and the Red Renegades (1939) was based on the September 9, 1936 radio broadcast.