The author created Hopalong Cassidy in 1904 while living in Fryeburg, Maine, and the many short stories and novels he wrote were adapted for radio, movies and television ... and comic books too.
The raw and mighty West, the greatest stage in all the history of the world for so many deeds of daring which verged on the insane, was seared and cross-barred with grave-lined trails and dotted with presumptuous, mushroom towns of brief stay, whose inhabitants flung their primal passions in the face of humanity and laughed in condescending contempt at what humanity had to say about it. In many localities the real bad-man, the man of the gun, whose claims to the appellation he was ready to prove against the rancorous doubting of all comers, made history in a terse and business-like way, and also made the first law for the locality—that of the gun.
There were good bad-men and bad bad-men, the killer by necessity and the wanton murderer; and the shifting of these to their proper strata evolved the foundation for the law of to-day. The good bad-men, those in whose souls lived the germs of law and order and justice, gradually became arrayed against the other class, and stood up manfully for their principles, let the odds be what they might; and bitter, indeed, was the struggle, and great the price.
From the gold camps of the Rockies to the shrieking towns of the coast, where wantonness stalked unchecked; from the vast stretches of the cattle ranges to the ever-advancing terminals of the persistent railroads, to the cow towns, boiling and seething in the loosed passions of men who brooked no restraint in their revels, no one section of country ever boasted of such numbers of genuine bad-men of both classes as the great, semi-arid Southwest. Here was one of the worst collections of raw humanity ever broadcast in one locality; here the crack of the gun would have sickened except that moralists were few and the individual so calloused and so busy in protecting his own life and wiping out his own scores that he gave no heed to the sum total of the killings; it was a word and a shot, a shot and a laugh or a curse.
In this red setting was stuck a town which we will call Eagle, the riffle which caught all the dregs of passing humanity, where men danced as souls were freed. Unmapped, known only to those who had visited it, it reared its flimsy buildings in the face of God and rioted day and night with no thought of reckoning; mad, insane with hellishness unlimited.
Late in the afternoon of a glorious day towards this town rode Antonio, "broncho-buster" for the H2, a Mexican of little courage, much avarice, and great capacity for hatred. Crafty, filled with cunning of the coyote kind, shifty-eyed, gloomy, taciturn, and scowling, he was well fitted for the part he had elected to play in the range dispute between his ranch and the Bar-20. He was absolutely without mercy or conscience; indeed, one might aptly say that his conscience, if he had ever known one, had been pulled out by the roots and its place filled with viciousness. Cold-blooded in his ferocity, easily angered and quick to commit murder if the risk were small, he embraced within his husk of soul the putrescence of all that was evil.
In Eagle he had friends who were only a shade less evil than himself; but they had what he lacked and because of it were entitled to a forced respect of small weight—they had courage, that spontaneous, initiative, heedless courage which toned the atmosphere of the whole West to a magnificent crimson. Were it not for the reason that they had drifted to his social level they would have spurned his acquaintance and shot him for a buzzard; but, while they secretly held him in great contempt for his cowardice, they admired his criminal cunning, and profited by it. He was too wise to show himself in the true light to his foreman and the outfit, knowing full well that death would be the response, and so lived a lie until he met his friends of the town, when he threw off his cloak and became himself, and where he plotted against the man who treated him fairly.
Riding into the town, he stopped before a saloon and slouched in to the bar, where the proprietor was placing a new stock of liquors on the shelves.
"Where's Benito, an' th' rest?" he asked.
"Back there," replied the other, nodding toward a rear room.
"Who's in there?"
"Benito, Hall, Archer an' Frisco."
"Him an' Clausen an' Cavalry went out 'bout ten minutes ago."
"I want to see 'em when they come in," Antonio remarked, shambling towards the door, where he listened, and then went in.
In the small room four men were grouped around a table, drinking and talking, and at his entry they looked up and nodded. He nodded in reply and seated himself apart from them, where he soon became wrapped in thought.
Benito arose and went to the door. "Mescal, pronto," he said to the man outside.
"D——d pronto, too," growled Antonio. "A man would die of alkali in this place before he's waited on."
The proprietor brought a bottle and filled the glasses, giving Antonio his drink first, and silently withdrew.
The broncho-buster tossed off the fiery stuff and then turned his shifty eyes on the group. "Where's Shaw?"
"Don't know—back soon," replied Benito.
"Why didn't he wait, when he knowed I was comin' in?"
Hall leaned back from the table and replied, keenly watching the inquisitor, "Because he don't give a d—n."
"You——!" shouted the Mexican, half arising, but the others interfered and he sank back again, content to let it pass. But not so Hall, whose Colt was half drawn.
"I'll kill you some day, you whelp," he gritted, but before anything could come of it Shaw and his companions entered the room and the trouble was quelled.
Soon the group was deep in discussion over the merits of a scheme which Antonio unfolded to them, and the more it was weighed the better it appeared. Finally Shaw leaned back and filled his pipe. "You've got th' brains of th' devil, 'Tony."
"Eet ees not'ing," replied Antonio.
"Oh, drop that lingo an' talk straight—you ain't on th' H2 now," growled Hall.
"Benito, you know this country like a book," Shaw continued. "Where's a good place for us to work from, or ain't there no choice?"
"Well, what of it?"
"On de edge of de desert, high, beeg. De walls are stone, an' so ver' smooth. Nobody can get up."
"How can we get up then?"
"There's a trail at one end," replied Antonio, crossing his legs and preparing to roll a cigarette. "It's too steep for cayuses, an' too narrow; but we can crawl up. An' once up, all h—l can't follow as long as our cartridges hold out."
"Water?" inquired Frisco.
"At th' bottom of th' trail, an' th' spring is on top," Antonio replied. "Not much, but enough."
"Can you work yore end all right?" asked Shaw.
"Si," laughed the other. "I am 'that fool, Antonio,' on th' ranch. But they're th' fools. We can steal them blind an' if they find it out—well," here he shrugged his shoulders, "th' Bar-20 can take th' blame. I'll fix that, all right. This trouble about th' line is just what I've been waitin' for, an' I'll help it along. If we can get 'em fightin' we'll run off with th' bone we want. That'll be easy."
"But can you get 'em fightin'?" asked Cavalry, so called because he had spent several years in that branch of the Government service, and deserted because of the discipline.
Antonio laughed and ordered more mescal and for some time took no part in the discussion which went on about him. He was dreaming of success and plenty and a ranch of his own which he would start in Old Mexico, in a place far removed from the border, and where no questions would be asked. He would be a rich man, according to the standards of that locality, and what he said would be law among the peons. He liked to daydream, for everything came out just as he wished; there was no discordant note. He was so certain of success, so conceited as not to ask himself if any of the Bar-20 or H2 outfits were not his equal or superior in intelligence. It was only a matter of time, he told himself, for he could easily get the two ranches embroiled in a range war, and once embroiled, his plan would succeed and he would be safe.
"What do you want for your share, 'Tony?" suddenly asked Shaw.
"You're loco!" cried the other. "Do you reckon we're going to buck up agin th' biggest an' hardest fightin' outfit in this country an' take all sorts of chances for a measly half, to be divided up among seven of us!" He brought his fist down on the table with a resounding thump. "You an' yore game can go to h—l first!" he shouted.
"I like a hog, all right," sneered Clausen, angrily.
"I thought it out an' I got to look after th' worst an' most important part of it, an' take three chances to you fellers' one," replied Antonio, frowning. "I said half, an' it goes."
"Run all th' ends, an' keep it all," exclaimed Hall. "An', by God, we've got a hand in it, now. If you try to hog it we'll drop a word where it'll do th' most good, an' don't you forget it, neither."
"Anton ees right," asserted Benito, excitedly. "Eet ees one reesk for Anton."
"Keep yore yaller mouth shut," growled Cavalry. "Who gave you any say in this?"
"Half," said Antonio, shrugging his shoulders.
"Look here, you," cried Shaw, who was, in reality, the leader of the crowd, inasmuch as he controlled all the others with the exception of Benito and Antonio, and these at times by the judicious use of flattery. "We'll admit that you've got a right to th' biggest share, but not to no half. You have a chance to get away, because you can watch 'em, but how about us, out there on th' edge of h—l? If they come for us we won't know nothing about it till we're surrounded. Now we want to play square with you, an' we'll give you twice as much as any one of th' rest of us. That'll make nine shares an' give you two of 'em. What more do you want, when you've got to have us to run th' game at all?"
Antonio laughed ironically. "Yes. I'm where I can watch, an' get killed first. You can hold th' mesa for a month. I ain't as easy as I look. It's my game, not yourn; an' if you don't like what I ask, stay out."
"We will!" cried Hall, arising, followed by the others. His hand rested on the butt of his revolver and trouble seemed imminent. Benito wavered and then slid nearer to Antonio. "You can run yore game all by yore lonesome, as long as you can!" Hall shouted. "I know a feller what knows Cassidy, an' I'll spoil yore little play right now. You'll look nice at th' end of a rope, won't you? It's this: share like Shaw said or get out of here, an' look out for trouble a-plenty to-morrow morning. I've put up with yore gall an' swallered yore insultin' actions just as long as I'm going to, an' I've got a powerful notion to fix you right here and now!"
"No fightin', you fools!" cried the proprietor, grabbing his Colt and running to the door of the room. "It's up to you fellers to stick together!"
"I'll be d——d if I'll stand—" began Frisco.
"They want too much," interrupted Antonio, angrily, keeping close watch over Hall.
"We want a fair share, an' that's all!" retorted Shaw. "Sit down, all of you. We can wrastle this out without no gun-play."
"You-all been yappin' like a set of fools," said the proprietor. "I've heard every word you-all said. If you got a mite of sense you'll be some tender how you shout about it. It's shore risky enough without tellin' everybody this side of sun-up."
"I mean just what I said," asserted Hall. "It's Shaw's offer, or nothin'. We ain't playing fool for no Greaser. Yes, that's th' word—Greaser!" he repeated in answer to Antonio's exclamation. "If you don't like it, lump it!"
"Here! Here!" cried Shaw, pushing Hall into a seat. "If you two have got anything to settle, wait till some other time."
"That's more like it," growled the proprietor, shuffling back to the bar.
"Good Lord, 'Tony," cried Shaw in a low voice. "That's fair enough; we've got a right to something, ain't we? Don't let a good thing fall through just because you want th' whole earth. Better have a little than none."
"Well, gimme a third, then."
"I'll give you a slug in th' eye, you hog!" promised Hall, starting to rise again, but Shaw held him back. "Sit down, you fool!" he ordered, angrily. Then he turned to the Mexican. "Third don't go; take my offer or leave it."
"Gimme a fourth; that's fair enough."
Shaw thought for a moment and then looked up. "Well, that's more like it. What do you say, fellers?"
"No!" cried Hall. "Two-ninths, or nothin'!"
"A fourth is two-eighths, only a little more," Shaw replied.
"Well, all right," muttered Hall, sullenly.
"That ees ver' good," laughed Benito, glad that things were clearing. All his sympathies were with his countryman, but he hesitated to take his part in the face of such odds.
The others gave their consent to the division and Shaw smiled. "Well, that's more like it. Now we'll go into this thing an' sift it out. Keep mum about it—there's twenty men in town that would want to join us if they knowed."
"I'm goin' to be boss; what I say goes," spoke up Antonio. "It's my game an' I'm takin' th' most risky end."
"You ain't got sand enough to be boss of anything," sneered Hall. "Yore sand is chalk."
"You'll say too much someday," retorted Antonio, glaring.
"Oh, not to you, I reckon," rejoined Hall, easily.
"Shut up, both of you!" snapped Shaw. "You can be boss, 'Tony," he said, winking at Hall. "You've got more brains for a thing like this than any of us. I don't see how you can figger it out like you do."
Antonio laughed in a self-satisfied way, for it was pleasant to hear such an admission from the lips of a Gringo, and he was ready to discuss things in a better spirit. But he remembered one thing, and swore to take payment if the plan leaked out; the proprietor had confessed hearing every word, which was not at all to his liking. If Quinn should tell, well, Quinn would die; he would see to that, he and Benito.