Hard Ride

Written by Elmer Kelton
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Western fans as well as romance aficionados will like this collection of Kelton’s short stories from the 1950s. Many of them originally appeared in Ranch Romances magazine and are now collected for the first time in book form.  Some take place in the 20th century, such as “Rodeo Clown,” where title character Kelly Shanklin bears a grudge against a bull rider who stole his girl.  And in “The Moocher,” diner waitress Kitty Hagen uses her budding romance with rancher Bill Matthews to finally get rid of her mooch of a brother, Gerald.

But most of the stories are set in the Old West period.  In “Sidesaddle Sweetheart,” Jay Lockaby, down to his last dollar, is forced to join a cattle drive that includes the rancher’s daughter and a trail boss he dislikes.  In “When Happy Lost His Laughter,” ranch hand Happy Lane’s courtship of the boss’s sister Patty Thorpe is rocky, because she claims he isn’t serious enough.  And in “Long Ride, Hard Ride,” Confederate officer Miles Overstreet must capture a wagon train of Union munitions in 1862 New Mexico Territory, while commanding a unit of the army’s worst troops.

Kelton was an iconic, multiple-award-winning Western author.  This posthumous collection is my first introduction to his work, so I can’t compare it to his longer fiction.   In these stories, the cowboys, ranchers and sheriffs are ordinary men, not larger-than-life candidates for superhero-dom.  The short story format means that there isn’t much time to flesh out the minor characters, so many of the women and villains tend to the one-dimensional.  But if you like clean, old-fashioned cowboy-meets-girl fiction, this anthology is for you.