THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VERY BAD ~ PART THREE
Two of my recent columns have focused on the western men’s action adventure series Fargo and Sundance. Both were created and written by revered western writer Ben Haas under his John Benteen pseudonym. With the success of both series, publisher Harry Shorten asked Haas to create a third Benteen series—Cutler.
For various reasons, however, the lightning strikes of the Fargo and Sundance series never zapped Cutler in the same way—possibly because Cutler was not a very nice character to be around. Both Fargo and Sundance are hard, violent men, but there is something honorable about them, which didn’t rub off on Cutler despite his righteous quest. Despite this lack of traction, the concept of a hardened hunter taking on rogue animals with a bounty on them is unusual enough to warrant reading.
Physically, Cutler is a traditional Benteen hero—A taciturn, leathery, hunter of men and animals in his early thirties, John Cutler stands better than six feet tall, with broad, sloping shoulders, and a barrel-chest tapering to lean waist and slim hips. Shaggy raven’s wing black hair—faintly threaded with gray—spills from beneath a dusty, flat-crowned sombrero. His brows are great black marks above deep-set eyes the color of gunmetal, the planes of his big-nosed face rough and angular, his skin burnt to the color of rawhide by a life in the sun. His wardrobe consists of a filthy blue work shirt, a calfskin vest, jeans, fringed shotgun chaps, and flat-heeled boots made for walking as much as for riding. A holstered .44 Colt with a strap to hold it in its scabbard for rough riding swings from a cartridge belt around his waist, and on his other hip is a Case sheath knife.
Cutler had been an experienced Federal Marshal in Indian Territory before retiring with his new bride to a ranch in Arizona. All was as he had imagined it until a rogue grizzly changes Cutler’s life forever. The bear—a huge monster with a silver blaze—had been killing cattle. Cutler sets traps to capture or kill the beast. When he returns to check them, however, he finds the rouge bear has escaped by chewing off the paw caught in the hunting traps vicious jaws.
Cutler races home, but he is too late. Driven insane with pain, the giant animal has gone on a berserk rampage through Cutler’s ranch—where it savages Cutler’s pregnant wife. Cutler rides in just in time to catch her dying breath about the bear. Cutler immediately starts to hunt down the beast until a blizzard causes him to lose the trail.
Five years pass. Cutler I now a nasty drunk who makes his living hunting and killing rogue animals with bounties on them—but the biggest rogue still eludes him. Unlike most bears, this monster stays on the move, killing anything in his path, with Cutler always a step behind…But Cutler will not give up.
Haas/Benteen wrote the first two Cutler novels before dropping the series to concentrate on his far more popular Fargo and Sundance novels. The Cutler series was turned over to Vernon Hinkle—using the pseudonym H. V. Elkin—for four more titles before the series was shot down (possibly by rogue animal lovers or PETA)…
In a more positive vein, Haas had much more success with another western series, Rancho Bravo, written for Fawcett’s Gold Medal line under the name Thorne Douglas. Alternating points of view in each book, The Rancho Bravo series would have made a terrific ‘70s western TV series. The first four books in the series span a one year time frame after the end of the Civil War. Ex-Confederate rebel Lucius Calhoon, Texan trail boss Henry Gannon, Yankee officer Philip Killraine, and ex-slave Elias Whitton each tell their own story of coming together to build a Texas cattle empire.
Calhoon is a bitter, one-handed, ex-plantation owner who has lost everything in the war. Gannon is a Texan trying to start a new ranch with wild cattle. Black cowboy, ex-slave, Elias Whitton is Gannon’s partner in the enterprise. When Killraine, quits his commission as a captain in the Northern Army to join them, Rancho Bravo is born.
The Mustang Men, the fifth book in the series switches point of view again to tell the story of Shan Tyree, who comes to work at Rancho Bravo. Clearly, Haas had a vision of having visitors or employees of Rancho Bravo tell their own stories in each successive book. Unfortunately, Ben Haas died in 1977 (prior to book five being published) before he could expand Rancho Bravo stories further. While I’m still partial to the short, sharp, brutal Fargo tales, Ranch Bravo—in my opinion—is Haas’ crowning achievement. This series is not to be missed...
THE RANCH BRAVO SERIES
The Big Drive (1973)
Night Riders (1975)
The Mustang Men (1977)
FOR MORE ON RANCHO BRAVO CLICK HERE
RANCHO BRAVO E-BOOKS FROM PICCADILLY PUBLISHING CLICK HERE
THE CUTLER SERIES
The Wolf-Pack (Benteen—1972)
The Gunhawks (Benteen—1972)
Eagle Man (H. V. Elkin—1978)
Tiger’s Chance (H. V. Elkin—1980)
Mustang (H. V. Elkin—1980)
Yellowstone (H. V. Elkin—1980)
FOR MORE ON CUTLER CLICK HERE
CUTLER E-BOOKS FROM PICCADILLY PUBLISHING CLICK HERE