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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

November 22, 2012

BOOK REVIEW

Saddle on a Cloud (1952) by Frank C. Robertson

I’m on a western-fiction roll and here’s one more to add to last week’s The Lone Deputy by Wayne D. Overholser for Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Pattinase and Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Drift Wood, framed for cattle rustling seven years ago, returns as foreman of the Flying M ranch owned by his friend, Doc Egan, to clear his name. But, Drift has a fight on his hands…

My copy of the book
Drift Wood to his friends, Driftwood to his enemies… Either way, the hero of Saddle on a Cloud has been a drifter for seven years, framed for rustling and banished from the town of Idanha where he and his three friends grew up. One day, he decides to return “home” to help his old friend, Doc Egan, fight against rival outfits led by Hoke Guyer, a brute of a man who wants to take over Doc’s Flying M ranch at any cost.

Doc and his wife Edith, and their two little children, live in fear as Hoke accuses Doc of stealing his cows which his men force on to the Flying M range as a nasty pressure tactic. Backing the big, hulking man are his crooked foreman Bish McCarty and hired gun Latigo Spence and nearly all the members of the cattlemen’s association who believe Doc is a rustler. There are a few ranchers who believe he's innocent and keep away from the shady events that unfold at regular intervals.


(Bish McCarty) spoke quietly, “You were told to stay away from this country, Drift. You made a big mistake by coming back.”

“It’s a free country, Bish; hasn't anybody ever told you?” he queried easily.


Standing between Hoke and his wicked aim is fast-gun Drift Wood and his two other friends, Ev Clayton, an Englishman and a gambler, and Bert ‘Teach’ Thackeray, a carefree cowpuncher who works with him on the Flying M.

While Drift is looking out for Doc, his own back is covered by Ev and Teach, and together the four childhood buddies take on Hoke Guyer, owner of the Big G, and his cronies. 

Frank C. Robertson
But, is it really all that simple? Not when Drift finds out the “treachery” of one of his friends and “blackmail” to boot. It comes as a huge shock to the honest-to-goodness cowboy who would rather face his enemies unarmed than live with the bitter truth that his closest friend could have prevented his frame-up and ostracism seven years ago and saved Doc Egan all his troubles now.

Saddle on a Cloud is a test of character of the major players—the good people—in the story who, apart from Drift Wood, Doc Egan, Ev Clayton and Teach, include Doc’s wife Edith who feels safer with Drift around; Bish McCarty’s sister, Clover, who is in love with Drift; Dolly Fannin, a tobacco-chewing cowgirl whose father keeps his distance from Hoke Guyer; Kitty, Ev Clayton’s beautiful sister and Drift’s love interest; Dee Walker, owner of the Bull Corral saloon who's behind Drift with his shotgun; and Ben Larkin, a well-liked and respected black man in the Flying M outfit who swears allegiance to Drift.


These people remain loyal to Drift whose appeal lies in his innate capacity to shoulder the burden of his suffering friends, Doc and Edith, even if it might get him killed. Therein lies the appeal of the book.

The 188-page novel by Frank Chester Robertson (1890-1969), an American writer of dozens of westerns, short stories and newspaper articles, keeps you absorbed from the beginning to end. The story is written in an easy style, which I suspect is a Robertson trademark (this being my first novel by him), and plays out a lot in the country where the rival outfits of Doc Egan and Hoke Guyer hustle cattle onto each other’s range. There is almost a romantic quality about the way fearless cowboys like Drift Wood, armed with a six-shooter, stand their ground and take on a group of enemy riders trying bulldoze their way onto somebody else's range. Drift would rather defuse the tension with a spoken word than with a quick draw of his gun.

“Keep it down, Bish,” Drift cut in. “You’ll get the second slug. I’m tired of fooling with punks like you and Phil who ain’t neither one dry behind the ears.”

This is the kind of stuff I like reading in a western and Robertson tells it really well. While reading Saddle on a Cloud I couldn't help wishing I was there on the range, watching from a safe distance and away from the possible line of fire. I wondered what range wars or conflicts were like in the real Wild West, and how realistic their depiction in western novels. I'm sure it can’t have been fun.

6 comments:

  1. I like that title, though it doesn't seem like it really suggests a lot of tension and danger

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    1. Charles, I liked the title, too, though I'm not sure what it means even after reading the book. The tension is intermittent and nothing suggestive of real danger.

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  2. No fun, indeed. And the fairly recent US film OPEN RANGE was repeating on cable tonight, one which, even more than most latter-day US westerns or the Italian gritfests, makes it clear what a stupid awful horrible waste a gunfight is. DEADWOOD took up that baton, among television series.

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    1. Todd, OPEN RANGE has a close resemblance to the plot in SADDLE ON A CLOUD though I haven't seen the film. It is my kind of a western movie. I'm not familiar with DEADWOOD but upon reading the synopsis of this television series, I can see the similarities between the characters in the series and the book. I don't think it has been telecast in South Asia. Thanks for the heads-up on both.

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  3. Nicely reviewed. Sounds like a straight up western. I like that you found a photo of the author. Dates are important, too. I often think that these 50s westerns reflect the post-war/Cold War period in the way men must fight for the lives against enemies in a world where they can also be betrayed by someone they've trusted. Carrying an onus of some kind is also part of the bargain, as well as the theme of the return home.

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    1. Thank you, Ron, equally so for your perspective. You're right about SADDLE ON A CLOUD being a "straight up" western. I borrowed the photo idea from your own comprehensive reviews of westerns though it's not always easy to find images of early authors. I couldn't find the original source of Robertson's photograph for a copyright citation. You have raised interesting points about the 50s westerns reflecting the post-war period and, if I may add in the context of this book, the sacrifices made by the very people who betrayed someone's trust, as a means of atonement. I like the "return home" theme in fiction and nowhere is it more appealing than in westerns.

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