Wulf's Tracks: A Herschel Baker Novel
"Where are your "Louis L'Amour" type westerns?" "I've read all of the Louis L'Amour westerns and am now looking for more recently published westerns that are comparable?" Does this sound familiar? Unfortunately, too many librarians and educators mistakenly respond that there just aren't any new or post-L'Amour westerns being published today. According to the 2011 Spur Award committee, there were more entries this year than last--the award goes back to 1953.
If Louis L'Amour was writing today (died in 1988), he would have stiffer competition than ever and definitely would not dominate the genre to the extent he did in the 1960s-1980s. Any "western" reader today can name at least a dozen authors as good or better. Dusty Richards, the author of this novel the latest featuring Sheriff Herschel Baker, would be on any one's short list.
Seventeen-year-old Texan Wulf Baker's problem is his brutal step father. He can't understand why his mother married him. The "Three Crosses" ranch, his inheritance, and now the horse and dog he trained are no longer his. Wulf's skill as a horse wrangler (whisperer) and dog trainer are locally famous. With nothing left, under age, and no prospects, he leaves his girl and heads to his cousin, Sheriff Herschel Baker, in Montana.
As with the author's other westerns, there's at least one second plot. An old buffalo hunter's been assaulted and robbed. Herschel's bulldog tenacity takes him to Deadwood and Ogallala on the trail of the three hard cases and stolen gold doubloons.
Herschel and Wulf immediately recognize and respect each other's talents. Besides a top horse wrangler, Wulf is so cool headed and proficient with his Colt he's sworn in as a deputy. But, now eighteen, he's got unfinished business back in Texas. Could this be the beginning of a new series?
The author doesn't sacrifice authenticity for telling a good yarn. He doesn't ignore the importance and value of horses and animals on the frontier. We are easily deceived by movies and TV where horses are saddled and wagons hitched off camera. Horses didn't shoe themselves--"The hoof in his lap, he pried off the worn shoe...Andy helped, punching holes in the shoe blank...the old plates off, he began trimming the horse's frog, then rasping the large hoof down to size...Wulf heated and made the right size to fit t he freshly shaped hoof." Animals in the West were not pets but working animals living an existence often as violent and injury prone as their owners. One of the reasons for many city folk readers, easterners, romantics, and sentimentalists to not be enthusiastic towards the genre?
My deceased grandfather once beat a man for abusing his horse and my great grandmother routinely handled heavy harness hitching four horses to a wagon. Too hard? Too lawless & unjust? Too much blood and death? Both would have shrugged asking what's your point? That's just the way it was. They knew it and so does Dusty Richards. 2011 Spur Award finalist for best original paperback western. 282 pages.
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian