The Riders of High Rock is the third of four novels that Louis L'Amour wrote, as Tex Burns, about Hopalong Cassidy's adventures in the American Western frontier. Click Hopalong Cassidy Background for more information about these books.
Plot Summary: Hopalong Cassidy (Hoppy), former cowhand for the Bar 20 ranch, has made it to Nevada to visit his friend Gibson at the 3TL ranch (after sorting out some gold thieves in The Trail to Seven Pines). As he arrives, he learns in town that men from the 8 Box H ranch are hunting someone with red hair who's rumored to be a killer. From they way they joke about how they have every water hole and shelter in the area staked out, Hoppy begins to be sympathetic to the fugitive. After getting some additional information from folks in town, Hoppy realizes the man being hunted is his friend Red Connors, who came out from the Bar 20 ranch to help Gibson out.
After rescuing Red, Hoppy begins to investigate the complex, interstate rustling scheme underway at the 8 Box H ranch. Red had stumbled across one of the few clues as to what the ranch owner, Jack Bolt, has been doing. All of the local ranches have been losing cattle (including, according to Bolt, the 8 Box H). Bolt has found a way to send more than a thousand head of cattle from his neighbors' ranches to another ranch he owns in California after he's re-branded them with the 8 Box H brand. Red followed the most recently stolen cattle far enough to realize they were being taken out of the area, but then he was attached by the rustlers.
He and Hoppy now need to convince the local ranchers that Jack Bolt is not as upstanding as he appears and that someone could conceive and carry out such a convoluted rustling plan. Bolt's killed enough men in his life, though, not to mind adding two more to the count. He's also counting on matching his reputation in the area as a gentleman against the word of two out-of-town gunslingers.
My Reaction: I had heard of cattle rustling being a "hangin' offense" and have read historical fiction talking about cattle rustling in the Scottish highlands and other places. Still, somehow, I imagined small groups of unorganized bandits stealing 2-3 cows an evening and being chased away. It took me awhile to realize that in northern Nevada in the 1860s, it would be possible to steal thousands of cows and drive them over lands that would be very difficult to track to set up in another state where no one knew you. Just another example of how different the American West was during that era.
Sue Gibson, the female character in this book annoyed me. She was completely ready to be suspicious of Hopalong, even though her father vouched for him, just because he was "uncivilized." Meanwhile, she had lots of civilized conversations with the murderer who was stealing her family's business. I expected all of the female characters in Louis L'Amour's books to be this kind of empty-headed pretty dolls and was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, which made Sue stand out (but not in a good way).
Western Slang: Here's another sample of some of the slang used in this book that caught my attention:
- "palouse" - Appaloosa breed horse with spotted flanks.
- "sourdough" - and older gold prospector (in this story, it's used as the name of the former prospector who now runs the livery stable in Agate).
- "There was a young feller named Clemens workin' on a paper down in Virginny City who says a feller could tire himself out jumpin' back and forth across the river and then drink it dry when he got himself thirsty." This is a reference to Samuel Langhorne Clemens who began using his more famous pen name, Mark Twain, while living in Virginia City, Nevada.
Bottom Line: I enjoyed the complex rustling plan in this book and the interactions among Hopalong and the other cowboys. Like the other Hopalong Books by Louis L'Amour, this was a quick read and had the feel of a Western movie or TV episode.
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