The Trail to Seven Pines is the second of four novels that Louis L'Amour wrote 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, is now drifting through the American West on an indirect path to visit his friend Gibson at the 3TL ranch. To reach that ranch, he has to pass through the town of Seven Pines. On his way, he overhears a gun battle on the road. He doesn't get a good look at anyone involved other than a dead man and a badly wounded man. As he bandages the wounded man, Jesse Lock, he finds out that he just missed a hold-up of the stagecoach run. Jesse was riding shotgun (literally) to protect the $30,000 gold shipment from the mines. That night's attack was the fourth raid in three months.
Hoppy leaves Jesse with a bandaged chest, food, and heads to town to get the doctor and some help. Hoppy finds several of the townsmen (including the doctor) already headed his direction, just a few miles down the road, and brings them back to Jesse. However, when they arrive, Jesse is dead from an apparent suicide. Despite the circumstances, Hoppy challenges the assumption based on Jesse's state of mind when he left and the clearly staged location of the gun (early forensics!).
Hopalong takes the murder of a man he'd rescued very personally, so he decides to stick around Seven Pines to figure out what's going on. He takes a job as the second-in-command for rancher Bob Ronson at the Rocking R. The Rocking R is having its own trouble. Ever since Bob's father died, dishonest prospectors and rival cattle ranches had been trying to take over the town. Hoppy figures he can help Bob protect his father's legacy while finding out who's organizing the gold raids (and therefore who killed Jessee).
My Reaction: This is also a stand-alone story, although, the Gibson of 3TL ranch described at the very beginning and end of the book is one of the main characters of L'Amour's third Hopalong Cassidy book.
It took awhile to get used to the culture of this book. Cowhands, including Hoppy, drift in and out of town doing work if they need to, or just causing trouble. L'Amour describes how the characters are good at remembering details about the countryside and the people in it, but still, it's clearly a land where people can disappear or reinvent themselves at will. Gunfights over small insults are common (which worries me, except all the characters seem to know that and be playing by the same rules).
I'd heard it said that barbed wire is really what settled the American West. There's definitely a theme to that effect here. Rocking R's trouble with its neighboring ranch is over range land -- grazing land that isn't owned by either of the ranches. Rocking R has a traditional right to graze cattle in the area, but the neighbors are seeing the change in power to Bob after his father's death as a chance to rustle Rocking R cattle and take over Rocking R range land.
Western Slang: The language in these books is beautiful. Some of the slang reminds me of my father-in-law, but taken to the extreme. Some I had to ask my husband for translations. Here's a sample.
- "Ronson had inherited the Rocking R from his father, who had been an old gray wolf from the high timber, a man who had teeth and used them on the least provocation." p23
- "what's your handle" - what's your name
- "The three of them are tough as mule hide and poison-mean. They take to trouble like a bear to a berry patch, and they are slippier than a mustang on a blue clay sidehill."
- "puncher" - cow puncher, a cowboy who herds cattle (usually not by actually punching them)
- "souwegian" - best I can find this is slang for some European people group, but here it's just used as a general insult for cowhands not working hard enough.
Bottom Line: This is a fun read and a look into 1860s American Western life and culture, with some great descriptions of wild western landscapes thrown in among all the action.
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