The Lone Deputy by Wayne D. Overholser. 157 pages. Copyright 1957 by Wayne D. Overholser. First Dell printing 1959. Cover by Robert Stanley.
This title of this fine western tale concerns Price Regan, the deputy sheriff of the west side of Tremaine County and the town marshal of Saddle Rock nestled in the high country of Colorado. Regan is caught in the middle of a brewing conflict between the aggressive greed of Cole Weston, the owner of Rocking C ranch, and a small cluster of homesteading farmers who have staked out their claims and built their homes a bit too close to the cattle graze. The object of Weston’s scorn is Walt Cronin, the proprietor of a general store that keeps the homesteader’s supplied with food as well as an occasional stolen cow. All the ranchers as well as the town councilmen want Regan to run Cronin out of the county. However Regan is a man of integrity and refuses to do so unless he can prove that Cronin is doing something illegal. They would also like Regan to run off Rose the part-time prostitute that lives near Cronin’s store and gives the area a bad reputation. Eventually Regan is forced to take up sides against Cole as well as his future father in law when the conflict explodes into violence and innocent people start getting killed. Knowing he is alone in his battle he nonetheless must do the right thing because this how he was trained by his friend and mentor Ralph Carew, the respected county sheriff on the other side of the mountain pass. Regan discovers that there is an eyewitness to murder that must be protected from the killers and it becomes a battle to the finish on the streets of Saddle Rock.
I really like this book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for raw western drama. All the characters are well developed–not a cardboard cutout to be found. Overholser is a methodical writer who clearly defines the situation on the ground–the county is divided into two by a mountain range that is impassible during the winter and early spring; Weston owns much of the range land west of the mountains but his property is neatly divided along a river with two other ranches (that Weston dominates) on the other side; nestled in the middle of the three ranches is Cronin and the cluster of homesteaders. All aspects and possible solutions to the complex situations facing Regan are narrated in detail which makes the plot easy to follow. Some of the violence is pretty graphic and a bit unexpected but it makes you wish for the bad guys demise that much more.
Overholser (1906-1996) was a very prolific writer of westerns for the pulps and made a smooth transition to paperbacks in the 1950’s. One of his novels was turned into a movie–Cast a Long Shadow (1959) starring Audie Murphy. He wrote over 80 novels and a hundreds short stories that appeared in many of the Western pulps. The Lone Deputy has been republished several times and has a couple of different covers. On a side note, I also discovered that the original painting by Robert Stanley for the cover is available at Heritage Auctions.
Role playing tie-ins to this book would naturally center around the issue of homesteaders. Although the law was on the settlers side (through the Homestead Act of 1862) most ranchers didn’t like them at all. Conflicts between homesteaders and cattle ranchers is a well worn plot device found in many, many Western stories, novels and movies (Shane comes immediately to mind). Player characters could either be defending them from depredations of doing the dirty work for the cattlemen and trying to run them off their land.