Friday, October 6, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE LONG RIFLE (introducing Andy Burnett) by Stewart Edward White

Back in the Olden Days I couldn’t get enough of those Disney heroes. My mania started with Davy Crockett, of course, but soon led to Zorro, The Swamp Fox, Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca and Andy Burnett. In the years since, I read books about them all, and recently re-read this one, which begins the Saga of Andy Burnett.

The endpapers show you where the action takes place.

After the unexpected success of the Davy mini-series (there were only five episodes), Disney found a suitable new subject in this 1932 novel by Stewart Edward White. White was nearly sixty when he wrote it, with a long list of books behind him, but The Long Rifle became the work he is best known for.

An abridged edition of the book (not a bad thing, I expect).

The first half of the novel is highly recommended. The first 60 pages introduces Andy’s rifle. I can’t tell you about without uncorking a major spoiler, but rest assured it’s very cool. Then we meet Andy himself, as he leaves the Pennsylvania farm and meets up with a couple of mountain men, who take him under their wings. The first of those men, Joe Crane, is the best character in the book, and dispenses most of the homespun wisdom. When the three are about to be killed by the Blackfeet, Joe consoles his partners with the line, "Where there's ha'r, there's hope." 

Another abridged edition.

You may remember the lyrics to the song: He won some friends and made his place / With mighty men of a mighty race / They took him in to teach him more / Of mountain life and mountain lore / The laws of trails and trappin' streams / That danger’s not what danger seems / Lessons to learn and not forget / All part of the saga of Andy Burnett  / Andy's on the move, Andy won't rest / Andy Burnett is a-travelin' west. It’s all here. The guy who wrote those lyrics obviously read the book.

The Disney theme sung by series star Jerome Courtland.

The book features several great adventures of Andy and his mentors, most of which were used on the Disney series. Trouble is, White knew his subject too well. He admits to having studied 123 separate historical sources, including journals and memoirs of folks who lived this stuff, and he was determined to get it all in. So as the book goes on, Andy is crowded out by facts, and story takes a back seat to history. We’re smothered with minute details of life with the Blackfeet Indians and the fur trapping trade.

Illo from an excerpt in the Saturday Evening Post.

On the plus side, the second half of the book introduces us to a lot of important historical figures, like Jedidiah Smith, Jim Bridger, William Henry Ashley, Peter Ogden, the Sublette brothers, Jim Beckwourth, Bill Williams and Kit Carson, and we witness the founding of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. On the minus side, those guys are not fleshed out. They go through their paces like stick figures in a history book. Andy has very little interaction with them. If he's on the scene (and much of the time he isn't), he's usually just an observer.

Another Post illo. That's our hero in the coonskin cap.

Still, this is a long book, and the first half alone is enough to make it a satisfying read. White went on to write three more with Andy playing lead: Ranchero, Folded Hills and Stampede. I’ll try the next and see how it goes. Watch this space.

The makers of this 1931 gum card apparently 
thought Andy was a real mountain man.

Tomorrow:  More on Andy Burnett. I'll play another version of the theme song and show some of the other cool stuff that sprang from the Disney series. 


Elgin Bleecker said...

Back in the 1990s, the Disney Channel reran its old, live-action shows in the wee hours. That is how I got to see all the ZORRO episodes – which were great, some directed by top talent like Robert Stevenson.

Evan Lewis said...

Yeah, under the "Disney's Legends and Heroes" umbrella. I was taping them all (except for Toby Tyler).

Shay said...

The Long Rifle's available at the Open Library...I've added it to my electronic TBR stack.

Matthew Clark said...

Good to see a post about S.E.White, a really good writer. Well worth seeking out.