Friday, December 18, 2009

Forgotten Books: Kid Wolf of Texas by Paul S. Powers

Don't recognize the name Ward M. Stevens? You would if you'd been reading Wild West Weekly anytime between 1930 and 1943, and just seeing his name on the cover would have lit a fire in your veins.

These days, you're more likely to know him as Paul S. Powers, grandpappy of author and blogger Laurie Powers. And there's no reason he can't still light that fire, because his almost-a-novel, Kid Wolf of Texas, is finally back in print.

The first edition was published in 1930 by Chelsea House. We're indebted  to Laurie for the scan (above) of the glorious dust jacket. The reprint, with the four-legged wolf on the cover, was issued in 2006 by Center Point, in Large Print only. Amazon now offers a Kindle version as well.

Under the pen name Ward M. Stevens and others, Powers sold over 400 stories to Wild West Weekly, many of them featuring Kid Wolf. Here's what Powers himself said about Kid Wolf of Texas, in his memoir Pulp Writer:

An author's first book, no matter how poor it may be, is a milestone in his life, and before leaving California I had the somewhat awe-inspiring experience of appearing in cloth covers -- of course, I mean my writings; I hadn't gone naked, exactly, all this time. The book was Kid Wolf of Texas by Ward M. Stevens, neatly bound up in gold-lettered red cloth and bearing the Chelsea House imprint. This was a subsidiary of Street & Smith, which had bought the book rights of five Kid Wolf novelettes and slapped them together to form something which, in length anyhow, was a novel. 

As the stories had no connection with each other, the effect was not very good, except to dyed-in-the-wool Kid Wolf fans. There were no royalties paid, but it seemed to be a start, and I was thrilled when a dozen or so of the volumes were shipped to me.

While it's true the stories have no connection to one another, Powers (or someone) added a connecting sentence or two between each tale, to give the illusion of a continuous narrative - a common practice at the time.
Kid Wolf was sort of the Doc Savage of the Old West – a wealthy rancher who chose to ride around righting wrongs and punishing evildoers. And like Doc, he had no trouble finding plenty of both. I’ll be telling you a bit on my own, but in large part I’d like let you experience Kid Wolf for yourself. No amount of second-hand yapping can truly describe Power’s style.

Here’s our first glimpse of Kid Wolf and Blizzard: Together, man and mount made a striking picture; yet it would been hard to say which was the more picturesque—the rider or the horse. The latter was a splendid beast, and its spotless hide of snowy white glowed in the rays of the afternoon sun. With bit chains jingling, it gracefully leaped a gully, landing with all the agility of a mountain lion, in spite of its enormous size.

The rider, still whistling his Texas tune, swung in the concha-decorated California stock saddle as if he were a part of his horse. He was a lithe young figure, dressed in fringed buckskin, touched here and there with the gay colors of the Southwest and of Mexico.

Two six-guns, wooden-handled, were suspended from a cartridge belt of carved leather, and hung low on each hip. His even teeth showed white against the deep sunburn of his face.

In the first tale, Kid encounters a man staked stretched out on his back, face up to the sun, with his eyelids removed and ants crawling over him. – He's still alive, but only long enough to warn Kid of a villainous gang leader known as The Masked Terror. The Terror’s plan, it develops, is to waylay a wagon train, and despite resistance from the man leading the train, Kid is determined to stop him.

Kid rides into Santa Fe, all the way to the palace of the Governor. Spotting a Spanish officer mistreating a peon, Kid cannot resist humiliating him. In a shooting match worthy of Wild Bill Hickock, the officer has a sombrero tossed into the air and shoots a hole in it. When the hat is tossed again, Kid Wolf fires off six shots, and all appear to miss. But, of course, it’s discovered all six shots went through the same hole. Needless to say, Kid Wolf foils the Terror’s plans and unmasks him. This is Kid at his absolute pulpiest.

In the second story, Kid is riding along when he sees a half-breed ambush and murder an innocent rider. Kid drags the killer into the nearest town, and is soon in the middle of another wild shoot out.

Kid Wolf is so appealing because he’s absolutely fearless and supremely confident in his ability with his weapons. In addition to his twin .45s, he has his Ace in the Hole, a big Bowie knife in a sheath sown into the back of his buckskin shirt. In times of need, he just reaches behind his neck, plucks out the Bowie and flings it unerringly into the heart of the villain of the week. Very cool.

In the third tale, Kid befriends a widow whose husband has been shot, her ranch hands paid to desert, and her cattle run off. Naturally, there’s a slippery gent in town eager to buy her ranch for bottom dollar. Next, he’s off to Skull, New Mexico, where he encounters such charming folk as rustler and bullwhip artist Blacksnake McCoy and his comparatively respectable boss, Gentleman John the cattle king.

The Kid’s roundup adventure involves a stagecoach rattling along the Arizona-New Mexico line when they’re pinned down by Apaches. A brave young soul rides to the nearest town, Lost Springs, and staggers into the saloon for help. He’s met with nothing but indifference, and when he calls the men cowards, their leader sends him sprawling to the floor. Enter Kid Wolf, sweeping the room with cool, calm eyes. “Isn’t it rathah wahm foh such violent exercise, gentlemen?” “Are yuh tryin’ to mind my business?” asks the bad guy. “When I mind somebody’s else’s business,” Kid Wolf drawls, “that somebody else isn’t usually in business any moah.” The young man from the stagecoach tells Kid his story, ending with “Won’t you help me?”

“Sho’,” Kid Wolf says. “I’ll throw in with you. And these othah men are goin’ to throw in with yo’, too!”

The men in the saloon stood aghast, open-mouthed. But they didn’t hesitate long. When the stranger spoke again, his words came like the crack of a whip:

“Get yo’ hosses!”

Garvey’s heavy-jawed face went purple with fury. That this young unknown dared to try such high-handed methods so boldly in Lost Springs—which he ruled—maddened him! His big hand slid down toward his hip with the rapidity of a lighting bolt.

There was resounding crash—a burst of red flame. Garvey’s hand never closed over his gun butt. The stranger had drawn and fired so quickly that nobody saw his arm move. And the reason that the amazed Garvey did not touch the handle of his .44 was because there was no handle there! The young newcomer’s bullet had struck the butt of the holstered gun and smashed it to bits.

Garvey stared at the handleless gun as if stupefied. Then his amazed glance fell upon the stranger, who was smiling easily through the flickering powder fumes.

“Who—who are yuh?” he stammered.
The stranger smiled.

“Kid Wolf,” he drawled, “from Texas, sah. My friends simply say ‘Kid,’ but to my enemies I’m ‘The Wolf’!”

It's easy to see why Wild West Weekly readers couldn't get enough of this guy.

The perfect companion volume to Kid Wolf of Texas is Powers' memoir Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street, edited and with biographical essays by granddaughter Laurie. You'll find more info on the book's official website, here. And, of course, new tidbits about Powers and his creations are liable to pop up at any moment on Laurie's Wild West.

But... since Davy's Crockett's Almanack strives to be a full-service blog, I'm also reprinting my review of that book right here . . .


Way back whenever, I read the chapter on Wild West Weekly in John A. Dinan’s Borgo Press book The Pulp Western, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. But even then, WWWs were hard to come by, and I let the feeling slide.

Then Laurie Powers popped up on the Black Horse Westerns Yahoo group, mentioning her grandfather’s memoir, Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street by Paul S. Powers, to which she’d written an introduction/conclusion, and the two collections of stories currently in print, Desert Justice (featuring Sonny Tabor) and Kid Wolf of Texas.

So I read all three books. And wasn’t sorry.

By way of intro, Paul S. Powers was one of WWW’s most prolific writers. Under the pen name Ward M. Stevens, he created Kid Wolf and Sonny Tabor, who remained two of the magazine’s most popular characters for nearly fifteen years. Under a variety of other names, he had series featuring Johnny Forty-Five, King Kolt, Freckles Malone, Poet Pete, and others, in addition to non-series stories. By 1949 he estimated he’d written over 10 million words.

Pulp Writer is two books in one. About a third of it is sort of a combination detective tale and coming-of-age story about how Laurie came to discover who her grandfather was and what he’d written. In the beginning, all she knew was that he’d written for obscure western magazines and had authored two books: Doc Dillahay (reprinted by Bantam as Six-Gun Doctor) and a “Little Big Book” (a Big Little Book wannabe) called Spook Riders of the Overland. As Laurie begins to investigate, meeting lost relatives and others, she visits the Street & Smith archives and is astounded to discover he wrote as many as 80 stories for WWW. Imagine her shock as she eventually learns the number was at least 440, with sales to other mags as well.

Laurie’s intro is a good story, well told. It’s quite personal, and after reading it I almost feel I know her. An illusion, no doubt, but a pleasant one. Laurie now gives lectures on pulp westerns and has a great blog called, quite appropriately, Laurie’s Wild West.

Still another of Laurie’s surprising discoveries was the manuscript for her grandfather’s unpublished memoir, which forms the rest of the book.

The memoir is a change of pace, diving immediately into the wise-guy style of a pulp pro. Powers broke into magazines by writing jokes, and it shows. His style is breezy and fun. All the trials of an aspiring writer are there, and his tales of pulp writing are fascinating. To those of us who view the great Pulp Era as a magical time, this is like getting a peek behind the legend. On reaching the end, I couldn’t wait to sample his fiction. So I didn’t.

I read Desert Justice and Kid Wolf of Texas pronto, and loved them both.

For links to more of this week's Forgotten Books, visit pattinase!


pattinase (abbott) said...

What a lovely post, Dave! Thanks for all the cover art to go with it.

Laurie Powers said...

Thank you for such a wonderful review, Dave. Kid Wolf has always taken a back seat to Sonny Tabor so it's nice to see this character get some attention. I know my grandfather would have been very, very pleased with your review.

Evan Lewis said...

I've only read 5 Kid Wolfs and 4 Sonny Tabors (plus one team-up), but I had more fun riding with Kid. Maybe because he's more in the Hero Pulp mode.

Richard Robinson said...

A really fine, in-depth review. Not having been that much of a western fan as a kid, and only really being a TV western fan (though I did read the Red Ryder comics) I thought The Lone Ranger was about as good as it got. Monte Montana came to our school when I was in first grade and that was a big deal, but I recall being more impressed by the horse - it was HUGE - then the cowboy.

I've never heard of these, Kid Wolf or Tabor. My education in these things is sadly lacking, and I'm not sure I'll ever fill this particular gap. That doesn't mean I don't get a kick out of reading about these and reading the bits of fiction I find here and there! Thanks!

Evan Lewis said...

Monte Montana & horse too. A double brush with greatness.

Richard Robinson said...

That cover with Kid Wolf in the Snow Country is great. Who is it by, any idea?

Evan Lewis said...

Laurie tells me that Kid Wolf in Snow Country cover was by H.W. Scott. She posted some Scott info recently right here:

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