Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

Candy Moulton: Reading the West 7-14-14

There is a story in Texas that back in the 19th century a single Texas Ranger could handle just about any situation. Taking that premise, a new book from William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone, follows Texas Ranger Hank Cannan after he is shot twice when tracking an outlaw.

Cannan makes it to the town of Lost Chance, located in the Big Bend country of southern Texas, where he begins to recover from his wounds. Once in the town he learns that Baptiste Dupoix, a gambler he really needs to arrest, may be more useful to him as a free man because there are other forces at work that threaten the people of the town, and the town’s very existence.

Abraham Hacker has come to Lost Chance looking for gold like many others, but when he realizes there is none, he begins plotting to add to his already vast holdings and financial wealth. He sees that the land could be productive for cotton growing, if only he had a work force.

While Ranger Cannan recovers from his wounds — both those gunshots he took before he got to town, and more that strike him once he is in Last Chance — Hacker sends pistolero Mickey Pauleen south into Mexico to cut a deal with the powerful Mexican Sancho Perez.

A drought in Mexico had moved the peasants from their homes as they began migrating north, looking for a land where they could grow crops with at least a hope of making a harvest. This natural migration becomes forced when Hacker and Perez put their plan in place. Perez will round up the peons and drive them across the Rio Grande to Last Chance, where, like a plague of locusts, they will overrun the town and the nearby farms and ranches, ultimately displacing the whites who have settled the area. This will give control of the region to Hacker, who can then beginning mining the wealth from the soil using the back-breaking labor of the peasants to make him even more money.

It is a ruthless scheme and neither Hacker nor Perez have any compassion for the Mexican people they are using for their own gain, ruthlessly pushing them under brutal sun, without food or water. The people who are too weak, simply drop from exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation.

Meantime, Ranger Canaan struggling to regain his strength with the help of a beautiful, young prostitute, Roxie Miller, wraps his mind around the problem facing the town, enlists the aid of the gambler Dupoix, a old peg-leg sailor, Ephriam Slough, and town leaders as he sets up a defense that he hopes can hold against the hoards of peons and Mexican toughs headed toward town. The knowledge that his wife Jane is en route to Last Chance on the Butterfield Stage weighs heavily. Is he worried for her safety, or his own as this single Texas Ranger rallies a town to fight for their independence on Independence Day?

The cast of characters in this book is complex and each is well-drawn from Dupoix’s grandmother Henriette Valcour, a swamp-living Louisiana woman some consider a witch doctor, to Abraham Hacker’s concubine, Nora, a woman Mickey Pauleen covets as his own, and certainly to the tougher-than-nails Hank Cannan.

There is plenty of action, more than a few killings, and yet this is a story that moves along at a fast pace with a solid plot. Can the townspeople and Ranger Canaan hold off the thousands of Mexicans set to overrun them? How will the severely wounded Ranger even make it to the battlefield? And will the aspiring Abraham Hacker and the conniving Pedro Sanchez outsmart Cannan, or each other?

I read this book on July 4 — appropriate enough given the title and the day of the big showdown in Last Chance — and as I got to the pivotal moments in the book the fireworks started popping and booming all around the house where I was staying in Richland, Washington, making me wonder, just for a moment, if the battle for Last Chance was truly underway. ❖

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The Fence Post Updated Jul 11, 2014 07:45AM Published Jul 28, 2014 02:10PM Copyright 2014 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.