The Border Legion (unabridged Cabin Gulch) (1916)

30 Jun
Henry Plummer as depicted by James

Henry Plummer as depicted by James

All-Story Weekly>, January 15, 1916 ff.
The Country Gentleman, April 8, 1916 ff.
Harper & Brothers, New York, 1916
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, March 1948 (RGL)
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine (Australia) Mar 1949, Apr 1956, May 1960 (Galactic Central)

One of the reasons Cabin Gulch was changed was for what the editors felt was excessive swearing and violence. Zane Grey was trying to be historically accurate in his portrayal of Jack Kells, the outlaw leader. But that did not matter to his editor. In a much edited version the new title was The Border Legion and it was first published as a serial in All-Story Weekly in 1916. (Friesen) I read The Border Legion but would recommend that you get Cabin Gulch instead simply because it will give you the full feel of what Zane Grey tried to convey with his story.

The Border Legion - Zane Greys Western Magazine

Credit: Galactic Central

Zane Grey has decided to move a bit further west this time. According to ZGWS we now find ourselves around the year 1863 in the gold mining camps along Alder Gulch in Montana and around the town of Hartley in Montana.

As he often did, Zane Grey found his inspiration from real life. This time the story of Henry Plummer had caught Mr. Grey’s interest. Henry Plummer was elected as sheriff of Bannack, Montana in 1863. His background had been memorable to say the least. Criminal and law-enforcer at the same time was the life he was leading as it neared its end. (This day in history)

Blurb from The Border Legion:

Jim Cleve has been deemed, “a good guy” all of his life and it agitates him to no end. Even his girlfriend, Joan Randle has scorned him for this “weakness” shouting, “You haven’t it in you even to be BAD!” Dejected and hurt, Jim abandons the life he has known for the gold mining camps along Alder Gulch in southern Montana. It is here, among the thieves and murderers, that he must make a new name for himself

Blurb from Cabin Gulch:

This wonderful, dramatic story was written in 1915, but for ninety years it has only existed in a profoundly censored version, “The Border Legion.” Joan Randle, in a spirit of anger, sends Jim Cleve out into the lawless country of the mining frontier in Idaho Territory to test his mettle as a man. Then, regretting their quarrel, she goes in pursuit of him, in hope of turning him back, only to be taken captive by the notorious mining camp and stagecoach bandit, Jack Kells. Kells is so intent on having Joan to himself that he kills for it, even some of his own men. When a huge gold strike is made at Alder Creek, Kells and his gang move in to loot the miners. Most disheartening of all for Joan is the fact that Jim Cleve has joined Kells’s gang. This powerful tale of tragedy, romance, historical realism, and hope can now at last be read as Zane Grey wrote it.

The Border Legion - All-Story Weekly

Credit: Galactic Central

In the case of The Border Legion, Sam Gulden is the baddest of the bad. Gulden is also the sort of man that keeps young girls naked and tied up. Jack Kells is the other force of evil in The Border Legion. He is our Henry Plummer whose charm hid what he was capable of doing. The lovers of this story are Joan Randle and Jim Cleve. Their way to that part in the other person’s life is filled with pot-holes (of which Kells is one).

Well and truly caught by Kells’ gang (the Border Legion), Joan is drawn into the clutches of Kells through his charm. I think it would probably be safe to say that Kells was a psychopath. He wanted Joan. He would do anything it took to make her his. One of his tools was allowing her to fall for his “sweet” side before he showed her his rough one. That way he could keep her needing to “save” him from himself making up excuses for the other part of him that she saw. Falling for her kidnapper probably makes Joan another victim of what today is called the Stockholm Syndrome.

All this time Jim tries to be there for Joan, but he too is caught in Kells’s clutches. His role in the life of Kells is as another member of Kells’ gang. As is so often true in real life, men and women seem more attracted to baddies – at least charming baddies.

Zane Grey isn’t the best writer of romantic dialogue and action. I wonder if his own access to a great deal of women had something to do with his lack of understanding of the workings of romance. I know that my own autism stands in the way of my understanding of the concept.

Alder Creek, 2000;  by Stephen McMillan

Alder Creek, 2000;
by Stephen McMillan

While romance/action is a large part of the story of The Border Legion/Cabin Gulch we also get to enjoy Zane Grey’s forte in writing. His portrayal of nature is amazing and I wish there was more of that and less of the romantic dialogue.

Manifestly Jesse Smith had selected the spot for Kells’s permanent location at Alder Creek with an eye for the bandit’s peculiar needs. It was out of sight of town, yet within a hundred rods of the nearest huts, and closer than that to a sawmill. It could be approached by a shallow ravine that wound away toward the creek. It was backed up against a rugged bluff in which there was a narrow gorge, choked with pieces of weathered cliff; and no doubt the bandits could go and come in that direction. There was a spring near at hand and a grove of spruce-trees. The ground was rocky, and apparently unfit for the digging of gold.

While Bate Wood began preparations for supper, and Cleve built the fire, and Smith looked after the horses, Kells and Pearce stepped off the ground where the cabin was to be erected. They selected a level bench down upon which a huge cracked rock, as large as a house, had rolled. The cabin was to be backed up against this stone, and in the rear, under cover of it, a secret exit could be made and hidden. The bandit wanted two holes to his burrow.

When the group sat down to the meal the gulch was full of sunset colors. And, strangely, they were all some shade of gold. Beautiful golden veils, misty, ethereal, shone in rays across the gulch from the broken ramparts; and they seemed so brilliant, so rich, prophetic of the treasures of the hills. But that golden sunset changed. The sun went down red, leaving a sinister shadow over the gulch, growing darker and darker. Joan saw Cleve thoughtfully watching this transformation, and she wondered if he had caught the subtle mood of nature. For whatever had been the hope and brightness, the golden glory of this new Eldorado, this sudden uprising Alder Creek with its horde of brave and toiling miners, the truth was that Jack Kells and Gulden had ridden into the camp and the sun had gone down red. Joan knew that great mining-camps were always happy, rich, free, lucky, honest places till the fame of gold brought evil men. And she had not the slightest doubt that the sun of Alder Creek’s brief and glad day had set forever.

Once the Border Legion gets to Alder Creek, the play for power begins between Kells and Gulden. Keeping the Border Legion loyal to their leader is going to be quite a challenge considering all of the temptations in the area. Gold-mining towns were usually tent towns and only an ingrained sense of another man’s territory kept others out of your tent. For outlaws like the Border Legion, such considerations were non-existent. Perhaps promises made to one’s own boss would take on the same value in such a place. Greed is, after all, such a wonderful breaker of loyalty.


The Border Legion on Gutenberg

Cabin Gulch on Kindle








Henry Plummer is elected sheriff of Bannack, Montana

Stockholm syndrome

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Posted by on 2014-06-30 in Books


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