“Love ain’t no big deposit that a feller is allus hopin’ to find but mostly never does. Love is just a medium high-grade ore that you got to dig for.”
Harold Bell Wright’s The Mine with the Iron Door is an easy-reading western with a faint whiff of ideas clinging to it.
The story ‘s center is Marta Hillgrove and her “fathers,” Bob Hill and Thad Grove. She was a toddler when the prospectors rescued her from people who were clearly not her family. Unable to locate her real family, the men settled in the hills near Tuscon to raise her.
Seventeen years later, a handsome young stranger arrives. Hugh quickly wins Marta’s heart and buckles down to digging for gold enough to marry Marta and get out of the country before he is recaptured and sent back to jail.
A secondary plot about Natachee, an educated Indian with a grudge against whites, temporarily overshadows the romance. Then Marta is abducted; Natachee joins Hugh in getting her back.
The orphaned toddler is a familiar romance plot; Wright himself used it elsewhere.
Marta and Hugh are also standard issue. You’ll have forgotten about them a few hours after you’ve closed the book covers.
The memorable bits of the book are in the minor characters. Natachee in particular is unforgettable in his resentment of the education that renders Indians unfit for either the Indian or the white world.
The Mine with the Iron Door
by Harold Bell Wright
D.Appleton and Company, 1923
1923 bestseller # 7
Photo front piece of The Mine with the Iron Door. The illustrator is not identified.
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
In the late 1800s, Owen Wister fell under the spell of Wyoming. The result of his infatuation was The Virginian.
It is an episodic novel, loosely tied together by a clash between two men, the dastardly Trampas and the heroic Virginian, who lived in and off the rugged land.
The story is told by an Easterner who comes to visit Judge Henry at Sunk Creek. The judge sends the Virginian to meet his guest at Medicine Bow. Under the Virginian’s tutelage, the greenhorn grows into a friend and companion the Virginian is happy to ride with.
The Virginian is the novel that gave us the famous line, “When you call me that, smile.”
All the elements we’ve learned to expect in a Western first came to public attention in this novel: the strong, silent hero; the challenge over a poker hand; the pretty school teacher from the East; the shootout on the public street.
What’s surprising is the humor. The Virginian’s story of the frog farm is a marvelous tall tale with a satiric bite. And I love the story of what happens when the Virginian feels sorry for Emily, the hen, and gives her a clutch of eggs that another hen has been sitting on for 10 days.
Even if you aren’t normally a person who enjoys westerns, I think you’ll like this granddaddy of the genre.
The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains
By Owen Wister
1902 Bestseller # 1
1903 Bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg ebook #1298
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni
The U.P. Trail is a romantic tale of the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific. Zane Grey weaves all the traditional western cliches into his boy-meets-girl story.
Beautiful Allie Lee, headed east to a father she never knew, is the sole survivor of an Indian massacre . Handsome UP surveyor Warren Neale finds her. When she recovers from the trauma, they fall in love.
Henchmen of her late mother’s gambler boyfriend, Durade, kidnap Allie.
Sioux capure her from the henchmen.
Meanwhile, Neale has lost his job after losing his temper with profiteer Allison Lee. Neale and his cowboy pard, Red, are degenerating in Benton, a temporary railroad town.
Allie and Neale are reunited.
Neale get his job back.
Durade gets Allie again.
They are reunited.
Allison Lee turns out to be Allie’s father. He takes her east, decides he can’t stand her.
Allie and Neale are reunited.
I’ve may have left out a few “she escapes, they are reunited” bits, but you get the idea.
Grey has a keen eye for detail and I-was-there understanding of what happened, but the hackneyed plot and cardboard characters — the bad guys actually wear black hats — make this novel enjoyable only by the most enthusiastic Zane Grey fan.
The U.P. Trail
by Zane Grey
Grosset & Dunlap, 1918
1918 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg ebook #4684
My grade: C-
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni