Okay, here is the inaugural posting from the Mercantile’s reading group, The Woodstove Whittlers and Wrangling Association. You may want to wear your boots, as the muck sometimes gets high in the course of these meetings.
The reading group has been busy fussing over the merits (or the opposite) of a few volumes during the past months. Most activity occurs during the winter, but occasional discussions take place in the rest of the year. The reading group was the idea of Adolphus Husky -- he wanted an excuse to tell his wife whenever she claimed he was being lazy sitting around the woodstove at the Mercantile all winter; by participating in the rigorous and vigorous debates on literature, Adolphus could say he was expanding his mind. When he played this tactic one day at the dinner table, his wife, Renee, then asked if his mind would need a longer belt by the middle of February, just like his britches do each year.
While discussions were lively this past winter among the Association members, there were no violent outbursts of grub-throwing as when the topic of Brokeback Mountain came up -- all vittles stayed in the pot and on the plates these recent weeks. (However, more than one discerning critic suggested that Pickle Pennington was making a silent and subliminal derogatory remark about a colleague's comments on a storyteller’s abilities when he wiped his mouth on his flannel sleeve after eating the homemade apple fritter contributed to a recent potluck. Harsh words followed until cooler minds served the ice cream.)
But these sorts of warm discussions keep the chill off while the snow wheels around outside the front door. So without further ado, here is one of the books the Association tackled this past winter.
The Cheyenne Pool by Lewis B. Patten
This is the first book by Patten the Association read. Buell, oldest of the Barlow brothers, had heard good things about his work, so we all agreed it was time to give it a try.
This is a well-written, traditional western by this prolific author. A group of cattle owners (the Cheyenne Pool) are keeping smaller ranchers off free range illegally by preventing other folks from filing claims on the land with their hired muscle. The primary character is Dan Foxworthy, foreman for the Pool. Trouble starts when Foxworthy kills a cow belonging to one of the small ranchers as a warning not to rustle any more beef from the Pool. The novel follows Foxworthy’s change from a hard-boiled, I’m-number-one type of character to a more likeable, more introspective and thoughtful man who decides to make amends for the trouble his fiery temper has caused.
This tale has a hard-boiled quality that suggests Patten was a follower of Luke Short's style of tough-guy cowboy stories. The assembled members of the WWWA appreciated this manly, stoic, don't-give-me-no-guff characterization, although Adolphus mentioned at one point, "You could just see early on this kind of behavior was gonna get Foxworthy in trouble later." Waldo Grinter hooted and said that type of feller needed trouble to come his way to keep him tough. General discussions erupted about what "manly" really should mean, and Buell Barlow pointed out that fire tempers and strengthens iron. Pickle Pennington snorted and said the character's name was Foxworthy, not Fireworthy, and Buell should pay better attention to the page. Adolphus said Foxworthy was proper in taking no guff off anyone. Conversation got louder after that, and the spit sometimes didn't make it all the way to the spittoons, but by the time dusk fell and things quieted a bit -- that is, when Renee Husky arrived and informed Adolphus the furnace pilot light needed a fresh match put to it -- everyone agreed this was a fine selection for the group, and likely we'd be reading more by Patten in the future.
Some of Patten's books have been reprinted the last few years in large print library editions, so you don't just have to haunt used bookstores and thrift shops for his titles these days. Unfortunately, the most recent edition of The Cheyenne Pool appeared in 1993, so may be tougher to locate. You can check out its availability at Amazon.com by clicking here.