A lot of you probably know the name Hopalong Cassidy (well, fewer than knew it fifty or sixty or seventy years ago when the Hopalong Cassidy movies and TV show and comic books were hugely popular), but I’m guessing that not many of you have read the Hopalong Cassidy novels by Clarence E. Mulford. The gritty, somewhat profane Hoppy character in the books was considerably different from the clean-cut movie hero played by William Boyd. For the record, I like both versions just fine.HOPALONG CASSIDY isn’t the first book in the series, but it’s my favorite. I read it for the first time during the summer I turned 11, which was a great time to do so. It has some of that mushy love stuff in it, as Hoppy meets and falls for a girl named Mary, if I recall correctly. Mainly, though, it’s about fighting rustlers who are after the Bar-20 cattle (Hoppy doesn’t own the Bar-20 ranch in the books, he just works there), and there are gunfights galore. Those shootouts take a back seat, though, to the final battle between the Bar-20 cowboys and the rustlers, who are holed up on top of a mesa. I’m going by memory here because I haven’t reread the book in a number of years, but it seems to me that this epic conflict takes up something like the final hundred pages of the book and approaches Homeric heights before it’s over. My blood’s racing a little faster just thinking about it and remembering what it was like to read it for the first time when I was eleven years old. I’ve read it a couple of times since then and remember enjoying it both times, although it’s hard to match that first thrill.
Mulford was an Easterner who hadn’t been to the West when he began writing these yarns, but he was acquainted with genuine Westerners and was a diligent researcher, eventually amassing a card file with more than 10, 000 entries covering Western history, geography, language, weapons, etc. His first Cassidy novel, BAR-20, is a fix-up of magazine stories published in 1907, and the characters continued appearing in novels and stories until Mulford’s death in the Forties. He also wrote a series about a rancher and deputy sheriff named Bob Corson, as well as several stand-alone Western novels. I haven’t read everything he wrote, by any means, but I’ve read quite a bit and enjoyed all of it. Yes, the prose and the plotting are a little old-fashioned, but if that doesn’t bother you I don’t think you’ll go wrong with just about anything by Clarence E. Mulford. A number of his books were reprinted by Forge during the Nineties, so they’re not that hard to find.