The Great Authors of North-West Mountie Fiction
Or "Writers of the Scarlet Serge"
A Compilation of the major authors who wrote about -- and helped create -- the mythology and legend of the North-West Mounted Police.
By Brian Alan Burhoe
The Northwestern -- a Genre defined...
South of the Border, the "Western" novel has traditionally been defined by publishers and editors as "A story set in the Old West before 1900 and west of the Mississippi River."
The "Northwestern" as a genre really came into being in 1902 with the publication of Jack London's THE SON OF THE WOLF.
The following year saw London's THE CALL OF THE WILD complete the creation of this new genre. Inspired by Sir Charles G D Roberts' realistic animal stories and drawing on his own experiences in the Klondike region, London fascinated the world with his stories of the Northland, huskies and malamutes and wolves, prospectors, red-coated Mounties, gamblers and trappers. Others followed to help solidify the story lines and themes of the Northwestern: Rex Beach, Ridgwell Cullum, Gilbert Parker, Robert W Service, Ralph Connor and James Oliver Curwood.
As a genre, the stories generally took place from the mid-1800's to the 1920's. Although writers have told of the Fur Trade of the 1600-1700's. And the Gear's PEOPLE OF THE WOLF tells of the arrival of the First Peoples in Prehistoric North America.
Even though the sensational hunt for the Mad Trapper of Rat River took place in 1932, this real life incident had all the classic elements of a fictional Northwestern: the murder of a Mountie, dogsled race, unrelenting manhunt by determined Mounties, and four shoot-outs... Except for the use of a bush plane -- flown by WWI fighter ace pilot "Wop" May -- to search for the Mad Trapper, the Hunt could have taken place decades earlier. The Hunt for the Mad Trapper is a true Northwestern.
In 1898, American Rex Beach -- bored with his studies at the Chicago College of Law and intrigued by the stories he was hearing of the great Gold Rush in the Canadian Klondike -- headed north. He got as far as Rampart City, Alaska. With the discovery of Gold in Nome in '99, he found the adventure and inspiration he sought. This was the basis of THE SPOILERS. Beach's story of land speculators, greed and lawlessness became a popular success. Beach followed it with other novels such as THE IRON TRAIL, VALLEY OF THUNDER and THE SILVER HORDE. Beach would go on to write stories set further afield, such as JARAGU OF THE JUNGLE. JARAGU OF THE JUNGLE (Big Little Books, Whitman, 1937) was an Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired story of adventures among the Indians of Central America.
The Heyday of Mountie Fiction
Northwestern fiction was so popular during the early 20th Century that even some of the best American writers of traditional Westerns added their own yarns to the genre. Writers like Zane Grey. And Max Brand, William MacLeod Raine, Charles Alden Seltzer, Luke Short and -- later -- Giles A Lutz.
Giles Alfred Lutz was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1910. He was a rancher for many years, raising pedigree Black Angus cattle. He published his first Western, FIGHT OR RUN, in 1954. He went on to write hundreds of magazine stories and dozens of Western novels, some under pseudonyms such as Reese Sullivan, Gene Thompson, Hunter Ingram, Alex Hawk and Wade Everett.
Lutz wrote two Northwestern novels. Drawing on his knowledge of the area, and solid research, including Montana historian Joseph Kinsey Howard's excellent STRANGE EMPIRE: The Story of Louis Riel, Lutz wrote the Northwestern THE MAGNIFICENT FAILURE. While the story centered around the Metis during the Northwest Rebellion, it featured historical Mounties such as Inspector Lief Crozier.
Under the pen-name Wade Everett, Ballantine Westerns published Lutz's THE WHISKEY TRADERS in 1968. THE WHISKEY TRADERS tells the story of "half-breed" Brent Bargen. Conscripted by a US Federal Marshal, Brent is sent as an undercover agent north into Canada to infiltrate the notorious whiskey traders and outlaws at Fort Whoop-up. During the story, the newly-formed North-West Mounted Police arrive. Major James Macleod plays a featured role. THE WHISKEY TRADERS is one of Lutz's best yarns, right up there with his best traditional Westerns like THE HONYOCKER and STAGECOACH TO HELL.
OK, so I've carried on a bit about about Giles, but he was a favourite of mine as a kid. Second only to Will Henry.
Will Henry was really Henry Wilson Allen, who also wrote as Clay Fisher. He wrote Westerns the way they should be written, in the rich language of the Old West, as if he was an old timer telling you his tales in a bunk house. Will didn't write many Northwesterns, never drifted over the Medicine Line. Just recently got to read ORPHANS OF THE NORTH, a realistic animal story with the hide still on.
His only Northwestern that I know of is BLIND CANYON. In the midst of the Alaskan gold rush, Murrah Starr holds a rich claim that should set him up for life. Trouble is, his life may be a lot shorter than he’d like. Starr is a half-breed Sioux whose only friend is a wolf dog he once freed from a trap. Angus McClennon, the head of the local Miners' Association, is dead set on taking Starr’s claim for himself. First he spearheads a law that declares only American citizens can own a mine. Then a group of miners beat Starr and leave him for dead in the middle of the street. But Starr is just as determined as McClennon. He’s determined to fight for what’s his—and to stay alive while doing it! (Will takes the substance of Beach's THE SPOILERS and makes it his own.)
During the Glory-days of the Pulp Magazines, one of the best (and best selling) was North-West Stories, published by Fiction House. It ran for almost three decades, from 1925 to 1952.
An example of the contents of North-West Stories, is the Table Of Contents of the October 1925 issue: "Where North Holds Sway" by Evan Merritt Post, "Kowanche Trails" by U Stanley Aultman, "Flame of the Snow" by Stanley Shaw, "Wolf Justice" by De Harries Smith, "Vengeance of Mooluk" by Kenneth Gilbert and "Thundering Snows" by Austin J Small.
So popular was North-West Stories, that other publishers put their own versions onto the stands. And they sold. Magazines like Complete Northwest Novel Magazine and Real Northwest Stories published Northwesterns only. While others like Far West Stories, The Frontier, Thrilling Western, Big-Book Western and Golden West regularly printed stories set in the Northwest and North, often featuring Mounties.
The pulps saw the success of a number of writers who specialized in Northwesterns. Writers like Victor Rousseau, James B Hendryx, Harold F Cruickshank, Robert Ormond Case, William Byron Mowery, George Marsh, Harry Sinclair, Leslie McFarlane, Samuel Alexander White, Frank Richardson Pierce and Frederick Nebel. Even Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage, wrote a series of Northwestern pulp stories featuring characters like Constable Andy Frost and the Silver Corporal.
Each issue of Complete Northwest Novel Magazine was eagerly awaited by thousands of fans. A typical issue was the January 1936 issue, which contained the stories "Trooper O’Leary" by George Goodchild, "White Water Breed" by Harry Sinclair Drago, "The Verdict of Faro Mountain" by Rex Beach, "The Trail Code" by Frank Richardson Pierce and "Flames of Justice" by Howard J Perry.
Other writers to appear in Complete Northwest included William Byron Mowery, James Oliver Curwood, William Byron Raine, George Marsh, Hugh Pendexter, Cliff Campbell, H S M Kemp, Walter W Liggett, Harold Titus, Murray Leinster, Arthur Gross, T Lund and William Gerard Chapman.
North-West Mountie Fiction
Setting the historic period for North-West Mountie Fiction is easier. The North-West Mounted Police rode West in 1874. In 1904, their achievements received recognition when King Edward VII granted the Force the prefix "Royal" and it became the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP). In February 1920, the Mounted Police were amalgamated with the Ottawa-based "Dominion Police", which had carried out federal policing in eastern Canada, and given their modern name, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The North-West Mounted Police, as an historic entity, existed between 1874 and 1920.
From their beginning, fictional stories have been told of the North-West Mounted. John Mackie, who had served as a Mounted Policeman from 1888 to 1893, published popular romances from 1894 to 1913, such as THE RISING OF THE RED MAN, CANADIAN JACK and THE LAW BRINGERS. Ralph Connor's CORPORAL CAMERON OF THE NORTH WEST MOUNTED POLICE: A Tale of the MacLeod Trail appeared in 1912.
During the Pulp Heyday, dozens of writers wrote their action-packed yarns of the "Mounted," some of them specialing in this new genre.
Even in recent times, series authors have sent paperback heroes like the Trailsman, Raider ("The Pride of the Pinkertons") and US Marshal Long, North of the Border to partner with the Mounties to get their men.
Many of these stories are poorly researched. They get the names, ranks and routines of the Mounted Police all wrong. Not caring about the History and national mythology of Canada, their stories have no feeling of reality. Many Canadians feel that these stories are all wrong, the same way that many Americans feel that the Western movies of Sergio Leone (like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) just don't feel American.
But there were writers who wrote truly great fiction of the Mounties. Canadian, American and British authors -- who through diligent research or actual travel to the locales described or just good storytelling -- were able to create a genre that lives today.
These were the GREAT AUTHORS OF NORTH-WEST MOUNTIE FICTION...
The Mountie: Western Hero, Hollywood Style
The very first, but not the last, Mountie movie was Rider of the Plains, made in 1910 by the Edison Moving Picture Company. The first mega-hit was the 1919 Back to God's Country, starring the beautiful and talented Nell Shipman.
There are well over 200 Hollywood movies featuring the Mounted Police (from original NWMP to modern RCMP), and many more that show Canadian Mounties in their distinctive red jackets. For American movie audiences, that uniform was the best clue of a Canadian location. The courteous, brave and trustworthy police became clichéd national characteristics -- all of Hollywood's Canadian heroes were members of the Canadian Mounted Police.
By the middle of the 20th Century, the North-West Mounted Policeman was always the good guy and the Mounties always got their man. In O’Mally of the Mounted, released in 1921, Sergeant O’Mally (played by William S Hart) was a “veteran of a thousand trails and a man who never failed." The movie begins with a criminal’s lament when he realises that the Mounties are on his trail.
A main theme of early Mountie movies was that of duty and honour over love and friendship. This classic plot development was followed closely in all three very different versions of Rose Marie. In the 1936 version, Nelson Eddy is tasked with bringing his sweetheart’s brother to justice. Rose Marie is most famous for Nelson Eddy’s warbling rendition of "Indian Love Call.
In Hollywood's Canada, the Mountie hero was essentially the traditional Western hero in a red serge jacket and broad-brimmed stetson. Mountie stories (and Northwesterns in general) were really Westerns...
Western heroes who crossed the Medicine Line into Canada include Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Kirby Grant, William S Hart, James Newill, Gabby Hayes, Buck Jones, Tom Mix, George O'Brien, Rin-Tin-Tin, Randolph Scott, Lewis Stone, Bill Elliot, Bob Steele, Bill Cody, John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Charles Starrett, Russell Hayden, and Kermit Maynard.
Charles Bronson played the Mad Trapper in DEATH HUNT, with Lee Marvin as the Mountie who hunted him. Lon Chaney appeared in NOMADS OF THE NORTH. Rock Hudson went BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY. Alan Ladd starred in SASKATCHEWAN. Rod Steiger had KLONDIKE FEVER. Dick Powell starred in MRS MIKE. Gypsy Rose Lee was the BELLE OF THE YUKON. Shirley Temple was SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES. Errol Flynn was in NORTHERN PURSUIT. Donald Sutherland was a Mountie in ALIEN THUNDER. Mae West was KLONDIKE ANNIE. Tyrone Power was a PONY SOLDIER. James Stewart went to THE FAR COUNTRY. And Brendan Fraser was the one and only DUDLEY DO-RIGHT.
The Great Authors of North-West Mountie Fiction
IAN ANDERSON "By age six, the Australian Ian Anderson had already decided what he wanted to be when he grew up -- a red-coated Canadian Mountie. By the age of seven, he also knew he wanted to be a writer." These words began the author's bio in Seal Book's first printing of CORPORAL CAVANNAGH in 1983. With the publication of CAVANNAGH, Anderson had already achieved both dreams.
Anderson began by joining the South Australian Mounted Police, where he "learned to ride a horse, fight bush fires and battle with sword and bayonet." He then journeyed to Canada, where he achieved his dream of joining and serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His first postings were in Alberta: at Lethbridge, Fort Macleod, Coutts and Medicine Hat -- the very settings of the early exploits of the NWMP. He later -- after serving in the Royal Papua-New Guinea Constabulary -- returned home to Australia. As well as working as a private investigator in Melbourne, he sat down to write.
In 1982, he began writing his Scarlet Rider Series, starting with CORPORAL CAVANNAGH. After leaving the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, John Tarlton Cavannagh rides north, where he joins the newly-arrived North-West Mounted Police. The novel was first published by Seal Books in Canada, who published his next two:
THE RETURN OF CAVANNAGH
and BEYOND THE STONE HEAPS.
BEYOND THE STONE HEAPS dealt with arrival of Sitting Bull's Sioux in Canada after the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
When Zebra Books of New York bought the World rights to the Scarlet Riders Series, they republished his first three titles and put out four more up to 1988:
THE FLYING PATROL
and DEAD OR ALIVE.
The character of Sergeant Hugh O'Reilly "who hailed from Halifax... was loosely based on Inspector Fitzgerald -- or perhaps inspired would be a better word -- of the Lost Patrol of 1911 fame," said Anderson, in a letter to this writer.
While working on an article about the friendship between Sitting Bull and Inspector James Walsh of the Mounties for Wild West Magazine, Anderson decided to "broaden the article into a book." The result was SITTING BULL'S BOSS: Above the Medicine Line with James Morrow Walsh, an excellent study of the subject. He had first happened upon the story of Major Walsh while visiting the RCMP museum in Regina. "As for Major James Walsh, I feel as though I knew him personally," said Anderson.
RALPH CONNOR When Charles William Gordon (1860-1937) first began to publish articles about his experiences in the Northwest during the mid-1890's, he didn't know that he was embarking on a literary career that would make him one of the best selling authors of the early 20th Century. Educated at the Universities of Toronto and Edinburgh, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1890. After three years of missionary work in Banff, Alberta, he returned to Winnipeg, where he began to write and publish stories under the pen-name "Ralph Connor."
His stories, published in Westminster Magazine, reflected his belief in "red-blooded Christianity." When they were collected in book-form as BLACK ROCK: A Tale of the Selkirks, he gained an international readership. His next book, THE SKY PILOT, became a best seller. His life after that was divided between that of writing and of serving Church and Country. During the First World War, he served overseas as a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces.
It was the publication of three adventure novels that made his reputation as an author.
THE MAN FROM GLENGARRY told of the rowdy Highlanders of Glengarry -- their exploits in the lumber camps of the Northwoods, their fights with wolves and other men, the joyful maple-sugar parties, the passionate church meetings... They were men, as he wrote in his autobiography, "as wild as the wild creatures of the forest in which they lived, fearing no man or beast or devil."
The other two adventure novels were
CORPORAL CAMERON OF THE NORTH WEST MOUNTED POLICE: A Tale of the MacLeod Trail (1912)
and THE PATROL OF THE SUNDANCE TRAIL (1914).
Both told of the exploits of Allan Cameron of Her Majesty's North-West Mounted Police. Connor based the character of Cameron on the real-life Sergeant William Fury. In fact, the first book recounts a fictionalized version of Fury's arrest of the violent railroad strikers at Kicking Horse Pass in 1885. SUNDANCE TRAIL deals with the unrest of the Blackfoot Nation during the bloody Northwest Rebellion. Connor's technique of using real cases and real Mounties as the basis for his stories became common for Canadians writing about the NWMP.
Ralph Connor, as Dick Harrison puts it in his BEST MOUNTED POLICE STORIES, "did more to create the literary image of the Mountie than any other writer, probably because he had a gift for telling uncomplicated adventure stories."
Ralph Connor's autobiography is POSTSCRIPT TO ADVENTURE.
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD When James Oliver Curwood (1879-1927) was expelled from school in his birthplace of Owosso, Michigan at age 16, it was a blessing in disguise. It began a wandering life that would eventually take him to the wilds of northern Canada.
First as a reporter, then as a novelist and short story writer, he would spend a lifetime telling of his wilderness travels. He travelled by canoe, by snow shoe and by dog sled, throughout the Peace River country, the Hudson Bay wilderness and the Arctic tundra. His translation of the Cree meaning of Manitoba -- "God's Country" -- would become world renowned.
While best remembered for his masterwork KAZAN THE WOLF DOG, his many other Northwesterns were best sellers in the 1910's and 20's.
Among his best Mountie novels are
PHILIP STEELE OF THE NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE
THE HONOR OF THE BIG SNOWS
THE GOLDEN SNARE
THE COUNTRY BEYOND
THE RIVER'S END: A New Story of God's Country
THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN: A Story of the Three River Country
and THE FLAMING FOREST: A Novel of the Canadian Northwest.
His collection BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY contained many Mountie short stories, including THE FIDDLING MAN -- A Story of the North-West Mounted Police.
By 1922, Curwood's writings had made him a very wealthy man. He lived out a youthful fantasy by building the "Curwood Castle" in Ossasso. Built in the style of an 18th Century French chateau, his castle overlooked the Shiawassee River. In one of the home's two large turrets, Curwood built his library and office, where he would do the rest of his writing.His fiction, Curwood once explained, "is eighty per cent fact so far as country, environment, geography, customs and manners go."
His autobiography is SON OF THE FORESTS.
RYERSON JOHNSON Walter Ryerson Johnson (1901-1995) was born in Divernon, Illinois. He also published works under the names Matthew Blood, Peter Field, Brett Halliday, and (with Lester Dent) Kenneth Robeson. He attended the University of Illinois and worked as a coal miner, warehouse manager and seaman, as well as travelling extensively thoughout the US and Canada.
At age 25, Johnson published his first short story in Adventure, a pulp magazine. His writing career really exploded when he took the advice of popular Northwestern writer William Byron Mowery, to write Mountie stories. Johnson said, "I didn't know a mounted policeman from a uniformed doorman, but Bill loaned me books and I got more from the library. Official Mounted Police Bulletins and a book by Wasburn Pike -- The Great Canadian Barren Lands -- supplied fundamentals." Soon he sold his first Northwestern, "Cougar Kelly Gets a Break," and his career was picking up. He published numerous Mountie yarns and "Northerns" in the pulp magazines, stories like "The Carcajou and the Loup Garou," "All Trees and Snow," "The Eskimo Express," "The Phantom of Forgotten River," "Webs for One," "Caribou Gold," "Back Trail Shadow," "Wood on the Snow" and "The Dangerous Dan McGrew."
He described pulp fiction as "A never-never land that existed only in the glowing imagination of the writer and the transient 'suspension of disbelief' of the reader. Bigger than life. Adult fairy stories."
A must-have book is THE BEST WESTERN STORIES OF RYERSON JOHNSON, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg. Johnson also wrote a number of Doc Savage novels, under the pen name Kenneth Robeson, including LAND OF ALWAYS NIGHT and THE FANTASTIC ISLAND.
JAMES B HENDRYX James Beardsley Hendrix (1880-1963) was born in Sauk Center, Minnesota. Hendryx worked as a traveling salesman, cowhand, tan bark buyer and insurance agent, before heading for the gold fields of the Klondike. It was Hendryx's experiences in the Klondike that inspired him to write Northwesterns. While working as a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, he began his career as a fiction writer.
With the publication in 1915 of THE PROMISE: A Tale of the Great Northwest, his career was launched.
DOWNEY OF THE MOUNTED (1926) gave the world one of the great Mountie characters. Told with humor, at times wry, Hendryx's vision of the Northwest was closer to reality.
As well as Downey, the author also created Black John Smith, leader of an outlaw community at Halfaday Creek, just inside the Alaska border.
Among his best works of Mountie fiction are:
OAK AND IRON: Of These Be the Breed of the North
CORPORAL DOWNEY TAKES THE TRAIL
BLOOD ON THE YUKON TRAIL
BLOOD OF THE NORTH
THE YUKON KID
EDGE OF BEYOND
LAW AND ORDER ON HALFADAY CREEK
and AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW.
The short story "Routine Patrol," originally published in Western Story Magazine, was reprinted in Dick Harrison's BEST MOUNTED POLICE STORIES.
Once he became a full time author, Hendrix worked and lived in two homes on both sides of the Canadian-US border: one in Sutton's Bay, Michigan and one in Thessalon, Ontario. All in all, he published 36 Northwestern novels and story collections.
WILLIAM BYRON MOWERY William Byron Mowery (1899-1957) was known as "The Zane Grey of the Canadian Northwest." A teacher, naturalist and novelist, he was born in Adelphia, Ohio. He served in the Tank Corps during the last year of World War I.
From 1929 to 1948, he published fifteen novels and story collections that, as a total work, may be the most literate and realistic of the Mountie genre. Some of his best are
HEART OF THE NORTH
THE BLACK AUTOMATIC
CHALLENGE OF THE NORTH
THE GIRL FROM GOD'S MERCIE
and RESURRECTION RIVER.
THE LONG ARM OF THE MOUNTED (1948) collected some of the best short Northwesterns ever written, including "The Long Shadow," "The Constable of Lone Sioux," and "A Lamb and Some Slaughtering."
HARWOOD STEELE Harwood Elmes Robert Steele (1897-1978) may have been in the best position of any would-be writer to tell the story of the Mounties -- he was the only son of the greatest Mountie of them all: Sam Steele. Harwood grew up in a household hearing all the adventures and tribulations of being a Mounted Policeman in turbulent times. He got the inside scoop of Sam Steele's life and character, and later wrote it down in fictional form.
His own life was just as adventurous. After growing up in Fort MacLeod, Alberta and Ontario, he joined the Canadian Army, rising to the rank of Major. His book THE CANADIANS IN FRANCE 1915-1918, reflected some of his own experiences during the Great War. After working as a journalist and as a press representative for the CPR, Harwood went with the Canadian Government expedition into the High Arctic in 1925.
Harwood began writing Mountie fiction in the early 1920's. His technique was to take actual police cases and characters and fictionalize them, "to present fact in the form of romantic fiction."
Two novels, SPIRIT-OF-IRON: An Authentic Novel of the Northwest Mounted and THE MARCHING CALL, were based on the life of his father. Other Mountie novels and collections appeared between 1923 and 1961...
I SHALL ARISE
THE NINTH CIRCLE
TO EFFECT AN ARREST: Adventures of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
TALES OF THE NORTH-WEST MOUNTED POLICE
RED SERGE: Stories of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
RED SERGE contained dramatizations of the harrowing Northern experience of Constable Pedley ("Lunatic Patrol"), early exploits of the Police Service dogs ("Pal" and "A Dog Won't Lie") and Yukon Gold Rush incidents ("The Race For Molly Scott").
In his Foreword to SPIRIT-OF-IRON, he laid down his philosophy of all of his fiction: "to present the Force as it was and is and not as portrayed by well-meaning but ignorant writers of the 'red love, two-gun' variety, and it is my hope that, through this book, the reader may obtain a clearer conception of the marvellous devotion to duty, the high idealism, the splendid efficiency which have made the Mounted Police famous than any to be derived from these inaccurate romances."
Comics -- Newspapers and Beyond...
Mountie fiction entered a new medium in 1939. The newspapers. King Features presented Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted, first as a Sunday feature drawn by Allen Dean, then as a daily strip. Zane Grey scripted the first adventure. Later stories were outlined by Grey and written by his son, Romer Grey.
In 1936, Whitman published the first story in a Big Little Book. This was followed by a number of titles, including Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted Gets His Man.
In 1948, Dell Publishing presented the adventures of Sergeant King in comic book form. The series continued for ten years.
Dell also published Sergeant Preston, based on the radio and television series.
Between 1942 and 1946, the Canadian Active Comics gave the world Corporal Wayne Dixon of the Mounties. Artists included Edmund T Legault, Ted Steele and Rene L Kulbach.
Other comics include Manhunt, which featured Sergeant Jeffrey Fox, the Red Fox. And Northwest Mounties, telling the adventures of Corporal Jim Duncan.