Friday Reads – The Blind Corral by Ralph Beer

From The Blind Corral by Ralph Beer:

51oVnKv4fiL._SL500_“They told me they’re locating a road over there,” Amy said, clattering lunch dishes and empty pop cans into a cardboard box on the tailgate of her Chevy Apache. She scowled at Harley, who, glassing the country to the east of us, didn’t answer.

“They claimed it would cross below the pond and go up Harris Hill toward those yellow pine on top.”

“Roads usually go someplace,” Harley said. “Besides, it looks like they’re snoozing to me.”

“How do you know they won’t cross your ground?”

“Too far north.” One thing about Harley: he knew where original corner stones were located in a considerable chunk of country. On the other hand, he was pretty closemouthed about where some of them were.

“It wouldn’t hurt to talk to them, Harlan.”

“They know where I live,” Harley answered, the binoculars still hiding his eyes.

Smoke and Annie and I watched the old folks from a rock outcropping where we’d eaten. A road up Harris Hill seemed a remote idea, an improbable notion. Like Harley said, roads usually went someplace, and there was nothing on Harris Hill, except grass and game trails. I didn’t for a moment believe it would happen.

Amy poured coffee from a thermos jug the size of a 105 round. “I don’t see what business they have driving all over off the road like that.”

“Looks like lots of folks with no business out here are here anyway.” Smoke shaded his eyes and watched as a second pickup climbed toward the distant survey crew.

“This ain’t anything new, you know.” Harley lowered the glasses and sat down on the tailgate. He reached one long hand toward the horizon and swept the country. “Land locators were thick as ticks when we first came. Everybody was staking out a quarter then, water or no water, greedy for free land.”

I watched a red-tailed hawk work a thermal above some frost-yellowed aspen on Skihi, watched until he picked up a current of wind and drifted out of sight behind the mountain. But on the far side of the mountain, like a movie trick, a helicopter appeared instead of the hawk.

“They’re just coming like that again is all, only there will be more this time. Hell! There were still Indians in the hills then, instead of pickups and power lines. When I was a kid, the army had a big camp of ’em right where that fancy motel this side of town is now. Mounted soldiers kept them poor devils out on that flat all winter. Fed ’em on tripes from the stinkin’ slaughterhouse. Miserable. We were living in a tent then too, but at least we had a tin stove and good groceries.”

I could see something swinging below the copter, although distance made the cable hard to see.

Harley narrowed his eyes. “I remember one morning I was taking a team and wagon through Butcherknife, headed for town. I came around a corner down in the narrows, and standing on the trail up ahead was the poorest excuse for an Indian you ever saw. Skinny, had on a pair of leggins and a suit coat with no sleeves. Sucker had a rock in one hand the size of a horseshoe.”

“When was all this?” Annie asked, tucking in her shirt as she returned from some bushes.

“When I was a kid. Anyway, I figured he was going to try and bust me with that rock, maybe take my dad’s team. I had a rolling block thirty-eight-forty-four that had been shot smooth leaning against one knee — might as well have been throwing rocks myself — so I just kept those horses moving. Rascal tagged along behind the wagon ’til I came to his camp. Had some half-rotten hides hung on poles for shelter, and the ugliest woman I ever saw, except’n’ present company, maybe, cooking some stuff over a smudge.”

Annie poked Amy and laughed, but Amy acted like she hadn’t heard.

“So what did you do, Harley?” I asked.

“Why, I kept going,” he answered, watching Amy from the corner of his eye. “What would you do?”

I shrugged, trying to picture myself at that age in the same fix.

“He didn’t want me molesting his camp was all. He looked like he’d about been molested long enough. Next time I came through, though, they were gone.”

“We better get gone too,” Smoke said, “if we’re going to make it home by dark.”

Harley faced the hills that had been so good to him in his youth, and what he saw left a thing smile on his weatherworn face. “I brought along some fresh meat and hard bread that second trip,” he said quietly, “but they’d already moved on.”

This one, first published in 1986, may be hard to find, but it’s worth tracking down. It’s primarily a story of the clash of generations, both when it comes to ranching and the families that passed generations on them. I loved it. I found a copy at my local treasure trove for books from regional writers, The Book Exchange. Whoever owned the book before me left a newspaper clipping inside from the September 23, 1988, edition of The Independent Record newspaper out of Butte, Montana. It’s an announcement for a benefit to raise money for a family whose house had burned down. The author of The Blind Corral, Ralph Beer, is highlighted in the text as one of the coordinators of the event. You’ll never find an artifact like that in an eBook, that’s for damn sure. . . .

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We spoke instead of things that mattered, like motorcycles and women and the places we loved.

Are you a fan of James Crumley? Then dig this: The following is an excerpt from a guest post by Ralph Beer of my friend Ron Scheer’s excellent blog, Buddies in the Saddle. Check it out:

the-last-good-kiss-coverThere was more to Jim Crumley than most folks saw, at least at first. It took a while before he’d let people in. I was fortunate enough to spend time with Crumley outside the usual Missoula writers’ scene, which could get cheesy and inbred. We once drove from Montana to New York City together to attend to bookish affairs that involved agents and editors and going to lunch. Jim and I cut wood at Annick Smith’s place near Potomac, and hunted mule deer at my Dad’s ranch, where Jim used his father’s old lever-action to kill a couple nice bucks. The summer I spent in Missoula working on a novel, we’d get together in the afternoons and drive the backroads, smoking a little of this and that, sipping cold beers and talking. We didn’t talk much about books or writing. We spoke instead of things that mattered, like motorcycles and women and the places we loved.

I never met Crumley, though I did see him around town. I’ve never met Ralph Beer either, but will definitely order his essay collection. Neil McMahon, mentioned in the essay, I have met, and he is a great guy. Hope to cross paths with him again. Speaking of Neil, he has released his early horror novels as eBooks. They are well worth checking out, as are his detective novels.