The May, 1957 issue of “Adventure” magazine featured four short stories by the likes of Dick Halvorsen, Robert Zacks, Jack Daniels and James Miller. A western novel entitled “Gunmen Die Sudden” by Will Cook was included, along with artwork from the likes of Bob Schultz and Gil Cohen. Looking for a quick western read, I chose unknown author James Miller and his short story “Manhunt”.
The story introduces us to Cree warrior Iron Legs, a brave who has abnormally short legs and long, dangling arms. Iron Legs is a hunter in his tribe, and they welcome a trio of trappers just before the heavy winter hits the Canadian Rockies. The trio are led by a cruel Cree known as Fire Hair and consists of a drunk white man and a typically hated Blackfoot. Iron Legs, fearing the worst but hoping for the best, braces for a confrontation with the three.
Meanwhile, a tribesman named Soaring Eagle comes across a young Chipewyan woman and her brother stranded on a riverbank in the wilderness. The two, along with their father, had been cast out of their own tribe due to signs of smallpox. Soaring Eagle finds them kneeling at their father's grave and brutally kills and scalps the Chipewyan man. After taking the woman forcefully by horseback, he trades her to Iron Legs for two robes. Iron Legs cares for the woman and the two begin to sew the seeds of a relationship.
While Iron Legs is off hunting, the trio led by Fire Hair leave the camp with the Chipewyan woman. When Iron Legs returns, he finds that she has been taken. Thus the bulk of the story is spent on this mono-myth telling of the Cree warrior hunting and finding his lover. Through the snowy mountains into Alberta, Iron Legs tracks the trio and fights them one by one. The final confrontation revolves around the bound woman on a frosty, windswept ridge (captured perfectly by artist Bob Schultz).
This is a short - but stocky - read that really captures the essence of the American western; hardmen, hard living, love and vengeance. There's plenty of gun and knife play to fill this 20-minute read. I'm not sure what else James Miller has written. Unfortunately, it's a rather common name with a lot of online avenues to travel in an attempt to locate his work and biography (which probably is a pseudonym to begin with). Overall, you can do a lot worse than “Manhunt”.
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