Friday, January 8, 2021

Many Rivers to Cross

Colorado native Steve Frazee (1908-1992) authored a number of crime-fiction, pulp and western novels before becoming president of the Western Writers of America. I read two of his novels over the last year, Running Target and High Hell. As a fan of early pioneer westerns, I was excited to find Frazee's Many Rivers to Cross. It was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1959 and was later adapted to cinema by MGM.

In the book's opening pages, Frazee states that the book's narrative is taking place in 1890. However, this was either a ploy by Fawcett to make this sound like a traditional western novel or simply an error on the author's part. I believe the year is actually 1790. Many of the book's characters discuss their fight against the British and most of America's midwest and western regions remain unsettled throughout the narrative. Further, the book's cover (always the best resource) clearly shows the main character, Bushrod Gentry, carrying a flintlock musket.

Gentry, a white man who was raised by the Shawnee, is a lone-wolf vagabond who has journeyed all over the east and mid-west sections of untamed America. With his musket, tomahawk and knife, Gentry tries to make peace when he can, but doesn’t hesitate to scrap with ruthless settlers and the savage Mingo tribe. When the book begins, Gentry is in the backwoods of Kentucky fighting three Mingo warriors. After being cut on the arm, Gentry finds himself aided by a young woman named Mary Stuart. And this is when his real trouble starts.

Gentry is taken back to Mary's hillbilly clan, which is really just a group of Irish drinkers that share a log cabin with an old Native American named Oykywha. At first, Gentry is happy to meet the group, share a meal and then bed down alone in the clan's shed. The next morning, Gentry is ready to hit the wooded trail again hoping to make it to “the Shining Mountains” one day. Gentry has no use for a woman and explains this to Mary. However, Mary can't shake her desire for Gentry, and she attempts numerous stalling techniques and eventually attempts to propose to him. Gentry, fearing for his very life, finds himself foolishly hogtied to the clan and dealing with a rambunctious, sexually-charged girl. With that plot, Frazee cleverly converts this pioneer western into a traditional femme fatale story. Think of Orrie Hitt meets Zane Grey.

Many Rivers to Cross had me chuckling throughout the 170-page book. Gentry is a hilarious character and I couldn't help but sympathize with his situation. After being thrust into a shotgun wedding, Gentry's life becomes complicated and highly-stressful. Marriage, obsessive impulse, sexual energy and a frenzied escape are just some of the ingredients that make Frazee's narrative so riveting and enjoyable. This one is a real classic and one of the funniest western novels I've read in a long time. Hunt a copy of this one down. It's worth the time and money.

Buy a copy of this book HERE


  1. You can get the Robert Taylor movie based on the book from Netflix. I know I watched it a number of years ago.

  2. I believe this was an instance similar to the genesis of Louis L'Amour's HONDO, where a movie was based on an author's magazine story (in the case of Louis, "The Gift of Cochise"), and the author later novelized the script for Fawcett Gold Medal. Frazee's story appeared in ARGOSY in 1951, movie and novelization followed in 1955. It's been a while since I read the original story, but I hazily recall that it was less of a comedy than the film and the novelization were. I always thought the comedy element of the script, the clash between the hero and the heroine's male relatives, was more reflective of THE QUIET MAN.