The Foreigner (Ralph Connor, 1909)

Fleeing from persecution in Czarist Russia are Michael Kalmar, his wife, his two children, and his trusted friend Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt, however, has betrayed them and they’re shot at by border guards. Kalmar’s wife is killed. He marries a thick-headed woman named Paulina purely to see his children safely landed in Canada while he seeks revenge.

Winnipeg is not really a city as yet. It’s on the very pale of civilization. The part of town occupied by the Slavs — those who the British pioneers collectively call Galicians, regardless of origin — is just beyond it. The conditions are a nightmare. Kalmar supplied Paulina with money to buy a house, but she’s in a foreign land and understands no one. An agent takes her, Rosenblatt. The house is bought, but it quickly becomes a boarding house where Paulina and the children must work for free, and where for a little more, a guest might spend the night with Paulina. All the further funds Kalmar sends go directly into Rosenblatt’s pocket.

When Kalmar escapes from Siberia and traces Rosenblatt to Winnipeg, he attempts assassinating him without success. He’s jailed but escapes from his prison cell and vanishes once more. It was decided, though, that daughter Irma will go to school, where she should learn English, dress in western clothes, and begin integrating into Canadian society. Son Kalman, at the mercy of Rosenblatt and the vile influence of Winnipeg at home, is sent out into the country to a ranch run by Jack French.

The railroad is coming and soon the land will become a province of Canada. Kalman has discovered a coal mine which could mean his fortune, but Rosenblatt attempts to claim jump it. When that fails, he tries to seal Kalman and Jack in the mine and blow it up. Just then, Kalmar returns and sets fire to Rosenblatt. Before he dies, he fatally shoots Kalmar. The blood debt is over to Kalman’s relief, as he could not have carried it forward since he’s become a Presbyterian and has adapted to Canadian civil rule.

No inscriptions.

A Man in the Open (Roger Pocock, 1912)

I’m not entirely certain what to call this. It isn’t an epistolary novel. Rather, it takes the form of a rough draft of a memoir written by two different people over the course of several years. The chapters are presented chronologically, but they weren’t written so. There are jumps in the narrative, and confusing parts where you’re just dropped into the middle of a scene and have to muddle out what’s going on.

Jesse begins with a description of his early childhood in Labrador, which was very harsh. As a teenager, penniless and with both his parents dead, he makes the acquaintance of a man named Durham. Durham claims to be a fabulously wealthy nobleman. He’s neither, of course, but he leads naive Jesse out west to Arizona to be a cowboy and introduces him to alcohol. He also introduces him to Polly, a prostitute who marries him as a joke, but Jesse doesn’t understand that. When she tires of his jealousy, she fakes suicide and Jesse flees north to British Columbia.

Kate is an opera singer and is married to another opera singer who’s lost his voice. They’re in Canada for a rest cure, but far from being cured, Trevor has gone quite insane. He drowns while attempting to murder her. Jesse takes her in and the two fall in love. They’re married and have a son, David (the Biblical Jesse of course being David’s father — there’s a David and Goliath allegory running through the book, too).

Enter once more Durham, now calling himself Brooke. He’s a cattle rustler looking to hide his stolen herd at Jesse’s ranch, which he thought was abandoned. Exactly how it happened is confused, but the gang is caught and extradited back to the US. Brooke alone saves himself from the noose by turning state’s evidence against his compatriots. To revenge himself, he brings Polly back from the dead to break apart Jesse’s marriage.

Brooke effectively brings ruin to the entire community and Polly spirals into alcoholism. When the community rallies and begins pushing back against them, things turn violent. A fight breaks out. Polly is badly wounded but ultimately kills Brooke. Afterward, she shoots herself.

No inscriptions.

The Covered Wagon (Emerson Hough, 1922)

The Wingates are taking the Oregon Trail to start a new life in the Willamette Valley. Jessie Wingate is elected train leader, though he lacks any leadership ability. Will Banion — who actually has some experience on the trail and knows how to take command and responsibility — would have been a better pick, but they already decided on Jessie and no taksies-backsies. Molly, Jessie’s daughter, has more or less been arranged to marry Sam Woodhull, though it isn’t long before she falls for Banion. This throws Woodhull into a murderous rage and breaks apart the train.

The rest of the novel is pretty much the Wingate train stumbling into an Indian ambush, the Banion train rescuing them, and Woodhull slandering Banion and plotting his murder. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Eventually they reach the fork in the trail splitting off to either Oregon or California. Banion, who’s learned that there’s gold in them thar hills, opts for the southerly route, trailed by Woodhull, still murderous. The Wingates press on north for whatever reason. Jessie gives a vanguard of civilization speech that rings rather hollow, given his character. I’d say it’s pigheadedness more than anything.

In California, Banion strikes it rich. Woodhull — who, I might say, has spent a year plotting this assassination — trips on some rocks, is spotted, and gets himself shot. Banion loads up his tons of gold, heads to Oregon, and marries Molly.

Inscriptions: The flyleaf is stamped “W.K. McDonald, Stony Brook Farm”. Beneath that, someone’s written “May 22, 1929”.

The Last of the Plainsmen (Zane Grey, 1908)

Not exactly a biography of Buffalo Jones, the conservationist credited with saving the bison from extinction, although it is in a sideways manner. The book is an account of Zane Grey going to Arizona to meet Jones, the travails it took to get there, and what he saw in and around the Grand Canyon area catching cougars. Jones isn’t the focus but is present on every page and the story of his life seeps in through the travel narrative.

The Ranchman (Charles Alden Seltzer, 1919)

Squint Taylor is elected as the first mayor of Dawes, a ranching town in the southwest. Carrington exploits a corrupt judge and politicians to oust Squint and install himself in his place, intent on turning the town into his personal fiefdom and milking it for all it’s worth. (Sound familiar?) Arriving in Dawes with Carrington is Marion Harlan. She and Squint fall in love, but Carrington has claimed her as his own and tries to force himself on her. (Sound familiar?) In the end, Squint beats Carrington nearly to death and an angry lynch mob takes cares of the other conspirators. (Sound familiar?)

Inscription: E. Blanche Guilford, on the front flyleaf.

The Spoilers (Rex Beach, 1905)

In the Alaskan gold rush, McNamara exploits a feeble-minded judge and corrupt local politicians to steal all the valuable claims on the Midas River. Glenister, one of the aggrieved miners, is in love with Helen, the Judge’s niece. Helen is engaged to McNamara, not knowing anything about the conspiracy and not doubting his or her uncle’s integrity.

The miners assemble and most are in favor of lynching the Judge and McNamara and taking their mines back. Helen, new to the North, abhors violence, and so Glenister tries to reason with them to go through the courts. But with each appeal, it would seem all the region’s legal system is in McNamara’s pocket, and the Judge openly defies federal orders. Winter is coming and the seas are treacherous, but one man braves them to get to San Francisco for an arrest warrant.

Helen grows suspicious and tries to secure incriminating documents to help the miners, particularly Glenister, who she’s fallen in love with. After she’s nearly raped by one of McNamara’s men, she also amends he stance on non-violence. Some people just need killin’. Glenister, at the end of his rope, decides to go into town and take care of McNamara with his bare hands.

McNamara is beaten to within a hair’s breadth of death and a mob is out for the other conspirators, but it’s only a moral victory for the miners as they’re surely all going to prison. Just then, the man returns from San Francisco with warrants for the arrest of the Judge and McNamara and writs vindicating the miners.

Having seen this parodied in The Soilers (1923), I expected the fight scene to be longer. To be fair, I suppose it is a whole chapter and it is super violent, but I guess I was expecting something more cartoonish.

Inscriptions: signed Emma I Walker on the front flyleaf. At the start of the chapter “Wherein a Trap is Baited”, there’s a grocery delivery receipt apparently used as a bookmark. On 8/10/45, Emma bought two bushels of cabbage, seven buckets of tomatoes, and five bushels of carrots. No one may say that the Walkers didn’t eat their vegetables.

Timber Wolf (Jackson Gregory, 1923)

Bruce “Timber Wolf” Standing is a man of few but undyingly loyal friends. He is a force to be reckoned with in Big Pine, a mining boom town in the southwest. The place is tapped-out, but Mexicali Joe — one of those few friends — discovers a huge find somewhere up in the surrounding mountains. This makes him a target for gold seekers all over the country, including at least two sworn enemies of Timber Wolf: Babe Deveril, his one-time partner; and Jim Taggart, the sheriff. Also after the gold is Lynette Brooke, a young woman with prospecting in her veins.

Lynette is thought to have killed Timber Wolf and Babe is thought to have killed Taggart. The two flee into the countryside, following Joe in search of his strike. Babe falls in love with Lynette. Neither Timber Wolf nor Taggart were actually killed and both, individually, set out in pursuit of the fugitives. Timber Wolf captures Lynette and falls in love with her as well. Strangely, Lynette begins falling for him as well.

No inscriptions.