Thursday, February 26, 2015

Luke Allan, Blue Peter: “Half-Breed” (1921)

Métis fur trader, 1870
Blue Pete, a Métis cattle rustler who leaves a gang of horse and cattle thieves to work as an informant for the North-West Mounted Police, first appeared in 1921 in a short story in Western Story Magazine by Canadian-born writer William Lacey Amy (later to be known as Luke Allan). That same year, the character appeared in Blue Peter: “Half-Breed,” the first of a long series of Blue Pete novels, published in both London and New York, the last of which saw print in 1954.

Blue Peter is a love/crime fiction story set on the Canadian frontier, where the North-West Mounted Police are stationed at Medicine Hat  to maintain law and order. Their main problem is a gang of horse and cattle thieves fearlessly operating along the international border with the U.S. and using the Cypress Hills, a rough patch of wooded terrain in southern Saskatchewan , to hide out (cf. Jackson Hole, Wyoming).

Plot. As the story begins, Blue Peter parts company with the gang in an exchange of gunfire, meets up with a young
North-West Mounted Police Fort Walsh, 1878
Mountie, Constable Mahon, and is persuaded to work as an informant, sharing what he knows of the Hills and how they are used by the thieves to hide stolen stock; infiltrating the cowboys who work for ranchers on the open prairie, he reports any questionable behavior to the chief inspector at NWMP headquarters.

As it turns out, one family, the Stantons, are actively in cahoots with the gang. Caught in the act, two brothers, Jim and Joe Stanton, kill each other rather than allow themselves to be taken by the Mounties. Their sister, Mira, has been an accomplice in their thieving activities. She is an all-western girl, skilled as a rider and roper, pretty and independent-minded, embarrassed only by her lack of education and refinement.

Mahon, who has a girlfriend of his own, befriends Mira and helps her with the book-learning she desires. Meanwhile, grief-stricken at the loss of her brothers, Mira warms to him but holds him culpable for their deaths. In a fit of melodrama, she shoots and kills three of her four wolfhounds.

Romance. Blue Peter then comes to her rescue, offering her his cave in the Hills for shelter and his own companionship for solace. Standing trial for cattle theft, Mira is found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. As she is being transported there by train and under guard, Blue Peter comes again to her rescue, and they are pursued on horseback by Mounties across the prairie. After the two are run aground, Mira surrenders herself to save Blue Peter, now a wanted man, from arrest.

Back at the cave, he waits mournfully through the winter for her release from prison. At last, with the coming of spring they are reunited.

Adventure. The latter part of the story is devoted to the capture of the gang, as exchanges of gunfire result in Mahon’s (now Sgt. Mahon) being wounded and the arrest and/or death of the rustlers. Blue Peter is also a casualty, shot as he saves Mahon’s life. At the end of the novel, there is reason to believe that Blue Peter’s wounds are mortal and once his body is found, Mira vows to bury him there in the Hills he loved.

For his part, Mahon has a granite monument carved as a memorial to the “half-breed” who was his friend. So the novel has this melancholy and sentimental ending. But like a modern-day TV series with a season finale lacking finality, Blue Peter and Mira live on to reappear for another adventure in a sequel, the Return of Blue Pete published in 1922.

The accuracy in the portrayal of Blue Pete is debatable especially in comparison with Frederic Remington’s mixed-blood title character in Sundown Leflare (1899), who speaks in broken, French-inflected English, and possesses no particular moral character. Physically strong and a creature well adapted to the natural world, Blue Pete has no faults. He is decent to the core, loyal, tenderhearted and willing to take a risk to help a friend. Outside of James Fenimore Cooper we do not find his likes in American frontier fiction.

Blue Peter: “Half-Breed,” is currently available online at Internet Archive and in ebook format at Barnes&Noble.For more of Friday's Forgotten Books click on over to Patti Abbott's blog

Further reading/viewing:

Blowing my own horn: For an in-depth, two-volume survey of early writers of frontier fiction, read How the West Was Written (to obtain a copy, click here). 

Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: new short stories