Author: Terry Johnston
Original language: English
With the end of the beaver trade at hand, free trappers like Titus Bass must somehow make their way on a changing frontier. Drawn by the promise of adventure and wealth, Bass joins an expedition to Spanish California, where the ranchos have horses and mules in abundance. Their plan is to steal the livestock and drive it back east across the great Mojave Desert to sell to fur traders for top dollar. But pursuit by formidable Mexican soldiers and an attack by fierce Digger Indians take their toll on Bass and his fellow raiders.
Arriving back in the Rockies, the mountain man discovers that even the famous Jim Bridger has abandoned trapping and settled down to trade with overland immigrants plying the Oregon Trail. Wondering where his own trail will lead him, Bass journeys south for a reunion with an old friend in Taos-only to be caught up in the “Taos Rebellion.” And in its tragic aftermath, Titus finds himself once again an outsider in a world he no longer recognizes.
From Publishers Weekly
This latest installment in the apparently never-ending adventures of intrepid mountain man Titus Bass aka “Scratch” carries Johnston’s fearless hero far from the Rockies on a horse raid in pre-Mexican War California. Joining up with a band of two dozen similarly ragtag refugees from the failing beaver trade, Bass trails across the deadly desert lands of the Southwest, fighting thirst, hunger and, of course, frequent battles with fierce adversaries. Along the way, he’s shot several times, pierced by a number of arrows and always saved from certain death by the arrival of some friend or other left dangling in a previous novel. Upon their return, and after slaughtering a number of evil Mexicans, the rustlers discover only a small market for their four-legged booty. Bass and his bigoted buddies end up rescuing settlers caught in the Taos Rebellion, an uprising of Pueblo Indians. There’s little of value in this picaresque tall tale. Bass is the only character who is developed beyond one dimension, and his heroics strain belief. The plot is episodic and quirky, with pitched battles against the odds occurring frequently, linked by Bass’s ruminations on his adventures in previous Johnston novels, complete with footnotes to direct the reader to the proper title. The story is pockmarked with meticulous lessons in woodcraft and even, at one point, wall plastering. Other footnotes clarify geographic and linguistic references for the uninitiated. Brief outbursts of realism and description indicate that Johnston has done his homework, but the novel is further marred by careless overwriting, including hokey, inconsistent and often anachronistic dialect.