Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saddle Patrol (1970)

Saddle Patrol
Carl Henry Rathjen, il. Cliff Schule
1970, Western Publishing (A Whitman Book)

13-year-old Mike Flynn is on a long visit with his cousin, Terry Stevens, who lives in a unique horse-friendly development in Wisconsin.  On his first night, he goes to check on his horse, Duke, and stumbles across a mystery.  When he and Terry investigate, they uncover a larger can of worms involving an unfriendly neighbor, mysterious tensions between horse-owners and farmers, and the troubling worry that Terry’s father, the local police chief, could lose his job.  Mike, a preternaturally level-headed kid, bounces between investigating the heck out of the mystery and soberly assuring Terry's policeman father that he'll leave the investigating to the proper authorities.  On one of the "No sir, I will leave policing the the adults" days, he helps his cousin deliver newspapers - on horseback! - and enters into a simmering feud with older newsboy Rod Baxter - which leads to a vital clue!  And back we go to investigation. Assisting in the plot is the town police dog, recovering at the Stevens household from an injury.  

An underwritten, plot-heavy mystery with flat characters and drawn-out action scenes.  And another of the awkward Whitman Books, with their horrible illustrations and fragile, yellowing pages and binding.

Carl Henry Rathjen
Rathjen was one of several writers who produced a volume in the Trixie Belden series. He also wrote two horse stories which appeared in The Boys’ Life Book Of Horse Stories (1963), “The Curb Bit” and “Sacrifice Spurs.” He also had a horse story in The American Girl Book of Sports Stories (1965), “Trophy For Sheri.”

Cliff Schule
Illustrated a number of Whitman books, including the horse anthology Golden Prize.

Odd Facts/Possibilities

Claybank  -
This was an unfamiliar term to me, so I googled around.  From the usage in the book, it clearly means Duke is a shade of chestnut, but I was interested in how it was used as a stand-alone adjective:

Mike touched Duke with his heels.  The claybank surged in outflanking pursuit.

It turns out claybank is a description of a red dun – a dilute chestnut the color of a clay bank.   Like many of the color obsessions, it seems to be heavily associated with the West and classically Western horses.  The other main horse in the story, Terry’s horse Wanderer, is a black blanket Appaloosa. 
From Wikipedia:
Red dun, also called claybank or fox dun, horses do not have black points, as there is no black on the horse to be affected. Instead, the points and primitive markings are a darker shade of red than the coat. Genetically, the horse has an underlying chesnut coat color, acted upon by the dun gene.”

Horse Colors website


The lone survivor of Custer’s command at Little Big Horn was a gelding named Comanche.  The horse, badly wounded, survived and became an emblem of the battle to the Army, which retired him with orders he never be ridden again.  The argument over Comanche’s color illustrates the flexibility of color terminology, particularly before the genetics were understood*.  Usually called a bay, Comanche is also sometimes described as a claybank; while current usage reserves the term for a dun without black, it seems that it was once used as a general way to describe any unusually light brown horse.

Kansas University’s Comanche Exhibit

*to be clear, color genetics – dilutes, champagnes, etc. - are still not understood by me.

And, to round it out, and because the Lincoln assassination adds interest to any topic, an old folk song “Booth Killed Lincoln” calls Booth’s getaway horse a claybank:

The people all excited then, cried everyone, "A hand!"
Cried all the people near, "For God’ s sake, save that man!"
Then Booth ran back with boot and spur across the back stage floor,
He mounts that trusty claybank mare, all saddled at the door.

J. Wilkes Booth, in his last play, all dressed in broadcloth deep
He gallops down the alleyway, I hear those horses feet;
Poor Lincoln then was heard to say, and all has gone to rest,
"Of all the actors in this town, I loved Wilkes Booth the best.

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