International prize-winning author Charles T. Whipple, writing as CHUCK TYRELL, (a Sundown Press author like me) is another writer who can’t pick a clear favourite of his novels!
One contender is his prison-set western THE SNAKE DEN, a coming of age story. Chuck tells me this is: ‘Gritty in ways, but ultimately redemptive.’
Shawn Brodie is falsely accused of theft and sent to Yuma Territorial Prison at the age of only 14. Shawn struggles to survive, partly with the aid of another inmate, an Oriental proficient in martial arts. (My excuse to include a picture from ‘Kung Fu.’)
Part of the means of surviving is to stay out of the notorious ‘Snake Den,’ a hole in the ground that snakes sometimes fall into.
Yuma was a serving prison from 1876-1909.
Notorious Arizona law-breakers like ‘Buckskin’ Frank Leslie, Burt Alvord and Pete Spence served time in Yuma.
Amongst the 20 women incarcerated there was stage-robber Pearl Hart, who carried out the last stagecoach hold up in U.S. history when she robbed a stage near Globe, Arizona in 1899.
Westerns with a prison setting include ‘There was a Crooked Man’ (1970) and ‘Devil’s Canyon’ (1953.)
Kirk Douglas in ‘There was a Crooked Man’ (1970.)
Rattlesnakes are native to the Americas, living in diverse habitats from southwestern Canada to Florida to central Argentina. The large majority of species lives in the American Southwest and Mexico. Most common in the American West are Western diamondbacks.
Other western ‘rattlers’ include the highly venomous Mojave rattlesnake, the Sidewinder (or horned rattlesnake) and the Prairie rattlesnake.
A Sidewinder in motion.
The rattlesnakes ‘warning system,’ the rattle, is composed of a series of hollow, interlocked segments made of keratin (as is the human fingernail.)
Rattlesnakes rarely bite unless they feel threatened or provoked. Despite that, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, resulting in about five deaths.
REVIEWS of THE SNAKE DEN:
‘Chuck Tyrell has brought authenticity and poignancy to a western with a difference.’
‘Tyrell is a master of character development …This is a heck of a good novel. It does much more than shake a bunch of prison fiction tropes at you. It's a character-based coming of age, student/master, and odd couple/buddy Western that gets tenser and tenser with each scene.’
‘One crisis after another makes the tale fly by and kept my interest throughout. A five-star for sure.’
‘A Different Breed of Western… as tough and gritty as they get.’