The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson


Back to the 1980s in the Longmire story

Coming after The
Serpent’s Tooth
, the thirteenth episode in the story of Walt Longmire,
Wyoming county sheriff, Spirit of
Steamboat
, (Viking, 2013) is neither a novel nor a short story (the saga
hitherto has been told in nine novels and three short stories). Author Craig
Johnson says that it started out as a short story but outgrew that form, not,
however, reaching the status of full-blown novel. It’s a novella.
 
Episode 13
 
It’s an aviation story, and a return to the
time when Walt had just become sheriff. Wife Martha is still alive and daughter
Cady just a child. Walt’s predecessor Lucian Connolly is more active than in
the later books, though still legless. Lucian was apparently a pilot in the
Second World War and flew bombers over Japan. Now (Christmas Eve 1988) there is
a little Japanese girl who has suffered terrible burns and she needs to get to
hospital in Denver urgently. But there’s a humdinger of a storm moving rapidly
down from Canada and emergency helicopters can’t fly. In fact nothing can,
except maybe a geriatric B25 that had been used by General Eisenhower. And that
was exactly the aircraft that Lucian used to fly.

Steamboat was a Wyoming bucking bronc at the turn of the 20th century, a horse
that couldn’t be ridden, and it is an appropriate name for an airplane which
will lurch and twist in the high winds all the way down into Colorado. Steamboat’s
story didn’t end well, though: the horse fell victim to blood poisoning caused
by some old barbed wire and the poor beast was shot with a rifle. The airplane
named for him fares slightly better.
 
Gary Holt on Steamboat, Laramie, 1903
 
The doc, Isaac Bloomfield, goes along to
nurse the child and he performs heroically on the flight to keep the girl
alive. The patient’s Japanese grandmother is also there. Walt is needed up in
the cockpit to pump a handle to keep the hydraulic pressure up but has to crawl
back now and then to act as nurse to the surgeon.

As with all Longmire stories, there is
an Old West tinge to it despite the modern setting. The eccentric (and
bibulous) Lucian is described and Johnson says “
Slim Pickens
as pilot. We were doomed.” The gun that was used to put down Steamboat, we are
told, once belonged to
Tom
Horn
. When the doc has no surgical equipment and must improvise, he says he
is going to “get western”.

Well, there’s much danger and excitement
before they reach Denver and Lucian gets there on a wing and a prayer.
 
A B25
 
There are occasional infelicities of
style. Mr. Johnson is one of those who believes that off is not adequate as a preposition but must have an of added to it: “…some wiseacre had hung
an old keychain of the state emblem off of the yellow escape hatch…” We also
get, “I wondered at the turn of the fates that would put a hurt Japanese child
in such a beast like Steamboat”. These are exceptions. Generally, the English
is sound and the style literate.
 
Craig Johnson. Nice hat.
 
Like all the Longmire stories, this one
is enjoyable. It can pretty well be read in a sitting, or two anyway. Next in
the series came Any Other Name, a
full novel, in 2014, which we will read another day.

So long for now, e-pards.

 

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