December 2008-
February 2009 

September 2008
Western Noir
Power of the Premise
West on Wheels

June 2008
Plot or Not Debate
Jack Giles
Whitney Revolver

March 2008
Walt Masterson
Plotters and Pantsers
More Horse Talk

December 2007
Peace at Any Price
Dan Claymaker
Horse Sense

September 2007
Artist Michael Thomas
Judging by Covers
The Schofield Revolver

June 2007
David Whitehead
Realistic Ballistics
Plot Twists

March 2007
Crime/western fiction
The Walker Colt
Sydney J. Bounds

December 2006
Lauran Paine
Jake Douglas & Co.

September 2006
Misfit Lil
Greg Mitchell

June 2006
Marshall Grover
Facts for Fiction
March 2006
Jeff Sadler
Mike Stotter
Writers and Money


Battling Together at Adobe Walls   Hoofprints
 Before Bill Became Jessica
 Work for the Gunsmith   New Black Horse Westerns

Black Horse Westerns are published by Robert Hale Ltd in attractive, pictorial library binding that effectively dispenses with the paper wrappers, or dust jackets, that can so quickly become damaged and worn. But a possible drawback is that the hardcover books have no jacket flaps to carry additional copy about the stories and their authors.

The Black Horse Extra's mission is to fill the gap -- and more! The aim is to provide news and background information about the BHW line and the genre.

In this edition, we feature articles that tell us as much as any jacket flap, or even the usual publishing house website, about three of the Hale western writers and their latest work.

The article first up gives us the fascinating history of a collaborative project undertaken by a
top German western writer, Alfred Wallon, and an English BHW veteran, David Whitehead. Their book, All Guns Blazing, is a current new release from Hale which we are sure you will want doubly to check out after reading what David and Alfred have to say.

Further down, you will find an article written by an author who was already producing westerns for Hale when the BHW branding began in 1986. In fact, W. ("Bill") Spence was busy for Hale and elsewhere on the fiction scene long before that.

Back in the 1960s, he was submitting work to Micron Publications Ltd, among others. His name has been recorded in connection with forgotten scripts for Cowboy Adventure Library, Western Adventure Library and other magazine-style fiction. He has also been listed as an early scriptwriter for D. C. Thomson's Commando series, between January 1962 and June 1976. Micron contributors of the time included Vic J. Hanson, David Bingley (aka Frank Silvester) Sydney J. Bounds and a teenaged Keith Chapman (aka Chap O'Keefe). All at later stages became writers of westerns in novel form for Hale.

Bill tells us how the name Jessica Blair, which has now appeared on eighteen successful historical sagas, eventually took the place of  his western pen-names, Jim Bowden,  Floyd Rogers and Kirk Ford . . . and how these gents are starting to fight back with large-print reissues from Dales Westerns!

A third article, from regular Extra contributor and supporter Greg Mitchell, gives readers and writers the indispensable facts about conversions . . . not  of the religious kind but of firearms. Modifying older percussion revolvers to take metallic cartridges was good business in the second half of the nineteenth century.

As always, Hoofprints  leads us down the highways and byways of the western fiction scene, drawing attention to items possibly not seen elsewhere.

Your comments and western news are always welcome at    

Sample Chapter


David Whitehead

Writing duo explain their method


Cal Hennessy was on his way to meet up with old friend Billy Dixon at Adobe Walls. The plan was to catch up on each other's news over a beer or three. But before he got there he ran into two dead men and a bunch of blood-hungry Comanches.
    Trouble was brewing on the Staked Plains of Texas and Hennessy, who was no stranger to it, quickly found himself right in the middle of a full-scale Indian war.
    But gun-swift though he was, would even he survive the killing to come?
Back cover
All Guns Blazing

Black Horse Extra reported in Hoofprints last time that DAVID WHITEHEAD (aka Ben Bridges) and German western writer ALFRED WALLON had collaborated in writing All Guns Blazing by Doug Thorne for publication as a November Black Horse Western. Naturally, the Extra chased up the full, behind-the scenes-story.

David writes:

IT began, really, when I offered to tidy up a "German-English" translation of Alfred's book
The Trap Was Called Adobe Walls. The translation was pretty poor but I could see what the translator had been trying to get at. The only problem was that by the time I had finished with it, we had a manuscript that was about 80 pages long, and 60 pages too short.

I suggested that Alfred write some additional material for it, but he responded by suggesting that I do that as well, and thus we could make it a true collaboration between us.

I knew better than to make up the additional pages by adding great, indigestible chunks of text, so I went back through the book and added descriptions here, dialogue -- including some Comanche -- there, and was lucky enough to find a large number of additional facts about the fight at Adobe Walls that really gave me the opportunity to expand the story without the need simply to pad it.

By the time I'd finished, I think we had a reasonably accurate re-telling of the battle. Alfred was very pleased with my contribution. After he read the manuscript he told me, "Before, I had a movie in my head that was in black and white. Now, thanks to you, I have a film that is in full colour."
It was one of the nicest compliments I've ever had.


Alfred Wallon
And Alfred writes:

MY good friend and western writer David Whitehead kindly informed me that you are planning to make a kind of presentation for our first collaboration, which David and I wrote under the pen-name Doug Thorne.

I would like to give you some background information to this book project.
Everything started in 1989 when I wrote the original German text. Back then it was published in a small collector's edition, and I was deeply influenced by John Benteen's Sundance and Fargo series. The hero of that novel, a former scout and buffalo hunter named Calvin Hennessy, is a man between the white man's and the red man's world. I described him like Franco Nero in the western movie Keoma.

Why Adobe Walls, where the story takes place? Well, I thought it would make a very dramatic and historical background for bringing the story to life. At that time I already had published some westerns, all of them historical.

When I joined the Western Writers of America in 2006 as an active member, I also discovered the Black Horse Western series. I got in contact with David Whitehead and we corresponded numerous times. I had a short story called Cadburn´s Return, which I sent to him. He looked over it, made some remarks and offered to bring it to an audience.

Ben Haas

Eventually, the story was published in Out West magazine in the United States. It also appeared on my website and on In other words it became David's and my first steps towards collaboration.

When we later both found out that we had something in common -- a love for John Benteen westerns -- I said, "Well, I think I have something which might be interesting -- a western novel which you might like, because Ben Haas, who wrote as John Benteen, would have liked that, too. . . ."

My original German novel about the battle at Adobe Walls was translated by me somewhere around 1995-96, just for my own pleasure. I thought that it might be useful some day. I sent it to David and he looked it over. Of course, my English is in some cases a "German" English, and David offered to polish it up and add a few new chapters here and there. The result was very pleasing.

We chose the pen-name Doug Thorne, for the following reasons: John Benteen wrote his Rancho Bravo series under the pen-name Thorne Douglas, and the Rancho Bravo series inspired me in 1981 to write a ranch western series called Rio Concho, which has just been re-issued this year in paperback format.

So after I read the whole script I was more than happy about it, and David sent it to publishers Robert Hale Ltd. It was accepted, which gave us evidence that we did a good job. But one step leads to another, and I said to David, "I have another translation of a western, which takes place in Alaska during the gold rush in 1899, and the hero Clint Morgan is like Neal Fargo."

I sent Alaska Hell to David, and at the time of writing he is occupied with reading, polishing and adding a few new chapters.

And after this? Well, John Benteen had his John Cutler series, and David and I have already shared some thoughts employing a similar theme....

If you would like to learn more about myself and my publications, just visit my website: where the news section and biography are also presented in English-language versions.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen !  



Noir in the sun.
Impressions of a diverting kind


Author Scott Dingley writes, "Many thanks for Keith Chapman's fascinating article on noir and the western. . . . I've always felt the two very American pulp fiction forms, hardboiled urban crime and Frontier West, to be more closely linked than one might at first expect. The traditional lawman's pursuit of an outlaw might have more in common with the less morally ambiguous police procedurals of the fifties, but we only need to look at the films of Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher, not to mention the later European and revisionist westerns, to see the darker side of the genre. And it's entirely possible to have a noirish tale set in the sunbleached landscapes of Texas and beyond -- the French and Italians had a nice line in shadowy murder-under-the-sun in such films as Plein Soleil. As Keith observes, it's the spiral down towards the bleak denouement for our anti-hero that most clearly marks out film noir from your average western . . . . So perhaps our beloved publications' closest crime cousin is the private detective story -- a lone wolf in search of justice or redemption, or both. I'll be seeking out the work of Lewis Patten thanks to Keith. The investigations of Marlowe, Hammer, Spade, Archer et al were certainly in my mind when I wrote my first BHW, A Bullet for Miss Rose, and if my long-gestating second is accepted, it promises a touch more noir for anyone seeking a little shade from the blazing western sun."

Paddy Gallagher, aka Greg Mitchell, is another who enjoyed fellow BHE contributor Chap O'Keefe's dissertation. "I managed to pick up a couple of Lewis B. Patten's books at the local library. I liked them very much as they had a sense of realism that is lacking in the 'cookie cutter' stories we see so often. Patten knew what he was talking about and got his message across without the welter of often fake or erroneous technical details that certain writers used to bluff the reader. If his westerns are a little on the dark side that is understandable. Sudden, violent death is a pretty serious matter and the fictional heroes who kill twenty or thirty people in each book and then walk away whistling happily are far from realistic. I thought I had read some of Patten's books a long time ago because I was familiar with the name. But if I did, they did not have the impact of the two I have just finished. When a person produces a lot of work some books are bound to be better than others."

Better reading.

Hollywood's pick, too.
And again. . . ! David Whitehead writes, "I want you to know that your thought-provoking lead article on noir westerns and Lewis B. Patten has prompted me to go back and start reading Patten all over again, beginning with my own personal favourite, Death of a Gunfighter [BHW reissue, 1995]. His West really was a bleak place, but very, very believable, and the moral questions his stories raise are always intriguing." An IMDb search reveals David's pick of the Patten novels attracted the interest of the movie-makers and was filmed in 1969 with Richard Widmark and Lena Horne in lead roles. David continues, "The September BH Extra was, as always, an absolute treasure-trove of information and a joy to read. This may sound rather trite, but I really do look forward more and more to each new issue."

Broadening the debate, Nik Morton, aka Ross Morton, says, "Your noir piece was very interesting and raised a lot of good questions, though there are probably no answers. Yes, it's sad that over-the-top 21st century sensibilities dictate what can and can't go into a western destined for libraries. Other genres don't have to suffer this kind of censorship. For my third BHW I was warned about violence to women so toned down a cold-blooded shooting. It still is horrific, that is if it survives to the proof stage! Paddy's Extra item on teams was very helpful, too -- I'll certainly be putting it in my research folder. Indeed, my next BHW might be about a wagon train. . . .But first, I have a romantic thriller to write, set in Tenerife." Nik also tells Hoofprints about his latest books. "Besides Pain Wears No Mask, which has a few good reviews on and .com, Hale have accepted my third western, The 300 Dollar Man, and The Prague Manuscript has just been published -- the first in a spy thriller series about a psychic spy. That's got a good review on too, which I'm pleased about."

Eye spy . . .

Unlikely to survive.
Should westerns written for library circulation have different, more restricted content than the westerns intended as retail paperbacks? The debate continues. . . . Meanwhile, a BHW announced for January, Jason Kilkenny's Gun by Kit Prate, previously appeared as a Star Book (W.H. Allen, UK) and Tower (US) paperback in 1981. It was largely a coming of age, rite of passage story in which nasty old gunfighter Rance Savage influences the life of Josh Kincaid, introducing the boy to liquor and -- most significantly -- women. In Chapter 4 Savage provides Josh with his first girl: "Savage tapped the hardness at the front of the boy's trousers. 'It isn't any great sin, boy, emptying it in her. You'll go to hell just as quick throwing it away behind the barn.'"  After seven pages of frank description, Savage in Chapter 5 gives Josh the coin to buy an older whore. . ."Now he wants to screw them all." With less explicit scenes being toned down in original BHWs, Hoofprints wonders how much of Prate's book is going to be censored to preserve the innocence of  the library line's readers!


"You can count on one hand — or maybe half a hand — the number of westerns that were box-office successes in the recent past," actor director Ed Harris told Entertainment Weekly. The paper reported, "In 2005, when Harris arrived at the Toronto Film Festival to promote A History of Violence with his co-star Viggo Mortensen, he brought a book along with him. Harris wanted Mortensen to read Appaloosa, the 2005 western novel by crime writer Robert B. Parker that he was hoping to turn into a movie. In addition to co-writing and directing the project, Harris thought he'd play Virgil Cole, the laconic lawman who sets about cleaning up the titular 1880s town, and he wanted Mortensen to play Everett, Cole's even more laconic sidekick. 'It's a totally awkward proposition, handing another actor a book like that,' Harris says. 'But I enjoyed working with Viggo in A History of Violence, and I thought he'd respond to the material.' Mortensen did. Like Harris, he was drawn to the quiet, layered friendship between the two cowboys — which is tested by Renée Zellweger as the woman who tries to woo them both. . . . The result is a decidedly old-fashioned oater — Harris shunned a revisionist approach. 'I love the original 3:10 to Yuma, My Darling Clementine, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,' says Harris. 'This movie is definitely in the classic mode.' ''

Film of the book.

Code of the West.
When reader Jack Maybrick reviewed the descriptively titled pulps anthology The Big Book of Western Action Stories at, he made the observation: "The one common thread that seems to weave relentlessly through all of these stories is the omniscient presence of the 'Code' of the West. The Code is more easily transmitted to the reader through these stories than summarized by any third person, but roughly speaking, it's a series of directives which mandate that promises be kept, that alliances be honored, that grudges be avenged, that individuals communicate plainly (because the difference between friend and foe might depend on the manner in which the other's words or gestures are taken), that obligations be paid, that rights be boldly asserted or forever lost to those who are bolder, that justice be done, that law be taken into one's own hands when necessary to do justice, that crises of the environment or of the spirit be faced head-on, and that (unless otherwise asked) one not pry into the business of another. On occasion, there is confusion over exactly what course of action the Code requires, such as in the first story of the volume [The Code by Ernest Haycox] where the protagonist must choose between warning a benefactor about a threat to his life and honouring the mandate that one mind his own business. But most of the time, the 'right thing to do' is fairly clear to the reader."

New western blogs pop up with astonishing frequency. Sometimes they do their dash and disappear; sometimes they stay, adding themselves to our "must check" list and tempting us away from book reading. Here are three we hope will survive. Western Fiction Review is run by the Frontier Times Yahoo group owner Steve M, who frequently chooses old BHWs for attention. The content is conventional reviews of books in Steve's vast collection, plus follow-up comments from his visitors. Broken Trails is from Ray Foster, aka Jack Giles, and covers a range of topics, including  westerns (of course!), music and the motorbike scene. The Tainted Archive comes from actor and writer Gary Dobbs and is devoted to a range of pop culture, including books. Gary has told the story of a much-admired coalminer grandfather, Jack Martin, whose name he has adopted as a byline for his westerns. All three, being blogs, offer interesting personal slants on their subject matter. Hoofprints cannot pick a favourite!

New voice Gary Dobbs.

Best western artists.
Editor Steve Holland tells us how he chose picture stories for the new High Noon collection (Prion Books) from Fleetway's long-gone Cowboy Picture Library. "I always preferred the later issues of Cowboy to the early ones; the artwork is far slicker in issues that appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s — Cowboy folded in September 1962 — compared to when it started in 1950, thanks mostly to the arrival of  European artists in the mid-1950s. Jesus Blasco was the most consistently brilliant artist seen in the black-and-white British weeklies. He worked in a more photorealist style than many of his contemporaries and I didn’t want people thinking this was a cartoon collection. Gerry Embleton was my second choice, for the simple reason I don’t think there was a better British artist working on the later issues of Cowboy. Gerry was the younger brother of the late Ron Embleton whose work is hugely admired by collectors. For my third, I picked Alberto Breccia, an Argentinian highly regarded in South America and Europe for strips like Mort Cinder and Perramus. Just before he drew Mort Cinder, he was drawing these virtually unknown cowboy comics for the British market with all the vigour and style he put into his later work, and they’re just fantastic!" Eleven of Steve's thirteen picks are drawn by Blasco, Embleton or Breccia.

David Whitehead has been busy writing horror and romance stories under his own name and Janet Whitehead. At his Ben Bridges website, he tells us The Fluttering is in the vein of James Herbert and Guy N. Smith, while The Dead Are Awake! attempts to recreate the feel of the classic Hammer movies. The horror and romance books are available in limited editions through the Lulu distribution system.  Meanwhile, large-print publishers F. A. Thorpe have just bought rights in "Janet's" Hold Me Forever and Yesterday's Child for wider circulation to the public lending libraries in the Linford Romance series. Janet is being billed as "The New First Lady of Romance". No wonder with this greener graze available it has been a while since we had new yarns from BHW authors Ben Bridges, Glenn Lockwood or Matt Logan!

Bearded "First Lady".

Action man.
Also missing from the BHW list, and in action, is Mike Linaker, aka Neil Hunter and John C. Danner. In a recent, detailed profile at the Ben Bridges site, Mike explained his continuing work on Mack Bolan adventures for Gold Eagle and the origins of his interest in westerns. Sadly, he concludes, "At the moment, here in the UK, there is very little in the way of genre fiction. Now it all has to be high-profile, guaranteed bestsellers by a restricted group of names you see over and over again. I find that a little stifling. Publishers seem to be drawing in their horns. There are no smaller houses willing to go to the edge. That's why I stay with my Canadian/US publisher, Gold Eagle. In the US, there are still markets for genre fiction. Some might call it downmarket. But so what? It has its place. Sometimes all a reader wants is simply to be entertained. He or she wants to enjoy a good read without too much deep thought being thrown at them. And that's what I try to give them."

Paul Kupperberg posted at Bookgasm on the topic of authors who have transformed themselves from comic book scriptwriters to novelists. It was seen as a fairly modern phenomenon. "Books with no pictures in them? What would comic book writers know about those? More than you might think, at least in the last quarter century or so," Paul said. Here is a quick Hoofprints roundup of some of the BHW authors who have also worked for comics. A few were writing westerns and/or comics as far back as back as the early1960s! Sydney J. Bounds, David Bingley (aka Frank Silvester), Vic J. Hanson, Keith Chapman (aka Chap O'Keefe), David M. Heptonstall (aka Mike Stall) and David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges and Glenn Lockwood). It's believed Australian-based BHW writer Paul Wheelahan (aka Dempsey Clay and Ryan Bodie) is in a class of his own: he had an earlier career as a comic book artist, drawing The Panther. The cover image here is by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, illustrating Keith's Strange Possessions, which appeared in No. 62 of The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves (Charlton Comics).


It's not me!
Writer Keith Hetherington is considering replacing one of his four  BHW pen-names. Seems Clayton Nash is the name of the accused in a particularly unpleasant criminal case in his native Australia and vigilantes might be on the loose! "It's all too easy these days for anyone to find out an author's real name and address, and there are so many 'wrong' home invasions I feel a bit bothered about still using the nom-de-plume." Meanwhile, Keith's next  BHW release is Wildcats, safely under his Tyler Hatch name. Publisher John Hale had an initial, small reservation about the appearance in the novel of an identical twin -- "seldom successful" -- but concluded, "The story reads very well and is written in your usual professional manner." Keith tells us the twin was inspired by his wife Rita's bond with her twin brother Ken. More in our next edition. . . .

Libraries everywhere remain a great source of western reading. From the Montgomery City-County Public Library, Alabama, we quote, "Westerns are some of our most popular books. The classic genre has timeless appeal and continues to provide excellent fiction. Often the western theme crosses lines of genre into romance and the very finest of general fiction. Many patrons are delighted to find that we have westerns in many areas of our branches. Each branch has a section devoted to westerns. Occasionally a patron will come into the Governor’s Square branch looking dejected because he has read them all and he can’t find anything new.  But check with your librarian, or check the New Books and Large Print sections. Western readers are delighted to find out that we have new ones arriving every week, in both Large Print and Regular Print. So if you are feeling down because you think you’ve read them all, first check the New Books section. Just today we are checking in new Large Print Western titles . . . ."  The message from Alabama could probably be repeated by your nearest public library. Why not go along and see? And why not mention this website to your librarian  as a source of purchasing suggestions?

Place to go.


Revisiting the Jim Bowden years . . .

Determined to keep his past a secret from his wife and family, Frank Peters is forced to leave his beloved Hash Knife when the past catches up with him, before his men return from a cattle drive.
    He seeks the answer to a new life through the events of twenty years ago, but an old partner stalks the same trail for the dollars Frank seeks.
    With suspicions aroused when they return from the cattle drive, Johnny Hines and Cap Millett ride the trail to the Dollars of Death, uncovering some strange happenings, as they attempt to save Frank from his past and preserve his future.
Back cover
Dollars of Death


SO reads the blurb of my latest novel to appear in large-print, published as a Dales Western by Magna Books in September. Dollars of Death, by Jim Bowden, was first published by Hale in 1979. It was one of 36 westerns of mine that they published between 1960 and 1993. Roughly one a year.

My first novel was a war story, Dark Hell, published as a Digit Books paperback in May 1959 with the byline Duncan Spence, my full name being William John Duncan Spence. I then turned to writing westerns under the names of Jim Bowden, Floyd Rogers and Kirk Ford.

Towards the end of 2007, I sold the large-print rights in eight of the westerns, although some were written nearly fifty years ago. A novel never dies!

Incident at Elk River, also first published by Hale in 1979, appeared in its Dales edition in August. Montana Justice comes out again in November and Trail to Texas  in December. Four more Dales large-prints will follow in 2009. A complete list of the titles and original publication dates for my westerns (and other books) can be found at my website,

The books by Jim Bowden often featured as a central character Dan McCoy or Cap Millett.

My output of westerns could have been greater, but I was writing other things at the same time: two more war novels, a romance, three non-fiction books about Yorkshire, and Harpooned – A History of Whaling.


The whaling book was instrumental in the creation of  Jessica Blair. Since then I have written 18 historical sagas under that name and am writing the nineteenth at present. The pen-name came about when my publisher, Piatkus, accepted the first historical saga and declared that, for various reasons, they would prefer to publish it under a female name. Jessica Blair was their suggestion.

The rugged Yorkshire coast and its ports of the nineteenth century have formed the backdrop to most of these novels of romance, mystery and adventure. In the books' journeys into the past, you can follow the whalers, the jet carvers, the smugglers, the alum workers, the artists, the photographers and the herring fishers; face dangers with the wreckers in Cornwall; fly with the fighter pilots and bomber crews of the Second World War; sail with the minesweepers, experience Dunkirk and watch the work of the Women’s Land Army.

This year, Wings of Sorrow was published in hardback and Dangerous Shores in paperback.

But I always say I learned my initial writing trade on the back of westerns. They were where I learned to tell a story and create characters.

In my early writing days there were no computers; no internet. We had no easy way to communicate with fans, no speed of response, etc. Now, with websites, you can learn much more about who writes your westerns.

And what a boon the Net must be when researching background material for westerns! I built up a substantial library instead – you still can’t beat a book.

But readers can get to my blog through my website and I’m always pleased to hear from anyone who loves westerns – or anyone who loves reading and, of course, writing.

I was born in Middlesbrough, England, in 1923. I trained as a teacher but never followed this profession because the Second World War intervened. I served in the Royal Air Force as a bomb-aimer, doing 36 operational flights in the Lancasters of 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Bomber Command.

At my blog recently I joined the fashion for lists and gave one of ten books about Bomber Command that I thought should be read. The books, and more like them, make you realize what these men (many of them still boys) contributed. If their campaign had not been carried out successfully, many more people would have died before the final victory. Their losses were high but they never flinched from their duty. The books lead you to wonder why Bomber Command was never awarded a Campaign Medal.

Many other branches of the Armed Services were awarded medals – and are still, rightly so, for participation in today’s conflicts. It's fitting that recognition is given to those who risk their lives or pay the ultimate sacrifice for their country. So, why no recognition for those of Bomber Command who served their country in the Second World War?

Their role has been maligned by people who were not there, who cannot appreciate or recognize the vital role played by Bomber Command, along with the other services, in ridding the world of an evil regime. The oversight must be laid to a large extent at Winston Churchill’s door. He tried to distance himself from a campaign he had wholeheartedly approved in order to defeat Adolf Hitler and all he stood for.

After the war I was sent to Rhodesia by the RAF. It was on the voyage to Durban that I wrote my first short story and was bitten by the writing bug. On return to England, I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines and fulfilled my desire to write a novel by using some wartime experiences as background.

Along with my wife, Joan, I wrote three books dealing with aspects of Yorkshire. I also started a review column in the Yorkshire Gazette and Herald, and that has now been running more than 40 years.

Visits to Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, sparked off an interest in whaling. Ten years' intermittent research into the subject resulted in the publication of the mentioned illustrated history, Harpooned.

Writing was a part-time occupation until 1977 when, with the full support of my wife, it became full-time. Throughout my whole writing career I have had her, and my four children’s, unstinting support, advice and inspiration.

I moved into the computing age very early on when I purchased a word processor which had everyone amazed at the ability to manoeuvre words, sentences, paragraphs and whole pages at will. Since then I have updated the equipment twice, to keep abreast of the wider facilities computers offer authors. The equipment came with me when I moved to a family home in the village of Ampleforth on the death of my wife in 1999.

Though much of my writing life revolves around the computer, I realize it is essential for a writer to keep personal contact with people. As part of this I attend the meetings of the northern branch of the Romantic Novelists’ Association near Harrogate once a month. We catch up on what we are all doing, exchange ideas, meet new authors, and share the exchanges over a pleasant meal.

I am also a member of  the Society of Authors, the Bomber Command Association, the Aircrew Association, the National Geographic Society and the Scarborough Writers' Circle.


Great stuff! Wonderful escape material. Curl up in a chair with a good western . . . let the troubles of the world fade away in the pounding hoofbeats of the posse pursuing our innocent hero. . . .

Greg Mitchell returns to the West's firearms


The revolver he picked up had been modified to take metallic cartridges and would be an asset to the defenders' armoury. Frontier gunsmiths had modified many earlier-model revolvers to take the .44 rim-fire round used in Winchester and Henry rifles. Metallic cartridges could be centre-fire or rim-fire making it necessary to select the ammunition for which the weapon had been altered. Malone's own Colt was a centre-fire but a quick feel of the [fallen outlaw's] cartridges showed them to be rim-fires.
From Outlaw Vengeance

THERE was a time in the Old West when conversions were not the sole domain of hot gospellers and dedicated sinners could have one or two conversions without affecting their criminal status. But the conversions concerned were not religious experiences, although no doubt some were life-changing. These conversions were a means of modernizing revolvers made obsolescent by advances in technology.

Revolvers in the mid-19th century were mostly percussion weapons where the chambers had to be loaded from the front of the cylinder with loose powder and bullets, or with paper cartridges. Then percussion caps were added to the nipples at the rear of the cylinder. When the hammer struck the cap, it exploded sending a jet of fire into the chamber and setting off the cartridge. . . .

That was the theory but much could, and did, go wrong. Caps misfired, parts of fired caps fell into the mechanism and jammed the weapon, the cartridges were susceptible to dampness and sometimes all chambers exploded at once.

Then the metallic cartridge was developed in Europe. Cap, charge and bullet were all combined. Reliability was enhanced and the problem of gas leakage in breech loading weapons was solved. The Europeans had little respect for American patents and were quickly producing their own versions of the revolver originally invented by Samuel Colt. Many of these were rim-fires and pin-fires and incorporated a bored-through cylinder so that cartridges could be loaded from the rear.

The bored-through cylinder was patented in United States by Rollin White. The inventor first tried to sell his patent to Colt but in one of the great misjudgements of his career, the revolver's inventor saw no need for such an innovation and rejected it.

Another company, Smith & Wesson, bought the patent and in 1857 began producing rim-fire revolvers in .22 short calibre using metallic cartridges. Later they made a .32 version of the same revolver and it has been said that a few of these unofficially saw action during the Civil War (1861-1865). However, these weapons left much to be desired as man-stoppers.

The Confederates imported a few European pin-fires but percussion arms in calibres of .36  and .44 did most of the serious revolver work.

After the war the Colt factory brought out a metallic cartridge system named the Thuer, after its inventor. The backward-tapering cartridge loaded from the front of the cylinder to avoid contravening the Rollin White patent. The system worked but was not a great success.

When submitted for British Army tests in 1869, the Colt revolver was found wanting. The English Adams .450 centre-fire revolver with a bored-through cylinder proved superior in accuracy, penetration and speed of loading.

That year Smith & Wesson introduced their .44 American revolver and the big companies like Colt and Remington were left behind. But not for long.

It was found that many percussion revolvers could be modified to take metallic cartridges by boring through the cylinder and fitting a loading gate to the right side of the recoil shield. Hammer noses were altered to hit the rim or the centre of the cartridge, depending upon the type selected. Some revolvers were fitted with an ejector rod on the right side of the barrel but others were less sophisticated.

The alterations were fairly simple and it was said that many were done by blacksmiths. The Colt company would make the necessary modifications for the sum of $5 and it is possible that conversion kits were also available. Factory conversions were based on a system devised by Mason and Richards, two Colt engineers.

The Army .44 was modified to take a centre-fire .44 cartridge or a rim-fire version that was interchangeable with Henry rifle and 1866 Winchester round. The .36 Navy became a .38 calibre in either centre-fire or rim-fire versions. Hard-hitting Army .44s and the smaller Navy .36s were often converted and had the barrels cut down to make very effective hideout guns.

Percussion revolvers

Rollin White patent

Samuel Colt

Thuer conversion 1868

Colt Army .44

[Missouri Sam, a shadowy assassin is planning a murder.] He attached a holster to his belt. It contained a Navy Colt that had been shortened and converted to take .38 centre-fire cartridges.
From Red Rock Crossing

The  smaller .31 pocket revolvers were often changed to take .32 metallic cartridges in rim-fire or centre-fire style. With smaller, five-shot cylinders, they had  comparable ballistics to the .41 rim-fire Derringer, were more accurate and had three extra shots.

Remington, Starr and Whitney revolvers could likewise be converted. Though most conversions were American arms, a few converted English Adams, Tranter and Webley percussion weapons have shown up in private collections.

The rim-fire cartridge was far more reliable than percussion types and ignition was made by the hammer striking the thin copper shell and setting off the priming compound. This was spread around the interior base of the rim but occasional misfires happened when the priming compound was not properly distributed. Once fired, rim-fire shells could not be reloaded.

The centre-fire cartridge had a stronger brass case because the priming was a copper percussion cap in the centre of the base. It could fire stronger loads and misfires were comparatively rare. The empty centre-fire shells could be reloaded several times.

Pin-fire cartridges had a pin set at right angles to the shell and the bullet was fired when the hammer drove the pin into an interior cap. Though popular in Europe, pin-fires never took on in England or the United States. They were also less reliable than rim-fires and were not a serious option for conversion.

The Rollin White patent had expired and Colt in 1871 produced an open-top .44 made of mostly percussion parts. The .44 Colt cartridge had similar ballistics to the Smith & Wesson .44 American. There were many variations of converted Colts. Some had long barrels and some short. A few had rear sights added to the top of the recoil shields. Except for one model of the obsolete Dragoon .44, the open-top Colts used a notch in the hammer for a rear sight and some shooters disliked this.

The Remington revolver had a solid frame with a rear sight milled into the top strap and many shooters preferred this weapon to the Colt. It loaned itself to conversion equally as well though it was 1875 before Remington brought out their own metallic cartridge big-bore revolvers..

The military tried out a few of the Colt open-top .44s but relied mainly on percussion revolvers until the famous Colt Army .45 was introduced in 1873. In 1873, 10,676 cartridges for .44 conversions were held by B Company of the 7th Cavalry at Fort Lincoln. This would indicate that a fair number of these weapons were in circulation In 1874, D Company of the 7th Cavalry showed two .44 converted Colts on their ordinance return for the September quarter..

A few of Custer's Indian scouts were photographed with converted Colts, probably at some time before his Black Hills expedition of 1874 . I can also recall seeing a picture of Indian reservation police with converted Colts that would have been taken some years later. These might have been army surplus weapons. Some conversions saw action with the Texas Rangers, but civilians used most of the converted revolvers.

One .38  centre-fire, Navy conversion was carried by Doc Holliday at the famous Battle of the OK Corral in 1881. It was a factory conversion, a handsome weapon, nickel plated with ivory grips.

Ned Christie the Cherokee outlaw sported a pair of Colts converted to .44/40 to match his 1873 Winchester. He was a blacksmith by trade and was reputed to have done the conversions himself.

The gunfighter Dallas Stoudenmire relied mainly on an ivory-handled pair of .44 Smith & Wesson Americans, but carried  a cut-down .44 Colt conversion as a hideout gun in a special leather-lined  pocket. This weapon had no ejector rod and fired shells would have been pushed out later, probably with a pencil or a stick. While an unfired cartridge would drop out readily, fired shells sometimes stuck to the chamber walls and often had to be prodded loose.

Approximately 50,000 Colts were converted in the years between 1869 and 1873. Many of these were in .44 rim-fire and were sold to Mexico and South America where that cartridge was still widely used.

The conversion revolver was a stop-gap measure but proved to be an effective addition to many a westerner's arsenal.

Remington 1875

Doc Holliday



Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London
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