“The Red Rider of Smokey Range” by William Colt MacDonald. John Demming, owner of the Rocking D Ranch is at odds with his son, Jeff. The boy doesn’t get along with his foreman, Quinn Barker, and thinks the foreman is rustlings their cattle. Figuring it’s time to sell the ranch, he leaves his son out of the deal, and sells to Barker. However, the foreman is a crook and plans on the murder of the senior Demming, and getting the money back. Having his gunman set up an ambush on the trail during a heavy rainstorm. That night there is a mudslide and the crime scene is covered up, but a body is found crushed by rock, the only thing recognizable are the clothes, and they belonged to John Demming. Also that night a man wearing all red robs Barker, taking the sales receipt for the ranch, and thus was born the Red Rider.
He was dressed all in red, with a long cloak of the same color flowing from his shoulders. A red mask covered his face, and a pair of holsters were on his hip with twin Colt .45s. The first sighting, the man was merely wearing red underwear, and had wrapped a red bandana around his face, but now he wears a western suit of red, with a red facemask and Mexican style sombrero of red. He also issues a mocking laugh. No one knows his identity, but everyone thinks he’s Jeff Demming in disguise, warring against the man who stole the ranch and murdered his father. Jeff does team up with Three-Star, a rangy red-head and Hefty, both cowpokes from the Rocking D, as well as another rancher and Senor Medaro, thought to be a bandit. Cita, Medaro’s daughter is Jeff’s love interest.
This story originated in the western pulp magazines five years before The Red Ryder comic book appeared. And though the Red Ryder was actually based on another character from 1938, The Red Rider of Smoky Range appeared in 1935. The story was typical from that period, and may have been aimed at the masked rider mystery men of the pulps, modeled after Johnston McCulley’s many costumed characters. Actually, The Red Rider’s costume is designed by a Mexican after the red underwear is dropped for a real costume. Overall, an interesting character, and the secret identity had me fooled till the very end. A hint, it wasn’t Jeff Demming. Now read the story and find out who The Red Rider really was.