by Arnold Goldman

In Mayhem in B-Flat, fearing conflict between Homer and le Singe, Miriam wonders if "[p]erhaps, after all, she should try to get Homer to visit the distant Montana ranch with her, so they could ride side by side among the foothills at dusk and listen to the cattle grazing and the moan of the prairie wind." When the going gets rough in Paris, Evans allows, "Frankly, my dear, I wish you were safe on your father’s ranch, where the worst that could happen would be a tumble from a bronco." Montana is where Paul next sends Evans and Miriam, along with almost the entire surviving cast of his Paris trilogy. Despite their hopes, it turns out to be Paris-on-the-Yellowstone and then some, and Paul demonstrates that the imaginative power which had returned to him with the Evans mysteries was not confined to high-jinks in Montparnasse.1

Fracas in the Foothills, subtitled A Homer Evans Western Murder Mystery and Open Space Adventure, for all its protracted title unsurprisingly opens back on the Dôme’s terrasse, where Evans learns of a threat to Miriam’s father Jim Leonard, a Montana cattle-rancher. Rain-No-More, a Blackfeet Indian (University of California, ‘29) has come to Paris to warn his childhood friend "Bird Cherry" (Miriam). Rain-No-More had recently surprised a Chicago gangster, lying in ambush for Leonard, had scalped the villain and dumped him in the Missouri. He believes that the gangster’s employer was the sheepherder Larkspur Gilligan, whose nickname comes from the plant he sows surreptitiously, "which kills cattle in the spring, but ceases to be dangerous before the sheep are brought up to the summer range," and he is certain "that Gilligan intended to invade the country east of the deadline and drive cattle from the entire valley of the Lower Yellowstone. That meant war, no less." Miriam decides she must return to Montana immediately. Evans, as so often when confronted with villainy, is "lost in thought" and "reverie."2

Only as Miriam is about to set sail on the Ile-de-France does Evans reveal that he has decided to join her. Coincidentally, Chief of Detectives Frémont and the coroner Toudoux, with wives and police sergeants, have been dispatched to America for a study tour - to keep them from embarassingly uncovering further scandal at home. Evans convinces them that they will best fulfill their assignment by joining him. Unable to "stifle the pride he felt in his country," Evans wants all his friends "to feel the surge and flow of life, to taste its possibilities." Having fretted about his "activity" during his Paris adventures, concerned that his very sleuthing caused the mayhem he had to unravel, Evans seeks a venue where the conflict will be mitigated. Though his new feelings cause him to hesitate - "Was he catching the fever that drove so many of his countrymen to pointless activity?" - before long he will thank Miriam for giving him "‘a new lease on life,’" making him "‘understand that, although the contemplative side of one’s nature must not be neglected (the American disease, I may say), full play should be given at intervals to one’s zest for action.’"3

On shipboard Evans meditates, "to renovate his consciousness." As his repatriation looms, he finds himself without nostalgia for

the gaiety of Montparnasse, the quiet of his deserted apartment, or the Old World sanctuaries and relics of former civilizations.... For the lands along the Yellowstone were as old or older than the caves of the Neanderthal man, and if the races who had inhibited them had not build cathedrals, at least they had kept the country’s resources intact and the mysterious and vast landscape unspoiled before the coming of the Europeans.
  In place of dress buyers, minor diplomats, dilettantes, remittance men, rich widows, professors, movie stars and his own companions, who made up the passenger list of the Ile-de-France, he visualized the Mound Builders at work on their stupendous monuments, great herds of buffalos grazing on the plains, the Indians on the warpath, or engaged in their peaceful pursuits. He strained his ears for the sound of coyotes wailing to the moon. He remembered the smell of sage and saddle leather; horses, cattle, deer and antelope; the neatness of the foothills and the mesas, tier on tier; the rivers and mountains; seasons that were definitely seasons; constellations sharp and quartz-like in the cold, near and pulsing in the heat of summer.

It is a vision of the recovery of a refreshing plenitude. Evans is returning to find it threatened and to confront that threat, an effort which translates his self-renewal from vision to reality.4

The Frenchmen too are refreshed by their contact with the American West. Though appalled by their first experience of the New World - "‘I shall lock up André Maurois for criminal understatement in his published works about America, also Céline, the Abbé Dimnet and Bernard Fäy,’ Frémont said’"- they are soon enthralled by Evans’s tales of the early French explorers of the continent:

They had never heard of Louis Barrette, who had led the Cedar Creek gold rush, or of those fur-trading pioneers, the Finleys, François and Jacques.... Tales followed of the exploits of Joe Mallette, who brought freight across the prairies where wheels had never made their tracks, of René La Brie and his arrowheads, Pierre Menard, trapper, of the Vigilante trail. ...Homer recounted how Pere Wibaux had, with his cowboys, terrorized Chicago....

Toudoux "‘begin[s] to know what it is to be a pioneer, to feel in my veins the blood of those magnificent Frenchmen, whose names I failed to jot down, but who conquered this inscrutable wilderness.’" They vow to "begin again, in the clean open air.5

In Chicago, Evans takes on firearms to cope with Gilligan’s Chicago-scale armaments. When his party’s private train coaches, provided by Hugo Weiss, are nefariously uncoupled from the engine, Evans organises his forces on a war footing: "‘if we are to form a military organization, we must proceed in a military way.’" Homer’s party initiates a process of adaptation which is crucial to survival in America, flexibility coupled with intuition. Miriam "teach[es] her [female] companions to shift for themselves under the unforeseen conditions." Mme Toudoux (with sang froid), Hydrangea Frémont (with Josephine Bakeresque flair) and the others respond in character. Hard-pressed on all fronts by Gilligan’s forces, which include outlaw Shoshones, Evans recalls Foch’s comparable orders to attack. "Vive la France" respond the Frenchmen. Just as a second European conflagration is getting underway, Evans’s campaign refights the Great War on American soil - symbolised in the Jim Leonard "spread" - to make at least some of the world safe from contemporary villainy and the deformation of history.6

When Leonard and the Blackfeet chief Shot-on-Both-Sides rescue the marooned coach party, the two fathers are happily reunited with their children. Fracas is full of fathers showing patent concern for the perpetuation of their kind, even the villains: Gilligan himself is "a father first and a conspirator after... determined [that Miriam] should be the mother of the future Gilligan clan" through marriage to his son Terence.7

The subordinate cast of newcomers and their Blackfeet rescuers fraternize in "an atmosphere of harmony and mutual understanding," an idyll of sociability: "In short, relations between the natives and invaders of our great Northwest had never reached such a level of cordiality and mutual trust." Captured by the spirit of renewal, "Rain-No-More... entertained a hope that his tribe would survive, perhaps become great again." The principals experience a deeper if no more heartfelt unification at Leonard’s Opera Lodge near Three Buttes, itself a living part of its landscape:

The logs of the lodge, the two large bunkhouses, the barn, the stable and the various corrals had been stained by the weather until they blended with the drab of the sage and dry grass of the foothills and mesas until they

seemed to belong to the country as did the relics of the Paleozoic age. In the dead of winter, all was white and blown, valleys drifted level, high areas of sidehill were swept clean by the wind. On the range, ...Jim Leonard’s cattle fought the elements for their existence,  ...drifting with the blizzards, growing shaggy coats of hair to resist the biting cold.

Here and elsewhere in Fracas, Paul’s prose  unites man and nature over time:

the plains on which [Leonard] had  lived combated the elements and  raised his stock at a hard-earned  profit... had felt "ragged claws  scuttling across the floors of silent  seas" in the Archaean age, when  the lower Yellowstone valley had  been part of the Pacific’s shining  bottom; had known the luxuriant  giant shrubs and trees of the  Paleozoic period; their muck had  spawned apocalyptic reptiles of  appalling bulk; the plains had felt   the upward surge of the Rockies  just westward; and through them  had been thrust by smoking lava  their thousands of foothills, ovoid,  rhomboid, semi-spherical,  distorted pyramids and truncated  cones. Four great ice sheets had  leveled those prairies, filled old  valleys, tossed aside rivers,   scooped out lakes, but the last of  the glaciers had halted at the   Missouri,... and since then the  valley had abounded in beasts,  both wild and tame.
  Were the scenes of such  upheavals to be desecrated by the  blatting of sheep and the furtive  tread of sheepherders, while cattle  were banished from the land? Jim  Leonard did not understand all  that had happened in Eastern   Montana, but he had found fossils  of inkfish and horseshoe crabs in  the cliffs of the highest buttes, had  noticed the difference between  lava flows.... History... had roots  in the present and hopes in the  future, for his country was  unspoiled. Ten thousand years the  Indians had used it, without   marring it or wasting its resources.  Before them, the race of Mound   Builders had performed feats of  engineering and community labor  and left it intact. The whites had  exterminated the buffaloes, but  had replaced them with cattle.  Now the herds of shorthorns  were threatened in their turn....  The lower Yellowstone was the  last refuge of the cattle industry,   and its principal rancher was Jim  Leonard....

Such is the America Homer Evans returns to,  Antaeus-like to renew his strength.8

Under "the cloak of gaiety, however, there was  an undercurrent of dread." The continuity of  history itself is at risk. Evans "ski[s] far into the  foothills and spend[s] hours in self-appraisal....  This was to be his most significant case, and  [he] did not think for a moment that... [what]  had already occurred gave any indication of the  scope of the combat that threatened...."  Answering his misgiving, Gilligan conveniently  finds a body, in which is lodget a fatal bullet   from Leonard’s Winchester 40-40, and which  the supposed grieving father of the suspected   ambusher identifies as his son. (In fact, the   body is not that of the ambusher, whom Homer   knows Rain-No-More scalped.) Then the   dreaded larkspur is found on Leonard’s land.  Fortunately, Toudoux and his new "colleague"   Trout-Tail-II, the Blackfeet medicine man, save  most of the affected cattle with rattlesnake oil  combined with Lydia Pinkham’s all-purpose  Compound. Evans realizes, however, that

[o]nce the cattle had been driven  from the lower valley, the  sheepman could pull wires to have  the Blackfeet chased from their  ancestral hunting grounds.... Then  sheep would munch the valley  clean, swarm north over the   Missouri as far as the Canadian  border and the hour of the  shorthorns would have struck.9

Jim Leonard’s trial attracts "national attention"  in "[r]otogravure supplements from the  Hearst-fuddled slopes of California to the   Howard-blighted pines of Maine." The  anti-cattle lobby affirms "that the cattle range  was unfit for its traditional use" and trumpets   the supposed economic advantages to the  nation of its obliteration. Evans again

withdraw[s] himself for meditation  on the larger aspects of the  struggle before him. As loath as  he had been in the past of accept  responsibility or to use to the full  his extraordinary gifts, in Opera  Lodge he was... more determined  than he had even been before his  in eventful life.... Future   generations would bemoan the  cattle range, if it passed the way  of the buffalo. Could it be  defended against the thoughtless  folk then living?

The current struggle presents a last opportunity  to regain what had been lost, and if not to  renovate America, at least to arrest its  degradation.10

The enemy assaults mount. Evans is himself  captured by mobsters. In his absence, an  airplane hired by Gilligan stampedes cattle.  Gilligan has Leonard’s trial brought forward,  which prevents him from being able to protect  his land. Released from captivity by  Rain-No-More (his surrogate son), Evans  arranges for the corrupt courthouse to be burnt  down - naturally, without loss of life among the  innocent - securing a mistrial. (Paul has created  a juggernaut of villainy he is finding difficult to  inhibit without slapstick.) Counter-offers are   made: Gilligan will make Evans a Senator from  Montana; Evans an armistice if Gilligan will  agree to stay on his side of the sheep-cattle   "deadline." Each rejects the other’s offer and  "The Sheep and Cattle War" begins in earnest.  It is the Great War complete with a zig-zag   line of trenches, pill-box machine-gun nests,  forced marches, and cavalry.11

Gilligan and Evans both show themselves  worthy generals in planning manoeuvres for  "The Fierce and Memorable Battle of the  Redwater." Sheep being gunned down from the  trenches, Gilligan’s men construct a hollow  square of corpses for shelter; in a "flanking  operation," Gilligan has his men move a bridge  across the Missouri, but they are scattered  when Evans has an airplane rain down  rattlesnakes, causing pandemonium comparable  to the wilder actions in the Paris-based  mysteries ("What follows defies description, but   here goes..."). Gilligan is captured and the  threat of a second rain of snakes terrorizes the  men in the improvised fort into surrender.  When a separate assault on Opera Lodge by  renegade Shoshones and gangsters is routed by   the women, the victory is complete.12

The final chapter of Fracas in the Foothills  exposes faultlines in the story’s execution. All  charges against Leonard are dropped and   Weiss’s speculations result in a $750 million  fortune for the rancher. Gilligan agrees to pull  up stakes and move to California, nonetheless  getting the last word: "‘I want to warn you not   to draw any foolish moral conclusions, like a  bunch of psalm singers.’" To the pleasure of   fathers, various marriages conclude the story,  but a little surprisingly not that of Evans and  Miriam. Earlier, even Gilligan had gathered that  "there seemed to be some kind of  understanding between Miriam and the  Nemesis called Evans," and "Jim Leonard...  had grown to love Homer Evans and to   understand that some day....[sic] Well." Well,  we sort of expect that, and there is always  another Homer Evans story for them. There is  also another, more signficant inhibition: Paul  refrains from claiming - or having Evans claim -   what had earlier been suggested as the theme  of the whole effort, that the defeat of Gilligan  would if not redeem America at least arrest the  forces of historic degredation. Not claiming that  is also understandable, but its having to be   forgotten in the pleasures of the moment is an  index of the impossibility in America of the  book’s deepest and most heartfelt rhetorical  commitments.13


1 Mayhem in B-Flat (New York, 1940), 21, 201.
2 Fracas in the Foothills, A Homer Evans Western Murder Mystery and Open Space Adventure (New York: Random House, 1940), 15, 18, 24. Paul writes "Blackfeet" not "Blackfoot," and so will I.
3 Ibid., 104, 210. Evans still needs "inspiration," which he predicates on hard thinking. The synthesis of thought and action can only be fleeting, however, and he will occasionally regret that "In this case I have indulged too freely my passion for violent action, at the expense of ratiocination" (281).
4 Ibid., 60, 61.
5 Ibid., 85, 108, 138, 158.
6 Ibid., 114, 120, 124.
7 Ibid., 290.
8 Ibid., 160, 164, 226, 156, 207-8.
9 Ibid., 160, 161, 206-7.
10 Ibid., 215, 225, 229.
11 "Ah, les trenchées!" shout the Frenchmen, a little more sanguinely than one would expect (361).
12 Ibid., 399, 410.
13 Ibid., 399, 410. Even Miriam Leonard’s relative abstinence from manslaughter - only the worst villain, to put him out of his mortally-snakebitten misery - doesn’t take her to the altar.

This analysis of Fracas in the Foothills is taken from Arnold Goldman's biography-in-progress of Elliot Paul. ©Arnold Goldman 2001.

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