Book Report: Treasure in Hell’s Canyon by Bill Gulick (1979)

Book coverI said when I bought this book in 2021 that I thought this was a children’s book. It’s an ex-library (Springfield-Greene County Library’s Brentwood branch) book with pouches for cards and no computer markings, so it was likely removed from circulation when I was a boy. But event though the dustjacket, in its protective mylar, looks a little like a library binding, it’s not. This would have been a fairly inexpensive hardback western. Apparently, there were over a hundred of them, but not all by Bill Gulick.

The book deals with an attorney in Portland, Oregon, who works with a Chinese importer who has his hand in some shady businesses, but the attorney, Walt, tries to keep him as legal as possible. When the authorities get wind that the importer is bringing in several young women for sale, a friendly cop asks Walt to dissuade the importer. Walt does so at their regular poker game, but ends up winning one of the young ladies in the poker game. She has been taught to please a man, and she does end up pleasing him both as a housekeeper and as a lover, but anti-miscegenation laws don’t permit marriage, and anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly among the Irish, cause trouble for the couple.

Meanwhile, his brother, a prospector, has not only found gold (in Hell’s Canyon) but has legitimate English investors who want to develop it. He would like Walt’s help making it all legal, albeit retroactively.

After a near riot and shooting leave Walt almost dead, the girl nurses him to health, but he decides he must send her back to the importer who arranges a marriage with a laborer. Walt goes to Hell’s Canyon to help his brother, and the girl and her husband join a work team heading inland. Which just happens to end up in Hell’s Canyon as some bad men are planning to rob the mine–and the workers’ camp.

Probably not for modern audiences as although it features anti-Chinese sentiment and bad words, the book itself has a nuanced view of it, defending the Chinese and probably trying to portray the actual friction objectively (the author was a regional historian with other nonfiction tomes in his oeuvre). The imported young ladies are also young to the modern legal framework–the one Walt wins is fifteen–but young marriages were more of a thing in the past, and this is not a book about the perils of human trafficking–it portrays Walt’s relationship with the girl as mature and loving. Still, probably not something one would encounter in a modern book, but I guess I would have to read a modern book to find out.

A short bit, definitely a bit of a pulp feel although this was a Doubleday (Double D) hardback. Less meat to it than a L’Amour or Grey book, but the writing has a bit of knowledge and depth that you don’t get from real, paint-by-the-numbers, publish-a-book-a-month pulp or men’s adventure books.

The author did not have a series of books in the Double D Western line, and I’m not sure I’ve seen another in the wild. But the book sales I go to these days is large, and I don’t tend to hit the fiction sections much at all, much less the Westerns section. So maybe they table(s) is/are lousy with them. Maybe I’ll find them if I ever attend the Christian County or Polk County library fundraisers again, but I don’t get to small, one-room, browse-them-all book sales any more.

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