Sunday, August 30, 2020

Jack McCall: The Coward Who Murdered Wild Bill Hickok

By Allan B. Colombo

The name Wild Bill Hickok is well known among Old West enthusiasts, but not so much the name of the man who put an end to his life. Wild Bill took his last breath on August 2, 1876, murdered by a man by the name of Jack McCall. The object of our attention in this Western Magazine Digest (WMD) article is the coward who did him in.

Most of us are aware of portions of Hickok's illustrious past. According to Terry Breverton, author of Immortal Last Words, Quercus Publishing, Inc., 2010, Hickok's full name was James Butler Hickok. He was born on May 27, 1837 in today's Troy Grove, Illinois.

The inscription on his tombstone reads, 'Wild Bill, j.B. Hickok killed by the assassin Jack McCall in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2, 1876. Pard, we will meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more. Good bye, Colorado Charlie, C.. Utter.'

Why We Celebrate the Old West in all Its Glory

None of us are here on planet Earth indefinitely, but many of us feel a small undefined quiver in the depths of our soul when we contemplate the actual events that surround famous men and women of the Old West. Over the last year, for example, the writers of WMD have covered the imaginary character, Inspector Douglas Renfrew of the Royal Canadian Mounted, which included many real-to-life cases in which actual Mounties were involved (LINK).

We also covered some of the gory details pertinent to Brevet Major-General George Armstrong Custer of the 7th Calvary and his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn (LINK). We agonized as we read about the deaths of all Custer's soldiers during the skirmish that ensued on June 25th, 1876. We also covered The Lone Ranger and Tonto (LINK); a former slave turned lawman, Bass Reeves (LINK); Davy Crockett (LINK); and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (LINK)!

This is what history is all about—not only to remind us of the mistakes that we've made in the past, but also to realize the solutions and lessons learned because of them. The objective of written history is to assure that we never make the same mistakes again. And yet, with that said, because of the bravery and love for others that some notable souls have shown during life threatening events--often forsaking self to save others—we find inspiration and thankfulness in the most odd places.

How McCall Pulled It Off

In the case of Wild Bill, if he could redo the events of that fateful day in 1876, I'm reasonably sure he would not have sat himself down in a chair with the entrance to his back. It was a poker game at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon #10 where the event took place. Evidently Hickok entered the game later than usual, so his customary chair with its back against the wall was not available and the person sitting there, Charles Rich, refused to trade.

So, in walks Jack McCall, who, for whatever reason, went by the alias of Bill Sutherland. Other aliases included Crooked Nose Jack and Broken Nose Jack.

This wasn't the first time that McCall and Hickok had met. The night before, the two were engaged in a mutual game of cards during which McCall, who had been drinking heavily, lost his money. According to historians, Hickok gave McCall enough money for breakfast the following day, offering him advice not to return to the game until he could cover his bets. It's said that this insulted McCall.

Well, that second night, with Hickok's back to the door, McCall was able to position himself about three feet behind his chair, as if looking at Wild Bill's hand. As the story goes, McCall shot him point blank in the back of the head with his Colt single-action, .45-caliber revolver. Bystanders claimed that McCall shouted, “Damn you! Take that!”

According to historical records, McCall claimed he shot Hickok because he had murdered McCall's brother-in-law in Abilene, Kansas.

Hickok's Final Words and Recorded History

It's said that Hickok's final words, just before the shooting were, “The old duffer—he broke me on the hand.”

I recon you were waiting for some prophetic words to live by, but these were the last and final spoken words alleged to have come from Wild Bill's lips that fateful day in history.

According to author Breverton, the first newspaper report of Hickok's death was published in the Black Hills Pioneer on the fifth of August, 1876. It read:

'On Wednesday about 3 o'clock the report stated that J.B. Hickok (Wild Bill) was killed. On repairing to the hall of Nuttall and Mann, it was ascertained that the report was too true. We found the remains of Wild Bill lying on the floor. The murderer, Jack McCall, was captured after a lively chase by many of the citizens, and taken to a building at the lower end of the city, and a guard placed over him. As soon as this was accomplished, a coroner's jury was summoned, with C.H. Sheldon as foreman, who after hearing all the evidence, which was the effect that, while Wild Bill and others were at a table playing cards, Jack McCall walked in and around directly back of his victim, and when within three feet of him raised his revolver, and exclaiming, “Damn you, take that,” fired, and ball entering at the back of the head, and coming out at the centre of the right check causing instant death, reached verdict in accordance with the above facts.'
It Took Two Trials To Hang McCall From a Tree

In reality, the jury during this first trial deliberated for approximately 2 hours, after which a verdict of “not guilty” was rendered. But that was not the only trial to take place where Jack McCall was tried for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok.

Soon after the not-guilty verdict, McCall decided it was best to leave town, so he ended up in Wyoming where local authorities decided to try him a second time for the murder of Wild Bill. Evidently, McCall didn't know when to close his mouth, so he began bragging about killing Hickok, the famous gunman in what he called a 'fair fight.'

Right about now, you might be asking whether this second trial equates to double jeopardy, as did I. But it was clear to local law enforcement in the area that McCall had not been tried in a legitimate court. A federal court in Yankton agreed and a date was set for a retrial.

I'm sure that Jack McCall, if he had more time to think about his mistake, would have ruled the day he ended up in Deadwood, but they didn't give him a lot of time to ponder his plight. A new trial began on December 4, 1876, and a guilty verdict was rendered on December 6th. His sentence was 'Hanging by the neck until dead.'

It was March 1, 1877, at 10:15 a.m., when Jack McCall met his maker in Yankton. He was only 24 years of age.

About the Author

Allan B. Colombo has appeared in print since 1986. His work includes newspapers, print and digital magazines, and other forms of the written word. He and Gary Miller, WMD writer and co-founder, started this magazine in August of 2018. You can reach him at Read more about him on his WMD  Partner Page!

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

Thank you for reading Western Magazine Digest!

Thanks for reading Western Magazine Digest 

Our next feature will be published on Sept. 13th 

In the mean time, please enjoy some of the interesting and enjoyable art work that's appeared in the magazine over the past two years. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Brief History of “Renfrew of the Mounted,” Part 3

By Martin Grams, Jr.

Editor's Note: This is part 3 in a story about Renfrew, the Canadian Royal Mounted police. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2.  --Carrie Aulenbacher.

The agency granted Erskine complete freedom to plot his scripts, without interference, except for two requests. The first was to incorporate both a boy and girl in recurring roles so the young listeners could associate. The second was a plot line that involved a lengthy trek through the Canadian wilds, so a giveaway premium could be incorporated (a map that listeners could mark along the way). Because the Canadian Mounted Police had a strict code, it was not possible to do a series based strictly on their files because no dramatic license would be allowed.

With the exception of character names from his published novels, Erskine wrote original material for most of the 1936–1937 program. Like many of the novels, some of the lengthy story arcs paused momentarily (usually for one week from Monday to Friday) for Renfrew to recount a thrilling adventure to David and/or Carol, before returning to the lengthy trail they were then traveling. (For the 1939–1940 half-hour series, Erskine recycled much from his short stories and novels, which were loosely based on true cases from the annals of the Canadian Mounted.)

Renfrew of the Mounted premiered on the evening of March 3, 1936, over CBS, the same network airing Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy earlier in the evening. Whether the ad agency wanted the program to air on the same network remains questionable based on inter-office communication, but such a game plan was short-lived. On the same day Renfrew made his radio debut, the trade papers reported General Mills announcing plans to move their program to NBC Red in early summer (which truly happened as of August 31), in an attempt for the company to diversify their ad programs on all of the stations.

Thus by late 1936 every network featured juvenile adventure programs during the evening hours. Mutual had Dick Tracy, NBC Blue had Little Orphan Annie, NBC Red had Jack Armstrong and the Tom Mix Ralston Straight-Shooters, and CBS had Popeye the Sailor, the Bobby Benson program, and Renfrew of the Mounted.

A total of 256 radio broadcasts aired from March 3, 1936, to March 5, 1937, consisting of five brief adventures, followed by four lengthy story arcs. These are broken down in detail below.  

“Preview Special” (1 chapter, March 3, 1936)
“The Driverless Dog Sled” (2 chapters, March 6 and 7, 1936)
“The Man-Trap at Moosamin” (March 10 to 14, 1936)
“Wings Over Hudson’s Bay” (March 17 to 21, 1936)
[Title Temporarily Unknown] (March 24 to 28, 1936)
“The Wonder Valley of Gold” (77 chapters, March 30 to July 16, 1936)
“The Land of the Totems” (56 chapters, July 17 to October 2, 1936)
“The Sunken City of the Arctic” (85 chapters, October 5, 1936, to January 29, 1937)
“The Wilderness Trail” (26 chapters, February 1 to March 5, 1937)

The radio program was a tremendous success from multiple viewpoints. Radio premiums from pins to campfire booklets were given away during the program’s run. It was during “The Wonder Valley of Gold” story arc that motivated children to write in for a free map so they could follow Renfrew and his friends as they traveled the wilderness. Routinely on a number of radio broadcasts, the announcer would tell children where Renfrew and his companions were on the map.

Throughout the 1930s, radio premiums often consisted of cast photographs, but by 1936 it was believed children would write in for something of substance — police badges, code books, and magic tricks among them. According to a report generated by the advertising agency, Renfrew of the Mounted acquired 1,700,000 requests for “giveaways,” including the map and later a pin.

About two-thirds of the way through “The Sunken City of the Arctic,” Erskine felt the strain of turning out five episodes weekly, always with sound effects, which threatened the author’s sanity. Foreshadowed months prior in a press release: “Laurie Erskine, who writes Renfrew for CBS says after a long script session he relieves nervous tension by standing on his head.” When a sudden illness came on or other similar emergencies caused a cast member of Renfrew of the Mounted to miss a broadcast, Erskine would pinch-hit for the role. (Before becoming a noted writer, he was a stage actor.)

When the Renfrew program featured Native Indians, Erskine often received several fan letters from red-skinned gentlemen, whom he met as a youngster in his teens — supposedly the characters on the program were named after them. For a few weeks a new script writer was brought in to write the scripts based on five-page plot synopses composed by Erskine, but the script writer never maintained pure continuity, leaning more toward science-fiction that surpassed the high adventure of Jack Armstrong.

Erskine was frustrated over the developments so a second script writer was brought in — Grant Terry — but they never lasted more than a week in January 1937. (Terry co-wrote Justice of the Peace with Elwell Cobb in 1935, among other short-lived radio programs.) Erskine returned to close down the story arc and begin a new one: “The Wilderness Trail.”

The contract between the network and the ad agency was drafted in cookie-cutter format, applying the usual terms of 13-week extensions. (13  4 = 52 weeks.) Arthur Pryor notified the network that after the remaining 13 week extension, the program would go off the air, giving the network plenty of time to find replacements for the time slot. There were three reasons for the program concluding after 52 weeks. According to his friend Robert Shaw, Erskine “disposed of his hero after a vain effort to sell a comic strip version for which Pete Keenan, New Hope artist, would do the drawings.” Erskine informed the agency that he would no longer write the scripts at the conclusion of the 52nd week.

The second reason — and the weightiest of the three — was that the company conducted an extensive study made in the market that revealed almost 90 percent of the bread purchased was purchased by adult females. The agency felt, and the sponsor agreed, that they would do a better job appealing to the adult females rather than the children. The third reason was because the Continental Baking dropped sponsorship because the company did not use premiums in their business and the agency representing Continental felt their client was not getting the fullest value of the program. (Ironic when you consider the fact that Douglas Storer was not only in favor of program premiums, but wrote an article focusing on radio premiums including dealer displays, photographic reproductions of the radio cast and clever sound gadgets, for the January 1934 issue of Broadcast Merchandising.)

Renfrew of the Mounted returned to the air as a weekly half-hour adventure program, launched on the evening of January 7, 1939. In late 1938, when NBC-Blue agreed to produce a 30-minute weekly program with the hope that a sponsor would be interested in signing on the bottom line, producer Phil Goldstone of Criterion Pictures, responsible for the big screen adventures of Renfrew, created a momentary stir when he consulted the network about a clause in his contract that stipulated his rights to have a market tie-in with the cast of the motion pictures. To avoid conflict of interest with the movie studio, executives at NBC-Blue agreed to allow James Newill, the screen Renfrew, to play the starring role if the program moved to the West Coast. In the meantime, the new half-hour format would originate from the studios in New York City, known to all interests as “a substitute cast,” although House Jameson and Brad Barker were merely reprising their roles from the 1936–37 series.

These thrillers included enticing titles such as “The Lost River Mine,” “Chief Calf Robe’s Hidden Treasure,” and “The Rainbow River Gang,” among others. This second incarnation ran a total of 89 episodes, now extended to a half-hour format and broadcast over the NBC Blue Network instead of CBS. George Ludlam was hired to write the scripts, based on 14-page plot summaries by Laurie York Erskine, who had no time to write two drafts of a weekly half-hour radio script. Ludlam, an experienced script writer with such credits as For Men Only and Spy at Large under his belt, would eventually go on to establish The Adventures of Superman for radio in early 1940. Without the continuation format of a daily serial, these half-hour stories were superior on many levels.

The adventures dramatized during the half-hour rendition of Renfrew of the Mounted consisted of both single-episode adventures and multi-episode story arcs. A number of recurring characters bridged continuity even when Renfrew was solving cases within one radio broadcast. Some of the half-hour adventures were adaptations of short stories written years prior by Erskine, others recycled material from short stories with revisions, and a number of them were originals. The episode “Redheads Won’t Stay Down,” broadcast February 18, 1939, was adapted from a story in Renfrew Rides North (1931). The episode “Signals in the Dark,” broadcast June 29, 1940, was inspired by the sea-faring stories of the ships that mysteriously wrecked in the fog at San Francisco Bay — one in particular that disappeared without a trace but today is assumed to have wrecked and sunk. The half-hour program would run until October 1940.

A third rendition of Renfrew returned to the airwaves beginning August 18, 1941, and would run a total of seven months. Passport to Adventure was a fifteen-minute program, broadcast five days a week, and featured no cast, script or sound effects. Instead, Laurie York Erskine would narrate stories as someone would tell campfire tales. Trading dramatic presentation with that of narrative, Erskine simply composed a 15-page story and told of Indian fights, ships that sailed the seven seas, adventures in the Arctic and below the Equator. Every two or three weeks one of those stories would feature either Renfrew in a thrilling adventure, or one of Renfrew’s Canadian Mountie friends.

Passport to Adventure came to an abrupt close when Erskine was recruited by the U.S. Army to help train fighter pilots. A pilot himself during the first World War, Erskine was more than willing to help aid his country in the fight against the Japanese. Sadly, after his return to the United States, he and Douglas Storer found it difficult to sell the program to any network or sponsor.  By the late 1930s, every movie studio in California attempted to cash in on the popularity of the Canadian Mounties. Cowboy stars Kirby Grant, Russell Hayden, and Charles Starrett swapped riding chaps and six-guns for scarlet coats with shiny brass buttons. As multiple film critics pointed out, Saskatchewan might as well have been in Texas, a few movie critics remarked. Beginning January 1939, Challenge of the Yukon premiered over WXYZ in Detroit and would soon become syndicated across the country.

It would take seven years after the conclusion of Passport to Adventure before the character of Renfrew would return to radio — one last time. On the evening of Monday, March 15, 1948, from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m.(Eastern), WNBC in New York presented a one-time broadcast of Renfrew of the Mounted. Instead of audition by recording, the broadcast aired live and was intended to show prospective sponsors (all of whom received a letter dated March 11, requesting they listen to the broadcast), how the program could be handled in an inexpensive way, broadcast daily or weekly. The audition broadcast featured Laurie York Erskine as the narrator and was heard only within reception coverage of New York City. (The remainder of the NBC network presented musical offerings across the country during the same time slot.)

Through historical retrospect, the disadvantages waging against Erskine were many. Popularity polls confirmed children preferred cowboys over Canadian Mounties. Challenge of the Yukon (later re-titled Sergeant Preston of the Yukon) was so widely syndicated that most radio stations never sought interest in two Canadian Mountie programs. Storer’s cash cow was the Robert Ripley franchise and he devoted more time on the program than Erskine’s baby. Even a 1953 television pilot on the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars never garnered interest in potential sponsors following the initial telecast, serving as a backdoor pilot for a proposed weekly program. 

When Erskine passed away December 3 1976, he bequeathed his franchise to a University. Sadly, the property fell into orphaned status as copyrights to the ten Renfrew of the Mounted novels were never renewed, nor licensed for reprinting. At one time Douglas Storer took inventory to discover he had more than 100 transcription discs of the radio program from 1936 to 1937. Sadly, only one dozen recordings are known to exist today. 


Five years ago, author and historian Garyn Roberts (and his wife Virginia) gave me four of the Renfrew novels as a gift, and it was here that I was first exposed to the character. From their encouragement I was motivated to read the first of them, Renfrew of the Royal Mounted (1922); followed by Renfrew Rides the Sky(1928). These two books in particular are the best of the bunch and come highly recommended.

As a result of this newfound interest, like many in the hobby of old-time radio who seek to further deeper insight into the recordings they listen to, family relatives and archives across the country were sought out. As of this year, every radio script had been found and scanned into pdf format for digital preservation, along with the discovery of half a dozen un-circulated Renfrew of the Mounted radio broadcasts, and a new 500-page book documenting the history of the program – due for publication in December.

What little was documented prior about the radio program (brief entries in encyclopedias) has been extensively covered in book form to ensure the character of Renfrew of the Mounted does not fade away into obscurity. --Martin Grams, Jr.

        Editor's Note: Be sure to read part 1 and part 2.  --Carrie Aulenbacher


Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of more than 40 books including one about THE GREEN HORNET, and is co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

Please review Martin's author page: click here!

Take a step off the grid with a solar powered system that provides electrical power when it fails everywhere else. (image)

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Sunday, August 9, 2020


by Martin Grams, Jr.

The Renfrew novels were written and published partly out of necessity; Erskine donated the profits from his handiwork to the funding of a private boys’ school. The school needed what money Erskine could chip in — far more than it needed his presence — which kept him busy at writing, and often took him away for prolonged absences. He always came back, and everyone on campus recalled his writing always played second fiddle to his interest in the educational influences of the school. It was this financial responsibility that sustained unceasing production of Renfrew of the Mounted adventures in both short story and novel form.

Inspector Douglas Renfrew was a composite of all the brave men of the scarlet-coated Royal Mounted Canadian Police — and the fictional creation of a Battle Creek, Michigan, journalist named Laurie York Erskine, then former city editor of the Moon-Journal. (The first of the stories was written in Battle Creek, now famous not for the home of a fictional literary hero but of Kellogg’s, a breakfast cereal company.) After a series of short stories for American Boy magazine, followed by a number of Renfrew novels, the character made the transition to radio. 

One afternoon in late 1935, Laurie York Erskine happened to be in New York and was determined to look up an old friend, Douglas Storer, whom he had not seen in a number of years. When the two finally met, they reminiscenced for a while and then, suddenly, Storer had an idea.

“Why don’t you put Renfrew on the radio?” he asked. Even though Blair of the Mounties was syndicated through Canada and Australia by early 1936, the program was considered a failure from a business standpoint. Storer knew about this from what he read in the trades, and from his discussions with advertising executives who were seeking program proposals for their clients.

Erskine thought about the idea for a minute, then smiled: “I might, but I don’t know how to go about it.” Storer knew of an ad agency that was seeking just such a program.

Concluding that no literary author of means could possibly succeed without a steadfast agent to handle the business doings, Erskine had Storer help with representation. Douglas Storer, a radio producer, talent agent, and script writer, was responsible for introducing such luminaries to the radio listening audience as Robert L. Ripley, Dale Carnegie, Bob Considine, and Cab Calloway. From 1933 to 1949, he produced the popular Believe It or Not radio broadcasts on several networks and developed a close personal relationship with Robert L. Ripley.

It was Storer’s close association with Robert L. Ripley that convinced Laurie York Erskine to sign a contract after Christmas 1936. Though Erskine created the popular Renfrew character through literary assignments, it was Storer who knew the radio business and takes credit (at least fifty percent) for bringing Renfrew of the Mounted to the CBS airwaves.*    

Batten, Burton, Durstine & Osborne, the advertising agency that pitched Renfrew of the Mounted to executives of the Continental Baking Company, ensured a national coast-to-coast hook-up would do better than Blair of the Mounties, which was syndicated across the country. Executives at Continental were seeking radio promotion for their product, Wonder Bread, and what was pitched to them was an adventure serial along the lines of Little Orphan Annie and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.**    

The success of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy prompted Arthur Pryor of B.B.D.&O. to convince their clients at the Continental Baking Company to reconsider their branding strategy. Prior to this, Continental promoted the benefits of Wonder Bread on such programs as The Happy Wonder Bakers and the daily Tatters Sports Review.

Wonder Bread was popularly associated with the Little Jack Little Orchestra, a favorite of Frederick Seaman, ad manager for Continental. After listening to a couple broadcasts of Jack Armstrong, Seaman found himself on the fence, proposing a test series of transcriptions to be aired over one station for a limited time, allowing the executives at Continental to measure the results and consider a coast-to-coast hookup over a major network. Negotiations between Arthur Pryor and Douglas Storer were conducted through December of 1935.

In early 1936, one 15-minute recording was created as a test series, with Laurie York Erskine himself delivering the narrative much like a storyteller at the campfire. “At the very beginning I wanted to tell about Renfrew’s adventures myself,” he later recalled. “I was overruled then, but I still think I was right. A good story-teller can cover as much ground and build up as much characterization and suspense in 15 minutes as a drama can in half an hour.” The executives at B.B.D.&O., however, insisted on dramatic appeal in an effort to compete against the other serials aimed toward children.

On January 6, 1936, Erskine agreed to the terms and signed a letter for Douglas Storer to commission the agency to negotiate the time slot on a network of their choosing. A contract between the Continental Baking Company, an executive at B.B.D.&O., and Laurie York Erskine was signed in late February, with the option of attending one rehearsal for each script written and assist in the editing as thought advisable. Radio scripts were to be copyrighted by Erskine, to assign statutory rights in both script and story, so there would be no misunderstanding between the sponsor and Erskine as to the ownership of the character.

This was a smart move on Storer’s negotiating as many who created adventure serials for radio sponsors would later discover that the sponsors would claim ownership, even when the creators/authors were no longer involved.

The contract also featured a provisional clause: “In event of your death, we shall thereafter have the continued right to use, at any time or from time to time, the Renfrew characters and theme as the structural basis for such further scripts as we may, in our discretion, determine to procure from other authors that we may employ, in which case we shall pay your estate $25 with respect to each script we shall have had written and have broadcast, or $100 per week minimum should the program air five times a week.”

A similar clause was included in the contract for the Tom Mix radio program — ultimately leading to a momentary legal squabble after his death in October 1940 — referred to by many in the industry as “the Tom Mix clause.” The estate left by Mix, believed to be over $1 million, was dwindled to $115,000–$100,000 in real estate and $15,000 in personal property. Mix was once among Hollywood’s highest salaried actors, but his earnings were depleted by scores of lawsuits and settlements as a result of accidents when performing on his rodeo tours, the Internal Revenue charging him $177,000 for neglected income taxes, a part of his early earnings invested in securities which collapsed in the market crash of 1929, and the largest single outlay to his former wife. Mabel Mix, his widow, arranged for a court appeal for an allowance of $400 or $500 per month while the attorney for the estate insisted that it was the actor’s decision to split the entire estate equally among her and his daughter, Thomasina. Weeks after his passing, the ex-wife came out of the woodwork with a $50,000 promissory note; his widow asked the court to name a new executor for the estate, and on May of 1941 the actor’s possessions were auctioned off — including Tony the Second, his horse. Ultimately it was agreed that all three parties (ex-wife, widow, and daughter) would share equal ownership in the estate

The radio program was the next to fall victim to materialism when Ralston stopped sponsoring the program, and a representative from the estate asked the advertising agency not to renew the adventure serial for an additional season unless a higher fee was paid to the estate. Mix himself never appeared on the radio broadcasts. His voice was damaged by a bullet to the throat and repeated broken noses from stunt work during productions of his movies, so he licensed the use of his name under contract; the character of Tom Mix was played by radio actors. Continued use of Tom Mix’s name was considered “unauthorized,” according to a representative of the estate, but the original contract was upheld in a court of law. Hence the clause similar to that in Erskine’s contract was referred to as “the Tom Mix clause.”

Another agreement in Erskine’s contract stipulated that the sponsor was granted permission to produce a book edition of Renfrew of the Mounted, to sell at low-unit cost for mass circulation, referred to as a “giveaway premium,” created to gauge the size of the listening audience for consideration of sponsorship renewal.

The radio sponsor also retained the rights to syndicating a newspaper strip of Renfrew (non-commercial) in newspapers to promote the radio program. Erskine also signed over motion-picture and stage productions intended for trade, industrial, and advertising purposes. This also included the use of electrical transcription discs. Erskine signed the contract, even though he was against the use of radio premiums, believing such gimmicks would diminish the value proposition for his franchise.

In consideration for accepting the use of radio premiums, Erskine’s salary would go up $100 per week after the first 13 weeks, and another $100 per week beginning with week forty. Beginning with the one-year anniversary of the program’s premiere, Erskine would receive an additional pay raise at the following scale: After first 52 weeks, $715 per 5-week. After the first 104 weeks, $780 per 5-week. Erskine’s salary was not to exceed $800 per week (3-week program), $920 per week (4-week program) and $1,040 per week (5-week program) if and when his salary rose to that level. Should Erskine become mentally or physically incapacitated to the extent that he was unable to perform the task, the advertising agency had the right to employ someone to write the scripts and Erskine would be paid $100 per week, with statutory copyright in such scripts in the name of the agency.

* While Storer succeeded in representing Erskine for the radio program and motion-pictures, their partnership was freelance on consignment beginning January 8, 1937, for one year, later renewed January 8, 1938, then for two-year renewal terms, when Storer agreed to act as “sole personal representative for the purpose of promoting and negotiating” future writing, motion-pictures, and radio assignment, in exchange for 20 percent of all profits. Renewed every two years in January 8, 1940, and January 8, 1942. (Their official partnership would eventually lead to a 50-50 arrangement years later.) ** B.B.D.&O. handled the Continental Baking account until January 1, 1937, when Benton & Bowles took over and represented the client for Renfrew of the Mounted.

Editor's Note: Be sure to read part 1. Also, tune in next week when we publish part 3, the final chapter of A Brief History of "Renfrew of the Mounted." --Carrie Aulenbacher


Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of more than 40 books including one about THE GREEN HORNET, and is co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

Please review Martin's author page: click here!

   Please post a comment below!   

Sunday, August 2, 2020


by Martin Grams, Jr.

Five hundred miles through the frozen wastes of the north Renfrew hiked until he reached the missionary. Isolated for far too long, he was found mad and victim of the lonesomeness of his northern post. Their long trek back to civilization threw every peril at them as if daring every next step.

In his madness the missionary fought Renfrew so he was tied down to the sled. To feed him and prevent the bonds from stopping the flow of circulation, Renfrew would release the poor fellow a few times a day, and then the man would fight with a maniac’s strength. Renfrew would have to chase him, wallowing in the snow, and drag him back to camp constantly.

The first settlement they reached proved not to be the hoped-for haven. Renfrew, now weak from exhaustion, found the place taken over by drunken half-breeds. The authority of the Royal Canadian Mounties could not be left in question. So, by sheer courage, he tore into the mob of hoodlums, arrested the ringleaders, and proceeded on his almost impossible journey.

Finally, he managed to reach Port Saskatchewan, where he imprisoned the half-breed outlaws and turned the lunatic over to the hospital.

The heroic deeds of the fictional Inspector Douglas Renfrew, as dictated from the imagination of Laurie York Erskine, avoided the trappings of the silver screen. The heroic exploits of the Canadian Mounties, left to Hollywood, projected the American image of the force with applied diction that “the Mounties always get their man,” complete with clean red garb and shiny brass buttons.

Depending on which rendition you view, the Mounties demonstrate superb vocal talents in their effort to serenade the white oak and rich canyons. Others received second billing below the dog, both star and hero of the picture, inspired by the popularity of Rin-Tin-Tin. Literary renditions, however, of which there were many, were more faithful to the legend and lore. Most authors based their character on the mythos recorded in history books.

Authors John Mackie, Harold Bindloss, James Oliver Curwood, Charles Gordon, and Gilbert Parker, among others, dramatized the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as peacekeepers who were respected among whiskey traders, trappers, and prospectors. Deceptions against the crown were punishable by law, but not before due diligence and an exchange of fisticuffs. This was embodied in the ubiquitous “get their man” cliché, that phrase coined by an American newspaper and later perpetuated by popular writers describing romantic images of the force.

As depicted through Erskine’s printed prose, Renfrew rarely wore his uniform because most of his combatants were not killers, fur thieves, or claim jumpers; they were the roaring rapids from a spring thaw, the hidden quicksand bogs, and long treks through uncharted territory. Erskine provided feats of fury on Yukon-sized trails, rivers, mountain vistas, midnight sun, and northern lights, avoiding the Hollywood fantasy in an effort to satisfy his readers with a craving for authentic, unspoiled wilderness.

Although it has been said that Canada had no ‘Wild West’ because the Mounties got there first, the truth is that before their heralded arrival, Canada’s frontier was as wild as any Wild West dime novel. Native murders and whiskey traders were so common that such vandalism could never be depicted accurately on screen. Erskine made sure to apply a realistic approach with his Renfrew stories, choosing to incorporate romantic prose for the natural beauty of the Northern wilds, with nature a harsher enemy of the Canadian Mounties.

Extremely well-written and highly treasured among aficionados of adventure fiction, the novels are still in demand among collectors — with greater demand for the fragile dust jackets that outlived most of the books themselves.

Following a series of short stories in American Boy magazine, and a number of published novels, Renfrew of the Mounted made a transition to radio in the mid-thirties, five days a week, and children followed his daily adventures with maps, lapel pins, and schoolbooks. Such tall tales were acceptable to parents, knowing the perils of the wilderness could only enhance survival instincts and sharpen cunning. A champion who could be looked up to was approved by social-minded guardians; the Parents and Teachers Association even voted Renfrew of the Mounted one of the top programs for children.

To the millions of fiction readers who delighted in stories of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Inspector Douglas Renfrew was a favorite character — the embodiment of the adventurous spirit for which those troopers were famous. Little did they realize that the author was merely reliving his own experiences in the Canadian wilds, augmenting those from the records related in history books.

The story of the missionary driven mad was a true tale of heroism. Constable Albert Pedley’s impossible journey in 1904 did not end well. After turning the lunatic over to the hospital in Fort Saskatchewan and a long sleep, the British-born Pedley had to commute to Edmonton for dental work. The dentist gave him gas to extract an infected tooth. Not wanting to rest, Pedley set out again for his post in the north. He never reached it. Alarmed by the failure to report from Vermillion, high in the north, a search party was sent out. He was found wandering in the winter wilderness, singing snatches of songs from his native Devonshire. As Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry wrote in his 1905 Annual Report, Constable Pedley “went violently insane as a result of the hardships of the trip and his anxiety for the safety of his charge.” Under the terrible strain of his achievement, Pedley’s mind had cracked. He was never to return to the north again.*
* The story of Constable Pedley was adapted into a motion-picture, The Wild North, in 1952, but it little resembled the true events.

Editor's Note: Be sure to tune in next week when we publish part 2 of A Brief History of "Renfrew of the Mounted." --Carrie Aulenbacher


Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of more than 40 books including one about THE GREEN HORNET, and is co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

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