Shawn Brodie can’t catch a break. All he was doing was trying to feed his poor family, and the poor kid (14 years old) gets busted for rustling for killing a broken-legged cow and tossed into prison with a passel of hardened convicts. The sentence is three years.
It’s an interesting crowd, including a Yokohama “Chinaman”, a tough Mexican, a topnotch gunslinger, a racketeer with no legs, and an older inmate with a touch of paternal instinct. The sergeant of the guards is a pedophile, and the warden is an ineffectual booby with a strict code of conduct and no discretion.
Shawn gets overworked, unjustly punished with a term in The Snake Den (a dark hole where copperheads occasionally drop in from above), and badly beaten. However, he also gets befriended by the warden’s wife, a kindly doctor, and a few indulgent inmates. You’re never sure whether he’s going to be befriended or bedeviled from one page to the next as he fights to negotiate his way through the sentence and get back home to save his younger sister from life in a bawdy house.
Oh, and there’s a girl also. The inmates and the community interact on Sunday’s and there’s a sweet young thing that’s sweet on him. Something else to look forward to if he can survive long enough to get out.
It all adds up to a pretty juice tale with seldom a dull moment, if a little unbelievable from time to time. Thanks to Chuck Tyrell for one fascinating aspect of life on the frontier.