“The Drums of the Sunset” was initially serialized in the Cross Plains Review, a newspaper serving Cross Plains, Texas since 1909. This tale by Robert E. Howard began its publication journey in the November 6, 1928 issue and continued in weekly installments until January 4, 1929. For its serialization, Howard received $20.

The current edition of “The Drums of the Sunset” features a mix of original and reconstructed text. The first chapter and the initial five paragraphs of the second chapter use the Cross Plains Review’s original text, as no typescript pages for these sections have been discovered. From the sixth paragraph of chapter two, which begins mid-sentence with “and besides, it’s time somebody showed him…”, the text is derived from the surviving carbon copies.

Interestingly, there is speculation that Howard may have reworked “The Drums of the Sunset” into another story titled “Riders of the Sunset,” which he possibly submitted to Fiction House. However, this remains a conjecture, as there is no definitive evidence to confirm this transformation of the story.

The story

Robert E. Howard sets this old west adventure tale in a remote mountain range called the Sunset Mountains. Young wandering cowboy Steve Harmer from Texas crosses paths with an eccentric old prospector named Hard Luck Harper. Hard Luck tells Steve legends of a lost gold mine hidden somewhere in the light and shadows of the peaks.

Intrigued by gold and glory, Steve presses on into the mountains. He soon encounters the beautiful Joan Farrel, niece to the territory’s enigmatic ruler Gila Murken. Joan wishes to escape her sinister uncle and begs Steve for help. Before Steve can act, Joan is taken captive in a Native American attack after disputes over counterfeit money traded by her uncle’s gang.

Teaming with Hard Luck, Steve desperately rides into savage country to try and save the kidnapped girl from the rampaging Navajos seeking vengeance. Outlaw gangs, suspicious tribesmen, treacherous terrain and even deadlier landslides stand against the cowpoke and old frontier scout.

Bullets fly and stakes run high in this breakneck-paced tale where the determined Steve battles all odds to achieve true love as well as realize the prospector’s dreams of finally unearthing the legendary mother lode known in whispers as the Lost Sunset Mine. Told with grit, gusto and plenty of two-fisted action, Drums of the Sunset is a rollicking western yarn packed with all the danger, romance and discovery expected from Conan creator Robert E. Howard at his spirited storytelling best.


  • Steve Harmer – The protagonist. A young wandering cowboy from Texas looking for adventure.
  • Joan Farrel – Niece of Gila Murken. An Eastern girl who came to live with her uncle in the mountains. She wants Steve to help her escape from her uncle. Steve falls in love with her.
  • Hard Luck Harper – An eccentric old prospector who tells Steve about a legendary lost gold mine. He is Steve’s ally.
  • Gila Murken – Joan’s uncle and the main antagonist. He issecretly running a counterfeiting operation in cabins hidden in the mountains and doesn’t want anyone nosing around.
  • Mark “Cherokee” Edwards – One of Murken’s gang members. A rough frontiersman who makes advances at Joan.
  • Bill Allison – The other member of Murken’s counterfeiting gang. A bearded outlaw type who dies making a last stand against the Navajos.
  • The Navajos – A local Native American tribe living in reservation in the mountains. They attack Murken’s cabins in retaliation for being paid with fake money.

Alternate title


Native Americans

Howard does not often use Indians or American Natives as antagonists in his story, but in “Drums of the Sunset” they are featured.

  • After the Navajos realize Murken paid them with counterfeit money, a raiding party attacks the cabins seeking revenge.
  • They kill Murken and his men Edwards and Allison in the attack.
  • Joan describes the Navajos sweeping up to the cabins “like painted fiends, yelling and chanting.”
  • The Navajos then drag Joan out of the cabin and bind her wrists, setting her on a horse to take her away back to their tribe’s lands.
  • Joan manages to get her hands free and escapes on the horse she was put on, before Steve and Hard Luck catch up to rescue her from the four Navajos still pursuing her.

So while Joan was only held captive briefly before her own escape, the Navajos did raid the cabins and take Joan hostage for a time, adding to the drama and threat facing the protagonists in the story.

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