Written in 1929, ‘The Judgment of the Desert’ appears to have been crafted with the audience of the Cross Plains Review in mind, yet it was not published during Howard’s lifetime. This story is extant in the form of a titled carbon copy and was only made available posthumously, offering readers a glimpse into Howard’s unpublished works from that period.

Story - spoiler alert

“The Judgment of the Desert” / “Showdown at Hell’s Canyon”. Spoiler alert!

Setting: The narrative begins in Sangre Del Diablo, a fictional location in Old Mexico. The story features Spike, a Texas-born character, and Stan Brannigan, who becomes embroiled in a quest for hidden gold.

Plot Summary: The story opens with the murder of old Sour Sanson by Hanson, witnessed by Stan Brannigan. Sanson, before dying, hints at a secret hidden in the left barrel. This clue leads Stan and Spike to a gun in a black gun belt in Sanson’s residence, where they find a map pointing to a long-lost treasure.

Spike shares with Stan a tale about a wealthy Mexican who sent a significant amount of gold to Pancho Villa years ago to aid in his rebellion against the Federal government. This gold, rumored to be worth as much as a million dollars, never reached Villa and was lost until now.

Their journey through harsh landscapes leads them to Joan Kirby. Only later does Spike realize that she is the sister of Tom Kirby, whom he had killed in his past life as Mike O’Mara. This revelation changes Spike’s attitude towards Joan, leading him to act more kindly and attentively.

As they finally discover the gold in the mountains, which turns out to be worth several thousand dollars rather than the rumored million, they are unaware that Hanson, Mr. Harmer, and their gang are close behind. Spike, away scouting the area, is not captured when Hanson and his gang confront Stan and Joan.

Conclusion: The story culminates in a dramatic showdown. Spike heroically returns to confront Hanson and his henchmen. In a tragic twist, Spike is mortally wounded. With his dying breath, he reveals his true identity to Stan, expresses his remorse, and wishes to leave his share of the gold to Joan, seeking redemption for his past.

Themes: The story weaves themes of redemption, the impact of past actions, and the pursuit of lost treasures in a lawless land. The characters are challenged by their personal histories and the moral choices they must make in the unforgiving landscape of the Wild West.

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