“The Vultures of Wahpeton,” initially received by the Kline Agency on October 5, 1934, was eventually sold for $150 on July 16, 1936, with Howard earning $135. This story, initially handled by Jessica Miller and later by Otto Binder, includes Howard agreeing to a reduced rate of ½¢ per word. Besides the final version, there exists an early draft titled “The Vultures of Teton Gulch,” with minor differences, notably a more somber ending. The collection also features two untitled synopses of the story.

This is a Western story by Robert E. Howard featuring Texas gunman Steve Corcoran, who becomes a deputy marshal in the mining boomtown of Wahpeton. The story explores themes of trust and deception in a town rife with dark forces. The narrative includes Glory Bland, a key character offering a contrast to the otherwise grim setting. Based on real-life Old West gunman Hendry Brown, the characters Steve Corcoran and John Middleton embody dual aspects of Brown’s personality. The story’s setting, Wahpeton, is inspired by Deadwood, Dakota Territory. It was one of Howard’s final sales before his death, published in Smashing Novels with two different endings. Howard’s other work, “Vultures’ Sanctuary,” continues his Western storytelling, set in the Guadalupe Mountains and featuring Bill McClanahan, known as Big Mac, embarking on a rescue mission against an outlaw gang.

See also: Untitled synopsis (The Vultures of Wahpeton)

From the letters:

Howard mentions the letter (#301) to August Derleth, ca. mid-October 1934:

What I feel is one of the best stories I’ve ever written was a 30,000 word Western, the first draft of which I knocked off in two and a half days, but which I have my doubts if anybody will accept it. Yet I feel that if I ever do write anything of lasting merit it will be fiction laid in the early West.

And in a letter to Otto Binder, circa after June 5, 1936, we learn:

Dear Binder:
1/2 a cent is O.K. if you can’t get more; I think this yarn has been turned down by most of the better paying mags, anyway.

Howard’s note was handwritten in the margin of a letter from Binder with the date June 5th, 1936. This must been one of the last letters Howard wrote. It’s the last we know exists.

Story and plot

“The Vultures of Wahpeton” unfolds in the tumultuous mining town of Wahpeton Gulch, gripped by fear and chaos due to the terror inflicted by a gang of outlaws known as the Vultures. The story centers around Steve Corcoran, a formidable Texas gunslinger, who is brought in by Sheriff John Middleton to serve as a deputy. However, a shocking twist reveals that Middleton, the man Corcoran is supposed to assist, is actually the mastermind behind the Vultures.

Corcoran’s tenure in Wahpeton is marked by his ruthless yet effective approach to upholding law and order. He becomes romantically involved with Glory Bland, a dance hall girl, who unwittingly becomes the key to unraveling Middleton’s duplicity. After surviving an attempt on her life by Middleton, Glory discloses his true identity to Corcoran. This revelation sets the stage for a series of violent confrontations, leading to a climactic gunfight where Corcoran eliminates Middleton and his deputies, bringing an end to the Vultures’ reign of terror.

This story encapsulates the essence of the Wild West era, portraying a landscape rife with violence, moral complexity, and the relentless pursuit of justice. The two endings offer contrasting views on the protagonist’s journey: one highlighting a solitary departure into ambiguity, and the other emphasizing redemption and a new beginning with love.

Two endings

The two endings of “The Vultures of Wahpeton” are as follows:

  1. Original Ending: Corcoran leaves Wahpeton, burdened by the events that have transpired. He does not take the gold that could have been his, reflecting a change in his values and perhaps an awakening of his soul. He rides away into the unknown, leaving the lights and voices of the camp behind, entering a future filled with uncertainty and haunted by shadows of the past.
  2. Alternate Ending: Corcoran discovers that Glory Bland, whom he believed dead, is actually alive. Overcoming his initial shock, he tends to her wound, which turns out to be less severe than he thought. Despite Glory’s initial betrayal, which led to the chaos, she and Corcoran reconcile. Corcoran, realizing the depth of his feelings for her and recognizing his own failings, decides to leave the town with her. They leave Wahpeton together, looking forward to a new life and planning to marry in the first town they reach. This ending is more hopeful and focuses on the redemption and transformation of both Corcoran and Glory.

Both endings highlight different aspects of Corcoran’s character and offer distinct conclusions to his journey – one emphasizing his solitary departure into an uncertain future, and the other focusing on redemption, love, and a new beginning.

Characters and their roles

  • Corcoran – The main protagonist, a skilled gunfighter from Texas, hired as a deputy to combat the Vultures.
  • Sheriff Middleton – The sheriff of Wahpeton Gulch, who hires Corcoran to help fight the Vultures.
  • The Vultures – A gang of outlaws terrorizing Wahpeton Gulch with murders and robberies.
  • Glory Bland – A woman from Wahpeton who interacts with Corcoran, illustrating the personal dynamics within the town.
  • McNab, Richardson, and Stark – Middleton’s deputies, representing the law enforcement in Wahpeton.
  • Colonel Hopkins – A prominent citizen and mine owner in Wahpeton, concerned about the Vultures’ activities.
  • Ace Brent – A gambler in Wahpeton, speculated to have connections with the Vultures.
  • Various miners, gamblers, and townspeople – Characters who depict the everyday life and struggles in Wahpeton Gulch.

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