In Branham’s Due, American writer Richard Prosch introduces the reader to Whit Branham, the bold and fearless deputy sheriff of Holt County, Nebraska, who sets out to bring in Johann Kramer, a notorious horse-thief and killer of Dakota Territory. The wanted man is holed up in old Iron Creek. Armed with his trusted shotgun, Branham approaches the “sod hovel” on foot and takes Kramer by surprise. The outlaw, a few years older than the lawman’s thirty-two, attempts a trick or two in a vain effort to overcome his captor. Branham helps Kramer get on his horse, Lubber, and the two men start back for O’Neill City.
As many western stories will tell you, bringing in a dreaded outlaw is never easy and Branham finds out the hard way when he is “ambushed” on the trail by “a big block of a woman” with a “big pumpkin face.” Her name is Darla and she is Kramer’s girlfriend. Years before, she and Whit grew up together. She was also his Sunday school teacher.
The twist in this 3,000-word story is in what happens next. Branham uses a ploy that could have cost him his life but he lives to take us on another adventure, in Holt County Law, a novella released in 2013.
Clearly, Richard Prosch is not handicapped by the length of Branham’s Due. Within the confines of his short and crisp narrative, we are also told about the novelty of barbed wire fences and the lay of the land in Nebraska, where he was raised; Branham’s thoughtfulness in shielding Barney Kearns, his boss and Holt County sheriff, and setting out alone to hunt down the outlaw; and the pleasing conversation between old friends Branham and Darla in the middle of the ambush. These may seem like insignificant elements in a seamless plot but they enrich the story a great deal. Whit Branham is a strong protagonist even though his character begs adequate description. But his is the sort of character that develops in your head as you read this fine western story.
I enjoyed Branham’s Due a lot and I’ll be reading Holt County Law soon. You can read more about Richard Prosch and his work at his website here.