The Tonto Woman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the title story, “The Tonto Woman” the protagonist, Ruben Vega, is a cattle thief who finds a woman who was tattooed across her face while being held a slave by Mojave Indians. After being liberated her husband banishes her to live in shame in a shack on his property. Vega is intrigued by her and encourages her to stand up to her husband instead of hiding in shame.

In “The Colonel’s Lady” a woman is kidnapped by a rogue Apache but does not succumb to fear and frees herself from captivity. In the story “Three-Ten to Yuma” a young deputy risks his life to take a convicted killer to prison even though he must face down four of the killer’s accomplices. “Moment of Vengeance” shows readers the young Treat who eloped with the daughter of his boss, Kergosen. Instead of fighting for her, Treat shows Kergosen that strength is patience, not threats.

Elmore Leonard also reveals to readers the ethnic side of the Old West. He shows how the indians, Mexicans, and blacks were just as much a part of that historical tapestry as the white men were. In “’Hurrah for Capt. Early’” Bo Catlett, a black veteran of many wars, most recently the Spanish-American war, comes home to New Mexico. Instead of receiving a hero’s welcome, as does the white Captain Early, Bo Catlett is taunted and threatened. In “The Hard Way” a young Mexican deputy, hired only to take care of drunken Mexicans, learns that justice is very biased towards the rich white land owners and accepts he cannot do anything about it. “The Boy Who Smiled” tells a tale of an indian boy who plays dumb in order to take revenge for the wrongful death of his father brought on by the false accusation of a rich white land owner.

Leonard’s characters are not the clean and shiny heroes of movie westerns. They are real people trying to live the best life they can, but they are heroes. This collection of stories is worth reading, whether a western fiction fan or not, for the shear pleasure of Leonard’s storytelling.