Thursday, December 15, 2016

American Indians and the American West on the Cover of Weird Tales

American Indians and the American West appeared on four covers of Weird Tales. There is also one cover showing a scene from Old Mexico. Each of the four Western covers has a supernatural or weird element, signifying that they are part of what is now considered a distinct sub-genre, the weird Western. So what are the origins of the weird Western story? Well, if you look at the Wikipedia article "Weird West," you will see several lists of weird Westerns in different forms. The first chronologically on those lists is "The Horror from the Mound" by Robert E. Howard, published in Weird Tales, May 1932. It's clear by the following covers that there were Westerns with weird or supernatural elements before Howard's tale, but is a ghost story also a weird tale? I'm not sure that it is, if in fact weird fiction is a separate genre from the ghost story. That would bring up a question, then: What was the first weird Western story in the history of literature?

Weird Tales, January 1924. Cover story: None. Cover art by R.M. Mally. Like I said, a ghost story isn't necessarily a weird story. If an illustration doesn't have a story or poem as its subject--if it stands alone and tells its own story--then Mally's cover may be interpreted as a ghost story and may not be a weird tale. Or maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe this cover goes into the category of weird Western anyway.

Weird Tales, February 1924. Cover story: None. Cover art by R.M. Mally. Two successive months, two successive Western covers by R.M. Mally. First the cowboy, then the Indian. In fact, this is the first cover for Weird Tales showing what is now called a minority. I have written about it before in my entry on Ralph Allen Lang, here.

Weird Tales, January 1928. Cover story: "The Gods of East and West" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. I wrote about this cover recently. I find it bizarre, ugly, and poorly executed. I can't imagine what the editorial staff was thinking when they commissioned it.

Weird Tales, November 1928. Cover story: "The Mystery of Acatlan" by Rachael Marshall and Maverick Terrell. Cover art by C.C. Senf. This is a much better cover by Senf that the previous one, but I don't get the weird (meaning perverted) obsession pulp writers, artists, and readers had with whips, chains, bondage, and overall sadomasochism. You'll see more covers like this one soon. Too many in fact.

Weird Tales, September 1942. Cover story: "Satan's Bondage" by Manly Banister. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. I have written about this cover before, too. It's partly a swipe. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley


  1. As popular as the western and supernatural genres were from the twenties through the fifties, I'm surprised that they weren't combined more often. The song GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY, which wax quite popular in the 40s, might lead one to believe that such themes were common at the time, but that's not the case. The advertising for the Three Mesquiteers western film of 1937 RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL promises more supernatural thrills than it delivers. The only overtly supernatural western motion picture that I can think of is CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, a 1959 Universal western in which Michael Pate plays a gunslinger in the old west who turns out to be a vampire. RAWHIDE's Eric Fleming plays the preacher who must defeat him. It's a fine, fun film that well uses the cross-over potential and makes me hungry for more...

    1. Mike,

      Your list makes me think of the Star Trek episode "Spectre of the Gun" from the third season, 1968-1969.

      It seems pretty likely to me that there were crossover Western/ghost stories or weird stories in the nineteenth century, certainly by 1910 or so. Unfortunately, I don't know much about the Western genre in literature, and I'm not sure the book has been written yet on Western pulps.


    2. Terence,
      I don't know why, but I hadn't thought of television shows. Your mention of this Star Trek episode brings to mind the first season episode of the original Twilight Zone, "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" which was certainly a weird western. And there were several episodes of The Wild, Wild West that fit into this category, including two of my favorites; "The Night of the Puppeteer" and "The Night of the Man-Eating House."