Destry Rides Again (novel)

This article is about the novel by Max Brand. For the 1932 movie Destry Rides Again starring Tom Mix, see Destry Rides Again (1932 film). For the 1939 movie remake starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, see Destry Rides Again. For the 1954 movie remake starring Audie Murphy and Thomas Mitchell, see Destry (film). For the 1959 Broadway musical starring Andy Griffith, see Destry Rides Again (musical).
Destry Rides Again  
Author(s) Max Brand
Country United States of America
Language English
Genre(s) Western fiction
Publisher Reader's League of America (serialized version, titled "Twelve Peers," published by Street & Smith's Western Story Magazine).
Publication date 1930

Destry Rides Again is the title of a 1930 novel by Max Brand.[1] One of Brand's most famous works, it remained in print 70 years after its first publication. It is the story of Harrison Destry's quest for revenge against the twelve jurors whose personal malice leads them to wrongfully convict him of robbery.


Plot summary

Harrison Destry, broke and jobless, begins the novel by returning to his native town of Wham, in Texas. He is scorned by the many enemies he has made there, including rich rancher's daughter Charlotte Dangerfield. Only one of the men that Destry has previously beaten with his fists, Chester Bent, seems to bear him no ill-will; he stakes the penniless Destry to a hundred dollars. But Bent's generosity is a ploy. Bent has just robbed the Express, and knowing Destry's wasteful way with money, he expects that Destry's wild spending will make him a prime suspect for the robbery.

Bent's plan works to perfection. Destry goes on a wild drinking spree at a local saloon, and is arrested for the robbery. Failing to comprehend how much trouble he is in, Destry neglects his defense and is stunned to be convicted by a jury stacked with his enemies and then sentenced to ten years for the robbery by a judge who considers him a proven troublemaker. Destry protests his innocence and swears to visit each of the twelve jurors when he is out of prison. Only Charlotte believes that Destry is not guilty.

Six years later, Destry is released from prison early for good behavior. He sets about systematically ruining the lives of the twelve jurors. He does not murder any of them outright, although he kills some of them in self-defense. Destry explains that he is determined to stay within the law from now on (although some of his actions, such as trespassing and safe-cracking, are in fact of extremely dubious legality). His chief concern is to show that none of the "jury of his peers" is, in fact, his equal. Destry remains ignorant of Chester Bent's role in framing him; Bent is the only man in Wham who treats Destry kindly upon his release, and Destry comes to count Bent as his best friend. But Bent is secretly conspiring to have Destry killed, and helps the jurors organize to murder their nemesis.

While on the run, Destry meets a boy named Willie Thornton, who adopts Destry as his hero. Thornton later secretly observes Bent murdering a creditor. Bent uses Destry's knife to kill his victim, in order to frame Destry again. Bent then spots Thornton and chases him; Thornton escapes only by diving into a raging river, from which he emerges weak and sick. Although feverish, Thornton steals a horse and makes a long, hard ride back to Wham to warn Destry of Bent's treachery. So warned, Destry fights his way out of a trap that Bent has laid for him.

The sheriff of Wham, Ding Slater, deputizes Destry, and Destry tries to arrest Bent. But Bent outdraws Destry and shoots his Colt out of his hand; Destry is saved only by sheriff Slater's gunfire from the window. Bent flees, with Destry in pursuit. Overtaking Bent, Destry unhorses his enemy, but Bent then overpowers Destry and leaps onto Destry's horse, making a last mad dash for freedom. In a most uncharacteristic climax for a western, Destry shoots Bent in the back as the unarmed man flees.

Returning to the devoted Charlotte Dangerfield, Destry announces that he will lay down his guns forever, acknowledging that he had found his peer in Bent.


  • Harrison "Harry" Destry - The hero of the novel, a self-described "waster" who is supremely talented with his fists and his gun.
  • Chester "Chet" Bent - Destry's secret antagonist, a treacherous businessman and investor, but Destry's equal as a marksman and pugilist. Like many of Wham's citizens, he had once been bested by Destry in a fistfight and has long wanted revenge.
  • Willie Thornton - A poor teen-age boy, he is disenchanted when he discovers that his father's claims to friendship with Destry are all lies, and he determines to become a real friend of Destry.
  • Charlotte "Charlie" Dangerfield - The daughter of a rich rancher, Charlotte despises Destry's irresponsible ways, but her affection for him blossoms into love after she sees him wrongly accused.
  • Fiddle - Destry's mare, a mount of unusual speed, stamina, and eagerness for the run.
  • Ding Slater - The sheriff of Wham, he arrests Destry for robbing the Express, but later realizes Destry is innocent and helps him.
  • Judd Ogden - One of the jurors who convicts Destry, he later tries to murder Destry and is shot dead by his quarry.
  • Martin Ogden - Brother of Judd, he also tries to murder Destry and is crippled for life by Destry's bullet.
  • Jerry Wendell - The third juror to encounter Destry, he is shown up for a coward by fleeing him.
  • Clyde Orrin - Another juror and a rising politician, he is ruined when Destry exposes the bribes he has been taking from the T & O Railroad.
  • Sam Warren - Another juror, he leads a gang of nine men to try to shoot Destry down, but Destry kills him in a shootout in a darkened barn.
  • Lefty Turnbull - Another juror, Destry wounds and arrests him for robbery.
  • Jerry Clifton - A friend and creditor of Chester Bent; Bent murders him to frame Destry and avoid paying his debts.
  • Hank Cleves - A blacksmith and juror, he unsuccessfully attempts to ambush Destry and is shot dead.


The action takes place mostly in and around the fictional town of Wham, Texas. Clyde Orrin's scenes transpire in Austin, Texas.

The time setting of Destry Rides Again is never explicitly stated, and obvious markers such as presidents or governors are not mentioned. The use of telephones definitely places the action no earlier than 1878, when telephones were first introduced to Texas. Brand mentions that Lefty Turnbull has been to the Klondike River and back; while Turnbull could theoretically have gone to the Klondike at any time, it is most likely that Turnbull would have participated in the Klondike Gold Rush, marking Destry's release as no earlier than 1897, and probably at least two years later to allow Turnbull adequate time to have gone to Canada and returned. Furthermore, Charlie Dangerfield refers to Mt. McKinley in chapter 32. Denali Mountain in Alaska was not referred to as Mt. McKinley until 1897, making it fairly certain that the events of the novel, particularly Destry's release, would have taken place around or after 1897. If the T&O Railroad that bribes Clyde Orrin is the Oklahoma City & Texas Railroad, that would place Destry's release no later than 1904, the date of the Oklahoma City & Texas's sale to the St. Louis, San Francisco & Texas line. In any event, the absence of references to motor cars, or to any man having served in World War I, suggests a setting no later than 1916.

Publication history

Destry Rides Again was first published in 1930 in a series of installments under the title "Twelve Peers" in Frank Blackwell's Western Story Magazine. It was published in paperback later that year under the title Destry Rides Again. The word "again" in the title refers to Destry's renewed freedom to ride after being let out of prison, not to any previous story; this novel was the Destry character's fiction debut.

Destry Rides Again was in print continuously from its first publication in 1930 until at least 2000.[2]

In other media

Three film versions were made, one in 1932 starring Tom Mix, another in 1939 starring James Stewart, and as Destry in 1954 with Audie Murphy. The films owe little to the novel other than their name; the plots are completely unrelated to Brand's story. Destry's first name is also changed to Tom in the movies.

In 1959, Destry Rides Again was made into a Broadway musical.

1964 saw a Destry television series, starring John Gavin as Harrison Destry, run for thirteen weeks.[3]


  1. ^ McArdle, Phil. "Books: Max Brand: The Agatha Christie of the B Western". Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  2. ^ John Tuska, foreword (2000) to Max Brand, The Bells of San Carlos and Other Stories, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 080326173X, 9780803261730, p. 1.
  3. ^ The Editors of TV Guide, TV Guide's Guide to TV, Barnes & Noble Books, 2004, p. 162.

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