The X Bar X boys ride into Eagles to meet their father, who is arriving by train after a week in "the city." They are bringing his horse, General. When they greet their father at the station, he introduces them to Nell and Ethel, whom he has met on the train and who are coming from New York to visit the neighboring 8 X 8 ranch. While they are talking, the boys' horses Flash and Star, along with General, are stolen. Gilly Froud, a former ranch hand on the X Bar X who had been fired for mistreating Flash, is suspected of the theft, along with a band of ne'er-do-wells he has gathered around him. When local ranches begin to lose cattle in large numbers, it is time for the X Bar X-ers to put an end to it.
Belle Ada has gone to visit Nell and Ethel for a few days at the 8 X 8. The ranchers become concerned when all three girls fail to appear after they had set out in good time to come to the X Bar X to continue their visit there. When the news arrives that some of the rustlers, who had been put away at the end of the first volume, have escaped from the local jail, the hypothesis that the girls had been kidnapped is all but confirmed. The X Bar X boys, with punchers of both ranches, follow the "clews" to locate and liberate the captives, whom they suspect have been detained deep in Thunder Canyon.
It is learned that a recent hire at the X Bar X ranch named Joe Marino, a.k.a. the "Pup," has a predilection for liquor. He's had a bad influence on loyal ranch hand Gus Trippe, whose failure to mend breaks in the fence and watch the grazing cattle has allowed them to stray onto prime grazing land owned by neighbor Jake Trummer, thereby igniting sparks between Trummer and Bardwell Manley. In a subplot, Gus is disconsolate since he's been waiting fruitlessly for an important letter. Gus and the Pup are fired, but in another subplot it becomes evident that one of them has left with $600 from Bardwell Manley's desk. The X Bar X crew must go find and round up their straying cattle alongside the beautiful but aptly-named Whirlpool River.
A movie company decides to film a western at the X Bar X ranch and its vicinity. After shooting a few scenes on the ranch, the director decides to get some footage in the spectacular scenery along Big Bison Trail. Roy and Teddy, who had become friendly with the famous actors, are invited to act in some of the scenes. In a subplot, the boys try to track down a gorilla which had taken refuge from heavy rain in the same abandoned cabin in which the boys had sought shelter. In another subplot, ranch hand Nick Looker learns that he has inherited $6000; however, an impostor is claiming the money.
A pompous easterner, acting on behalf of a conglomerate, makes an outrageously high offer for some of Bardwell Manley's prime cattle. Although noting that the man knows next-to-nothing about cattle, Mr. Manley nevertheless agrees to sell. It is curious, however, that the buyer insists on an unusual forfeiture section in the contract, and that the cattle be rounded up and delivered to a little-known and scarcely-used railway depot. A humorous incident involving a fortune-teller, several truly gratifying family scenes, and the action-packed conclusion make this a well-crafted book.
When the boys find an old miner who had been shot and left for dead, they bring him to the ranch for some tender loving care. When the old man is able to speak, he announces that he was robbed of about $20,000 in gold; at about the same time, news arrives of a major gold strike at nearby Nugget Camp. The ensuing gold rush causes many of the ranch hands to leave the X Bar X and other ranches for the site. The boys decide to join the rush and try to strike it rich while they look for the old miner's assailants and attempt to recover his nuggets.
A large and well-organized band of cattle thieves, headed by an educated "easterner," is rustling cattle from the X Bar X, 8 X 8, and other local ranches. The rustlers are so skillful that Mr. Manley realizes that only a concerted effort by the ranchers will put an end to their tyranny. He organizes a large force to track and locate the rustlers and put them out of business for good. The trail leads into the magnificent but little-travelled terrain of the labyrinthine Rustlers' Gap.
The few rustlers who escaped being captured at the end of the previous book come together and set out to exact revenge. Being slow learners, they cut a good number of cattle from the X Bar X herd, and head for the hills. The ranchers organize once again to track and foil the rustlers. In a subplot, the three girls, who are traveling to New York where Nell and Ethel come from, are among the passengers on a train which is stopped and robbed by masked men. The descriptions of blizzards are splendidly written. The conclusion is set in the wilds of Grizzly Pass.
A solitary, peripatetic prospector is the joint owner of a section of rocky land with Bardwell Manley of the X Bar X ranch and Peter Ball of the 8 X 8 ranch. Although they considered it worthless, it is now sought after by The Great Divide Water Company for irrigation purposes, and who will pay top dollar for it. The sale must be consummated within thirty days, or the water company must take an option on another parcel; unfortunately, no one knows where the old prospector is—except that he is prospecting somewhere “in the Rockies.” Roy and Teddy rush to find him, but, unknown to them, they are followed by men who wish to foil the sale.
A new hand who has shown himself lazy and untrustworthy is given his walking papers by Bardwell Manley on the advice of the boys. After a particularly nasty and near-violent scene, he leaves, not without looting the Manleys of cash and jewelry in the middle of the night. The search for the culprit is hampered by a severe drought and scorching July weather, which also threatens about a thousand head of cattle. If this weren't enough, several range fires race across thousands of acres and threaten the ranch house and the lives of all those connected with it. The boys and several of the hands, caught in the conflagration, are forced to ride for their lives.
Jacob Trant, a government inspector of ranches and their herds, is in residence at the X Bar X ranch. The boys, with several of the hands, are out gathering strays and herding their best shorthorns for shipment, when they meet a stranger, wounded and weak. In what the punchers conclude is delirium, he describes a band of outlaws who have set up in a valley distinguished by smoke and flame, and inhabited by "red monkeys" and giants who ride horses the size of elephants. Then a second stranger rides up and describes the same phenomena, adding a warning that the smoky valley is a good place to stay away from. These elements come together when the X Bar X, quickly followed by the 8 X 8, lose sizable numbers of their best shorthorns to rustlers, and the punchers of both ranches set out to recapture their prize cattle.
In need of minor repair, the mail plane makes a forced landing at the X Bar X ranch. Roy and Teddy become friends with the aviator, Hank Dempsey, who offers them a joyride to Centralia, where the airport is located. The boys eagerly accept, having to go to Centralia anyway on business for their father. There they meet Larry Cobb, a fine rider who is ill and in need of a stay in the country to regain his health. At the boys’ invitation, he comes to the X Bar X for a long visit. In a subplot, he and the boys become involved in aiding an Italian expatriate who has bought a neighboring ranch; in his naiveté, he has hired shady ranch hands who intend to rob him blind and take over the ranch. Finally, when Hank’s plane is lost after a powerful storm near
Copperhead Gulch, reputedly swarming with poisonous copperhead snakes, Roy, Teddy, and Larry set out to find their friend.
During a drought which is bringing thirsty strays down from the hills seeking water, the sheriff and two deputies arrive at the X Bar X ranch. They are looking for Pedro Lanza, a dangerous and desperate convict who has escaped from a jail in New Mexico. Roy and Teddy capture him early in the book, while noting during the chase that a bunch of unusual, wild cattle has also descended from the hills, seeking water during the drought. Since the steers are not branded and are of a type not known to the local ranchers, the boys set out to claim them for the X Bar X. The convict, however, has sworn never to forget that the boys had captured him, and has bragged that no jail yet has been able to hold him for long. In a subplot, Roy and Teddy are accused of rustling by a neighboring rancher who wants to claim the wild steers for his own. In another subplot, a college professor from the East asks the boys' help in finding a treasure in gold which his uncle had hidden years earlier.
We meet a lot of the Manleys' neighbors in this volume, the first being their newest: Mr. Tyson is the new owner of the 4 Bar Circle ranch a few miles to the south of the X Bar X. He and his "adviser," Hal Draper, pay a call on Bardwell Manley to announce that Mr. Tyson is organizing a huge rodeo and county fair for all the local ranches. There will be shows and contests for all kinds of ranching skills, from riding to cooking to sewing. Punchers and womenfolk from miles around come in for the fun, including from the X Bar X. In a subplot, a worn-out horsewoman from a circus comes to rest up at the X Bar X, bringing with her a hidden tragic story. But when prize cattle begin to disappear, the serious adventures begin.
A lot of different events take place in this book. In the beginning, the boys ride to Eagles to pick up their long-awaited short-wave radio set, and are mightily put out when it is stolen within moments of their taking possession of it. While in Eagles they meet Barton Webster, who turns out to be a government secret ranger in search of a desperado named Blackjack Merton. From a man named Mr. Hardwick, Bardwell Manley and Peter Ball jointly purchase a ridge of land which they call Christmas Ridge, since they plan to sell its beautiful pines to a company which will distribute them as Christmas trees. When Roy and Teddy provide assistance to Barton Webster in tracking down Blackjack Merton, they learn that these apparently disconnected events come together.
When an epidemic threatens to decimate the best horses of the X Bar X ranch, Bardwell Manley sends his sons flying to an unfrequented but nearby canyon to find Handy Hale, an old man recently arrived in the area, living as a hermit and known for skill in treating sick animals. When the boys arrive, they find him at the point of being murdered by a big, fierce man named Jeff Northrup, from whom they rescue Mr. Hale. The reason for Northrop's antagonism to Hale is not revealed. Although the old man proves that he knows how to treat the sick animals with herbs found in a local canyon, more horses succumb to the fast-acting epidemic than are saved, and both the X Bar X and 8 X 8 ranches lose a number of their best broncos. After hearing a rumor that there are wild mustangs not too far away, Roy, Teddy, and Handy Hale set out to capture a number to replace the horses the ranches have lost. However, action is made very risky with the vicious Jeff Northrup in the background, sniping and otherwise causing serious trouble.
Roy and Teddy rescue Mr. Gregory, a man pinned under his horse, which has fallen and broken its neck. Since he was weakened by his ordeal, the boys take him to the X Bar X ranch to recover. There he reveals that he was bringing from his home in Denver to his recently widowed sister her title deed to a zinc mine. Her mine is one of three in close proximity to each other which together are called Triangle Mine. Unless she can prove her title by the first of the following month, her property will be taken over and she will be destitute. However, the deed was lost or stolen while the man was vulnerable, apparently by a traveling companion who has been proven false. Once he recovers his strength, the man takes off to track down the man responsible. Having business for their father in the vicinity of Triangle Mine, and being concerned about the welfare of their recent guest, the boys follow.
A movie company selects the X Bar X as the site for its next feature film, "The Sagebrush Mystery," thereby angering One-Arm Kosty, the caretaker of the Z II ranch which was first considered. Kosty tries to persuade the director to change his mind; when he is unsuccessful, he sets out to ruin the production through a series of moves which progress from nuisance to criminal. In a subplot, the 14-year-old star of the movie turns out to be the son whom Kosty had abandoned years before. Things really get complicated when the boy is kidnapped.
The buildings of the X Bar X ranch need to be painted. When Nick Looker goes into Eagles to buy the paint, he meets Henry Huffner, a housepainter in need of work, and brings him back to the ranch to do the job. While Roy and Teddy are helping him on the first day, Henry tells them about overhearing a couple of hoboes describing a place called Haunted Gully, also known as Dead men's Gully. It is an obscure place west of the ranch, where, according to legend, a treasure is hidden. When the hoboes steal Peter ball's car, and clues indicate that they have taken it to the vicinity of Haunted Gully, the boys decide to take the legend seriously and look for the treasure. In a subplot, during a storm Roy and Teddy discover a box containing some property of George Robinson, a medical doctor from New York who had disappeared in the vicinity two years earlier. The boys contact his grieving daughter, who comes to the ranch grasping at the slight hope that her father may be found.
The U. S. Army has built a fort not far from the ranch, and troopers are coming in to man it. To provide mounts for his men, the Captain purchases a few horses from the X Bar X and the 8 X 8 ranches. In the course of delivering the horses to the fort, Roy and Teddy meet a couple of troopers who indicate that they are unhappy with army life and want to desert. Shortly thereafter, they disappear, having been helped away from the fort unwittingly by the X Bar X boys. Feeling partially responsible, Roy and Teddy dedicate themselves to finding the missing men. In a subplot, an old man who is injured in an avalanche asks the boys to find his long-lost partner and restore to him $5,000 which he had entrusted to the old man's keeping. The money is stolen, giving the boys two mysteries to solve.
The Manley boys meet Leon McCabe, who through correspondence has bought a local ranch from Ora Radell. Roy and Teddy accompany McCabe to his new ranch with some misgivings, since Radell is noted in the locale as an unsavory and dishonest character. Their fears prove well-founded, as the ranch is in a state of abandonment and disrepair. The situation worsens when another "new owner" shows up with his wife and six children. Shortly after that, a third man appears with a deed to land sold him by Radell, but is actually a part of the X Bar X ranch. In a subplot, a detective appears in search of a box of jewels which has been stolen and traced to the vicinity
"The X Bar X Boys With The Border Patrol" was advertised as the next title in volume 21. The story, about smuggling on the U.S.-Canada border, was written (by Leslie McFarlane) but never published.
David Baumann's Treatise On The X Bar X Boys