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Spanish Bit Ranch is the insular domain of Senator Jackson McCanles; a kingdom carved from the Texas soil in the 1880's and containing thousands of acres of "steers and wire, mesa and windmills and horses, cap rock and barren trail and pleasant river shallows." A way of life ruled by the Code of the Plains and carefully constructed to withstand the relentless path of progress and interfering outsiders.
But, despite their efforts, the Senator and Mrs. McCanles and their four sons are not destined to go on as they always had. Certainly not with the coming of the railroad and the arrival of a 12 year old Pearl Chavez.
Pearl is a poor niece only remotely related to Mrs. McCanles, but she is no ordinary girl. By eighteen, her brownish-green eyes, ropy black hair, and olive skin seasoned by the Texas sun, had captured the hearts of three young men; hearts soon gripped with jealousy and discontent. When young Pearl chooses the wild and irresponsible second son, Lewt‐a match not sanctioned by the McCanles family‐Lewt gets into a shooting scrape and has to leave the range and live as an outlaw. In the midst of his son's tempestuous affair, Senator McCanles, an astute but inflexible old-line rancher, finds himself caught in the controversy of the advancing railroad. However, his oldest son, a young and upcoming lawyer, also in love with Pearl, takes an opposing position, and the rift in the family's murky solidarity deepens—Mrs. McCanles begins to drink, sons are pitted against sons, and a father must face the unfaceable.
Duel in the Sun was made into a blockbuster technicolor motion picture by David O. Selznick, starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck, as well as Lionel Barrymore and Lillian Gish. Author and journalist, James M. Cain, calls Duel in the Sun "the best novel of the Southwest I have any recollection of."