Western Writer Profile: Louis L’Amour

louis-lamour-9372242-1-402Name: Louis L’Amour (1908-1988)

Pseudonyms: Tex Burns, Jim Mayo

Notable Works: Hondo, Flint, Education of a Wandering Man: A Memoir



Westward the Tide (1950)
Crossfire Trail (1953)
Hondo (1953)
Guns of the Timberlands (1955)
Heller with a Gun (1955)
To Tame a Land (1955)
The Burning Hills (1956)
Silver Canyon (1956)
Last Stand at Papago Wells (1957)
Sitka (1957)
Radigan (1958)
The First Fast Draw (1959)
Taggart (1959)
Flint (1960)
High Lonesome (1962)
Killoe (1962)
Shalako (1962)
Catlow (1963)
Dark Canyon (1963)
Fallon (1963)
How the West Was Won (1963)
Hanging Woman Creek (1964)
Kiowa Trail (1964)
The High Graders (1965)
The Key-lock Man (1965)
The Broken Gun (1966)
Kid Rodelo (1966)
Kilrone (1966)
Matagorda (1967)
Brionne (1968)
Chancy (1968)
Down the Long Hills (1968)
Conagher (1969)
The Empty Land (1969)
The Tall Stranger (1969)
The Man Called Noon (1970)
Reilly’s Luck (1970)
Under the Sweetwater Rim (1971)
Tucker (1972)
Callaghen (1972)
The Man from Skibbereen (1973)
The Quick and the Dead (1974)
The Californios (1974)
Where the Long Grass Blows (1976)
Bendigo Shafter (1978)
The Proving Trail (1979)
The Iron Marshal (1979)
Comstock Lode (1981)
The Cherokee Trail (1982)
The Shadow Riders (1982)
The Lonesome Gods (1983)
Son of a Wanted Man (1984)
The Walking Drum (1984)
Passin’ Through (1985)
Last of the Breed (1986)
The Marshall of Sentinel (1995)
The Sixth Shotgun (2003)
Home in the Valley (2005)
Showdown on the Hogback (2005)
No Traveller Returns (2018) (with Beau L’Amour)
Bannon (2019)


Sackett’s Land (1973)
To the Far Blue Mountains (1976)
The Warriors Path (1980)
Jubal Sackett (1985)
Ride the River (1983)
The Daybreakers (1964)
The Courting of Griselda (in End of the Drive)
Lando (1962)
Sackett (1964)
Booty for a Badman (in War Party)
Mojave Crossing (1964)
The Sackett Brand (1965)
The Sky-Liners (1967)
The Lonely Men (1969)
Mustang Man (1970)
Galloway (1970)
Treasure Mountain (1973)
Ride the Dark Trail (1972)
Lonely on the Mountain (1980)


The Rider of Lost Creek (1976)
The Mountain Valley War (1978)
Kilkenny (1954)
A Gun for Kilkenny (1997)

Hopalong Cassidy books written as Tex Burns

The Riders of High Rock (1951)
The Rustlers of West Fork (1951)
The Trail to Seven Pines (1951)
Trouble Shooter (1952)

Talon and Chantry

Borden Chantry (1977)
Fair Blows the Wind (1978)
The Ferguson Rifle (1973)
The Man from the Broken Hills (1975)
Milo Talon (1981)
North to the Rails (1971)
Over On the Dry Side (1975)
Rivers West (1975)

Chick Bowdrie

Bowdrie (1983)
Bowdrie’s Law (1984)

Written as Jim Mayo

Showdown at Yellow Butte (1953) (as by Jim Mayo)
Utah Blaine (1954) (as by Jim Mayo)


Spur Award

1968 Down the Long Hills

1981 Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement

WWA Survey

One of the 24 best western authors

Hondo is one of the 21 best western novels

In the author’s own words

-The essence and appeal of a Louis L’Amour novel might be summed up with his own words: ‘Ah, it’s a grand feeling to be young and tough, with a heart full of hell, strong muscles, and quick hands!’

-I like them all. There’s bits and pieces of books that I think are good. I never rework a book. I’d rather use what I’ve learned on the next one, and make it a little bit better. The worst of it is that I’m no longer a kid and I’m just now getting to be a good writer. Just now.

-My intention had always been to tell stories of the frontier, the sort of stories I heard when growing up.

-As for myself, whatever else I may be I am a storyteller. I see myself as carrying on the story of my people just as the shanachies in Ireland and the Druids before them, and as Homer did in Greece.

-I am writing about men and women who were settling a new country, finding their way through a maze of difficulties, and learning to survive despite them.

-My stories are…concerned with…entering, passing through, or settling wild country. I am concerned with people building a nation, learning to live together, with establishing towns, homes, and bridges to the future.

-Usually I am characterized as a western writer. I do not mind the term, but it us not strictly correct. To me, and to many others, I am a writer of the frontier, not only in the West but elsewhere. Wherever there is a frontier, I am interested; wherever there is a frontier, I am concerned. Much of my writing has to do with men on the western frontier, even when the frontier was east of the Appalachians.


What the critics said

-“L’Amour’s main subjects are male-dominated pioneering and pioneer-family life, frontier women often traditionally obedient but sometimes fiercely courageous, American Indians neither noble nor bestial, and praise of old-fashioned American love of the land, self-reliance, stoicism, realistic but not sentimental racial tolerance, and never-say-die patriotism. L’Amour’s stylistic weaknesses include grammatical and syntactical errors, careless handling of details, narrative point-of-view violations, occasional jerry-built structures, and shallow characterization of minor figures. His strengths, however, outweigh his lapses, and include an oral-narration sort of unrehearsed excitement, breathless action, and devotion to America’s Western past in all its goriness and glory”

-“L’Amour’s early Western fiction constitutes his best work, albeit limited by the formulary conventions which he adopted at the very beginning and never abandoned.”

-“Hondo is most often cited by critics as perhaps L’Amour’s most noteworthy effort and it is entertaining reading, with its self-sufficient, taciturn, capable protagonist, its evocation of the desert lands of Arizona, and its dramatic, if unsympathetic, use of Apaches.”

-“…he always told a fast-paced story with carefully verified details about firearms and geography.”

-“His prose is clean and sometimes witty, but bare bones.”

-“I have no argument that L’Amour’s total sales have probably surpassed every other author of Western fiction in the history of the genre. Indeed, at the time of his death his sales had topped 200,000,000. What I would question is the degree and extent of his effect “upon the American Imagination”. His Western fiction is strictly formulary and frequently, although not always, features the ranch romance plot where the hero and the heroine are to marry at the end once the villains have been defeated. Not only is there nothing really new in the basic structure of his stories, even L’Amour’s social Darwinism, which came to characterize his later fiction, was scarcely original and was never dramatized in other media the way it was in works based on Zane Grey’s fiction.”

-“At his best, L’Amour was a master of spectacular action and stories with a vivid, propulsive forward motion.”

-“While it is true that L’Amour’s novels are structured so that a new action sequence or story element is introduced every eight hundred words or so, the technique does make for fast-pacing, and, for some readers, this is more than enough justification to overlook inconsistencies in characters or plotting.”

-“Last Stand at Papago Wells provides an equally powerful evocation of the desert, but already this early, L’Amour’s prolificacy and his refusal to revise his first draft led to one of the characters counting six dead after an Indian attack when there were only five characters killed. Over the years this tendency worsened so that in The Iron Marshal, L’Amour called a character Bert on one page and Hank a few pages later; another character is introduced as a “lean, wiry old man” only to have him turn out to be 29; and still another character breaks into a Swedish accent for one bit of dialogue.”

-In L’Amour’s Guns of the Timberlands a distinction is made between two kinds of men, “them that come to build, and them that come to get rich quick and get out.” L’Amour’s villains are usually hybrids of this latter variety. In the same novel the reader is informed that one of the sympathetic characters “was a disciple of the belief that evil always gets what it deserves, and he enjoyed seeing his philosophy borne out.” In L’Amour’s West the builders are the winners. This is the historical fantasy which informs nearly all of his fiction. “They were tough, strong people, people with a vision and nerve,” Scott R McMillan wrote concerning L’Amours Westerners in his Introduction to the reissue of L’Amour’s Showdown at Yellow Butte. “They did what they had to do when they had to do it, without compunction. They survived and they built. L’Amour knows this, loves that about them, and tells us this in all his stories.” L’Amour’s many Westerns celebrate the middle-class values of one-settlement culture in the United States and the stories with their super-heroes are so written that it would almost seem that Nature itself endorses this view.”

-“L’Amour takes great pains to achieve accuracy in such details as clothing, weapons, and locale. But his characters belong in the same mythic land with those of Brand’s. His outlaws are likeable rogues of the “good badman” type, while his lawmen are the traditional lantern-jawed paragons of dedication and durability.”

-“Louis L’Amour’s novels demonstrate the continued power of the fantasy West that has for so long attracted a popular audience.”

-“L’Amour clearly believes in a responsible and responsive West populated by the restrained and civilized. He has a considerable talent for perceiving the needs and interests of his audience and, after three decades of writing Western novels, has been able to establish his own genre against which the works of other popular Western writers are judged.”

-“L’Amour’s fiction can be used as a touchstone for the modern popular literary Western because of its universal appeal and continuing success in the marketplace.”

-“In addition to providing his audience with enjoyable stories, he also provides them with a popular history of the settlement of America by focusing on family dynasties, vernacular, architecture, the cultural history of the American Indian, women’s roles on the American frontier, cowboy customs, and myriad other details of nineteenth-century American life.”

-“Louis L’amour’s works remain convincing examples of the viability of the mainstream popular Western story, presenting the historical West in something like an oral tradition.”

-“His more routine plots, especially early in his career, typically cast a tough, solitary hero, often with a troubled past, riding into a dispute over turf and herds, challenged by an entrenched villain or two, gaining success by any weapon at hand, rescuing a brave but jeopardized female or two, and then (sometimes) moving on.”

-“Borrow Shane’s recipe: A saddle-wise loner with a scarlet past, a homesteading family with a small boy, a threat from without. Remove one of the moral obstacles by making the father a lowlife and absenting him from much of the story, but replace it with a bigger one by forcing the hero to kill him in self-defense, so that dead he endangers the hero’s relationship with the mother more that he could ha e alive. Deposit this disturbing psychological triangle in a desert crawling with hostile Apaches, call it Hondo, and make room for another figure in the brisk pantheon of fine western storytellers.”

-“Within the confines of a formula often scorned for its simplicity, L’Amour manipulates with sure hands the traces of the greater plot and of the hero’s moral dilemma regarding the woman he has made a widow. The result is a rich, fast moving Chronicle of men and women caught in a collision of conflicting values.” (Hondo)

-“…Indians are relegated to little better than plot devises cropping up to explain and motivate the sequence of events, a fate shared by many of L’amour’s men and women. With the exception of Hondo, LAamour stories tend to be standard fare containing superior heroes, spunky heroines, simple plots emphasizing action, and the moral reiteration of Good victorious Evil, all wrapped in a veneer of informational details and historical authenticity. His recipe worked…”

-“(L’Amour) was both an asset and liability to the Western story. At one point in the early 80’s, he was virtually the only author of single title Westerns being published, and he kept the category alive at a time when publishers had largely abandoned it….But if he was the rescuer of the category, he was also unwittingly responsible for leaving it in a straitjacket. His very success at writing the mythic, romantic Western ensured that the mass market houses would rarely deviate from his formula stories about a frontier West that never really existed.”


“During the height of his popularity, his books sold at the rate of 15,000-20,000 copies a day, seven days a week, for years on end.”

L’Amour is the biggest selling western author of all-time. According to Wikipedia, he has sold between 230 million and 330 million copies of his books. All of which remain in print.














The Diamond of Jeru 2001 Dual Audio DVDRip 750mb


Sources for this article:

A Literary History of the American West

Updating the Literary West

The Wister Trace

Twentieth Century Western Writers

Read the High Country: A Guide to Western Books and Films

Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction


Education of a Wandering Man: A Memoir 

The Western: Parables of the American Dream

Author: Brian Lindenmuth

Former non-fiction of Spinetingler Magazine and fiction editor at Snubnose Press. Long time reviewer.

One thought on “Western Writer Profile: Louis L’Amour”

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