Louis L’Amour: The Man Behind the Legend

louis_typwriter.jpg“One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter – who was a child at the time – asked me, ‘Daddy, why are you writing so fast?’ And I replied, ‘Because I want to see how the story turns out!’”                 ~ Louis L’Amour 

The life of one of the most beloved writers of all time was as full of adventure and as many exciting people as the characters he created.  Louis grew up in North Dakota.  His grandfather came to live in a cabin on the family’s property and Louis loved listening to his stories of the old west.  Ironically, the Indians his grandfather once fought came to visit regularly, adding to the wealth of stories, until his grandfather’s death.  After the economy of the upper Midwest collapsed, Dr. LaMoore, his wife Emily, and their sons Louis and John traveled across the country for seven years.  Louis skinned cattle in west Texas, baled hay in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico, and worked in the mines of Arizona, California and Nevada.  He labored in the sawmills and lumberyards of Oregon and Washington.  

Louis’s biography states that it was during his travels that he met the wide variety of characters that would later become the inspiration for his writing. “In Oklahoma they were men like Bill Tilghman, once the marshal of Dodge City; Chris Madsen who had been a Deputy U.S. Marshall and a Sergeant with the 5th cavalry; and Emmett Dalton of the notorious Dalton Gang. In New Mexico he met George Coe and Deluvina Maxwell who had both known Billy the Kid; Tom Pickett who’d had a thumb shot off in the Lincoln County War; Tom Threepersons who had been both a Northwest Mounted Policeman and a Texas Ranger; and Elfagio Baca, a famous New Mexico lawyer who had once engaged over eighty of Tom Slaughter’s cowboys for 33 hours in one of the west’s most famous gunfights.  

louis-lamour-camping.jpgDuring his years in Arizona, Louis met Jeff Milton, a Texas Ranger and Border Patrolman and Jim Roberts, the last survivor of the Tonto Basin War. But perhaps most importantly, during the years he was traveling around the country, young Louis met hundreds of men and women who, though unknown historically, were equally important as examples of what the people of the nineteenth century were like.” 

After the family left Jamestown, Louis became a professional boxer, winning nearly every match and later making money in prizefights.  He became a trainer, where he saw the world of fighters, managers, gangsters and gamblers firsthand. He coached several successful Golden Gloves teams and eventually drew from his experiences for many of the boxing stories in his collections.  

Later, Louis hoboed across the country, hopping freight trains with men who had been riding the rails for half a century.  Recently, while researching my current book. I ran across the term ‘hobo’, a name the men who worked their way across the country gave themselves.  These traveling workers were the backbone of our country’s expansion.  As they drove spikes, felled trees and harvested crops, the working conditions were often terrible.  Louis wrapped newspaper under his clothes to keep warm while sleeping in hobo jungles, grain bins and the gaps in piles of lumber.  

showdown-at-yellow-butte.jpgHis biography says he spent three months on the beach in San Pedro, California and circled the globe as a merchant seaman, visiting England, Japan, China, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Arabia, Egypt, and Panama, along with the rough and ready crews of various steamships on which he served. In later years, he wrote stories about these times, his own experiences and those of people he had known. Many of these stories were published in collections.  

Traveling around the country and working in various remote locations gave Louis an intimate first-hand knowledge of the territory and landscape where the majority of his stories would be set. He hiked through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the South Pass area of Wyoming, the boot heel of New Mexico, and the Utah Canyon Lands, to name only a few of the places which would later become the settings for his books.  It’s no wonder his stories are rich in character and setting, for he must have been a keen observer of life and locales.  In an interview I watched, he claimed to love the mountains and the deserts equally, appreciating our country’s vastness and beauty. 

louis-lamour-novels.jpgLouis first sold “pulp fiction” to pay the bills. He once complained that he was about to wear his typewriter out from having to hit the keys hard enough to make his depleted ribbon ink the letters. 

WWII interrupted his writing.  Afterward, with many short stories and a few adventure novels published, he attended a party where an editor told him they needed westerns and suggested Louis write one.  Louis created Chick Beaudry and wrote Guns of the Timberlands.  Louis studied diaries, journals and newspapers of the times, often taking stories right from diaries and always making history and people authentic.

daybreakers.jpgIn 1959 Louis L’Amour wrote The Daybreakers, his first novel about his fictional Sackett family. It chronicled the story of two brothers moving west to escape the feuding and poverty of the Tennessee Mountains. They join one of the first cattle drives to Kansas, seek their fortunes on the southern plains, and finally settle in Mora, New Mexico. As they explore the landscape of the west, they learn the cost of friendship, love, and the value of education.

sackett.jpgThe Daybreakers stands out as one of Louis’ finest novels and was one of his personal favorites.  It spans a great deal of western history, from the early cattle drives to the legal battles and racial tension over land distribution in early New Mexico Territory.  The Daybreakers also includes some of L’Amour’s greatest characters; the hard bitten Tyrell Sackett and his all too affable older brother Orrin; Tom Sunday, the powerful man who starts as their mentor only to become consumed with hatred and jealousy; the scheming Jonathan Pritts and his lovely daughter Laura, soon to become Laura Sackett; Don Luis, the embattled owner of the Alvarado Land Grant and his feuding lieutenants Juan Torres and Chico Cruz. Amazingly, there are nineteen Sackett stories.

At the time he sold his first westerns, they were not considered literature, and paperbacks were not regarded with any respect, but he defied the norm, writing about something he loved to become a national phenomenon.  In 1982 he became the first novelist in American history to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, and less than two years later he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In 1981 he jumped to being a #1 New York Times Hardback Bestseller.  After reading all his books in paperback, I later acquired a collection in leather-bound hardcover – they hold a proud place on my bookshelves. 

louis_and_alan-ladd.jpgLouis was one of the first authors to ever have his own section in the stores.  He wrote a total of 120 books.  All are still in print, and all are still selling.  One hundred of his books have sold at least one million copies.  There are twenty-eight movies credited to his talented imagination, including The Shadow Riders, The Sacketts, Crossfire Trail and The Quick and the Dead.  For television, he’s credited with an episode of Maverick, one of Sugarfoot, ten episodes of Hondo and several Disney programs. Was Mr. L’Amour an amazing man, or what?

“What is attractive to people reading this kind of book is the idea of the freedom of the Western man, getting on a horse and moving on somewhere else. We all have dreams of wanting to be this kind of a free agent. To me there was no period in the world’s history that is so fascinating as the era in which the American West was opening up. And these old characters were tough. If you didn’t shoot them they lived forever.”   ~ Louis L’Amour

lamour-1-sized.jpgThe Louis L’Amour website is a font of information about this fascinating and gifted man.  I recommend checking it out to learn more about his life and his books.  You can watch videos, hear interviews, see photos, learn character family trees, read behind the scenes stories, plus more.  http://www.louislamour.com/

One of the videos shows him typing with two index fingers!  I got a kick out of that, but the thing that really stands out to me when I read about him is the love he had for writing.  He took true pleasure in his craft.  Perhaps that’s why his stories have brought reading pleasure to generations of western fans.  Have you read any of his books?  If not, have I enticed you to give them a try? 

I’ll bet you can’t read just one.

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38 thoughts on “Louis L’Amour: The Man Behind the Legend”

  1. I’ve never read one of his books, I’m ashamed to say. Oh, I know him by name and that his wonderful body of work is one of the most famous of western writers, but I didn’t know he’d lived such a splendid adventurous life…even before he started writing. Wow!

    You definitely enticed me into checking them out.

    And I will as soon as I can get through the 30+ other books in my TBR pile. Even with the books I do have to read right now, the writing bug has bitten me hard on the hiney. I started a book last week or so and though I want to read it, my brain has been in writerly mode rather than readerly. LOL

    (so much to do, so little time!)

    Lovely blog! I’m definitely intrigued.

  2. when my mom wasn’t reading romance, she had Louis in her hands. I know she particularly enjoyed the Sacketts and listened to them on tape as well.

    I fear I’m like Taryn and have never read him, but think I should. I admire adventurers–I’d like to be one someday. LOL What an amazing life! And the world is lucky he shared with us all through his writing.

  3. Good morning! I had no idea Louis was such an adventurer. A hobo–oh, my! But did he ever marry? Have children?

    I’ve read a couple of his books–no romance, so they always fell a bit flat for me in that way–but the western flavor was excellent. The man knew his stuff.

  4. I know what you mean about the teetering TBR pile, Taryn. I have eight books to read for the RITA, but I started Linda Howard’s Raintree Inferno, and that one’s calling to me….
    One of these days I’m going to go back through all of my Louis L’Amours and read them again.

    The Sacketts are definitely a fave of many readers, *lizzie. Your mom was a voracious reader!

    Yes, Pam, he married and had children. One of his sons is named Beau. There are elements of romance in different forms: revenge for a loved one’s murder or an occasional girl left behind. Many men with the hobo lifestyle never did marry, but Louis came from a close family, and his adventuring was only a small part of his life.

  5. I”m a huge Louis L’Amour fan. I and my daughter growing up, devoured all the books of his at the library, probably all 120, and we reread them too. I haven’t read one now in a long time. I might have to hunt one up.
    I loved the Sackett books. Ride the River was a favorite…one a dozens of favorites, though. I need to re-read The Daybreakers. This post made me lonely for it. I just loved Tyrell Sackett, though Tell is probably my favorite. I couldn’t forgive Orrin for marrying unwisely, it was such a non-Sackett thing to do.
    I loved Jubal Sackett, and the one with the original Sackett in America “To the Far Blue Mountains.”
    Possibly my favorite is The Sackett Brand where Tell’s wife is murdered and they’re after Tell who hides from about one hundred men in the mountains while he strikes, then vanishes, then strikes again.
    Meanwhile the word gets out about the trouble and ALL the Sacketts are riding to the rescue. Very cool.
    It wasn’t just the Sacketts I loved though. They were all so great.

  6. Yeah, Mary, I’ve found a fellow fan! My husband’s favorites are the Sacketts. Some of those had a bit much dialect — was it Orrin? –depending on the hero’s derivation, but I know they were authentically written.

    All of his heroes were such manly men. Tough and resourceful – and of course in my mind as gorgeous as Tom Selleck. LOL He could have played any one of them.

    Yes! Yes! On The Sackett Brand!

  7. I’ve seen films based on his work, but I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read one of his books. Just bad timing on my part, mostly. What an amazing life! And what amazing creative energy the man must’ve had (kinda like yours, Cheryl–you just wow me!).
    Thanks for telling us more about him. Great blog!

  8. I’ve never read Louis L’Amour, however, all of my friends that have are avid readers of all his work. I’ll have to give him a try, once my stack of TBR books gets below 20!

  9. Well, thanks, Elizabeth! I will take that creative energy encouragement to heart and CREATE! I’m working on a fun story set in 1885 Montana, and I think someone needs to get shot today.

  10. What a fascinating man! He had such an incredible life! You’ve convinced me to read one of his books. Like many of the posters, I was familiar with him (I’ve seen his “section” at the bookstore) but I’d never picked up one of his novels. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  11. I love Louis Lamour books. Like Mary, Ride the River, To the Far Blue Mountains, and Jubal Sackett were some of my faves (in the Sackett line). But my all time favorite’s of his have to be Cherokee Trail and A Wanted Man.

    Just wonderful stories and he always managed to pull you in so thoroughly. I can remember my Dad reading them and complaining about how hungry they made him whenever Lamour would describe someone eating. I thought that was funny at the time, but how terrific a writer you’d have to be to manage that!

  12. What a great literary heritage…I got tired just reading about this man and his experiences. I have read some but must confess, my Sackett interest stemmed from Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck. A wonderful post, Cheryl. You really did your homework and presented a beautifully-written piece at the same time.

  13. Hi Betsy, Crystal and Julie! Thanks for coming by today. And thanks so much, Tanya.

    Loved hearing about your dad, Terry. My mom was the western reader in our family. We always had Zane Gray on the shelves, and some of those were my grandfather’s.

  14. Cher – I’ll admit I’ve never read his books. I just always had too many to read from favorite authors to try his, but you wrote a nice piece that sparked my interest. I didn’t know he wrote for western television and that he wrote over 100 books. Wow!

  15. I’ve never read any of his books either! I knew he was a prolific author. I didn’t know he had such an exciting life. Excellent topic Cheryl 🙂

  16. Cheryl, what an interesting blog. I am totally enamored with Louis L’Amour! He had such a way of putting you in a scene that it felt just like you’d stepped onto the page. I think he was far before his time with his talent and his vision. I think a little known fact is that he once bribed or paid for the privilege of spending some nights in the Aztec Indian Ruins near Farmington, NM. He claimed to have seen some Indian ghosts. He wrote a book after that using that experience. I think the word ghost might’ve been in the title, but I’m not sure about that.

    He was truly an amazing man. Someone reported him saying after he’d finished his 100th book that he felt he was just beginning to learn the craft.

    Thanks for such an entertaining post! I love it. 🙂

  17. Hi, Charlene and Sherry! Always a pleasure to see my friends here. And Linda, my sweetie, you live in such a interesting part of the country and know so much about it. Glad you enjoyed the blog today.

  18. I heard one someone asked Louis L’Amour if he ever had writer’s block and he said (paraphrasing) He could sit in downtown Los Angeles on a busy street corner with hordes of people streaming past and keep writing. He never ran out of stories to tell.

  19. I loved ‘Down the Long Hill’ a story of two children left alive after…well, some disaster and how they survived with the help of a courageous horse, in tne wilderness until their uncle came to save them.
    The First Fast Draw.
    There was one with a guy with amnesia…I’m failing with titles.
    One with a man who thought he was going to die of cancer, so he left the city where he was tough and wealthy, and returned to the rugged west where he was just tough. The Kid from the Crossing. Does that ring any bells?
    The longer I think about this the more lonesome I am for Louis.

  20. My husband probably has every book L’Amour wrote. I have read quite a few of them. My favorites are about the Sacketts.

  21. I absolutly love L’Amour books. I have not read all of them but use them when I can’t get a high school boy to read! All of the junior class of our school have to read at least one and as I work sped that means I read one also and I try to get them to read one that I have not. My favorite one asr also the Sacketts.

  22. Mary, Down the Long Hills was one of the first LL’s I ever read, and it hooked me on his stories.

    Hi Estella!

    What a wonderful idea to get junior high boys reading by introducing them to Louis, Connie!

    Thanks for a great day, everyone!

  23. I have never read any of L’Amour’s books but I don’t know why. My father was a big fan of his. He was alway reading a L’Amour book. I guess when I was young I just thought they were just and old western that I wouldn’t care anything about. I enjoy westerns now even movies.

  24. Gail, honey, they’re ROMANCE NOVELS, with a male POV. Don’t let cowboy western thing stop you from reading them.

    Louis writes love stories…with gunfights.

    Kinda like we, the ladies of Petticoats and Pistols. 🙂

  25. I really enjoyed this post. I didn’t know Louis L’Amour led such a fascinating life – wow! I’ve read many of his books and I have The Sackett Companion, but I’ve never visited his website (I’m off to do that now)! Thanks for the link, Cheryl!

  26. As usual, Cheryl, I’m either early or very late to post, you might not even see this but your blog brought back wonderful memories. Daddy and my uncle were Louis L’Amour fan. Even my Granny read him. When they were reading there was no talking, nothing but reading going on. Certainly not the time to ask to borrow the car to go get a Coke!Thanks for bringing these memories to mind. Hugs, Phyliss

  27. Hi Gail and Carol!

    You tell ’em, Mary!

    Thanks, Stacey!

    Great memories, Phyliss.

    FYI: We see all the comments posted on our individual blogs, no matter when, because we get your comments as emails delivered right to our inboxes so we know there’s activity and can respond.

  28. Cheryl, you said you have a collection of some of his books in leather-bound hardcover. I am sooo jealous!
    I am a huge fan of his work! I started reading his books when I was a teenager and I just devoured his books! I enjoyed every book I read of his.
    I had a set of all the Sacketts books, then I went through a weird cleaning stage and got rid of a ton of my books. I gave all my L.L. books to my mom. I wish I had kept them, but at least they stayed in the family. LOL
    After reading your blog, I think I’m going to have to go borrow some of those books from her so I can reread them. 😉
    Thanks for such an interesting blog!

  29. I read all the above comments about Louis L’Amour. Loved all of them. I have read a number of LL’s books. I just purchased the DVD with Tom Selleck in Crossfire Trail. Now I have to read the book.
    Reading LL’s books helped me in my writing. I began writing when I was 80. The description of scenery and of people in LL’s books was most helpful.
    I too liked the Sacketts. The family.
    Thanks for the many blogs.

  30. Mary Connealy remembered a phrase . . . “the kid from the crossing” and something about a character with cancer. If I remember correctly “Flynt” is the kid from the crossing . . . he comes back to the west to die of cancer. Excellent book . . . as were so many. I was introduced to LL by my grandfather . . . LL’s greatest heroes would’ve given their trigger fingers to be the man he was.

  31. Mary Connealy remembered a phrase . . . “the kid from the crossing” and something about a character with cancer. If I remember correctly “Flynt” is the kid from the crossing . . . he comes back to the west to die of cancer. Excellent book . . . as were so many. I was introduced to LL by my grandfather . . . LL’s greatest heroes would’ve given their trigger fingers to be the man he was.

  32. Hi there,
    thank you for such a nice website/blog. Some of your facts are a bit off according to “Education of A Wandering Man” by Louis L’Amour himself. He left his family at 15 and travelled by himself. Thank you for encouraging others to read from this wonderful writer.

  33. This article doesn’t seem to be particularly well-written or well-informed. Some of your info is inaccurate and misleading… for instance, L’Amour wrote 126 books–not 120 as you claimed. As Heidi stated, it’s a lovely website/blog, but downright untrue at times! 🙂

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