A 20th century master of Old West storytelling
Sam Elliott’s TV movies The Sackett (1979), The Shadow Horsemen (1982), Dead or alive (1987) and Conagher (1991) single-handedly made the Western novels of Louis L’Amour part of popular culture. These stories are part of 89 novels, 14 short stories collections and two complete works of fiction that maintain L’Amour as one of the greatest storytellers of the Old West.
Born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1908, the future L’Amour was bred by Emily Dearborn LaMoore and Dr Louis Charles LaMoore, a veterinarian, local politician and farm equipment broker.
Between childhood and service in the United States Army during The Second World War, L’Amour put his knowledge of American history to good use by writing short fictional stories for pulp magazines (inexpensive fictional magazines published between 1896 and the late 1950s). Examples of his pulp era stories include “Showdown on the Hogback”. The Kilkenny series also began around the time, with L’Amour launching this screenplay in 1949 under the pseudonym Jim Mayo.
The early novels of L’Amour followed a short period of writing for the popular character Hopalong Cassidy under the pseudonym of Tex Burns. Early works include Westward the tide, Taggart, The fiery hills, Heller with a gun, Timberlands Firearms, Clash at Yellow Butte and one of that of John Wayne favorite western novels of his time, Hondo.
With the 60s came L’Amour’s contract with Bantam Books and Day breakers, Sackett’s Land, The path of the warrior, To the distant blue mountains, Alone on the mountain and other novels about the Wild West adventures of the family of Barnabas, Galloway and Jubal Sackett. Other series in L’Amour novels include Kilkenny, Talon, and Chantry. In modern comic book terms, L’Amour has created an entire universe of interconnected characters that have spanned decades and many novels.
Other notable Western novels of L’Amour include Shalako, the inspiration for a film with Sean Connery, and Catlow, which became a photo of Yul Brynner and Leonard Nemoy in 1971, plus Child Rodelo, How the West was won, The man called noon, The lonely gods, Son of a wanted man and The Cherokee Trail.
Each novel honored its author’s take on the Wild West and how its realities and myths fit into the larger narrative of American history and culture.
“I decided to hell with me, that I was going to write some damn good westerns and that I would make them accurate,” L’Amour told Jean Henry-Mead in a end of life maintenance. “I would show them that westerns could be history, that they were important. Because for me, that was the most important phase of American history. The western period, the pioneer period, did more to form the American character than anything else done in this country. It should be taken seriously, and more attention should be paid to it. “
As a history buff and multi-talented writer, it made sense for L’Amour to branch out on occasion with novels such as the 11th century historical fiction story. The drum that walks, Cold War Thriller Last of the breed and his latest novel, the 1987 sci-fi tale The Haunted Mesa.
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Love also wrote non-fiction books The education of a wandering man and Border plus the collection of poetry Smoke from this altar and various anthologies of short stories, including The Rider of the Ruby Hills and over there.
Honors for L’Amour include an honorary doctorate from Jamestown College, a National Book Award for the 1979 novel Bendo razor and the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom – both awarded during the stay of an old Western film actor named Ronald Reagan in the White House.
Love died on June 10, 1988 from lung cancer. The 80-year-old is survived by his wife Katy and their children, Beau and Angélique.