Sam Elliott's television films The Sacketts (1979), The Shadow Riders (1982), The Quick and the Dead (1987) and Conagher (1991) alone made the Western novels of Louis L'Amour a part of popular culture. Those stories are among the 89 novels, 14 short-story collections and two full-length works of nonfiction that maintain L'Amour's spot as one of the Old West's greatest storytellers.
Born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1908, the future L'Amour was raised by Emily Dearborn LaMoore and Dr. Louis Charles LaMoore, a veterinarian, local politician and farm equipment broker.
In between childhood and serving in the United States Army during World War II, L'Amour put his knowledge of American history to use by writing short fiction stories for pulp magazines (inexpensive fiction magazines published between 1896 to the late 1950's). Examples of his pulp-era stories include "Showdown on the Hogback." The Kilkenny series began back then as well, with L'Amour launching that storyline in 1949 under the pseudonym Jim Mayo.
L'Amour's first novels followed a short stint writing for the popular character Hopalong Cassidy under the pen name Tex Burns. Early works include Westward the Tide, Taggart, The Burning Hills, Heller With a Gun, Guns of The Timberlands, Showdown at Yellow Butte and one of John Wayne's favorite Western novels of its time, Hondo.
With the '60's came L'Amour's deal with Bantam Books and The Daybreakers, Sackett's Land, The Warrior's Path, To The Far Blue Mountains, Lonely on The Mountain and other novels about the Wild West adventures of Barnabas, Galloway and Jubal Sackett's family. Other series within L'Amour's novels include Kilkenny, Talon and Chantry. In modern comic book terms, L'Amour crafted an entire universe of interconnected characters that played out across multiple decades and numerous novels.
Additional noteworthy Western novels by L'Amour include Shalako, the inspiration of a film starring Sean Connery, and Catlow, which became a 1971 Yul Brynner and Leonard Nemoy picture, plus Kid Rodelo, How the West Was Won, The Man Called Noon, The Lonesome Gods, Son of a Wanted Man and The Cherokee Trail.
Each novel honored its author's view of the Old West and how its realities and myths fit the larger narrative of American history and culture.
"I decided to hell with it, that I was going to write damn good Westerns and I would make them accurate," L'Amour told Jean Henry-Mead in a late-life interview. "I would show them that Westerns could be history, that they were important. Because to me, this was the most important phase of American history. The Western period, the pioneer period, did more to form American character than anything else done in this country. It should be taken seriously, and more attention should be given to it."
As a history buff and multi-talented writer, it made sense for L'Amour to branch out on occasion with such novels as the 11th century historical fiction story The Walking Drum, Cold War thriller Last of the Breed and his final novel, the 1987 sci-fi tale The Haunted Mesa.
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L'Amour also wrote non-fiction books Education of a Wandering Man and Frontier plus the poetry collection Smoke From This Altar and various short story anthologies, including The Rider of the Ruby Hills and Yondering.
Honors for L'Amour include an honorary PhD from Jamestown College, a National Book Award for the 1979 novel Bendingo Shafter and the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom--both awarded during an old Western film actor named Ronald Reagan's stay at the White House.
L'Amour died on June 10, 1988 from lung cancer. The 80 year old was survived by his wife Katy and their children, Beau and Angelique.