To tell the tale of Louis L’Amour is to tell the tale of a bygone America, one where freedom was much easier to come by, though just as dangerous to defend.
L’Amour documented the world of frontier liberty, with all its perks and pitfalls, in an extensive manner that no one else can boast, penning over 100 Western novels. While his books were fiction, L’Amour knew the cowboy life second hand, growing up at a time when remnants of the Old West frontier were still very much alive in pockets of the country.
L’Amour was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in 1908 in Jamestown, North Dakota. He’s the seventh child of a large animal veterinarian, farm equipment broker, and local politician and his wife. Cowboys were a regular feature in L’Amour’s early life. His favorite fame was “cowboys and Indians,” but the genuine article regularly passed through Jamestown on their way from the ranches of Montana to the markets back east.
In addition to his surroundings and daily life, L’Amour was also taken with his grandfather’s tales of combat during the United States Civil War and against hostile Indian tribes during the taming of the American West. What’s more, education and learning were well prized in the LaMoore household. The young L’Amour, an avid reader of Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert Louis Stevenson, sopped up information like a sponge on topics ranging from literature to animal husbandry.
At 15, the LaMoore family fell on hard times and Louis was forced to leave school. Over the next eight years, L’Amour would make money skinning cattle, working in mines, baling hay, and lumberjacking.
When the family needed a little extra money to move to the next town, L’Amour would try his hand at boxing. He continued to coach fighters even after his career was over, including a team from the Army who made it to the Tournament of Champions under his tutelage.
Later, he struck out on his own, finding work as an itinerant laborer and living the hobo life. His travels took him all the way to Egypt, Borneo, Japan, China, and Panama.
During this period, he would encounter the very types of roughnecks and roustabouts who would later populate the rich fictional world of his “frontier stories,” as he called his Western novels. Louis L’Amour experienced the West firsthand, but it was the West as seen by laborers, not the one seen from horseback. He encountered cowboys, but he never was one himself.
In the early 1930s, L’Amour settled down with his parents in Choctaw, Oklahoma, where he began to seriously pursue a career as a writer, penning poetry and articles about boxing. Here he struggled, sometimes finding paid writing work, but mostly not until 1938, when his career began to take off.
Service in World War II did not interrupt the young writer’s burgeoning career. At the start of the war, L’Amour (who had changed his surname back to its historical spelling by this point) was earning a living in the merchant marine. During the War he served as a lieutenant in the 362nd Quartermaster Truck Company in the European theater.
After the War, L’Amour continued writing, receiving a number of offers from publishing companies to produce several volumes of content. One of these was a series of books about Hopalong Cassidy, which L’Amour disliked so much that he denied authorship until the day he died.
In the early 1950s, L’Amour’s career really began to explode. Americans have always loved the Western genre and it was incredibly popular at the dawn of the 1950s, with directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks bringing a higher aesthetic and philosophical tone to the genre. In 1951, L’Amour published his first work written under his own name, The Western Tide.
A short story, The Gift of Cochise, published the following year, caught the attention of John Wayne and producer Robert Fellows, who purchased film rights for $4,000 (about $42,000 today).
The Gift of Cochise became the basis for the smash hit film, Hondo. L’Amour retained the right to novelize the screenplay, which was quite different from the original short story. John Wayne named this novelization as the greatest work of Western fiction he had ever read.
Continue reading Louis L’Amour: America’s Prolific Western Novelist at Ammo.com.