Louis L'Amour's Writing: Authentic? Accurate? Plausible?

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It was a sale day at the local Books-A-Million, so I dropped in to see if I could find anything interesting. And there on the already discounted remainder table, was The Wild, Wild West of Louis L'Amour: The Illustrated Guide to Cowboys, Indians, Gunslingers, Outlaws and Texas Rangers, by English L'Amour worshipper Bruce Wexler, a 192-page hardback with many neat photos and sketches. Not a bad deal for a totally discounted price (tax included) of $11.98, so I had to have it to join The Louis L'Amour Companion, edited by Robert Weinberg, Education of a Wandering Man, L'Amour's autobiography, The Sackett Companion: The Facts Behind the Fiction, by L'Amour, and ten or so of L'Amour's novels and short story collections on the bookshelves and floor of my messy den.

Am I a L'Amour fan? No, but I find the man interesting, as I do the creators of all popular-cultural genre that interest me — and the popular-cultural West, the historical West, and the guns of both are of great interest to me. I have biographies of actor John Wayne and director John Ford, whose westerns together I'm quite fond of (even though I've found some of them less plausible since I've grown up), Clint Eastwood, whose spaghetti westerns I hate, Zane Grey, whose books I've long considered to be corny (though some of them contain beautiful descriptions of natural phenomena), and B-western actors whose movies I ignored as a kid. I find all of these guys and their contributions interesting, whether or not I've been impressed by their works. But I've never felt the same urge to critique the efforts of these others as I've felt to critique L'Amour's writing. And I suspect that that's because of the claims that L'Amour often made about his writing — claims that his worshipful fans have readily accepted.

Wexler, for example, writes that "L'Amour himself believed that the crux of his popularity was his extreme attention to authenticity. u2018The West was wilder than any man can write it, but my facts, my terrain, my guns, my Indians are real. I've ridden and hunted the country. When I write about a spring, that spring is there, and the water is good to drink.' He always researched every book, wherever it was set, and the Western novels were often based in the minutiae of contemporary diaries and newspapers and the stories of u2018old timers' for absolute veracity." In her contribution to Weinberg's The Louis L'Amour Companion, Barbara A. Bannon wrote, "What makes a L'Amour western so popular, in addition to his solid story-telling ability, is the carefully researched and authentic historical background." And Weinberg himself wrote that though reviewers and literary critics haven't been kind to him, "they latched on to the fact that L'Amour's novels were historically accurate, that the books were technically correct in every aspect of the Old West." He goes on, "The critics were right that L'Amour worked hard to maintain the historical truth in his novels. His descriptions of the time and place and people are meticulous and worked out to the last detail." Nonsense.

Even Weinberg acknowledges that "L'Amour was not the most careful of writers. He learned his business in the pulp magazines and many of his stories read like updated pulp adventures. L'Amour quite frankly admitted in interviews that he only wrote one draft of his novels and never used an outline [emphasis added]. Oftentimes, his books could have used a bit of polishing." And his claims of accuracy and authenticity may have been aimed at impressing his readers more than anything else. In a conversation with Jon Tuska, related in Tuska's contribution to Weinberg's book, he claimed: "When I say that there is a rock in the road in one of my books, my readers know that if they go to that spot and look they'll find that rock." Tuska responded that in Last Stand at Papago Wells, five characters are killed in an Indian attack, but six corpses are counted by a survivor. L'Amour smiled and said that he would "have to go back and count them again." He continued, "But you know, I don't think that the people who read my books would really care."

Louis L'Amour may have been a fine gentleman and grand story teller, but even though I've read fewer than a dozen of his novels and short-story collections, it has long been readily apparent to me that his works are often far from authentic and accurate, and his characters can often act in incredibly implausible ways. I'll deal with his authenticity and accuracy first, and then examine the behavior of some of his characters.

AUTHENTICITY AND ACCURACY?

In The Broken Gun, a modern western, L'Amour has notebook pages pertaining to land ownership found rolled up inside the barrel of an old broken revolver. The pages were placed in that barrel in the middle 1870s. Problem? The revolver is identified in several places as a Bisley Colt — and Bisley Colts weren't introduced until 1894. Ignorance? Poor research? First-draft sloppiness gone uncorrected because he didn't do second drafts?

In The First Fast Draw, L'Amour not only perpetuates the Hollywood fast-draw nonsense, but makes a rather odd choice in equipping his hero, considering that his story takes place after the Civil War. The hero uses a four-pound-one-ounce Dragoon Colt, which L'Amour mentions several times was rather heavy for fast-draw purposes. And he treats the Dragoon as if it and the Walker Colt, both products of the late 1840s, were the latest in handgun technology just after the Civil War, with nothing lighter on the scene that would have been of interest to a gunfighter. He even refers to a "brand, spanken new Dragoon Colt," when the last such revolvers were manufactured in 1860. But while Dragoon Colts were still in use after the Civil War, there were a host of lighter revolvers in .36 or .44 calibers that had been used in the war, or even before it, and that weighed three pounds or less — Colt 1851 and 1861 Navies, Colt 1860 Armies, various Remingtons, Starrs, Whitneys, and a number of Confederate copies of Yankee revolvers among the more common. Any reasonably informed student of the Old West knows that such famous old timers as the James and Younger brothers, Wild Bill Hickok, and Buffalo Bill Cody, as well as many ordinary folks, used revolvers such as these during the late 1860s. This is elementary stuff. While his discussion of guns and their use in this book may have impressed otherwise hostile reviewers with little knowledge of guns, it would seem that L'Amour's actual knowledge of the revolvers used in the West at the time his story was set was very limited, and that he did little or no research on the subject.

I read both The Broken Gun and The First Fast Draw years ago because I was specifically interested in checking the authenticity of L'Amour's treatment of firearms in them. I recently read his novelization of the movie How the West Was Won, that Wexler calls "L'Amour's great tour de force," because I wanted to see how he treated a part of the story that had been filmed at Cave-in-Rock State Park on the Ohio River in the far southeast of Illinois. I was born and raised in Herrin, Illinois, roughly 55 miles as the crow flies northwest of Cave-in-Rock, and now live in Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio about the same crow-flying distance northeast of that place, and I know the turf and its history rather well. His treatment of guns isn't any better than it was in the other two books, and his treatment of the geography and history of my area is even worse.

Early on in the 2003 Bantam reissue of the book (page 8), L'Amour has mountain man Linus Rawlings fire three quick shots from his rifle at Indians who are attacking a party of white trappers. Three quick shots from what kind of rifle? The dominant rifles of mountain-man days were slow-loading, single-shot, muzzle-loaders, with repeaters such as the revolving rifles produced by Colt and Billinghurst coming on the scene only in the late 1830s. So even though there's no mention that Linus is armed with a revolving rifle, if this story is set in the late 1830s or later he could have been so armed.

And yet it often seems to be set much earlier than that. Linus intends to transport his winter's catch of furs from the Rio Grande Valley all the way to Pittsburgh via pack horse and canoe. The watery part of his trip will carry him "Down the Platte and the Missouri, and up the Ohio" — no mention being made of the Mississippi that connects the Missouri and the Ohio. But why does he bypass St. Louis, "the gateway to the west," to paddle his furs all the way to Pittsburgh? He wants to see the Atlantic Ocean, but wouldn't it be easier to unload his furs in St. Louis and travel light the rest of the way? One could get the impression that St. Louis didn't even exist (though it's mentioned on page 4 that he's visited that town) and that no white community of any size existed west of Pittsburgh. And that impression is further enhanced by L'Amour's treatment of the passage of two families from near Albany, New York who are moving westward via the Erie Canal (which he notes was finished in 1825) and Ohio River raft (they were called flatboats) as Linus is headed up the Ohio. No mention is made of their having passed any towns all the way down the Ohio past the falls of that river.

Linus' soon-to-be wife is a member of one of these families — the one whose boat wrecks at the falls. Having met and been impressed by her as he passed her group on his way east, after almost falling victim to river pirates himself, and helping to save her and her family from these same pirates and parting company again, he hears of her family's misfortune and heads back down river out of concern for her. She has survived, and Linus, though a confirmed bachelor and loner, settles down with her right there on the banks of the Ohio. And eventually, on page 119, this settling down begins to provide the reader with a time frame. They lived there for twenty years when Linus goes off to fight for the North in the Civil War. He is killed at Shiloh in 1862, so he and his future wife met no later than 1842 or no earlier than 1841, if the count starts in 1861 when Linus joined up. That date is further confirmed when it's mentioned on page 134 that Linus was born in 1810, because on page 4 it's mentioned that he was born on the Pennsylvania frontier, moved to Illinois with his father when he was fifteen (1825), and apparently not too long afterward, headed farther west to spend the next sixteen years (bringing us to at least 1841) as a trapper. But L'Amour confuses the issue by having Linus' son (on page 157) mention that his dad crossed the plains (not mentioning which way) in 1844 or 1845.

Okay, Linus could have fired his three quick shots from a revolving rifle in 1841 or later, though it would seem that an author deserving of a reputation for detail and authenticity would have seen fit to mention his use of what was at the time advanced technology. And in later years when Linus takes down his old rifle to hunt a bear, as related on page 123, it's apparently a single shot. I suspect that the three quick shots were the result of careless writing, since L'Amour later does specify the possession of a Colt revolving rifle by another character in a segment of his story that has nothing to do with Linus, and that given the time-frame deduced above, takes place in 1845 or 1846.

But the no-earlier-than-1841 date for Linus' trip east brings back other issues. Why was he paddling all the way to Pittsburgh when by that time St. Louis was a thriving river port, and steamboat travel on the Mississippi and Ohio was common? And why didn't L'Amour mention the regular steamboat traffic on the Ohio as he related the experiences of both Linus and his future wife's family on that river? When her family's flatboat wrecks in the rapids known as the falls of the Ohio, the reader could get the impression that they are in the wilderness miles from habitation. Those rapids were actually located just below Louisville, Kentucky, a community of 21,000 by 1840, with the long established communities of Clarksville, Jeffersonville, and New Albany on the Indiana side of the river, the latter two involved in the business of building steamboats by then. And why were they traveling west on a flatboat rather than a steamboat at that late date? And why were river pirates still operating then?

Linus' soon-to-be wife, Eve Prescott, falls for him at first sight when they meet on the banks of the Ohio as he heads upstream and she and her family are headed downstream. She's so forward that though attracted to her, confirmed bachelor Linus' scurries on upstream where, wily frontiersman that he is, he easily falls prey to the trickery of river pirates operating out of the cave mentioned above. As far as I can determine, the cave on the banks of the Ohio most associated with river pirates and other cutthroats, if not the only Ohio River cave historically associated with them, is the one where the river-pirate segment of the movie How the West Was Won was filmed. Revolutionary War soldier turned pirate, Captain Samuel Mason, operated out of that cave from the late 1790s into the early 1800s and other really bad dudes followed, but though outlaw bands were common in the region through the 1840s, river pirating faded out as flatboat traffic decreased on the Ohio. By the 1830s, Cave-in-Rock was being utilized by counterfeiters, not river pirates.

Concerning L'Amour's geography, if his cave is supposed to be the historically infamous Ohio River pirate lair, Cave-in-Rock, he mislocated it by 200 or so river miles. In the book, the cave is located somewhere upstream from the falls of the Ohio, which, remember, were located just below Louisville, Kentucky. Cave-in-Rock is located 200 or so winding river miles downstream from Louisville in Illinois. He also takes liberties with the form of the cave, adding a deep pit into which Linus is pushed. And when Linus comes back down the Ohio to find Eve after he hears of the wreck of her family's flatboat, he settles down with her just downstream from the falls on the north side of the river. When that homestead is mentioned several times in the rest of the book, it's located in Ohio. Actually, it would have to be in Indiana downstream from Clarksville, Jeffersonville, and New Albany, which are across the river from Louisville. Hardly wilderness with land for the taking in 1841 or so. Not the kind of discrepancies one would expect from an author who claims that every spring and rock in the road he writes about is located just where he says it is.

I'll end this critique of How the West Was Won with a few odds and ends. One of the reasons that mountain man Linus Rawlings wants to go east is to see the "ocean water." That's on page 9, and Linus states that Salt Lake was the most water he's ever seen. But on page 4 it's mentioned that he has visited New Orleans, Los Angeles, and "the shores of the Pacific," and the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific are both a tad bigger than Salt Lake. Also on page 4, it's mentioned that "he had ranged from the Kootenal River in Montana to the Gila in Arizona," but Montana wouldn't have been Montana and Arizona wouldn't have been Arizona when he visited these places prior to 1841. In fact, the latter region was still part of Mexico.

And finally back to the guns. On page 85, L'Amour has Cleve Van Valen check "the loads in the three spare cylinders he carried. This was a wise precaution, he decided. It was not easy to load a cap-and-ball pistol in a hurry; it was much easier simply to switch cylinders, which a man could do on a horse and at a dead run." It was certainly much easier to switch cylinders than to reload, but not as easy as simply "snapping the loaded cylinder into place," as L'Amour has Cleve do on page 94. According to the time frame I deduced above, he is taking these precautions about 1845 or 1846. That being the case, his revolver would have had to have been some variation or other of the five-shot Colt Paterson introduced in 1836. To change the cylinder on such a gun requires displacing the wedge that attaches the front of the revolver to its rear, removing the whole barrel assembly in front of the cylinder, removing the empty cylinder from the rear frame assembly, fitting the loaded cylinder on the cylinder pin, remounting the barrel assembly, and attaching it to the frame assembly by aligning the slots through which the wedge must fit and pushing the wedge back in place — and dropping any of these parts would have left the gun inoperable. Some frontiersmen did carry spare cylinders. In fact, according to Joseph Rosa, who has written a great deal about the guns of the Old West, the practice originated with Pony Express riders. And according to an Internet piece by a current shooter of cap-and-ball revolvers, switching cylinders can be accomplished in fifteen seconds — at least, in a stress-free environment. The best way to increase one's firepower in cap-and-ball days, of course, was to carry more than one revolver.

On page 77, Cleve buys "a hundred cartridges for his pistol." They would have to be paper cartridges, which isn't mentioned, though I should think that a stickler for period detail would feel obliged to mention that to avoid giving the reader the impression that metallic cartridges were used in revolvers of the time.

On page 172, seasoned Army officer Jeb Rawlings fires a shot from his single-shot Springfield carbine and wheels "to fire again, but the gun was empty." Yup! Single shots are like that. But, then again, his dad seems to have squeezed three quick shots out of a single-shot rifle back in 1841 or so. On page 221, L'Amour refers to the Spencer repeater as a "buffalo gun," which it wasn't, after stating on page 171: "You could always tell when the big Spencer hit, because the .56 or .54 caliber cartridges would lift an Indian right off his horse." Please! That's the kind of nonsense perpetuated through movies all the way back to Shane in 1953, and later picked up by TV cop shows like Miami Vice — bullets knocking people head over heels. And there are several references to the fast-draw nonsense that has long permeated popular-cultural treatments of the Old West.

These are some of the inaccuracies I found in what Wexler calls "L'Amour's great tour de force," How the West Was Won. I suspect that readers with special interests different from mine, and knowledge concerning other things that L'Amour mentions in this book can find many more.

PLAUSIBILITY?

In How the West Was Won, mountain man Linus Rawlings, who has known nothing but wandering the wilderness for the thirty-one or -two years of his life, gives up his wandering ways to settle down with a woman he's only been with for parts of two days or so. Plausible?

Years later, Linus' son Zeb, an Army officer preparing for an attack by Indians upset by the railroad he's protecting laying track through their turf, finds out that the railroad honcho, Mike King, tricked him into believing that the woman he loves has promised herself to King. When Zeb finds out from the woman herself that she really loves him, he's so ticked off that he searches out King intending to challenge him to a gunfight. Plausible? After he wins the girl, Zeb is willing to risk what he's just won by getting into a gunfight with a railroader who has all kinds of political connections, and just at the time that because of the expected Indian attack he's concerned about her safety and the safety of the others for whom he's responsible! The gunfight doesn't take place, but the mere fact that L'Amour has a supposedly responsible character even consider such action given the circumstances and over such an insignificant matter after he has come out on top and has so much to lose, doesn't say much for the author's treatment of human motivations. But L'Amour often had his characters act in implausible ways, and his Haunted Mesa is a showcase of implausibility.

Even L'Amour fans don't seem to have much good to say about Haunted Mesa, his science fiction effort set in the contemporary West. I read this book because in it L'Amour deals with parallel worlds and I wanted to see how he carried that off. His story takes place in the Four Corners area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. This part of the Southwest was once occupied by the Anasazi people whose disappearance remains a mystery. L'Amour has his main characters stumble across the wilderness openings that these ancients used to leave this world to get to a parallel world on "the Other Side." His hero is Mike Raglan, an internationally known specialist in "exposing fraud and deception, investigating haunted houses, mediums, and cult religions" (page 20).

Raglan has received an urgent plea for help from Erik Hokart, whom L'Amour can't seem to decide to make Raglan's old friend or little more than an acquaintance. Hokart has requested that Raglan meet him in a very remote area, but Hokart doesn't show up. While waiting for Hokart, Raglan is shaken by an encounter with a strange, smelly, man-like creature (page 13), but he seems to quickly forget about it. Driving back to the lodge at which he's staying, Raglan checks at the desk to see if he's received any mail. He's received, among other things, a small, brown-paper-wrapped packet with no stamp or postmark on it, and the writing on it is in Hokart's hand. He finds out from the desk clerk that the packet had been delivered by an exotically beautiful young woman who looked Indian, but not like any of the local Indians. So what does he do? He goes to his condominium (page 14), and tired from his flight from New York and long drive to and from the remote area where he failed to find Hokart, he prepares for bed without even opening the mysteriously-delivered packet from the friend who he has reason to believe is in trouble and who didn't show up. Say what?!

But just as he hits the sack, the girl at the desk calls to tell him that a strange man had just inquired about the whereabouts of the girl who had delivered the packet. Made uneasy by his demeanor, she told him that the package had been delivered by a man, and he exited in a rage. At this point, Raglan opens the packet and finds that it contains Hokart's daybook. Does he read any of it to get a clue about what's going on? Of course not. Instead, he wraps a mystery novel he has recently finished in the daybook's wrapping, and leaves it in plain sight. "A few minutes later he was in bed with the daybook under his pillow and his .357 close to his hand."

Several hours later Raglan is awakened by someone prowling around in his room. The guy picks up the packet and is headed toward the window when Raglan points his .357 at him and speaks. Okay, reader, what would you do in this situation? A friend is obviously in some kind of trouble and has begged you to help him. He doesn't show up where he's asked you to meet him. You've received a packet from him delivered by a strange woman, a menacing man has inquired about her and the packet which contains a daybook written by your troubled and missing friend, a guy breaks into your room to steal the daybook and you've got the drop on him with a .357. Given all this, don't you have good reason to suspect that something very bad may have happened or may be happening to your friend? Might you not want to call the police, or if you're a macho guy, do a bit of interrogating yourself? Perish the thought.

Raglan tells the guy (page 16): "I can't imagine why a man would risk his freedom to steal a book he could buy on any newsstand for a couple of dollars." The intruder responds, "Book?" Raglan goes on: "Erik Hokart and I have exchanged books for years. If he reads one that he likes he sends it to me and I do the same with him. But if you want it that bad, please take it." Still puzzled, the intruder again responds, "Book?" To which Raglan replies: "Get out! If you come here again, I'll kill you. I don't like thieves." Can you believe that?! Why would anyone respond to this situation in this way!? And L'Amour thought that he was shortchanged by the literary critics, and many of his fans apparently agree.

Syndicated political columnist Charley Reese once wrote that the emphasis of hack writers, as opposed to writers of literature, "is on the plot, and the characters are usually stereotypes or cartoonish. We read the hacks to be temporarily amused by the hero solving the problems piled on top of him. The very predictability of the hack story gives us comfort. We don't have to worry about the hero. We know he will triumph and get the bad guy and the girl." In an interview included in Weinberg's collection, L'Amour himself confirms that his books are plot rather than character driven: ." . . I put a couple of characters in a historical situation and let it happen to them. Sometimes I'll spend a little time on character. For example, in Ride the River, I wanted to do a story about a girl. All right, what's the problem? I had to figure out whatever the problem had to be. What she had to accomplish" (page 341). I wasn't surprised when Reese continued: "Louis L'Amour gets my vote as the greatest hack in the modern era. He churned out a prodigious number of short stories and novels with virtually interchangeable characters. His stories have the added virtue of being forgettable so that you can enjoy reading the same story more than once if you give yourself a little time between readings." Like the supposedly intelligent heroes of the plot-driven B Westerns who did the stupidest things to get themselves captured by villains, and then escaped when those supposedly intelligent villains stupidly allowed them to do so, Raglan had to set the intruder free on page 16 to keep the story going or Haunted Mesa would have been a very short book.

Yup! L'Amour's characters are cartoonish, and you don't have to be too careful a reader to find careless writing in his books, as I've previously noted. In Haunted Mesa, L'Amour has a character, Volkmeer, who he specifies is 50 years old on page 177, talking as if he had been around during Butch Cassidy's time, or just missed him, on page 179. The book was published in 1987, and L'Amour gives the reader no reason to assume that his story takes place much earlier. Even if Volkmeer was only fifteen when he was having his adventures, that would have made them take place about 1952 or so — a little late even if we believe, as some do, that Cassidy wasn't actually killed in South America in 1908 and came back to the States.

L'Amour has another character, an old cowpuncher named Johnny, who has been on "the Other Side" since 1915, with whom Raglan joins forces to do battle against the bad guys once he gets over there. On page 356, he has Johnny change cylinders to reload his revolver — apparently he was still using a cap-and-ball when he made the trip in 1915. And when Raglan's .357 is knocked from his hand in a fight on page 357, no mention is made of the backup 9mm with which L'Amour equipped him on page 237 and then apparently forgot about. In a radio interview included in Weinberg's collection, L'Amour acknowledged that he wrote with no outline, preparation, character list, or plans — and it shows.

In her devastating critique of his medieval novel, The Walking Drum, included in Weinberg's collection, medieval specialist Judith Tarr notes: "That L'Amour was not fully comfortable with the period or the genre, however . . . shows not only in the failure of details but in the way these details are incorporated into the narrative. The story pauses every few pages, sometimes every few paragraphs, for the insertion of an expository lump: a bit of history or biography . . . an advertisement, in short, of research done and facts recorded" (my emphasis). But L'Amour included these "expository lumps" not only when he branched off into historical turf with which he wasn't familiar, but even in stories set in the 19th century western America that he claimed to know so much about. They allowed him to show off in a pedantic way — sort of like: "Now, pay attention. I'm going to teach you something." For example, on page 18 of How the West Was Won, he compares the age of western expansion in the United States to the Homeric and Elizabethan ages, "and a man bred in either age would have been at home in the West, and would have talked the language of men about him." Achilles, Sir Francis Drake, John Coulter, and Kit Carson would have understood each other — and L'Amour's name-dropping shows that he's not just a pulp-Western writer. On page 152, he takes the time and space in an historical aside to compare American Indians to the Mongols, and to speculate about what would have happened if the former had found their own Genghis Khan to unite them.

In Haunted Mesa, however, he has good reason to go off on tangents that some might consider to be showing off rather than just narrate an adventure, because he has to make the whole idea of a parallel world plausible to his readers by calling into question generally accepted notions about our ability to get at objective reality. And as a retired phenomenologically-oriented sociology professor interested in the sociology of science, I got a kick out of the way he went about this. On page 19 he notes: "Our theories are only dancing shadows against a hard wall of reality." On the next page he asks: "How many phenomena are ignored because they do not fall into accepted categories! (sic)" On page 204, he notes that Newtonian physics has been undermined first by Einstein and then by quantum theory, and we can be sure that "What today is accepted as truth will tomorrow prove to be only amusing." And on page 245: "Reality is what is generally accepted as such. Man alters it at his convenience." Heavy! To his credit, L'Amour must have delved into the philosophy and/or sociology of science. Unfortunately, when he gets his characters to "the Other Side," his treatments of the parallel world and their adventures in it are about as convincing as those old Saturday matinee science-fiction serials — the ones with robots that looked like they were constructed out of tinfoil-covered cardboard boxes. But I'll resist the temptation to comment further on L'Amour's science-fiction effort, since that isn't what he's known for or admired for.

What I've tried to do in this essay is to show that in spite of what admirers like Wexler, Weinberg, and Bannon claim about his work, what he claimed about his own work, and what even his critics accepted about his work, Louis L'Amour's books weren't carefully researched and "his descriptions of time and place and people" weren't "meticulous and worked out to the last detail." Far from it. He could be extremely sloppy, as I've demonstrated. His treatment of frontier firearms in The Broken Gun, The First Fast Draw, and How the West Was Won, seems based on no more than a none-too-careful glance at a couple of books on the subject — he demonstrates no ingrained familiarity with such weaponry. As recorded in Weinberg, L'Amour told a radio interviewer that he saturated himself "with the period of time" he was going to write about. Yet in How the West Was Won, his treatment of the Ohio Valley with which I'm quite familiar shows no familiarity whatsoever with its geography or history. And his characters often do things that while dramatic are also downright silly.

I hereby submit that L'Amour's nonexistent authenticity and relentless attention to detail can't explain his enormous popularity. Weinberg probably hit the nail on the head when he wrote: "L'Amour's characters and plots are not believable by today's standards. However, people reading Westerns are not looking for mainstream novels disguised as frontier fiction. They want stories of the mythic West, the legendary West as defined by tall tales, John Wayne movies, and television series. They want the West that Louis L'Amour defines in clear-cut, straightforward narratives that bristle with action, color, and most of all, heroism." In other words, most Western enthusiasts prefer what columnist Charley Reese calls hack writing as opposed to literature. Personally, I prefer Western writers like Douglas C. Jones, Richard S. Wheeler, and Johnny D. Boggs, but though I can't say much for his books, I still think that Louis L'Amour was a fascinating character and peerless self-promoter.

William R. Tonso [send him mail] a retired sociology professor (University of Evansville) who has written a lot on the gun issue, both sociological and pro-Second Amendment. His recent book, Gun Control=People Control, is a collection of eleven of his essays previously published in Liberty, Reason, Chronicles, and Gun Week.

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