Old West Lifestyle & Stories

Trailing Louis L’Amour From California to Alaska – Part One



Bert Murphy

Louis L'Amour

In five novels Louis L’Amour lets you experience Old California and the Pacific coast circa 1800 to 1880.  When the railroad reached California in 1869, it diminished the frontier period.  When it reached Los Angeles in 1876, the western frontier was essentially closed.  The cowards who never started and the weak that might have died on the way could now ride west on cushioned seats.

However, frontier pockets still remain. In my life, I have known many who have the frontier-pioneer spirit.  They are the few of the many, both men and women, who have the heart, nerve and sinew to push into the unknown of space or ideas.  They don’t particularly give a damn what their contemporaries think.  They are driven to see and know.  If they think of them at all, they scorn the historical revisionists who would deprive us of our heroes.  They joke about extreme environmentalists who are unreasoning obstructionists.  Yet they understand and protect the earth.  They love their country and despise these who are destroying it.  They support and defend our hard- won and kept Republic, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Those of the pioneer spirit drive on into the great unknown to make a better world.  Soon they will feel the snarl of the jets at their backs as they drive toward the frontier of space.  L’Amour recognized this final frontier.  There will be L’Amour novels tucked into cargo pockets of space suits.  There will be men like L’Amour, Service, London, Kipling, Grey, Clark, Asimov and Heinlein to tell their stories.  They will tell of courage, love, loyalty, survival and lonely death in the endless frontier of space.  The arenas will change.  Those frontiersmen and women of space will have the pioneer spirit L’Amour knew and wrote of.

The virtues and characteristics of pioneers and heroes will not change.  L’Amour’s main characters were people of stamina and intelligence.  They did not lie, steal or cheat.  They were independent and killed their own snakes.  They celebrate the free human spirit.

Many of the things that Louis L’Amour teaches in his writings are useful to any age.  Paleo hunters or spaceman must know that peripheral vision is the best to use at night.  Aim low at an uphill or downhill target.  Firearms are sighted horizontally above the target to allow for gravity drop.  Uphill or downhill the gravity vector is reduced or eliminated.  Weapons shoot high.  So, as L’Amour wrote, shoot low.  Read the signs around you. When did that horse go by-was he ridden?  The spaceship that landed-was it ours or theirs?  Carry a knife and fire maker-they will get you out of all kinds of trouble.  Know the place you are in.  Can you eat that plant?  Where is the water?  There is much field craft in L’Amour’s novels.

In Trailing Louis L’Amour in New Mexico, I quoted L’Amour as saying, “man is tracked in his mind.”  With his tenth-grade education, great intelligence, amazing memory, extensive travel, war experience and voluminous reading, L’Amour was as erudite a person as you will meet.  A reasonable estimate would be that he read seven thousand books and “dipped into” many more.  His amazing memory let him recall much of what he read and experienced.  He chose historical fiction as his genre, and he chose to be historically and geographically accurate.  He added much in the way of science to his novels.  He showed an extensive knowledge of the world’s odd corners, history, Indian lore, literature, field craft, botany, geology, geography, archeology, anthropology, psychology and other hard and soft sciences.  He wrote of and speculated on the paranormal.  Read Louis L’Amour for pleasure, knowledge or both. There is much to be gained.

A background and knowledge of the stage where the L’Amour novels play out adds to the enjoyment and understanding of his stories.  A knowledge of the land, people and forces that made California and the Pacific Coast what they were when L’Amour’s characters encountered them in the 1800’s will let you appreciate his marvelous research, accuracy and craft. You will enjoy his novels even more.

Read more about Louis L’Amour HERE.

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