Category Archives: Classic Books

Ride the Dark Trail by Louis L’Amour

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I have been trying to write a review of Ride the Dark Trail for a long time now, but every time I sit down and begin looking over my highlights, I end up rereading large portions of the book. Not because I forget what it’s about, but because the story and characters are so engaging that I just don’t want to stop reading. Let me introduce you to a few of the characters. Better yet, let me have L’Amour introduce you to some of my favorite characters yet.

“Well, they hadn’t much to see. I’m a big man, weighing around two-fifteen most of the time and most of it in my chest and shoulders. I was wearing a handlebar mustache and a three-day growth of beard. My hair hadn’t been trimmed in a coon’s age and that beat up old hat was showing a bullet hole picked up back of yonder. My slicker was hanging open, my leather chaps was wet, and my boots rundown at heel so’s those big-roweled California spurs were draggin’ a mite.”

This is Logan Sackett. Main character and narrator of this particular book. Is it just me, or do you feel like you could sit by a fire and listen to that guy tell stories all day? That’s why I just keep reading every time I pick up the book.

“They guessed right on some things, they guessed wrong on Emily Talon.

‘You got nothing,’ she said, and she cut loose her dogs… only they were slugs from a big Dragoon Colt.

They couldn’t believe it. They’d been sure if there was trouble it would come from me, and they paid no mind to the womenfolks, or mighty little. And they didn’t even know about Al.

Em just tilted her old pistol and cut loose, and just as she fired, Al Fulbric jumped from the bedroom door with a shotgun in his hands, and somehow my old six-shooter was speaking its piece right along with them.”

Oh, Em Talon. She is the kind of woman needed in a frontier land. The kind of woman who does what needs to be done, who will stand with her man, and if she outlives him, will stand firm on what they built together. A woman who does what is right, and encourages others to do the same, even if that encouragement comes by force.

There is another woman in the book. Pennywell Farman. She’s younger, but she has a good teacher to follow. After that last fight, Logan says, “I might have held back myself, for fear of the women getting shot, but there was no hold-back in Em.

Nor in Pennywell.

She had got off two shots. I saw her loading up again afterwards. She was pale as a ghost when it was over, but she was thumbing two cartridges back into her pistol, and she was ready.

Man, those were women!” She may have been scared, and new to shooting, but that didn’t stop her. There was shooting that needed to be done, and there she was, so she did it.

And a newcomer that I am very interested in meeting in his own book. “The rider sat erect, holding the reins easy in his hand, a dark and handsome young man whose what-the-hell sort of smile was in odd contrast to the coolness of his eyes.” Milo Talon. A name I have long been familiar with, but with no more information than simply the name. And let me tell you, the years of waiting were not for nothing. Milo Talon did not disappoint. “‘There’s only one of you,’ Chowse said, trying for a bluff. ‘You’re buckin’ a stacked deck.’

‘Stacked decks don’t always turn up the cards a body would expect,’ Talon said mildly, ‘especially when I’ve got all the aces. I didn’t come in here to lose anything, and if you’ll recall, I opened the game. Of course,’ he straightened form the bar, ‘if you boys want to see what I’m holding you’ll have to ante up, and the chips are bullets… forty fives to be exact.’

‘I’m betting,’ he said easily, that I can deal them just a mite faster than you boys can, and without braggin’ boys, I can say I ain’t missed anything this close since who flunk the chunk.'”

And that is just a few of the characters. We haven’t mentioned Reed Talon, Barnabas Talon, Al Fulbric or even any of the bad guys.

Logan is on his way to California. He’s wanting to see the ocean for the first time. But, when he sees some men harassing a lady, he is unable to leave her on her own. He stands up for Pennywell and takes her out to Em Talon’s place to be taken care of. Once there, he finds that before she married Talon, Em’s last name was Sackett. She’s a Clinch Mountain Sackett and she’s in trouble. Naturally, Logan stays to help her out of her troubles. The story goes from there, and in true L’Amour fashion, things aren’t easy, but they’re worth it. This is one of the things I love about L’Amour’s writings. If you read carefully, you see a man who understands and values life. He doesn’t hit you over the head with the things he holds true, but the imprint of it lies just beneath the story. I love all the recollections of Em and Talon. When you read them, it’s as if you are remembering a true love of your own. And if you are blessed enough to be living with your love, you appreciate him all the more. If not, it would leave you longing for one of life’s greatest treasures. Because a strong relationship between husband and wife is nothing to be taken for granted. It is something to be nurtured and fought for. I leave you with this interaction between Logan and Em.

“‘You stand tall in any outfit.’ I said. ‘I’d like to have known your husband.’

‘Talon was a man… all man. He walked strong and he thought right, and no man ever left his door hungry, Indian, black man or white. Nor did he ever take water for any man.’

‘He was a judge of the land,’ I said, ‘and of women.’

‘We had it good together,’ Em said quietly, ‘we walked a quiet way, the two of us, and never had to say much about it to one another.’

She paused. ‘I just looked at him and he looked at me and we knew how it was with each other.’

Hours later, well down the trail to Brown’s Hole, I remembered that. Well, they’d been lucky. It was not likely I’d ever find a woman like that, but no matter what any man says, there’s nothing better than two, a man and a woman, who walk together. When they walk right together there’s no way too long, no night too dark.'”

Galloway by Louis L’Amour

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“There’s a saying that when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns.” -Flagan Sackett

It’s the kind of statement we’ve heard in our lifetimes too, isn’t it? Something I have learned from reading the Sackett  books is that the hearts of men don’t change. As Solomon once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” No matter what the customs, or laws of the land are, there will always be men who stand firmly on the side of right, and there will be men whose thoughts and actions are motivated by evil. I have loved that L’Amour recognizes that and has touched on it in each of his books. As he recalls the relationships between groups of people, he comments on the fact that neither side is blameless in their treatment of each other. That the actions of men committed to honesty and fairness are undermined by those motivated by personal gain or malice.

This book has Flagan Sackett escaping from a group of Jicarilla Apaches. He is captured by them and tied up, awaiting torture. But, while he lays there looking for escape, he doesn’t hate the men holding him. He simply understands his situation as part of their culture. The Apaches had such respect for strength and courage that they would test the men they captured through torture to see how strong they really were. I know that I have not explained well the mind of an Apache warrior, but I also know that I do not have the capacity to explain it to you. I suggest that you read L’Amour’s books, and find a love for a people group that have historically been feared, resented, and guiltily pushed to the backs of our minds.

So, back to Flagan. He manages to escape the Apaches, but is unfortunately naked when he does so. To us, this sounds embarrassing. To a man alone in the mountains, naked is dangerous. It means no warmth, no protection for feet from sharp rocks, and no weapons for protection or for killing some much needed meat. But, as Galloway said, “We Sacketts don’t die easy, and Flagan is a tough man. He’s been up the creek and over the mountain. He’s fit Comanches and Arapahoes on the buffalo plains, and about ever’ kind of man or animal. He’s a tough man.” He makes it back to civilization, while on the way making enemies with Curly Dunn, a man whose actions can not be classified as pure.

“You’d better be careful. The Dunns will think you’re crowding them.’

‘It’s open range and there’s enough for all.’

‘That isn’t what they think, Mr. Sackett. There are six of the Dunn boys, and there’s their pa, and they’ve a dozen or more men who ride for them.’

‘Well, there’s two of us Sacketts. That should make it work out about right. Of course, if need be, there’s a lot of us scattered around and we set store by our kinfolk.”

I love when a group of Sacketts come together. And this book has a great group. Logan and Parmalee join Flagan and Galloway in the fun and the fighting. Even with all the commonalities that the Sacketts share, there are so many ways in which they differ. Throw in a couple friends and you’ve got a crowd of characters matched by none, with conversations that can’t be beat. “We don’t have so many words as you,’ I told him, ‘so we have to make those we have stand up and do tricks. I never figured language was any stone-cold thing anyway. It’s to provide meaning, to tell other folks what you have in mind, and there’s no reason why if a man is short a word he can’t invent one. When we speak of beans that have been shelled out of the pod we call ’em shuck-beans, because they’ve been shucked. It’s simple, if you look at it.’

‘Learning,’ Galloway added, ‘isn’t only schoolin’. It’s looking, listening and making-do. If a man doesn’t have much or if he’s in wild country he’d better get himself to contemplate and contrive. Pa always taught us to set down and contemplate, take our problem and wrassel with it until there’s an answer.’ Pa taught them well, and that’s just what they did. And you are going to enjoy reading all about it. Well, if you’re anything like me, you will.

The Lonely Men by Louis L’Amour

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“We were hard and lonely men who rode a hard and lonely way. We had known nothing of each other until this ride began in Yuma, and even now we knew scarcely more. But we had sweated and thirsted together, we had hungered and fought, and eaten trail dust together; so now we rode as brothers ride.” -Tell Sackett

The Lonely Men from this book are William Tell Sackett, Tampico Rocca, John J Battles, and Spanish Murphy. The book starts with these men under attack by Apaches. It’s the kind of thing that brings men together. That makes them realize they will fight together as long as one of them needs the others. Even if one of them is sent on a wild goose chase by his estranged sister in law.

Years ago, when Orrin Sackett realized the truth about his wife Laura, he left her with her father, the only man she was capable of loving. After her father dies, her hatred for Orrin turns to a hatred of all by the name of Sackett, so when she meets up with Tell, she decides that if she can’t see Orrin dead, then any old Sackett will do. Tell, on the other hand, hears the name Sackett and runs to her rescue. She sends him off in search of a son that doesn’t exist, telling him that her boy was kidnapped by Apaches and taken south of the border. So these men head straight into Apache territory. Of course there are no Sackett boys down there, but there are 4 other children who were kidnapped and taken to be raised as Apache, who are happy to be rescued.

The story goes from there to a long trail back to Tucson. They make new friends, and new enemies. They ride together as well as alone when the need arises. All the while, you’re hoping they’re going to make it back home, but this being the West in the late 1800’s, you are not guaranteed the outcome you’d like. But, they make the best of it, as everybody does in these books. At one point, they are sitting with a man who would have liked to be a scholar had he been born to another time or place who says, “I have seen my crops grow and my herds increase, and if I have not written words upon paper as I should like to have done, I have written large upon the page of life that was left open for me.” I know these are fictional novels, not self help books, but let’s do this. Let’s write large upon the page of life that is left open for us. Let’s not worry about the things that we don’t get to do, lets simply live this life that we’ve been given the best way we can. Let’s be Sacketts for a while.

The Skyliners by Louis L’Amour

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The Skyliners starts out with quite the show. We meet Flagan and Galloway Sackett on their way into a town. And this is our introduction to them: “We were fairly out in the middle of the street when hoofs began to pound and a passel of folks a-horseback came charging up, all armed and loaded for feudin’ or bear fightin’. Folks went high-tailing it for shelter when they saw those riders coming, but we were right out in the middle of the street and of no mind to run. They came a-tearing down upon us and one of them taken a cut at me with a quirt, yelling, “Get outen the street!” Well, I just naturally reached up and grabbed a hold on that quirt, and most things I lay a hand to will move. He had a loop around his wrist and couldn’t let go if he was a mind to, so I just jerked and he left that saddle a-flying and landed in the dust. The rest of them, they reined around, of a mind to see some fun.” Of course, the fun they had in mind was to see their guy whip “a pair of green mountain boys putting on a show.” But, it didn’t take long for someone to recognize them as Sacketts and they decided that two Sacketts with Winchesters in hand were not something they wanted to take on while their guns were holstered. So, they drop their guns and prepare to leave with thoughts of coming back to even the score another day. And here is, possibly, my favorite part of the book. “They did as ordered, but Galloway is never one to let things be. He’s got a hankering for the fringe around the edges. “Now, Gentlemen and Fellow-Sinners, you have come this day within the shadow of the valley. It is well for each and everyone of us to recall how weak is the flesh, how close we stand to Judgment, so you will all join me in singing “Rock of Ages.”

He gestured to Black Fetchen. “You will lead the singing, and I hope you are in fine voice.”

“You’re crazy!”

“Maybe,” Galloway agreed, “but I want to hear you loud and clear. You got until I count three to start, and you better make sure they all join in.”

“Like hell!” Tory was seventeen, and he was itching to prove himself as tough as he thought he was… or as tough as he wanted others to think he was.

Galloway fired, and that bullet whipped Tory’s hat from his head and notched his ear. “Sing, damn you!” Galloway said; and brother, they sang.

I’ll say this for them, they had good strong voices and they knew the words. Up in the mountains the folks are strong on goin’ to meetin’, and these boys knew all the words. We heard it clear: “Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.”

“Now you all turn around,” Galloway advised, “and ride slow out of town. I want all these good people to know you ain’t bad boys- just sort of rambunctious when there’s nobody about to discipline you a mite.”

Oh man, but I was laughing when I read that! Of course, as I copy it now, and am not startled into laughter by the comedy of it all, I am reminded of another thing that I love about the Sackett books. Even Black Fetchen and his boys know the words to the old hymns. Their Mamas dragged them into church when they were little. Of course, everybody has the chance to make his own choices about who they will follow and serve, but I love thinking about the fact that they were given all the details they needed to make an informed choice.

As you can imagine, they didn’t make any friends with the Fetchens that day, and they end up crossing paths with them again and again throughout the book. They drive cattle across the country, pick up a young lady to escort to her father, and fend off the Fetchens with the same relaxed attitude toward danger that all the Sacketts possess. This one is a fun book to read. Galloway and Flagan are such interesting guys. I’d love to hang out with them of an afternoon. Also, it was great to hear how one Sackett describes another. Since Flagan narrates the book, all descriptions of Galloway come from his thoughts, such as this one, “He was a soft-talking man, but he was tough, and so rough he wore out his clothes from the inside first.” It makes me laugh every time I read it!

But, as is true with all the Sackett books, funny is not all there is to it, there’s thoughtfulness and reflection and loyalty. To remind you of that, I leave you with this last thought.

“We had come a far piece into a strange land, a trail lit by lonely campfires and by gunfire, and the wishing we did by day and by night. Now we rode back to plant roots in the land, and with luck, to leave sons to carry on a more peaceful life, in what we hoped would be a more peaceful world.

But whatever was to come, our sons would be Sacketts, and they would do what had to be done whenever the call would come.”

Lando by Louis L’Amour

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“There was pride and courage there, and something that told me that when trouble came, this man would stand.

This I respected, for of myself I was not sure. Every man wishes to believe that when trouble appears he will stand up to it, yet no man knows it indeed before it happens.” -Lando Sackett

This book took more effort for me to get into, but by the end, I loved Lando Sackett. Lando’s father left him in the care of an ill-advised man who stole the money left to him and didn’t care for young Lando. As a result, Lando ran away and raised himself in the cabin he and his father had occupied when the former was still around. Since he was not raised by his father, he doesn’t have the same skills and knowledge that most Sacketts possess. What he does have is the ability to think and plan and the courage that seems to be bred into the Sackett line.

Not having tested his abilities, Lando is hesitant to get into a fight, especially a gun fight. At one point, he and his travel companions are set upon by bandits, and he convinces them, through a bit of honest trickery, to leave instead of fight. I love what is said after, “Did you ever see the like? Looks right down a gun barrel and talks them out of it.” There is so much I admire about Lando. This is the decision he makes when he begins to see men who can use a gun quickly, “The first shot must score, and I must shape my mind to accept the fact that I must fire looking into a blazing gun. I must return that fire even though I was hit.” Again, I think that this is a good mentality, because we can’t all be great at everything. Some of us aren’t even going to be good at many things. But, we can fashion our minds to think that we will use what we have to the best of our ability. Also, to be realistic in what we can do. Don’t expect to win if you’re fighting/playing/racing someone with better talent or size than you. But, know how you’ll do, and plan from there.

But, my favorite thought of Lando’s is one that I have had so many times, but have never heard anybody else say. I loved to hear it, especially from a Sackett. If for no other reason than this, I will always have a special place in my heart for one Lando Sackett:

“Trouble with me was, I was a mighty poor hater. There was satisfaction in winning, but winning would have been better if nobody had to lose. That’s the way I’ve always felt, I guess.”

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs

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I downloaded Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself one day when I was browsing the free books on the Kindle. Along with The Baker’s Daughter, this book has gotten me thinking about my role in this world. Am I purposely making myself ignorant of those around me who are in danger? “In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the north? Why do your tongues falter in maintenance of the right? Would that I had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There are noble men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who cannot help themselves. God bless them! God give them strength and courage to go on! God bless those, every where, who are laboring to advance the cause of humanity.”

In the book, Harriet goes by the name Linda. She was born to a slave woman and in her time, “the child follows the condition of the mother.” If the mother is a slave, the baby is as well, and belongs to the master of the mother. Her story is unique in many respects. She is raised surrounded by her family; she learns to read and write alongside her little mistress; and she acquires freedom for herself and her two children.

While her story has many unique elements, it is bound together with all slaves: past, present, and future, who share the feeling that as one created in the image of God, they should not be owned by another person. When she finally gets her freedom, here are her thoughts, “A gentleman near me said, ‘It’s true; I have seen the bill of sale.’ ‘The bill of sale!’ Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold in the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization in the United States. I well know the value of a bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the miscreant who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him or his.”

Friends, I feel inadequate to write this review. I could not put this book down. I don’t feel like I should say that I enjoyed it, as it was a chronicle of so many’s suffering. But, every time I was forced to put it down, I grabbed it back up again as quickly as I could. I think you’ll feel the same way about it. Not only will you want to keep reading, I think you should read it. I think it is important for everybody to read this book.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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I recently read Jane Eyre on a recommendation from a new friend. I had always heard from my mother that it was a good book, but was not interested in reading anything written before I was born. As an adult, I am able to read the old english and understand what it is saying. Mostly.

I loaded it up onto my Kindle (You may have noticed that as a classic, the kindle version is free. If you followed the links, which, in fact, I never do.) and started reading. I had recently read a book that gave a quick summary of the book, and I’m not sure if that helped me to keep reading, or just helped me to brace myself for the tragic life that young Jane lives. The beginning of the book is quite sad. Then, in the middle there is a period where it seems that everything is going to just turn out perfectly. However, Jane is not fated to live a comfortable, happy life, and in a moment, all of her happiness is taken from her. In keeping with her character, she sets out to begin again and finds comfort, if not happiness and joy for a while. The real joy is saved for the end when she finally gets her one true desire. There is my attempt at recapping without any spoilers!

If you haven’t read this book. I do recommend it to you. Especially if you have enjoyed any of the other classics. I liked it. Maybe not a book that I’m going to read over and over (Sorry, Mom) but, I am glad that I read it. It makes me want to read more Bronte sister books. I think I may try Wuthering Heights and see if Emily and Charlotte have much in common in their writing.