Tag Archives: western

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.'”

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Treasure Mountain by Louis L’Amour

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In Treasure Mountain, some of the boys go in search of the final resting place of their Pa. He acted as guide for a group of treasure hunters when the boys were little. Now, however, their Ma is getting along in years and wants to know why he never made it back to her. So, Tell and Orrin set out to find and follow Pa’s final trail.

The Tinker shows up in the beginning of the book and decides to ride along with them. And a man named Judas Priest who tells them, “I look for a grave as well as you. I also look for the reason why there needs to be a grave.” His father Angus Priest had accompanied the group that Pa led.

Treasure Mountain is another book with a lot of familiar as well as semi-familiar characters. Tell, Orrin, Tyrell and the Tinker all feature in here, Logan and Nolan are mentioned in stories. We catch up with Nell, one of the Trelawney girls from back home, as well as a whole group of baddies who give chase to the Sacketts, up into the mountains where they feel most at home. Books with more than one Sackett are some of my favorites, and when they sit around a fire at night telling stories, well that’s just icing on the cake. One of my favorite stories comes from this book. I’ll share it with you here. If you like it, and I know you will, then come on back and read the book that is written all around it and I can tell you you’ll enjoy it too.

“Nolan was forted up down in the Panhandle country with some Comanches yonder a-shootin’ at him.. One of them got lead into him. He nailed that one right through the ears as he turned his head to speak to the other one, and then he wounded the last one. Nolan walked in on him, kicked the gun out of his hand, and stood there looking down at him, gun in his fist, and that Comanche glared right back at him, dared him to shoot, and tried to spit at him.

Nolan laughed, picked that Injun up by the hair and dragged him to his horse. He loaded that Indian on, tied him in place, then mounted his own horse and rode right to that Comanche village.

He walked his horse right in among the lodges and stopped.

The Comanches were fighters. No braver men ever lived, and they wanted Nolan’s hair, but they came out and gathered around to see what he had on his mind.

Nolan sat up there in the middle of his mustang, and he told them what a brave man this warrior was, how he had fought him until he was wounded, his gun empty, and then had cussed him and tried to fight him with his hands.

“I did not kill him. He is a brave man. You should be proud to have such a warrior. I brought him back to you to get well from his wounds. Maybe some day we can fight again.”

And then he dropped the lead rope and rode right out of that village, walking his horse and never looking back.

Any one of them could have shot him. He knew that. But Indians, of any persuasion, have always respected bravery, and he had given them back one of their on and had promised to fight him again when he had his strength.

So they let Nolan ride away, and to this day in Comanche villages they tell the story. And the Indian he brought back tells it best.”

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.

Mustang Man by Louis L’Amour

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“When a man travelled in Indian country he sort of sifted through, gentle-like and taking up no more room than need be. He kept out of sight, and slept without a fire at night unless he could hide it well. And on top of that he prayed, if he was a praying man, and the deeper you got into Indian country the more of a praying man you got to be.” -Nolan Sackett

You’ve probably guessed that Nolan Sackett is the Mustang Man. Near the beginning of the book, he encounters a group heading cross country. He’s having some dinner and the owner of the establishment he’s in suggests that he should escort them. His initial reaction is strongly in the negative, but his mind is changed in the end, mostly because one of them is a woman and, “She was beautiful…taller than most girls… and shaped like music.” When Pio, the owner of the cantina, finally convinces him to take them through the rough country beyond, we hear this: “‘Bueno!’ Pio smiled at me. ‘I knew this was what you would do. I tell them so. I tell them just to wait, that you’re a good man.’

Me? It was the first time in a long while anybody had said that about Nolan Sackett. Oh, they say, ‘He’s a good man with a gun,’ or ‘He’s a fair hand with a rope.’ or ‘He can ride anything wears hair,’ but nobody just out and said I was a good man.

A man had to avoid that sort of thing. First thing a man knows he’s tryin’ to live up to it. And then what kind of an outlaw is he?”

Oh I loved Nolan Sackett. As you might expect from a Sackett, he is not as good an outlaw as can be. He’s more of a wrong place at the wrong time kind of guy. He faced down the wrong man, a man who had friends to back him up, and was unfortunately a faster, better shot. So, when the chips are down, and the lady’s in trouble, he can do nothing but come to her rescue again and again.

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 Sackett Brand by Louis L’Amour

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“For a hundred years my family had told stories of Sacketts

who came running to help Sacketts, often men they had never known.

It was the way of our kind, the way of the hills in which we were bred.”

-William Tell Sackett.

This book has the largest gathering of Sacketts ever seen. Unfortunately, it is because one of their own is in trouble. In the beginning of the book, Tell is out scouting the land when he is shot. He falls down a cliff into a river and is able to escape the men hunting him. Then he returns to his camp to find his wife Ange, their wagon and all of their gear missing. He knows he is in the right place, but there is no sign that the wagon was ever there. This leads him to the conclusion that an evil act is being covered by the guilty conscience of a man. Sadly, he is right.

Then, he searches for his wife, for the truth, and for the man responsible. When he finds his wife, the truth is revealed, and the man responsible receives the full weight of his anger. There are obstacles, however, as 40 hired guns are brought in to kill Tell thereby silencing him. But, these men have never been in a fight with a Sackett and very badly underestimate him. As all the Sacketts are coming into town, one of them comments, “‘He couldn’t be so ornery. Not even a Sackett could be so down-right ornery. He don’t dare let us be late.’ ‘Ornery?’ ‘He couldn’t be so ornery as to kill all forty of ’em before we get there.'” Only a group of Sacketts would worry about one guy finishing off 40 others before they could get in there to help. As Tell said, “None of us Sacketts were ever much on missing out on a fight. It was just in us to step in and let fly.”

This book has such a sad story. The beginning just breaks your heart, but the fighting and the “all-in relational aspect” that is the trademark of the Sackett line makes you forget about the sadness and really enjoy the story. As I look back over the book, I am realizing that it is so sad, and I am trying to figure out why I thought the book was so good and fun. Before you judge me for so thoroughly enjoying a book with such a tragic beginning, read it for yourself, you’ll see what I mean. My best explanation is this. That in the end what you’re left with is what we are all really longing for. A large family that loves you so much they will drop everything, risk what is most important, and run, not walk to join you when you most need them. Someone who loves you so much that they will search every dangerous path to find you. Who will then stand strong against your enemies until they are defeated. Unconditional love. These are the things you will remember from this book. And I can tell you that you will enjoy it. A lot.

Mojave Crossing by Louis L’Amour

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“Every man is born with death in him,” I said. “It’s only a matter of time.” -William Tell Sackett

Mojave Crossing is another William Tell Sackett book. This book finds him escorting a beautiful woman across the Mojave desert. She is running from some sort of trouble, and he can never quite shake his first image of her when he describes her as a black eyed witch. Not that he’s being especially unkind, he just sees some sort of ulterior motive in a beautiful woman who sets her sights on a “big raw-boned mountain boy, rougher than a cob and standing six feet three inches in my socks, with hands and shoulders fit to wrassle mustang broncs or ornery steers, but no hand with womenfolks.” As with all Sackett books, this one is filled with a host of colorful characters. Good guys and bad guys alike fill the pages nicely.

At one point, Tell stumbles into an outlaw camp. He is invited to come in and have a bite. One of the guys around the fire is teasing him, and he replies, “You just stack your duds and grease your skids and I’ll whup you down to a frazzle… After I’ve been fed.” I love a character who is sure enough of himself to jump into a teasing conversation in any crowd. Tell is an honest man who has the look of one who can, and will take care of business. As such, he is accepted into almost any crowd without having to change his character. Only those who directly cross him don’t enjoy being with him.

When he does get mad, you don’t want to be the one to have caused it. He says, “Until then I hadn’t been mad, for we Sacketts, man and boy, are slow to anger, but when we come to it we are a fierce and awful people. Another thing Pa had taught us boys was that anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before- it takes something from him.” Oh that Pa was a wise man. I bet when you heard that anger is a killing thing you immediately thought of the person who had angered Tell, possibly with pity. But, he is talking about himself. He is warning us of the dangers to our own hearts if we walk around getting angry all the time.

There is enough mystery in this book that I don’t want to tell you too much about the actual story because it will possibly reveal things that are more fun discovered as L’Amour intended you to learn them. Just know that I really liked this book and I think you will too.

We meet Nolan Sackett here and I’m hoping he has his own book somewhere down the line. He could be fun.