Westward Ho!

Janet Clapp

Dangerous, rugged landscapes form the backdrop for stories set in the American frontier. Tales of cowboys and outlaws reflect simpler times. Novels from the western genre often portray a world of strength and independence, as well as of violence and crudity: sometimes they show the ugly side of an often romanticized past. In the “Wild West” of yesteryear, people faced physical threats to survival that could induce a starving man to eat a raw goat or even a dead body. Classic western writers include Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey and Max Brand. Here are a few western standards, and a newer book with a well-known western character, Doc Holliday.

The Big Sky

by A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

Young Boone Caudill runs away from his Kentucky home to head west. “It was like people and things were all banded against him, the trail losing itself in the dark and the trees hunched close around him and the night dripping wet and maybe unfriendly eyes watching from it, laughing when he stumbled. It was enough to put a lonesome fright in the heart and a lump in the throat.” During his travels he meets a friendly man, Jim Deakins, who joins him on the trek. Together they work on the Missouri River, then become beaver-trapping mountain men. Written in 1947, the novel reflects a culture and vocabulary that sometimes stereotyped minorities and women and depicts an America that was still largely wilderness.

The Stranglers

by Loren D. Estleman

Deputy Marshal Page Murdock represents what order there is in the brutal lawlessness of Montana. “Schichter was mad. You hear all the time about men going crazy but it’s just a word until you see it…He was convinced his random murders had the law quaking and was determined to make the Montana badlands his fiefdom. So much open space could warp a man too long from civilization; most times it shrank him with the heart-sickening realization of his own insignificance, but sometimes it worked opposite, the room to grow in any direction and the sensation of breathing air no one had breathed before charging his brain like a strong drug.” Murdock’s hunt for stranglers, men who hang lawmen, takes him into country and town. “The town smelled of beer and manure and man-sweat and you could feel the silence coming back at you off the dark walls of the buildings on either side. There is no quiet like the quiet in the mountains in the last hour before light. Dawn comes late there, but when it comes it comes all in a bunch. The sun was an angry bloodshot eye in a pink sky.” There is a lot of death and lawbreaking from all sides in this volume, one of several about Murdock.

Lonesome Dove

by Larry McMurtry

The men of the Hat Creek livery stables in Lonesome Dove, Texas make raids into Mexico to get stock, hang out in the local bar with tantalizing Lorena, and sweat the day away until they leave on a cattle drive to Montana. “Of course Gus was a great blabber, but his blabbing wasn’t really like the chattering the other sports did. He was just full of opinion, which he freely poured out, as much for his own amusement as for anything.” Call is their hard-working and responsible leader: “Virtually all his life he had been in the position of leading groups of men, yet the truth was he had never liked groups. Men he admired for their abilities in action almost always brought themselves down in his estimation if he had to sit around and listen to them talk — or watch them drink or play cards or run after women. Listening to men talk usually made him feel more alone than if he were a mile away by himself under a tree.” Filled with memorable characters, this epic Western won the Pulitzer Prize.


by Mary Doria Russell

“When he arrived in Dodge City in 1878, Dr. John Henry Holliday was a frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who wanted nothing grander than to practice his profession in a prosperous Kansas cow town. Hope — cruelest of the evils that escaped Pandora’s box — smiled on him gently all that summer. While he lived in Dodge, the quiet life he yearned for seemed to lie within his grasp.” Based on research, this historical novel imagines the life of the legendary Doc Holliday before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral for which he and his friend Wyatt Earp are remembered.

The Rutland Free Library has rounded up the titles above and many other westerns.

Happy reading!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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