Monday, January 3, 2011

Louis L'Amour and the Lowe's and Lane's

by Pa Rock

My Dad was an unabashed fan of cowboy literature, movies, and television programs.  Growing up, no matter how late he had to work most nights, come Saturday evening he was always parked in front of the television watching Marshall Dillion of Gunsmoke or Paladin of Have Gun, Will Travel.  He bought classic westerns during his later years and watched many of them over and over, and a few good friends would copy western movies off of the cable and give them to him.  (Cable was a personal extravagance which he would not abide!)  One of the regular Christmas gifts that I procured for him his final few Christmases was Louis L'Amour's collected short stories, a new volume of which would miraculously appear in bookstores during each Christmas buying season.  I think that my son, Nick, bought the final one for him in the weeks before Dad died on Christmas Day of 2009.

When we were cleaning out Dad's things preparing to auction off his much loved "stuff," I bundled up the L'Amour collections, six in all, and took them home with me with the thought that someday I would read through them and thus share a little something with my Dad.  Those volumes followed me to Okinawa where they have waited patiently on a shelf while I worked my way through some other reading priorities.

Before getting to them, I came across a free copy of one of L'Amour's classic novels, Hondo.  That little book appealed to me because a long-deceased friend in McDonald County, Missouri, began referring to me as "Hondo' in the sixties when I was always putting around town on some raggedy-assed scooter or motorcycle.  That friend, an older man named Bill Parnell, referred to me as Hondo until the day he died some two decades later.

Before tackling the hundreds of collected short stories of Louis L'Amour, I decided to begin with Hondo.  It is the tale of a very capable woman, Angie Lowe, who is living on her farmstead in the desert of southern Arizona.  Angie and her six-year-old son are by themselves in the dangerous Apache country because her shiftless husband, Ed Lowe, rode off for supplies months before and never came home.  Ed appears a few chapters later holed up in the safety of the Army post where he plays dishonest poker and relieves good people of their hard-earned cash.  He definitely does not want anyone at the fort to know that he abandoned a wife and small child in Apache country.

Handsome and rugged Hondo Lane happens by Angie's little farmstead that was built by her industrious father and not the shiftless Ed.  He tames one of her horses, does a few necessary chores, buys the horse from her, tries to get her to leave with him for the safety of the fort, and then gives her a big, sloppy kiss because Hondo knows that is what all women want and need.

Angie spends the next several months pining for Hondo because he is a great kisser, and she also deals with the Apaches who have designs on her body or her scalp - and her ranch.  During one particularly tense moment, six-year-old Johnny fires his father's pistol at some visiting Indians and fells and angry brave - though not fatally.  The great chief, Vittoro, is present and observes the lad's bravery - and immediately cuts both of their thumbs so that he can be Johnny's blood brother.  He then becomes Johnny's protector.  Vittoro soon decides that Angie is not safe remaining on the farm, and orders her to choose one of his braves to marry and then move to their encampment.  Angie has some racial issues and tells him that although she respects him, whites should marry whites and Indians marry Indians,

Did I mention that this was written in 1953?

Meanwhile back at the fort, Hondo Lane meets awful Ed Lane and winds up killing him.  Hondo is riding back to Angie's ranch when he is captured by Apaches, and while being tortured by his captors, a tintype of young Johnny that Hondo had taken off of the dead Ed flips out of his shirt pocket and hits the ground.  Vittoro recognizes the picture of his little blood brother, and, believing that Hondo must be Angie's husband, returns him to her so that he can teach the young boy the ways of being a man.

And, there is more to the story, including the death of Vittoro during a battle with the cavalry, and his replacement as chief by the vengeful Silva, the Indian brave that Johnny had shot chapters before - and the evil skunk who killed Hondo's dog.  But that can all wait for another telling.

After finishing Hondo,  a surprisingly readable though thoroughly dated literary effort, I decided to tackle the volumes of short stories.  Being a person of great organization skills and a moderate dose of OCD, I elected to begin with story one in volume one.  It was called The Gift of Cochise, and, wouldn't you know that it had a very familiar feel.

One of the main characters in The Gift of Cochise is a hard-as-nails, but very pretty and feminine farm wife named Angie Lowe.   Angie is living on her farmstead taking care of sever-year-old Jimmy and five-year-old Jane after her semi-shiftless husband, Ed, rode to El Paso, one hundred miles away, for supplies.  The problem is, of course, Ed had been gone too long.  The great Apache chief, Cochise, drops by with a hunting party and wants to know where her husband is.  She tells him, but the wise old Indian believes that Ed must be dead because why else would he abandon a wife and two children in this desolate and dangerous land.  Cochise develops a paternal fondness for little Jimmy and tells Angie that for him to become an able man, he must have a good male role model.  (Okay, Cochise didn't use the term "role model," but that is what he meant!)  He then told Angie that she must choose one of his braves to marry, and she replies negatively with her racist screed.

Meanwhile in El Paso, Ed Lowe has bought the supplies and stops by the local saloon to wet his whistle before the long ride home.  While standing at the bar shooting the breeze with the bartender, Ed observes three desperadoes push back their chairs and prepare to gun down a lone man who has done them no apparent harm.  Good-hearted Ed steps in to help even the odds - and gets himself killed.  But, thanks to Ed's timely intervention, all three desperadoes die and the man he helped made it out without a scratch.  That man, Ches Lane, learns of Ed's lonely wife and children from the bartender, and sets out to find them.

And, predictably (by this time) Ed eventually gets himself captured by Cochise who, in turn, presents him to Angie - because the stranger is so daring and brave - as her great white hope.

It turns out that this version of the tale was written in 1952 - an obviously different time in America.

After finishing my first two L'Amour pieces, I began to wonder if I would be running into Angie and Ed - and one or the other of the Lane's - in everything by L'Amour.  Some research was in order.

And here's the rest of the story:

Louis L'Amour wrote The Gift of Cochise in 1952 and it was published in Collier's Magazine.  John Wayne, America's favorite cowboy actor, read the story in Collier's and recognized a good tale when he saw it.  Wayne bought the movie rights, Hollywood changed the wimpy-sounding Ches to Hondo, made Ed thoroughly evil, and added the sloppy kiss.  When the movie came out, Louis L'Amour wrote the novelization of the script - a saucy little book called Hondo.

And now you know...


Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, Rock!
Does L'Amour change his style over the years?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, Rock!
Does L'Amour change his style over the years?