How the West Was Won - Louis L'Amour

I was inspired a couple weeks ago to pick up a western – I remember stacks of Louis L’Amour books around as a kid and thought he’d be a natural choice for such a compulsion. I had picked up a used copy of this book in great condition at Half Price Books and decided to crack it open – I didn’t notice until that particular moment that this book is actually a novelization of a screenplay for the epic movie by the same name. If it didn’t say that right on my cover, I probably would have assumed that book came before movie. Nevertheless, I wasn’t discouraged and figured that at least I’d get what I was hankerin’ for and I’d get a sense of L’Amour’s style.

Mission accomplished on both counts. A multi-generational tale spanning 50 years of history, there was plenty ‘Western’ to appreciate. Indian battles, outlaw battles, saloons and gambling – tough, rugged and honorable men and the strong woman that supported them. Each family member had their own vignette that showed a different aspect of expansion west - from the rivers to the prairies to the Civil War and the Gold Rush. I think my favorite, by far, was Cleve and Lilith’s story – that of a reformed gambler and a highly independent singing beauty. It was easy to love that one because Lilith had so much character and vim – she partners up with another single lady in a wagon train to head west, proving that she didn’t need a man or a traditional life, she could find her own way.

A real highlight of the book for me was this running gag from the patriarch of the book – Linus Rawlings. And this isn’t L’Amour because I’m pretty sure it’s in the movie, but Linus going to ‘see the varmint’ as a euphemism for sex is probably the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Straight from a mountain man’s mouth, sure, but the way that this runs through the generations of the book was very amusing. Towards the very end, the outlaw in this family recognizes distant kin because he mentions someone had ‘see’d the varmint’. I’ve actually said varmint so many times this last week (because I'm just *that* immature) or two that it’s become almost a non-word, but do you know what I see when I think of varmint?

I can’t help it.

Without seeing the movie, I’m fairly sure that L’Amour inserted some of his own knowledge and history therein this book – a man who’d been there, done that, he adds some interesting commentary regarding the Indians and other things, relating them to other parts of history. My book jacket says that L’Amour’s great grandfather (or was it grandfather?) was scalped by a Sioux Indian - there’s just a certain amount of weight given to someone who was related to someone who was scalped. That’s probably as close as I’d like to come to any bloody event, anyway. I’m a right pansy about things like that.
It can’t go unsaid that the West was really won by us running roughshod over the peoples here first, but the book doesn’t really excuse that bad history, it just tells the story. I’ll be looking for another L’Amour down the road, one of his originals this time.

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