In a 60 Minutes profile in which he hailed Louis L'Amour as "our professor emeritus of how the West was won," correspondent Morley Safer observed that "his plots may be fiction but the details therein are fact." The Sackett Companion is the author's long-savored opportunity to present the research and probe the factors behind his Sackett fiction—novel by novel—and to elaborate on their real and fictional characters, their geography and locales, and their historical eras in encyclopedia-like detail.
In this book, subtitled A Personal Guide To The Sackett Novels, L'Amour takes us on a guided tour of his imagination to introduce us to the never-before-told sources and inspirations for these stories and the people and places that populate them. He retraces some of his travels in which he has walked the land the Sacketts walk, reliving such personal memories as the street fight he had on a hot dusty morning in New Mexico that ultimately led to the birth of the Sacketts.
About the Author
Date of Birth:March 22, 1908
Date of Death:June 10, 1988
Place of Birth:Jamestown, North Dakota
Read an Excerpt
A question I am often asked is: How long does it take to write a book?
It seems to me a ridiculous question. If the questioner stopped to think, he or she would understand that it takes as long as is necessary. Is the book to be two hundred pages or two thousand? Is much research required or very little? No book can be written without some research, for no matter how much one believes he knows, it will always prove to be less than enough.
I rarely do research on a book I am writing. That research has, except for the unexpected detail, been done long before. By the time I begin to write, I am saturated with the background of my story. Yet one never knows enough. There is always more to be learned.
Another question I am asked at least once a month or during the question-and-answer period at a lecture: What book can I read to learn about the West?
What part of the West? During what period?
What phase of western settlement?
I have read, scanned, or browsed through literally thousands of books, documents, diaries, and reports and am only beginning to understand what happened; how, why, when, and where it happened; to say nothing of all the problems and influences that contributed to what the West was at various stages in history.
No story of the frontier can be written without knowledge of the physical environment, of the terrain, vegetation, animal, and insect life. Each state differs from every other, and within each state there are many widely diverse environments. Montana is unlike Texas, and both differ in many respects from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, or Colorado.
The Plains states present other problems, as do those rimming the Pacific. Oddly enough, some readers have never realized that California was as much a cowboy state as any other, and her vaqueros were among the greatest riders and ropers this country ever saw. It was second in cattle population only to Texas.
Oregon, Washington, and Idaho had their big ranches, their stagecoach hold-ups, and gunfighters, so the West was and is a very large area, indeed.
To really know the western frontier requires a lifetime of study. And there will always be those unexpected pockets of history that have developed in relative isolation so far as the reading public is concerned.
The western American frontier went through many phases of development. The Spanish who settled in the Southwest and the French in the North and Northwest were the first. Then the so-called Long Hunters (because they were out a long, long time!) ventured west of the Appalachians. Daniel Boone, who is considered by many to be the original western pioneer, was, in fact, preceded by many others. Gabriel Arthur was living with the same Indians Boone was to meet, but one hundred years earlier, and he was but one of many.
Our histories are based largely upon official or semi-official reports that appeared at a time when only a small number of people could read and write. Few of the hunters and explorers even thought of writing what had happened to them or where they had been. In our western histories, and indeed, in the history of the world, we are basing all our conjectures on only a small number of accounts. Moreover, most of these come from a relatively few countries; reports from elsewhere in the world are rarely considered.
At a rough guess, I would estimate that ninety percent of the fiction written about the West has concerned the Plains states or those few others that were in the cattle business or provided a trail westward that moved from Missouri to California. For some reason the man on horseback has always intrigued, whether he be knight in armor, a Bedouin of the desert, or an American cowboy. He has always been a figure of romance.
Is it because he is mobile? Because he can ride away into the sunset? Or that he comes from out of nowhere, a mysterious, romantic figure who appears without warning and is seemingly free of everyday trials and troubles?
Contemporary man has tried to substitute the car for the cow pony, but it simply doesn’t work. True, in a car he is mobile, and once behind the wheel he can feel the excitement of command, but nevertheless the car is bound to the road, inhibited by traffic, and frustrated by regulations essential to his safety but which he often feels rob him of the true freedom he wants.
To write well of the West there is so much one should know. Horses, cattle, weapons, the way a saddle was rigged, the way a cowhand used a rope, and the lifestyles of Indians varied greatly from place to place.
The English saddle, for instance, was intended for the hunt or for brief rides, but a cowhand lived in his saddle from daylight until dark. It was not only where he spent a major part of his life, it was his workbench, and had to be structured as such. The ancestor of the cowboy saddle was that of the armored knight who needed a secure seat, or the Conquistador who followed Cortes, Coronado, and their kind. These men established settlements in New Mexico, with churches and schools, long before the Pilgrims landed in 1620.
As for the importance of physical environment: the land itself was always present in the thoughts, the emotions, and calculations of the pioneer. No story of the West can be written where the terrain is not a factor. The distance from here to there, the existence of waterholes, the condition of the grass, the trails (if any existed), and many other factors had to be considered. The country demanded consideration in any pioneer’s plans, but it also exerted its influences on the emotions. Many simply could not stand the rolling plains that seemed to go on forever with a vast sky arching overhead. Many turned and ran for cover in city streets or small villages where they had lived. Some went insane from the ever-blowing wind and the isolation of life on a government claim.
To write well of the West one must understand not only what happened here, but what caused it to happen.
My own western experience began with stories told by my grandfather, who had fought in the Civil and Indian Wars; my father, who had grown up with a Huron Indian as his only playmate; and an uncle who came to visit at least twice when I was very young. He was an uncle by marriage, a man born with a wanderlust and no desire to own or possess. In his lifetime he covered much of the West from British Columbia to Sonora. He delivered mail, punched cows, managed a large ranch, and did just about everything a man could do in western country.
My father was a veterinarian who worked largely with farm or ranch stock, and doubled as a deputy sheriff for a number of years, off and on. As a veterinarian, one of his jobs was the inspection of cattle shipped through on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and frequently, when I was very young I went with him to the stockyards, listening to his conversations with the cowboys who were riding east with the cattle.
Later, at the age of fifteen, when I started to make my own way in the world, I worked on ranches, in mines, on construction gangs, and in the sawmills and lumber woods. Often I worked beside men who had lived through the younger, wilder days of America’s growing years.
As a child I learned to listen and remember, and later, sitting around cow camps and in mining towns, I listened more than I talked. The men and women I met were the survivors. Some survived by skill, some by chance, I learned, as my questions or comments helped revive memories. I had already acquired an interest in everything western.
Although I knew I would be a writer and a teller of tales, I had no idea of writing about the West. It was simply that the stories I heard were exciting, and it was simply that I was interested. The collectors of oral history today would give their eyeteeth for what I was hearing nearly every day, and I’d have given mine for any kind of a recording device, but I had to rely on my memory.
Sometimes today I am not sure just where I learned something, remembering the information but not the source. Miners I worked with had before my time worked the mines from Butte to Tombstone, from Cripple Creek and Tonopah to Grass Valley. Now they are gone, and the old cattlemen are gone too, taking their memories with them. Four of the old-time gunfighters I knew passed on down the trail in the 1940s, another in ’53. As I’ve said elsewhere, “if you didn’t shoot ’em they’d live forever.”
If I have written good stories, much is due to those with whom I worked or saw around town, and who contributed their bits of western lore or their memories of the old days and the people who lived them.
Often their opinions varied, and often what they told me in later years was colored by hearsay, but it was what was believed at the time. All this must be weighed in the balance with newspaper accounts, diaries, or other documentation. Somewhere out of it all comes something resembling the truth.
Occasionally there will be an “old-timer” who has told the same story so many times he believes it (and others do, too), telling you “he was there!”.
One such story was an anecdote about Wyatt Earp in Dodge City. The only trouble with it was that Wyatt was a gambler in Silverton, Colorado when the so-called event took place and had not been in Dodge for over a year.
Diaries were and are important. They were written at the time events happened and represented the information at least as one man saw it.
Diaries have been a rich source of material for me. Not the events recorded in such journals, but the mental attitude, the moral standards, and the feelings of people at the time. It is all right to imagine, but the imagination must have a takeoff point, it must have a basis in fact.
Newspapers—and nearly every western town had at least one—are valuable sources. Often the reporting was good, and just as often the writing was opinionated, a fact one should easily detect, for people of the time—and that included newspaper reporters—made no secret of their opinions. Many a western editor set his type with a six-shooter on the table beside him, ready to back up his opinions, if need be.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am a Louis L'Amour junkie and have read all his books numerous times! This companion book gives such a clear picture of the times and characters that I have gone back and re-read the books again in the order suggested. What a great "must have" for all Sackett lovers!
Only for L'Amour fans, of course, but I am one. The author gives a quick synopsis of each of the Sackett titles and thumbnail sketches of the major and minor characters, and the towns and major elements of each setting. Interesting background tidbits, a Sackett family tree that shows the interrelationships between various characters and various generations, and several "glossaries" - lists of songs, narrators, guns, brands, ships, bars and taverns, etc.
I was disappointed by this companion guide to the Sackett series. The historical detail was what I was after... and there WAS some of that, but not nearly enough to satisfy. Unfortunately, the endlessly repetitive, cliched, character descriptions sapped whatever pleasure I took from the rest of the book. L'Amour obviously felt he had a lot more time to add to the Sackett series, and it was a great loss that he died the same year that this book was published (1988).
I so enjoy being able to go to my, The Sackett Companion any and every time I have a question about the people, fashions and guns of the era the Sacketts are from. Historically correct, The Sackett Companion is like an extra History book around only with names changed. If you are a Sackett liking person and love the series, this is a delight to have on hand.