Louis Dearborn LaMoore was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, into a pioneer family of English, Irish, French, and Canadian stock. He was the seventh and youngest child of Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore. His father was a veterinarian, a farm-implements mechanic, a police chief, a civil and political leader, and a Sunday school teacher. He instructed his sons in Western lore, in animal husbandry, and in boxing and was a living example to them of the virtues of hard work—as was L’Amour’s mother. Her father had been a Civil War veteran and an Indian fighter before his marriage. Emily Dearborn trained to become a teacher but married Louis Charles LaMoore instead, in 1892. She is remembered as quiet, fond of gardening and reading, and a captivating storyteller.
Louis L’Amour (as he called himself from the 1940’s) enjoyed a Tom Sawyer-like boyhood combining outdoor freedom and voracious reading. When his parents moved to Oklahoma in 1923, young Louis, feeling that school was interfering with his education (as he often put it later), lit out on his own for what he called his knockabout years. He held a variety of jobs that were indirectly educational and which, as he often said, were grist for his writing mill. He was a cattle skinner, migrant farm worker, professional boxer, circus roustabout, lumberjack, miner, longshoreman, sailor, and friend of bandits in China and Tibet. Much later, he became a book reviewer back in Oklahoma, a lecturer, and a neophyte author of many action stories as well as a little poetry (published in book form in 1939). Entering the U.S. Army in 1942, he served in tank-destroying and transportation units fighting in World War II in France and Germany.
The year 1946 found L’Amour in Los Angeles, determined to write for a living. By that time he had published much short fiction in pulp and slick magazines—mostly mediocre yarns about sailors and detectives, in addition to cowboys. In 1950 his first novel, Westward the Tide, was published in London but went unnoticed. On July 5, 1952, a turning point in his life came when Collier’s published one of his short stories. Called “The Gift of Cochise” (reprinted in a 1975 collection of short stories titled War Party), it formed the basis for his Western classic Hondo (1953).
Beginning in 1953, L’Amour was under contract with Fawcett for a novel a year. A few years later he signed with Bantam Books for...
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