Louis L'Amour,
Kiowa Trail
(Bantam, 1964)

We were the riders who drove the beef on which the town's existence was built, fighting dust, hail, and lightning, meeting stampede and Kiowa lance, leaving the Comanche dead in his own tall grass. We fought our nameless Alamos and rode to our deaths without a song of glory, nor any memory to leave behind except a hand less at the night guard and an empty saddle in the chuck wagon.

We rode the long grass miles where no boundaries were, some riding a day's work for a day's pay, but others filled with their own wild poetry, conscious of the epic they rode.

- Louis L'Amour, Kiowa Trail

The third book in my re-exploration of my old Louis L'Amour collection, pulled at random from the box where I found them, stirred an immediate memory. When I last read this book, as a teenager, I had such a crush on Kate Lundy, pictured so fetchingly on the cover with the hero, Conn Dury. I'm disappointed to see the current edition of the book has changed to a less evocative cover image.

It's still a good story, though. Dury is ramrodding the hands of the Tumbling B as they drive a herd from Texas to a small Kansas town along the railroad. Kate, his boss (and secret crush) is with them, as is Tom Lundy, her younger brother. They make it to town and Tom Lundy falls for a girl he sees on the street -- but she lives on the north side of town, where no mere cowhand -- especially one from the wilds of Texas -- is welcome. But Tom goes anyway, and he is gunned down. Kate vows not to leave until the town has been wiped from the earth, and that means Dury has a big job ahead of him.

Fortunately, the boys of the Tumbling B liked Tom and they're eager to fight. But the townsfolk aren't pushovers. It's going to be a war.

The book, like many of L'Amour's novels, is short, but he packs a lot of story in its pages. He makes use of plenty of flashbacks, too, from Dury's youth, his parents' death, his time with a kindly mentor and the aftermath of that mentor's murder, his travels in Europe and the fateful day he came upon an Indian assault on the Lundy homestead.

But the focus is on revenge, which doesn't take the form you might expect. No, Kate Lundy has more strategy in mind than simply sending her boys into town, guns a-blazing. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of gun battles, though; it wouldn't be a L'Amour book without them. Kiowa Trail is an excellent example of the staying power of his writing, and is one of the reasons L'Amour is still synonymous with the western milieu to this day.

book review by
Tom Knapp

21 May 2016

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new