« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Curtis Eriksmoen, Published March 24 2012

Eriksmoen: Western author from North Dakota first wrote book of poetry

The first book published by the most popular novelist of Western adventures was a collection of poetry.

Louis L’Amour always wanted to be a writer. When his book of verse was released in 1939, he became the third sibling to have a book on the market.

His first novel, a Western, was released first in Great Britain in 1950. It was titled “Westward the Tide.” When L’Amour died in 1988, he had authored nearly 100 novels, more than 400 short stories (of which several were collected in 13 volumes), two books of nonfiction and his book of poetry. At the time, his books had sold more than 200 million copies.

Since his death, 28 more volumes of short stories have been published, along with “The Sackett Companion” and his biography, “Education of a Wandering Man.” The total sale of his work now approaches 350 million copies.

L’Amour left Jamestown (N.D.) High School at age 15 after completing his sophomore year. From 1923 to 1935, he traveled across the Western states working as a lumberjack, miner, circus roustabout, animal skinner, boxer and at many other menial jobs. L’Amour was also employed as a merchant seaman, sailing across the world.

Nearly all of the manuscripts he submitted prior to 1935 were rejected. In 1935, True Gang Life published “Anything for a Pal,” and other publications soon followed. L’Amour’s most popular works in the late 1930s and early 1940s were adventure stories, many of them centered on a British intelligence officer named Jim Mayo. He also continued to write poetry. In 1939, L’Amour’s first book, “Smoke From This Altar,” was published. It was a collection of his poems and was sold only in his home state of Oklahoma.

L’Amour was inducted into the Army late in summer 1942. After attending officer’s candidate school, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, placed with a transportation unit and sent overseas. After the war, he moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles. With the war over, L’Amour decided to concentrate on mysteries and then westerns.

In 1950, his first novel, “Westward the Tide,” was published in England. L’Amour was then approached by Clarence Mulford, the creator of the Hopalong Cassidy series. Sixty-six Cassidy movies were made from 1935 to 1948, and in 1949, the series became popular on radio and television. Mulford, who was impressed with L’Amour’s Jim Mayo series, turned to the writer to continue his Cassidy books. In 1951 and 1952, L’Amour wrote four Cassidy novels under the name Tex Burns. L’Amour always denied he was the author because he considered the books inferior to his other work.

In 1953, L’Amour conceived a story about a Pacific island mining engineer who attempts to prevent a native uprising. Author Jack Natteford liked the story and turned it into a screenplay titled “East of Sumatra,” which was made into a motion picture starring Jeff Chandler and Anthony Quinn. L’Amour’s name appeared in the movie credits for the first time.

On July 5, 1952, L’Amour’s story “The Gift of Cochise” was printed in Colliers magazine. John Wayne, who had recently formed his own production company, read the story and purchased the rights. The author retained the right to expand it into a novel. The movie and L’Amour’s novel used the title “Hondo.” He released his book the same day the movie opened on April 5, 1954.

It was about this time that L’Amour began dating Julie Newmeyer, an aspiring actress. Julie’s good friend was Katherine Adams, a television actress, and the two friends double-dated. After L’Amour and Newmeyer broke up, he started dating Adams and the two were married in 1956. Newmeyer later changed her last name to Newmar and became a leading lady in a number of movies, but is best remembered for playing Catwoman on the “Batman” television series.

L’Amour’s novels became hot property in Hollywood. During the 1950s, he published 17 novels and 10 of them were made into movies. Three motion pictures were also made from L’Amour’s short stories during that decade. His work was also popular on television. L’Amour’s stories were used for Western shows like “Maverick,” “The Texan” and “Sugarfoot,” and for detective and mystery programs. Most of the novels written by L’Amour during the 1950s were published by Fawcett/Gold Medal, a paperback publishing company founded by Billy Fawcett of Grand Forks.

With the release of “The Daybreakers” in 1960, L’Amour introduced the most famous family of Western fiction – the Sacketts. L’Amour wrote 17 novels focused on the Sackett family, seven novels in which the Sacketts were involved and two short stories about the Sacketts. “The Sacketts” was made into a two-part television mini-series in 1979.

Among the many awards granted to L’Amour was the Western Writers of America’s Golden Spur Award in 1969 for his novel “Down the Long Hills.” In 1972, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Jamestown College and received the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award. In 1981, L’Amour was given the Golden Saddleman Award by the Western Writers of America. In 1983, Congress bestowed upon him the National Gold Medal, and in 1984, President Reagan presented him with the Medal of Freedom.

When L’Amour found out he had cancer, he began his autobiography, “Education of a Wandering Man,” which he completed shortly before his death on June 10, 1988.


Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send a letter to the editor.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.