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Louis L'Amour, Author


Today is the birthday of Louis L’Amour, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. His father was a large-animal veterinarian who had moved to Dakota Territory in 1882, and it was in Jamestown that Louis was born in 1908, the last of seven children.

Louis’s grandfather, Abraham Dearborn, lived in a little house behind the LaMoore’s, and he sparked Louis’s imagination with adventure stories based on his days as a soldier in the Civil War and then in the Indian wars. Louie also had two uncles who worked ranches, and Louis became more and more fascinated with history and adventure. He was soon devouring the fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London and Edgar Rice Burroughs – anything with adventure.

Louis and his older brothers also got to meet cowboys who were taking their cattle to market on the NP Railroad; Dr. LaMoore was a state Livestock Inspector, who had to certify the health of cattle passing through the Jamestown area.

When Louis was 15, everything changed. Louis’s son, Beau, writes, “After a series of bank failures ruined the economy of the upper Midwest, Dr. LaMoore, his wife Emily, and their sons Louis and John took their fortunes on the road. They traveled across the country in an often-desperate seven-year odyssey. During this time Louis skinned cattle in west Texas, baled hay in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico, worked in the mines of Arizona, California, and Nevada, and in the saw mills and lumber yards of Oregon and Washington.”

During that time, Louis met hundreds of people who would later become inspirations for his adventure and western novels – cowboys, desperados, military men and yes... even gunfighters. He also started boxing, sometimes making enough money to buy gas for the family to move on. Several times, he won enough prize money to allow him to box full time in gyms all across the west, where he met fighters, managers, gangsters and gamblers who later surfaced in his books.

L’Amour began writing – and changed the spelling of his name from L-a-m-o-o-r-e to L apostrophe a-m-o-u-r. His career was just taking off when he was inducted into the army in 1942. He trained as a Tank Destroyer, but because he was almost 35, he was ruled too old for combat. Instead, he was sent to England and then to Europe where he commanded a platoon of gas tankers. Again, he soaked in everything for later use in his books.

When he got back from the war, L’Amour found that the market for his adventure novels had all but dried up – now everybody wanted mysteries and westerns. He chose westerns and his output became tremendous. During one year he sold almost a story a week – in addition to writing others that didn’t sell. Louis’ average income per short story was less than $100, however, and it was his novels that finally brought him significant success, especially his series on the Sacketts.

L’Amour went on to write a total of 116 western novels. He won award after award, including the ND Roughrider Award, but it wasn’t until he was 65 that he felt financially secure enough to slow down.

In the fall of 1987, L’Amour was diagnosed with lung cancer. The following June, he was editing his long postponed memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, when he died in his bedroom office. Only days before, he had been notified that sales of his books had topped two hundred million.

Written by Merry Helm