What is it about the western genre that keeps it thriving despite often being proclaimed dead both on celluloid and in print? The genre has seen more comebacks than Frank Sinatra, it has swayed in and out of favour for decades. But still it refuses to roll over and die.
To call western fans a cult group would be improper because although there are sub-genres of the western that attract a cult user base, the genre is often rubbing shoulders with the mainstream.
Film makers keep the genre alive at the cinema by releasing truly epic movies and writers like Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurty have crossed over into the mainstream. The former has even seen Oscar winning movies adapted from his work and McMurty received the Pulitzer prize for the seminal Lonesome Dove.
The western is evident in all forms of popular culture-From Comic Books with characters like Jonah Hex and The Apache Kid, to cartoons like Texas Ted and Deputy Dog, as well as of course films, television and books.
(PICTURED DC COMIC'S JONAH HEX -vicious bastard)
The west was being written about and mythologised while it was still happening with the dime store paperbacks. Real western characters like Daniel Boon, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid all had the dubious pleasure of reading novels exaggerating their exploits. In fact one story exists in which an ageing Daniel Boon was shown a paperback of his own adventures and the lurid cover depicting him as an handsome youthful mountain man holding a buxom maiden while he fought off two bloodthirsty Indian savages with his free hand.
Boon told the reporter who had shown him the book, - 'It might have happened. But I don't recollect it.'
Perhaps the first really important western novel was Owen Wister's 1902 The Virginian which has long fallen out of copyright and is available on the internet. Though I would point anyone wanting to seriously study this genre defining work to the Oxford Library Classics edition which contains some interesting footnotes as well as a learned introduction.
THERE FOLLOWS AN EXTRACT FROM THE MEDICINE BOW WEBSITE
Owen Wister (Born July 14, 1860 - Died in1938)
Worked in Boston as a bank employee until his health failed and came West in 1885. He went back to East to Harvard to become a lawyer.
Wister was a Harvard-educated lawyer from Philadelphia. He was originally from Pennsylvania.
July 22, 1885 - Wister came to Medicine Bow with the owner of the ranch. As there was no rooms available so he slept on the counter of the General Store, South of the tracks, now known as the Owen Wister General Store.
Wister made several trips West, and the names and events over a period of the next 15 years were kept in a series of diaries. They contained a full and realistic account of his western experiences with cattle thieves, ranchers, cowboys, saloons and their keepers, and Indians. He used these colourful events to provide the material for his western novel The Virginian which was published in 1902. (The setting - Medicine Bow, Wyoming)
Legend has it that Owen Wister overheard these words when James Davis, one time deputy sheriff of Carbon County, was engaged in a poker game in Medicine Bow. One of the other players called Davis an "S.O.B." and Davis replied, "When you call me that, smile."
The Novel contains many of the scenes that would become a stable of the genre - the cattle round-up, the saloon brawl, the gunfights, the romantic entanglements - but told here for the first time and any serious student of the genre needs to read this seminal work. The book was an immediate best-seller with readers snapping up the book as fast as it could be printed. The book was an even bigger hit in Europe where readers were eager for colourful tales of the frontier.
And so Wister's romantic viewpoint of the West became the template for the modern western.
Another popular early writer who had much to do with shaping the genre was Zane Grey (1872-1939) who published his first western novel in 1903, a year after the Virginian.
His total novels were:
- Betty Zane, (1903)
- Spirit of the Border, (1906) -- Sequel to Betty Zane
- The Last of the Plainsmen, (1908), Western
- The Last Trail, (1909) -- Sequel to Spirit of the Border
- The ShortStop, (1909) Baseball
- The Heritage of the Desert, (1910)
- The Young Forester, (1910), Western
- The Young Pitcher, (1911) Baseball
- The Young Lion Hunter, (1911), Western
- Riders of the Purple Sage, (1912) Western
- Ken Ward in the Jungle, (1912), Western
- Desert Gold, (1913), Western
- The Light of Western Stars, (1914), Western
- The Lone Star Ranger, (1915), Western (abridged version of Last of the Duanes (1996)
- The Rainbow Trail, (1915), Western -- Sequel to Riders of the Purple Sage
- The Border Legion, (1916), Western
- Wildfire, (1917)
- The UP Trail, (1918), Western
- The Desert of Wheat, (1919)
- Tales of Fishes, (1919), Non-Fiction/Fishing
- The Man of the Forest, (1920), Western
- The Redhead Outfield and other Stories, (1920) Baseball
- The Mysterious Rider, (1921) Western
- To the Last Man, (1921) (abridged version of Tonto Basin (2004)),
- The Day of the Beast, (1922), Post-WWI novel
- Tales of Lonely Trails, (1922), Western
- Wanderer of the Wasteland, (1923)
- Tappan’s Burro, (1923)
- Call of the Canyon, (1924), Wes tern
- Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon, (1924), Western
- Tales of Southern Rivers, (1924)
- The Thundering Herd, (1925), Western
- The Vanishing American Indian, (1925)
- Tales of Fishing Virgin Seas, (1925) Non-Fiction/Fishing
- Under the Tonto Rim, (1926)
- Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand, (1926) Non-Fiction/Fishing
- Forlorn River, (1927), Western
- Tales of Swordfish and Tuna, (1927) Non-Fiction/Fishing
- Nevada, (1928), Western -- Sequel to Forlorn River
- Wild Horse Mesa, (1928), Western
- Don, the Story of a Lion Dog, (1928), Western
- Tales of Fresh Water Fishing, (1928) Non-Fiction/Fishing
- Fighting Caravans , (1929), Western
- The Wolf Tracker, (1930)
- The Shepherd of Guadaloupe, (1930)
- Sunset Pass, (1931), Western
- Tales of Tahitian Waters, (1931) Non-Fiction
- Book of Camps and Trails, (1931) Non-Fiction
- Arizona Ames, (1932), Western
- Robber’s Roost, (1932), Western
- The Drift Fence, (1933), Western
- The Hash Knife Outfit, (1933), Western -- Sequel to The Drift Fence
- The Code of the West, (1934), Western
- Thunder Mountain, (1935), Western
- The Trail Driver, (1935)
- The Lost Wagon Train, (1936), Western
- West of the Pecos, (1937)
- An American Angler in Australia, (1937)
- Raiders of Spanish Peaks, (1938), Western
- Western Union, (1 939), Western
- Knights of the Range, (1939), Western
- Thirty thousand on the Hoof, (1940)
- Twin Sombreros, (1940), Western -- Sequel to Knights of the Range
- Majesty’s Rancho, (1942), Western -- Sequel to Light of Western Stars
- Omnibus, (1943), Western
- Stairs of Sand, (1943), Western -- Sequel to Wanderer of the Wasteland
- The Wilderness Trek, (1944), Western
- Shadow on the Trail, (1946), Western
- Valley of Wild Horses, (1947), Western
- Rogue River Feud, (1948), Western
- The Deer Stalker, (1949), Western
- The Maverick Queen, (1950), Western
- The Dude Ranger, (1951), Western
- Captives of the De sert, (1952), Western
- Adventures in Fishing, (1952)
- Wyoming, (1953), Western
- Lost Pueblo, (1954), Western
- Black Mesa, (1955), Western
- Stranger from the Tonto, (1956), Western
- The Fugitive Trail, (1957), Western
- Arizona Clan, (1958), Western
- Horse Heaven Hill, (1959), Western
- The Ranger and other Stories, (1960)
- Blue Feather and other Stories, (1961)
- Boulder Dam, (1963)
- The Adventures of Finspot, (1974)
- The Reef Girl, (1977)
- Tales from a Fisherman’s Log, (1978)
- The Camp Robber and other Stories, (1979)
- The Lord of Lackawaxen Creek, (1981)
- George Washington, Frontiersman, (1994), Historical Fiction
- Last of the Duanes, (1996), western (unabridged version of The Lone Star Ranger (1915))
- The Desert Crucible, (2003) western (unabridged version of The Rainbow Trail (1915))
- Tonto Basin, (2004) western (unabridged version of To the Last Man (1921))
Of equal importance to the genre is Louis Lamour (1908-1988) who may be the most read western author there ever was. The list of book published during his lifetime is impressive.
(including series novels eg the Sackett novels)
- Westward the Tide (London, 1950; first US publication 1976)
- The Riders of High Rock (1951)
- The Rustlers of West Fork (1951)
- The Trail to Seven Pines (1951)
- Trouble Shoot er (1952)
- Hondo (1953)
- Showdown at Yellow Butte (1953)
- Crossfire Trail (1954)
- Heller with a Gun (1954)
- Kilkenny (1954)
- Utah Blaine (1954)
- Guns of the Timberlands (1955)
- To Tame a Land (1955)
- The Burning Hills (1956)
- Silver Canyon (1956)
- Last Stand at Papago Wells (1957)
- Sitka (1957)
- The Tall Stranger (1957)
- Radigan (1958)
- The First Fast Draw (1959)
- Taggart (1959)
- The Daybreakers (1960)
- Flint (1960)
- Sackett (1961)
- High Lonesome (1962)
- Killoe (1962)
- Lando (1962)
- Shalako (1962)
- Catlow (1963)
- Dark Canyon (1963)
- Fallon (1963)
- How the West Was Won (1963)
- Hanging Woman Creek (1964)
- Mojave Crossing (1964)
- The High Graders (1965)
- The Key-Lock Man (1965)
- Kiowa Trail (1965)
- The Sackett Brand (1965)
- The Broken Gun (1966)
- Kid Rodelo (1966)
- Kilrone (1966)
- Mustang Man (1966)
- Matagorda (1967)
- The Sky-Liners (1967)
- Chancy (1968)
- Conagher (1968)
- Down the Long Hills (1968)
- The Empty Land (1969)
- The Lonely Men (1969)
- Galloway (1970)
- The Man Called Noon (1970)
- Reilly's Luck (1970)
- Brionne (1971)
- The Ferguson Rifle (1971)
- North to the Rails (1971)
- Tucker (1971)
- Under the Sweetwater Rim (1971)
- Callaghen (1972)
- Ride the Dark Trail (1972)
- The Man from Skibbereen (1973)
- The Quick and the Dead (1973)
- Treasure Mountain (1973)
- The Californios (1974)
- Sackett's Land (1974)
- Man From the Broken Hills (1975)
- Over on the Dry Side (1975)
- Rivers West (1975)
- The Rider of Lost Creek (1976)
- To the Far Blue Mountains (1976)
- Where the Long Grass Blows (1976)
- Borden Chantry (1977)
- Bendigo Shafter (19 78)
- Fair Blows the Wind (1978)
- The Mountain Valley War (1978)
- The Iron Marshal (1979)
- The Proving Trail (1979)
- Lonely on the Mountain (1980)
- The Warrior's Path (1980)
- Comstock Lode (1981)
- Milo Talon (1981)
- The Cherokee Trail (1982)
- The Shadow Riders (1982)
- The Lonesome Gods (1983)
- Ride the River (1983)
- Son of a Wanted Man (1984)
- The Walking Drum (1984)
- Jubal Sackett (1985)
- Passin' Through (1985 )
- Last of the Breed (1986)
- West of Pilot Range (1986)
- A Trail to the West (1986)
- The Haunted Mesa (1987)
In fictional story order (not the order written). 
- Sackett’s Land - Barnabas Sackett
- To the Far Blue Mountains - Barnabas Sackett
- The Warrior’s Path - Kin Ring Sackett
- Jubal Sackett - Jubal Sackett, Itchakomi Ishai
- Ride the River - Echo Sackett (Aunt to Orrin, Tyrel, and William Tell Sackett)
- The Daybreakers - Orrin and Tyrel Sackett, Cap Rountree, Tom Sunday
- Lando - Orlando Sack ett, the Tinker
- Sackett - William Tell Sackett, Cap Rountree
- Mojave Crossing - William Tell Sackett and Nolan Sackett
- The Sackett Brand - William Tell Sackett, and the whole passel of Sacketts!
- The Skyliners - Flagan and Galloway Sackett
- The Lonely Men - William Tell Sackett
- Mustang Man - Nolan Sackett
- Galloway - Galloway and Flagan Sackett
- Treasure Mountain - William Tell Sackett
- Ride the Dark Trail - Logan Sackett
- Lonely on the Mountain - William Tell, Orrin and Tyrel Sackett
There are also two Sackett-related short stories:
- "The Courting of Griselda" (available in End of the Drive)
- "Booty for a Badman" (available in War Party)
Sacketts are also involved in the plot of 7 other novels:
- Bendigo Shafter (Ethan Sackett)
- Dark Canyon (William Tell Sackett)
- Borden Chantry (Joe Sackett, killed in ambush that B Chantry solves murder)
- Passin' Through (Parmalee Sackett is mentioned as defending a main character in the book)
- Son of a Wanted Man (Tyrel Sackett)
- Catlow (Ben Cowhan marries a cousin of Tyrel Sackett’s wife)
- Man from the Broken Hills (Em Talon a main character in this book was in fact born a Sackett. Mentions William Tell Sackett)
- Borden Chantry
- Fair Blows the Wind
- The Ferguson Rifle
- The Man from the Broken Hills (Em Talon a main character in the book was born a Sackett)
- Milo Talon (Is a cousin to the Sacketts through his mother Em Talon)
- North to the Rails
- Over on the Dry Side
- Rivers West
Interestingly, the last story (in fictional story order) was published more than 20 years before the other installments.
- The Rider of Lost Creek (1976)
- The Mountain Valley War (1978), which previously been released as a magazine novella, entitled A Man Called Trent and was re-written for the Kilkenny trilogy. A Man Called Trent is included in the short story collection entitled The Rider of the Ruby Hills (1986)
- Kilkenny (1954)
- A Gun for Kilkenny Is a short story featuring Kilkenny as a minor character, from the collection Dutchman's Flat (1986).
- Monument Rock, a novella in the story collection of the same name.
Hopalong Cassidy novels
Originally published pseudonymously as "Tex Burns".
- The Riders of High Rock
- The Rustlers of West Fork
- The Trail to Seven Pines
- Trouble Shooter
- War Party (1975)
- The Strong Shall Live (1980)
- Yondering (1980; revised edition 1989)
- Buckskin Run (1981)
- Bowdrie (1983)
- The Hills of Homicide (1983)
- Law of the Desert Born (1983)
- Bowdrie's Law (1984)
- Night Over the Solomons (1986)
- The Rider of the Ruby Hills (1986)
- Riding for the Brand (1986)
- The Trail to Crazy Man (1986)
- Dutchman's Flat (1986)
- Lonigan (1988)
- Long Ride Home (1989)
- The Outlaws of Mesquite (1990)
- West from Singapore (1991)
- Valley of the Sun (1995)
- West of Dodge (1996)
- End of the Drive (1997)
- Monument Rock (1998)
- Beyond the Great Snow Mountains (1999)
- Off the Mangrove Coast (2000)
- May There Be a Road (2001)
- With These Hands (2002)
- From the Listening Hills (2003)
- Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: The Frontier Stories - Volume 1
- Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: The Frontier Stories - Volume 2
- Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: The Frontier Stories - Volume 3
- Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: The Adventure Stories - Volume 4
- Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: The Frontier Stories - Volume 5
- Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: - Volume 6 coming october 28, 2008
- Education Of A Wandering Man
- The Sackett Companion
- A Trail Of Memories: The Quotations Of Louis L'Amour
By the mid-sixties the genre was changing and the crime and science fiction genres were taking away a lot of the westerns pulling power. But by the mid sixties movies were offering a more realistic view of the west and when the Italian Westerns starring Clint Eastwood with their uber-violent version of the west hit the screen the old style western was truly out of fashion.
Traditional westerns were still being published but at this time there was a movement of British writers collectively called the Piccadilly Cowboys that would dominate the genre in print for a great deal of the late sixties and Seventies. UK publisher NEL had a worldwide hit on their hands with their Edge series which was written by Terry Harknett under the name of George G. Gilman. And although the likes of Louis Lamour, J T Edson and Oliver Strane remained popular it was these violent UK written westerns that were the most visible in the bookshops of the UK.
Numerous other series characters popped up - Breed, The Gunslinger, Crow and scores of others.
EXTRACT FROM PICCADILY COWBOYS WEBSITE
as by Frederick H. Christian.
Author; Frederick Nolan, published by Sphere, UK
Kill Angel (Alt. US title: Bad Day At Agua Caliente)
Send Angel (Alt. US title: Ride Clear Of Daranga)
Find Angel (Alt. US title: Ride Out To Vengeance)
Trap Angel (Alt. US title: Ambush In Purgatory)
Hang Angel (Alt. US title: Showdown At Trinidad)
Frame Angel (Alt. US title: Shoot-out At Silver King)
Hunt Angel (Alt. US title: Massacre At Madison)
Take Angel (Alt. US title: Warn Angel)
Note: Reprinted by Zebra, USA, 1975 - 1976, using the English titles. Books then switched to the Pinnacle imprint, first using the same titles then new ones. Zebra highlighted the name Angel on its covers. Pinnacle's first version also highlighted the Angel title. Then Pinnacle began a new version as Frank Angel, Federal Marshal (sub-titled "How the West Really Was") and re-titling the books, 1979 - 1980. They then switched to calling it the Justice Series still using the new titles.
Five further books by Mike Linaker were only published in Germany.
as by William M. James.
Authors; Terry Harknett (TH), Laurence James (LJ), & John Harvey (JH), published by Pinnacle (US), Sphere (UK), NEL (UK).
1. The First Death (TH)
2. Knife in the Night (LJ)
3. Duel to the Death (TH)
4. The Death Train (LJ)
5. Fort Treachery (TH)
6. Sonora Slaughter (TH)
7. Blood Line (LJ)
8. Blood on the Tracks (TH)
9. The Naked and the Savage (LJ)
10. All Blood is Red (TH)
11. The Cruel Trail (LJ)
12. Fool's Gold (LJ)
13. The Best Man (TH)
14. Born to Die (LJ)
15. Blood Rising (JH)
16. Texas Killing (LJ)
17. Blood Brother (JH)
18. Slow Dying (LJ)
19. Fast Living (LJ)
20. Death Dragon (JH)
21. Blood Wedding (LJ)
22. Border Killing (LJ)
23. Death Valley (LJ)
24. Death Ride (JH)
25. Times Past (LJ)
26. The Hanging (JH)
27. Debt of Blood (LJ)
BODIE THE STALKER
as by Neil Hunter.
Author; Mike Linaker, published by Star, reprinted as large print editions in the Linford Western Library.
as by James A. Muir.
Author; Angus Wells, published by Sphere.
1. The Lonely Hunt
2. The Silent Kill
3. Cry for Vengeance
4. Death Stage
5. The Gallows Tree
6. The Judas Goat
7. Time of the wolf
8. Blood Debt
10. Outlaw Road
11. The Dying and the Damned
12. Killer's Moon
13. Bounty Hunter
14. Spanish Gold
15. Slaughter Time
16. Bad Habits
17. The Day of the Gun
18. The Colour of Death
19. Blood Valley
21. Blood Hunt
22. Apache Blood
as by Charles R. Pike.
Authors; Terry Harknett (TH), Angus Wells (AW), & Ken Bulmer (KB), published by Mayflower/Granada.
1. The Killing Trail (TH)
2. Double Cross (TH)
3. The Hungry Gun (TH)
4. Killer Silver (AW)
5. Vengeance Hunt (AW)
6. The Burning Man (AW)
7. The Golden Dead (AW)
8. Death Wears Grey (AW)
9. Days of Blood (AW)
10. The Killing Ground (AW)
11. Brand of Vengeance (KB)
12. Bounty Road (AW)
13. Ashes and Blood (AW)
14. The Death Pit (AW)
15. Angel of Death (AW)
16. Mourning is Red (AW)
17. Bloody Christmas (AW)
18. Time of the Damned (AW)
19. The Waiting Game (AW)
20. Spoils of War (AW)
21. The Violent Land (AW)
22. Gallows Bait (AW)
as by Matthew Kirk.
Author; Angus Wells, published by Granada.
as by James W. Marvin.
Author; Laurence James; published by Corgi.
as by J D Sandon.
Authors; Angus Wells (AW) & John Harvey (JH), published by Mayflower/Granada.
1. Guns Across the River (AW)
2. Cannons in the Rain (JH)
3. Fire in the Wind (AW)
4. Border Affair (JH)
5. Easy Money (AW)
6. Mazatlan (JH)
7. One Too Many Mornings (AW)
8. Wheels of Thunder (JH)
9. Durango (JH)
10. Survivors (AW)
as by Charles C. Garrett.
Authors Laurence James (LJ) & Angus Wells (AW), published by Sphere.
1. The Massacre Trail (LJ)
2. The Golden Gun (AW)
3. White Apache (LJ)
4. Fifty Calibre Kill (AW)
5. Arizona Bloodline (LJ)
6. Rebel Vengeance (AW)
7. Death Canyon (LJ)
8. Peacemaker (AW)
9. The Russian Lode (AW)
10. Blood Target (LJ)
as by J.B. Dancer
Authors; John Harvey (JH) & Angus Wells (AW), published by Coronet. HART THE REGULATOR
Author; John B. Harvey, published by Pan.
as by William S. Brady.
Authors; Angus Wells (AW) & John Harvey (JH), published by Fontana.
1. The Sudden Guns (AW)
2. Blood Money (JH)
3. Death's Bounty (AW)
4. Killing Time (JH)
5. Fool's Gold (AW)
6. Blood Kin (JH)
7. The Gates of Death (AW)
8. Desperadoes (JH)
9. The Widowmaker (AW)
10. Dead Man's Hand (JH)
11. Sierra Gold (JH)
12. Death and Jack Shade (JH)
13. Killer's Breed (AW)
14. Border War (JH)
15. Killer! (JH)
as by William S. Brady.
Authors; Angus Wells (AW) & John Harvey (JH), published by Fontana.
as by L.J. Coburn.
Authors; Laurence James (LJ) & John Harvey (JH), published by Sphere.
HERNE THE HUNTER
as by John J McLaglen.
Authors; Laurence James (LJ) & John Harvey (JH), published by Corgi.
1. White Death (LJ)
2. River of Blood (JH)
3. The Black Widow (LJ)
4. Shadow of the Vulture (JH)
5. Apache Squaw (LJ)
6. Death in Gold (JH)
7. Death Rites (LJ)
8. Cross-Draw (JH)
9. Massacre! (LJ)
10. Vigilante! (JH)
11. Silver Threads (LJ)
12. Sun Dance (JH)
13. Billy the Kid (JH)
14. Death School (LJ)
15. Till Death (JH)
16. Geronimo! (LJ)
17. The Hanging (LJ)
18. Dying Ways (JH)
19. Bloodline (LJ)
20. Hearts of Gold (JH)
21. Pony Express (LJ)
22. Wild Blood (JH)
23. Texas Massacre (LJ)
24. The Last Hurrah (LJ)
These days the wesern is thriving and has never been more respectable.
In the states several high profile writers like Elmer Kelton are helping to keep the genre alive while in the UK the Black Horse Western series is still going strong and publishing new western fiction on a regular basis. And writers like Cormac McCarthy are being hailed by the literary crowd.
NOTE -This has been an overview of the genre and only listed a few highlights of what there is to discover. There are hundreds of important authors that I haven't mentioned here. Instead only featuring highlights from each age of the western.
I have been working on a comprehensive study of the genre for several years and hope to publish it within the next five years. Firstly as a printed book and then as an online resource.
So treat this as a taster for a major work.
Anyone wanting to discover the varied world of western fiction should check out:
Shane by Jack Schieffer
The Virginian by Owen Wister
Any of the Sacket books by Louis Lamour
Riders of the purple sage by Zane Grey
The Good OL Boys by Elmer Kelton
The Edge series by George G. Gilman
Dawn of Fury by Ralph Compton
Westward of the Law by Matt Braun
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty
Hombre by Elmore Leonard
The Goodnight Trail by Ralp Compton
The above books are essential and should give anyone interesting a rounded example of what to expect from this thrilling genre.
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