Louis L'Amour

American novelist and short story writer (1908–1988)

Louis Dearborn L'Amour /ˈluːi ləˈmʊr/ (22 March 190810 June 1988) was an American novelist and short story writer whose works consisted primarily of Western novels, which he called his "frontier stories", but who also wrote historical fiction, science fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Louis L’Amour and Ronald Reagan, 1983


There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.
Do not let yourself be bothered by the inconsequential. One has only so much time in this world, so devote it to the work and the people most important to you, to those you love and things that matter.
  • There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.
    • Lonely on the Mountain (1980); later quoted in A Trail of Memories : The Quotations Of Louis L'Amour (1988) by Angelique L'Amour
  • Do not let yourself be bothered by the inconsequential. One has only so much time in this world, so devote it to the work and the people most important to you, to those you love and things that matter. One can waste half a lifetime with people one doesn't really like, or doing things when one would be better off somewhere else.
    • Ride the River (1983), Ch. 5
  • Characters have a way of taking on a life on their own, expressing themselves in the simple philosophy of their times, and expressing beliefs acquired through living, working, and being. Once characters are established, they become their own persons and the ideas of the characters are such ideas as they might have acquired in the circumstances of their daily existence.
    • Preface, in A Trail of Memories : The Quotations Of Louis L'Amour (1988) by Angelique L'Amour

The Quick and the Dead (1973)

  • He had seen Hyle shoot, and he had seen only one man he thought was as good ... just one. He'd seen Con Vallian down in the Bald Knob country that time, and Con was quick. He was almighty quick at a time when a man was either quick or he was dead.
  • Out here you better have a gun, and a gun in the wagon ain't good for nothin'. I believe what the old Quaker said,"Trust in the Lord, but keep your powder dry."
    • Ch. 5; the statement here wrongly attributed by a character in the story to a Quaker, who are generally pacifists, is actually one usually attributed to the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell.

Sackett's Land (1974)

  • We are all of us, it has been said, the children of immigrants and foreigners — even the American Indian, although he arrived here a little earlier. What a man is and what he becomes is in part due to his heritage, and the men and women who came west did not emerge suddenly from limbo. Behind them were ancestors, families, and former lives. Yet even as the domestic cattle of Europe evolved into the wild longhorns of Texas, so the American pioneer had the characteristics of a distinctive type.
    Physically and psychologically, the pioneers' need for change had begun in the old countries with their decision to migrate. In most cases their decisions were personal, ordered by no one else. Even when migration was ordered or forced, the people who survived were characterized by physical strength, the capacity to endure, and not uncommonly, a rebellious nature.
    History is not made only by kings and parliaments, presidents, wars, and generals. It is the story of people, of their love, honor, faith, hope and suffering; of birth and death, of hunger, thirst and cold, of loneliness and sorrow. In writing my stories I have found myself looking back again and again to origins, to find and clearly see the ancestors of the pioneers.
    • Preface
  • I would not sit waiting for some vague tomorrow, nor for something to happen. One could wait a lifetime, and find nothing at the end of the waiting. I would begin here, I would make something happen.
    • Ch. 4

The Lonesome Gods (1983)

  • I sat very still, as befitted a small boy among strangers, staring wide-eyed into a world I did not know. I was six years old and my father was dying. 
    • Ch. 1, first lines
  • Long ago, before the Indians who live here now, there were other people.  Perhaps they went away, or maybe they died or were driven out by these Indians’ ancestors, but they are gone. Yet sometimes I am not sure they are gone. I think sometimes their spirits are still around, in the land they loved.
    Each people has its gods, or the spirits in which they believe. It may be their god is the same as ours, only clothed in different stories, different ideas, but a god can only be strong, Hannes, if he is worshiped, and the gods of those ancient people are lonesome gods now.
    They are out there in the desert and mountains, and perhaps their strength has waned because nobody lights fires on their altars anymore. But they are there, Hannes, and sometimes I think they know me and remember me.
    • Ch. 8
  • Sometimes, when crossing a pass in the mountains, one will see a pile of loose stones, even several piles. Foolish people have dug into them, thinking treasure is buried there. It is a stupid idea, to think a treasure would be marked so obviously.
    It is an old custom of these people to pick up a stone and toss it on the pile.  Perhaps it is a symbolical lightening of the load they carry, perhaps a small offering to the gods of the trails. I never fail to toss a stone on the pile, Hannes. In my own way it is a small offering to those lonesome gods. 
    A man once told me they do the same thing in Tibet, and some of our ancient people may have come from there, or near there. Regardless of that, I like to think those ancient gods are out there waiting, and that they are, because of my offerings, a little less lonely.
    • Ch. 8
  • Your pa had seven years at sea, mostly in foreign parts.
    You’ve heard him talk. He’s got a way about him, a way with words. He can make the temple bells tinkle for you, and you can just hear them big old elephants shuff-shuffling along, the priests callin’ folks to prayer and the like.
    Your pa learned a sight of things most folks never even hear of. I’ve seen scholars back off an’ look at your pa, amazed.
    You take these Injuns, now. You look at the way they live and you’ll say they don’t amount to much, but what are they thinkin’? What do they know? What memories do they have? They want different things, boy, and they consider different things important. Many a thing we’d give anything to know, they just take for granted.
    Some of these Injuns, maybe all of them, they’re in tune with something. I don’t know what. But some of them have lost touch with it, and others are losin’ touch. Goin’ the white folks’ way might seem the likely thing to do, but maybe they lose as much as they gain.
    • Ch. 11
  • Many people know how to get money, but few know how to keep it. Wise investments are always based on information, Johannes, so the more you know, the better.
    • Ch. 19
  • She looked at me suddenly. “Johannes? What do you wish to be? What would you like to become?”
    I did not know, and I told her so, but the question worried me. Should I know?  “There is time,” she said, “but the sooner you know, the sooner you can plan. To have a goal is the important thing, and to work toward it. Then, if you decide you wish to do something different, you will at least have been moving, you have been going somewhere, you will have been learning. "
    • Ch. 19
  • “You are complex.”
    “No. Within this giant house of flesh lives a quiet man who would prefer working at a trade. Or perhaps he is a poet whose dreams are too large for his words.  “My home is among the mountains. Men destroy what they do not understand, as they destroyed the son of God when he chose to walk among them. I do not wish to be understood. I wish to be left alone. Your Johannes has done this. He is a kind man, a thoughtful man.”
    “Are you never lonely?”
    “When would I not be lonely? When a man is one of a kind, he will be lonely wherever he is. I am a man apart but have become adjusted to it. I have the mountains, and I have my books. I also have the friendship of Johannes.”
    • Ch. 57
Main article: The Walking Drum
  • What kind of scholar was I? Or was I a scholar at all? My ignorance was enormous. Beside it my knowledge was nothing. My hunger for learning, not so much to improve my lot as to understand my world, had led me to study and to thought. Reading without thinking is as nothing, for a book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.
    • Ch. 25
  • I am merely a seeker after knowledge, taking the world for my province, for it seems all knowledge is interrelated, and each science is dependent to some extent on the others. We study the stars that we may know more about our earth, and herbs that we may know medicine better.
    • Ch. 25
  • This was the beginning of something, yet I had ventured back into a world from which I had come and found it an alien world of which I was no longer a part.  In a sense I had always been alien. My Druidic training had taken me deep into a past that held more than the present, and along with it had been my father’s accounts, returning home after voyages, of a world beyond our shores. I had mingled with the men of his crews, almost half of which had come from other lands, other cultures, until I had become a stranger in my own land.
    • Ch. 31
  • How much could I tell them? How much dared I tell them? What was the point at which acceptance would begin to yield to doubt? For the mind must be prepared for knowledge as one prepares a field for planting, and a discovery made too soon is no better than a discovery not made at all. Had I been a Christian, I would undoubtedly have been considered a heretic, for what the world has always needed is more heretics and less authority. There can be no order or progress without discipline, but authority can be quite different. Authority, in this world in which I moved, implied belief in and acceptance of a dogma, and dogma is invariably wrong, as knowledge is always in a state of transition. The radical ideas of today are often the conservative policies of tomorrow, and dogma is left protesting by the wayside.  Each generation has a group that wishes to impose a static pattern on events, a static pattern that would hold society forever immobile in a position favorable to the group in question.
    • Ch. 31
  • Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow. The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds.
    • Ch. 46
  • A knife is sharpened on stone, steel is tempered by fire, but men must be sharpened by men.
    • Ch. 57

Education of a Wandering Man (1989)

A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time.
  • The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume that there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newsstand.
    Today you can buy the Dialogues of Plato for less than you would spend on a fifth of whiskey, or Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for the price of a cheap shirt. You can buy a fair beginning of any education in any bookstore with a good stock of paperback books for less than you would spend on a week's supply of gasoline.
    Often I hear people say they do not have time to read. That's absolute nonsense. In the one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, applying for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places. I read on buses, trains, and planes. If one really wants to learn, one has to decide what is important. Spending an evening on the town? Attending a ball game? Or learning something that can be with you your life long?
    • Ch. 1
  • It is often said that one has but one life to live, but that is nonsense. For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
    • Ch. 1
  • A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination.
    My life may not be great to others, but to me it has been one of steady progression, never dull, often exciting, often hungry, tired, and lonely, but always learning. Somewhere back down the years I decided, or my nature decided for me, that I would be a teller of stories.
    Decisions had to be made and there was nobody but me to make them. My course altered a number of times but never deviated from the destination I had decided upon. Whether this was altogether a matter of choice I do not know. Perhaps my early reading and the storytelling at home had preconditioned me for the role I adopted.
    Somewhere along the line I had fallen in love with learning, and it became a lifelong romance. Early on I discovered it was fun to follow along the byways of history to find those treasures that await any searcher. It may be that all later decisions followed naturally from that first one.
    One thing has always been true: That book or that person who can give me an idea or a new slant on an old idea is my friend.
    • Ch. 1
  • As can be guessed from the title, this book is about education, but not education in the accepted sense. No man or woman had a greater appreciation for schools than I, although few have spent less time in them. No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.
    If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer a breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction.
    Education should provide the tools for widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awarenes.
    No one can get an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with the methods of study and research, methods of pursuing and idea. We can only hope they come upon an issue they wish to pursue.
    • Ch. 1
  • My own education, which is the one I know most about, has been haphazard, a hit-and-miss affair that was and continues to be thoroughly delightful.
    I came into the world with two priceless advantages: good health and a love of learning. When I left school at the age of fifteen I was halfway through the tenth grade. I left for two reasons, economic necessity being the first of them. More important was that school was interfering with my education.
    • Ch. 1
  • A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time.
    • Ch. 10
  • Only one who has learned much can fully appreciate his ignorance.
    He knows well the limits of his knowledge and how much is waiting to be learned.
    • Ch. 11
  • How much of what we do is free will, and how much is programmed in our genes? Why is each people so narrow that it believes that it, and it alone, has all the answers?
    In religion, is there but one road to salvation? Or are there many, all equally good, all going in the same general direction?
    I have read my books by many lights, hoarding their beauty, their wit or wisdom against the dark days when I would have no book, nor a place to read. I have known hunger of the belly kind many times over, but I have known a worse hunger: the need to know and to learn.
    • Ch. 11
  • Once, when hitchhiking, I was picked up by a professor from some small college. He noticed a book in my coat pocket, and was curious. It was a Modern Library edition, in the limp bindings they used to have, which sold at the time for 95 cents. This one contained Nietzsche‎‎'s Ecce Homo, and The Birth of Tragedy.
    The professor was a pedantic man of limited imagination and seemed almost offended that I was reading such a book. Obviously I did not fit some category in which he decided I belonged, and when he dropped me off in town, I suspect he was relived to be rid of me.
    He kept asking me why I wanted to read such a book. At first, he doubted I was reading it. Where had I heard of Nietzsche‎‎?
    When I told him I thought it was in the preface to a book on Schopenhauer, he was even more disturbed and probably believed I was lying. Fortunately, there seem to be few of his kind, and my subsequent friendships with university professors have proved exciting, stimulating and fun.
    • Ch. 11

Quotes about L'Amour

  • Louis was a modest man, slow to reveal what he really knew.
    While many of us are tempted to pretend to have read what we think we should have read, Louis was not that way. For most of us Mark Twain's definition of a classic — "a book which people praise and don’t read" — is accurate enough. But certainly not for Louis. … He had a natural preference tor books that had stood the test of time.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, in "Joys of Random Reading", his Introduction to Education of a Wandering Man (1989), p. vi
  • Louis gives us a lesson — too seldom offered by academic or professional critics — in open-mindedness and literary charity. And he encourages us, too, to become Wandering Readers, joining his search for the joys and surprises in the pages of books.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, in "Joys of Random Reading", his Introduction to Education of a Wandering Man (1989), p. viii
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