Bowdrie Stories by Louis L'Amour
Bowdrie is a lawman. Before there were private dicks in trench coats or squads
of diligent policemen solving crimes, before the silly Miss Marples and other
amateur detectives, there were Texas Rangers. Even Sherlock Holmes follows twenty
years after the real exploits of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers were a group of
lawmen created after the Civil War to bring law to Texas. Chick Bowdrie, with
his dark Apache-like face and his hammer-headed roan horse, is mystery fictions
member of this select party of law-bringers and crime-solvers.
is the creation of Louis LAmour, a man who knows something
about writing Westerns and Mysteries. He wrote for the Western
pulps, of course, but also fight stories, adventure yarns
as well as detective stories. Some of these private eye tales
have been collected in The Hills Of Homicide. In the
introduction of that book, LAmour says this:
detective stories, the characters come to fear the people they have to associate
with in the city. Of course, the character strengths that the men and women in
these detective stories draw upon to resolve their conflicts would stand them
in good stead in the struggles of survival that I write about in my frontier stories
in previous collections like Bowdrie
For that matter, Chick Bowdrie, the
Texas Ranger featured in all the stories in Bowdrie and Bowdries Law would
have the skills to solve many of the cases in this book with surprisingly few
adjustments for the difference in period
quote points out two differences about the Bowdrie stories compared to other LAmour
tales. The wilderness and harsh conditions often present challenges in frontier
stories (as Louis preferred to Western). This is usually not
the case in a Bowdrie story. Bowdries opponents are always evil men and
women, just as they would be in a detective story. The other element is the degree
to which Chick must apply his abilities as a detective. The Ranger must reconstruct
murder scenes, read people and out-bluff them. Many of LAmour characters
can read a track or find a lost gold mine but few, with the exception of Borden
Chantry (the sheriff of LAmours novel-length murder mystery/Western),
need to play detective.
Bowdries personal history reads like the history of
Texas. His family came to Texas when he was young, starting
a ranch near DHanis. He helped defend their home from
Comanches by loading rifles. In one of these skirmishes his
family was killed and Chick went to live with the Indians
for five years. He escaped but found his return hard, living
with a Swiss family in San Antonio. Most youngsters
learn to live with people by playin with other youngsters.
I never had any of that. I never really belonged anywhere.
I was a stranger among the Comanches an a stranger among
my own people when I got back. His real name is Charles
Bowdrie. He got his nickname on the school playground. Most
times Chuck is a nickname for Charles, but there was another
boy in school who was called Chuck. He was bigger than I was,
so they called me Chick
I never minded. After school
he became a top cow hand, learning the art of gun fighting
on the range. He killed his first man, a rustler taking his
employers cattle. Being good with a gun it was only
a matter of time before hed kill the wrong man and end
up on the Outlaw Trail. It was at this point in his life,
not much older than sixteen that Captain L. H. McNelly recruited
him for the Rangers. McNelly says of Bowdrie: Hes
instinctively a good shot, hes very cool, and hes
been born with remarkable coordination and eyesight. Hes
got the makings of a Ranger if I ever saw one, and frankly,
Id rather have him on our side.
Bowdrie has McNelly's rangers on his side but he usually works
alone. He meets Rip Coker in "A Job For a Ranger",
lantern-jawed puncher with straw-colored hair".
After Coker helps him out of one of the best shoots in the
series, Bowdrie says "
you should be a Ranger. If
ever a man was built for the job, you are." Coker just
smiles and confesses he is a Ranger, from a different company.
The two work together in"A Trail to the West" and
"Case Closed No Prisoners".
constant companion is his strawberry hammer-headed roan called "Hammerhead"
and "Crowbait' by his owner. In "Too Tough to Brand" Bowdrie compares
himself to his horse:
bite too, given the chance. Just look at him! He's ugly as sin! Ugly inside and
out, but you know something? He can outrun a jackrabbit, and once started, he'll
go all day an' all night. He can get fat on grass burs an' prickly pear, an' some
other cowhand's saddle is frosted cake to him. He'd climb a tree if he wanted
to or if you aimed him at it, and he could swim the Pacific if he was of a mind
to. He doesn't like anybody, but he's game, an' nothin' this side of hell could
whip him. He's my kind of horse."
collections of LAmours hold eighteen stories of
Chick Bowdrie: Bowdrie (1983) and Bowdries
Law (1984). In 2004 Beau L'Amour released The Collected
Stories of Louis L'Amour with all the Bowdrie stories
in order, making them much easier to locate.
Job For a Ranger" (Popular Western, December 1946)
has Bowdrie investigate the death of a bank teller during
a hold-up. Several witnesses saw the killer get away on a
well-known paint pony belonging to a rough cattle herder.
His suspicions are aroused by an obvious trick to frame the
man and Bowdrie must flush out the real criminals.
Knows a Ranger (Popular Western, February 1947) is chronologically Bowdries
first case as a Ranger. When his friend, Noah Whipple is killed by bank robbers,
the Ballard gang, Bowdrie sets out to kill or arrest them all. He tracks them
to their camp and proves who is the fastest gun. LAmour is ever about character.
Even after Bowdrie arrests the robbers he isnt above asking them for advice
about what present to buy for a pretty girl.
Rides A Coyote Trail (Popular Western, April
1947) When Bowdrie finds a dead man he is plunged into the
middle of a range war between Jack Darcy and the H&H Ranch.
The dead man was a lawman from California coming to help Darcy
before he was bushwhacked. Bowdrie finds the man he is hunting
is also behind the sudden cattle feud.
A Trail to the West (Popular Western, June
1947) Bowdrie goes undercover to rescue the daughter of a
judge trying Damon Queen. Queens brother and a gang
of outlaws have her and only Bowdrie can be spared to bring
her back alive.
The Outlaws of Poplar Creek (Popular Western,
August 1947) Bowdrie comes to Poplar Creek to deal with Shad
Tucker and his band of cutthroats. After one of the gang tries
to kill him and Moby Fosdick, the Creeks store owner,
Bowdrie trails the dead mans horse to the hideout. Bowdrie
gets captured by young Jerry Fosdick, who has been hanging
out with the thieves, comes to the rescue. Can the Ranger
navigate the caves in time to save Fosdicks daughter
Lily from Shads evil plans?
Hits a Cold Trail" (Popular Western, October 1947)
Bowdrie comes upon a sixteen year old murder. He reconstructs
the murder of the husband and the abduction of the wife and
child then heads to town to see if he can find the killers.
After weeks of getting to know the locals in Gabels
Stop, he is onto the murderer and his evil plans for the surviving
daughter of the slain couple.
Brains Than Bullets (Popular Western, February
1948) A man young is framed for robbing the bank and killing
his boss but Bowdrie sees through the frame to find a counterfeiter
and a murderer.
Road to Casa Piedras (Popular Western, April
1948) Bowdrie and a posse are tracking the man who murdered
John Irwin and stole 12,000 dollars. They follow the killer
to a camp where his partner killed him and took the money.
Only Bowdries keen tracking and detective skills can
pin down the killer. This story features Bowdrie doing a Sherlock
Holmes-style job of describing the unseen suspect.
Buzzards Fly (Popular Western, June 1948) After
a band of Mexican bandits are slaughter, Bowdrie is on the
trail of their missing loot. His snooping around riles the
men of the K-Bar Ranch where he finds a ruthless criminal
Bowdrie Passes Through (Popular Western,
August 1948) Bowdrie takes up the case of Josh Pettibone,
protecting his son and daughter from a ruthless cattle baron.
Bowdrie gives a great show as defense lawyer, worthy of Perry
Mason, before he must use his ability as a gunfighter to deliver
of Deadwood (Popular Western, October 1948) Bowdrie
goes to Arizona to collect a bank robber named Curly Starr.
Bowdrie tries to convince him to clear a wrongly accused young
man but Starr wont. Starrs gang chase the two
men over the country until a final shoot-out in the Texas
panhandle. Starr proves a decent fellow in the end and clears
Billy Marsden with a dying statement. As in other stories,
Bowdrie often can sympathize with outlaws and gunmen, having
almost gone that way himself.
Tough to Brand (Popular Western, February 1949)
When Bert Ramey, the ranch foreman of the O Bar O Ranch goes
missing with $15,000 everybody figures hes turned crooked.
Bowdrie and Berts adopted daughter Karen follow a murderers
trail to find Rameys body and solve two mysteries.
ClosedNo Prisoners (Popular Western, October
1949) When a banker is tortured to death for $40,000 dollars
Bowdrie and Rip Croker delve into a town that has a secret.
When the villains are discovered they barricade Bowdrie in
the dead sheriffs office. The shoot-out that follows
is worthy of the film Rio Bravo ten year later.
Killer From the Pecos (Popular Western, February
1950) Bowdrie is on the trail of a bank robber who murdered
two men. His only clue is the man had a tattoo on his chest.
To find him, Bowdrie takes on the job of sheriff in a rough
cow town. Not only does he find his man but he also cleans
up the town.
Ranger Rides to Town (The Rio Kid Western, September
1950) Bowdri stops a group of bank robbers but cant
find the stolen money. He reconstructs the crime and realizes
that a fifth man, the mastermind of the heist, was not arrested
or killed. His investigation leads to murder and a final gun
on the Mountain Fork (The Rio Kid Western, March
1951) On a rainy night, in a sod hut on a lonely mountain,
Bowdrie and a group of tough men get out of the rain. Only
problem is one of them is a murderer and a thief. Can Bowdrie
figure out who the killer is and save Nelly and her weakling
Uncle from robbery and worse? This story is the closest LAmour
comes to a classic cozy mystery such as Agatha Christie might
Sonora Way (5 Western Novels Magazine, December
1951) begins with Bowdrie and an outlaw named Tensleep Mooney
in a draw. They give up their feud when a family chased by
Apaches joins them. They all escape after Bowdrie steals the
Indians horses. Once they make it to El Paso Bowdries
arrests Mooney who is wanted on a false charge. Bowdrie lets
Mooney escape but the outlaw returns to face trial, knowing
he has Bowdries word of protection and a fair trial.
Pursuit (Texas Rangers, April 1952) is an aptly
named story. Bowdrie hears the exploits of Charlie Venk from
different people. How he robbed a bank, how he cleverly engineered
a town sheriff to hang himself. Bowdrie pursues Venk to a
town where the beautiful Lucy Taylor lives. Charlie falls
for the girl but has to flee Bowdrie. In his desperation he
leads the ranger into Apache country and is captured. Bowdrie
saves him, then has to shoot him in the arm when he tries
a trick to kill the ranger. In the end, Bowdrie arrests the
outlaw but there is hope he will one day return to Lucy Taylor.
Oddly only this story appeared in the magazine Texas Rangers,
where you might expect to find a home for Chick Bowdrie.
Trail" was the last Bowdrie story. Probably written in
1952, it remained lost and unpublished until 1998 and the
release of Monument Rock. Bowdrie finds a murdered
old-timer who was returning to right a wrong. A rich treasure
of gold has been stashed in the hills and Bowdrie must manipulate
the children of the old bandits while dodging the bullets
of the two remaining thieves.
so the stories of Chick Bowdrie end. The ranger with the Apache-like face never
settles down, just keeps riding. As he says at the end of "Bowdrie Rides
a Coyote Trail": "I'm a Ranger
there's always work for a Ranger.
Come to one trail's end, and there's always another. I kind of like it that way."
LAmour did not invent the cowboy detective story. The old pulps tried to
cater to many different tastes, so along with spicy detective, ranch romance and
a hundred other combinations, the Western/Mystery evolved as a natural combination
of two genres. Despite this, many writers of one genre could not write in the
other and few were as successful at the combination as Louis LAmour.
G. W. Thomas