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
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 shoot-outs 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"
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.
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.
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"
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
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
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 justice.
(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.
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"
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 duel.
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 write.
(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.
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