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.
Chick 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
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.
has McNelly's rangers on his side but he usually works alone. He meets Rip Coker
in "A Job For a Ranger", a "
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
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.
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 Aug 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
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 Apr 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 mastermind.
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.
of Deadwood (Popular Western, Oct 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 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.
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