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Cowboys have long captured the imaginations of readers with their rugged charm, daring adventures, and tales of the Wild West. Whether you’re a fan of historical fiction, thrilling westerns, or stories that explore the cowboy way of life and the western genre, there are plenty of outstanding cowboy books that delve into the world of westward expansion, western romance, cattle rustlers, bounty hunters and native americans. These best cowboy books transport young readers to a time when the frontier was untamed and the cowboy’s life was one of courage, resilience, and camaraderie.
- Books About Cowboys: Top Recommendations
- Lonesome Dove By Larry Mcmurtry Is One Of The Great Western Novels
- Blood Meridian By Cormac Mccarthy Is One Of The Great Books To Read
- Riders Of The Purple Sage By Zane Grey Is On New York Times Bestseller Lists
- True Grit by Charles Portis Should Be On Every List Of Books To Read
- All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
- Other Cowboy Book Recommendations
- Final Thoughts
From gripping tales of outlaws and lawmen to heartfelt stories of cowboy culture and the challenges they faced, the best books about cowboys offer a captivating blend of action, romance, and the spirit of the American West. Through the pages of these great Western books, readers can experience the thrill of cattle drives, witness epic gunfights, and gain a deeper understanding of the code of honour that defined cowboy life. So here are some of the best cowboy novels in no particular order
Books About Cowboys: Top Recommendations
Lonesome Dove By Larry Mcmurtry Is One Of The Great Western Novels
Upon his publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry launched himself into a select category of writers. Considering his overall body of work McMurtry should be mentioned as one of the best fiction writers of all time. I’ve never read a book by Larry that I didn’t enjoy. That being said, Lonesome Dove is my favourite.
The Book begins in the town of Lonesome Dove, Texas in the year 1876. The story is centred around two aging Ex-Texas Rangers, Woodrow F Call, and Augusts McCrae. Call and McCrae joined the Rangers together as young men and have been partners for over twenty years, although they are contrasting characters; Call is a stiff no-nonsense type of man, and McCrae a fun-loving, romantic with a flare for the dramatic and an aversion to hard work.
Together the two balance each other out, as Rangers they were considered heroes to the residents of South Texas for their protection of the Border Country against Comanche Indians and Mexican Bandits. Now they run a Livery Stable with a moderate amount of success but compared to their Rangering days life in Lonesome Dove is dull for both men.
When an old friend arrives with tales of Montana it’s all the excuse that Call needs to gather a herd of cattle (all stolen from a Mexican Bandit that they were never able to catch) and head out for the wilds of Montana.
McCrae thinks Calls’ decision to run off to Montana with a bunch of stolen Mexican cattle Is rash and uncharacteristic, he’s puzzled by his friend’s willingness to just pack up and leave a place where they had both lived for so long. When pressed by McCrae for an answer to why they’re running off to Montana, Call explains that they would have the first cattle ranch in Montana and that they would soon become rich.
Woodrow Call is not the type of man that cares for money; his real motivation is the adventure of the trip. Call longs to be someplace that is wild and unsettled. He only feels like himself if he is being challenged or working through some kind of hardship. Augustus knows this about his partner but constantly badgers Call into explaining himself.
McCrae likes to keep Call thinking that he is putting everyone through unnecessary agony, himself in particular. The truth is that McCrae loves adventure as much as Call, it’s the one thing the two have in common and the real reason they have stayed together for so long.
To sum up Lonesome Dove as just a Great Adventure or as just a Western Novel would not give the book justice. Lonesome Dove is full of tragedy, romance, comedy, and scenes that make the spirit soar. The Book’s strength is in McMurtry’s ability to bring characters to life. Joining Call and McCrae are some of the most unforgettable characters written in a novel.
Blood Meridian By Cormac Mccarthy Is One Of The Great Books To Read
Regarded by many as his masterpiece, Cormac McCarthy (The Road, All The Pretty Horses) goes above and beyond Wild West conventions in his 1985 novel Blood Meridian (Or the Evening Redness In The West) (published by Random).
The novel tells the story of a favourite character from Tennessee and his eventual involvement with the Glanton Gang, a bloodthirsty, massacre-oriented crew. Based loosely on historic events and people, the Glanton Gang did exist, and they were killers. McCarthy drew much of the novel from Samuel Chamberlainís book My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue.
The action takes place mainly in west Texas and across the border into Mexico but travels as far as San Diego. Borderlines were beginning to be drawn in 1833 between the U.S. and Mexico, and the Kid (that’s all the runaway is ever named) joins a rouge army U.S. Army troop that later becomes part of the Glanton Gang. The book follows their exploits in Mexico and the surrounding areas killing Mexicans and Indians.
McCarthyís prose is thick and ultimately beautifully constructed. In his signature style, punctuation is used at an absolute minimum including a complete lack of quotation marks. At first, this can be a little disorienting, but with a little effort from the reader, the world of punctuation-less sentences will become accessible. His vocabulary usage is much more high-brow than in 2006ís Pulitzer-winning The Road, sometimes requiring the use of a dictionary. This is not a book that can be understood in small midnight reading sessions; it commands your full attention.
McCarthy goes into great detail about the group’s antics, thereby making Blood Meridian not a book for the faint-hearted and weak-stomached. The violence takes on a Natural Born Killers style, where murder, rape, and scalping are nearly everyday occurrences. Women and children are abused and mutilated in graphic fashions, more than once activating the readerís gag reflex.
All of this violence, this evil, is embodied in the character of the Judge (or Judge Holden). His ruthlessness and godlessness are feared even by his fellow gang members. But there is also something enthralling about his character. He draws the wildlife they see on their travels. When asked about it says that by documenting it, he has conquered it, therefore it is his. The reader then must ask if that is how he feels when he kills and if that is his motivation.
Much has been written and discussed about Blood Meridian. Since McCarthy has refused to answer any questions about the meaning or purpose of the story, Blood Meridian is a great point of discussion for modern American literature. A simple Google search will produce countless lectures and essays written on the book for readers who want to take their understanding to another level. The ending of the book almost compels the reader to think again.
While a first reading will imprint unforgettable scenes of violence, a second reading and further study should reveal the true craft, complexity, and brilliance that went into writing Blood Meridian. This a must-read for anyone with an appreciation for modern American literature.
Riders Of The Purple Sage By Zane Grey Is On New York Times Bestseller Lists
Riders of the Purple Sage” is a classic Western novel written by Zane Grey. Set in the late 1800s in the American West, the story follows the adventures of a young woman named Jane Withersteen and her encounters with a sinister religious group.
Jane Withersteen, a wealthy and independent rancher, finds herself at odds with the Mormon community in the fictional town of Cottonwoods, Utah. She refuses to marry a Mormon elder, and as a result, she becomes a target of the oppressive and influential group known as the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
Lassiter, a notorious gunman seeking revenge for the murder of his sister, arrives in town and becomes involved with Jane’s plight. He develops a deep connection with her and vows to protect her from the increasingly hostile Mormon leaders. Together, they navigate a treacherous landscape where violence and corruption are rampant.
As the story unfolds, Jane discovers a hidden valley called Surprise Valley, inhabited by a group of non-Mormon outcasts, including Venters, a loyal and compassionate cowboy. Jane and Venters form a bond, and their relationship becomes an integral part of the narrative.
Amidst the harsh desert backdrop and with the constant threat of the Mormon leaders’ retribution, Jane, Lassiter, and Venters face numerous obstacles and engage in thrilling confrontations. The novel explores themes of religious intolerance, love, loyalty, and the pursuit of justice.
True Grit by Charles Portis Should Be On Every List Of Books To Read
True Grit is a novel written by Charles Portis and published in 1968. It is a classic work of Western fiction that tells the story of a young girl named Mattie Ross, who seeks to avenge her father’s murder.
The novel is set in the late 19th century and is narrated by Mattie Ross as an older woman, reflecting on her past. The story begins with Mattie’s father being killed by a man named Tom Chaney. Determined to bring her father’s killer to justice, Mattie hires a tough U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn to help her track down Chaney and bring him to trial.
Rooster Cogburn is known for his “true grit,” a phrase used to describe his courage and determination. He is a grizzled and trigger-happy lawman with an eyepatch and a reputation for getting the job done. Along with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who is also seeking Chaney for other crimes, Mattie sets out on a dangerous journey into Indian Territory to find Chaney and make him pay for his actions.
As they face numerous challenges and encounters with outlaws, Mattie’s strong-willed and stubborn nature is tested, and she proves herself to be a formidable character. The novel explores themes of justice, perseverance, and the harsh realities of the Old West.
True Grit was well-received upon its release and has since become a beloved classic. In 1969, it was adapted into a successful film starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. In 2010, the novel was adapted again into a film by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges as Cogburn. Both film adaptations were critically acclaimed and helped introduce a new generation of audiences to the story of “True Grit.”
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
With the death of his grandfather, 16-year-old John Grady Cole is faced with the end of an era and the passing of a way of life. It is 1949 and the Texas of cattle and the cowboy code is being supplanted by the desperate search for oil and black gold.
As his grandfatherís financially unviable property goes under the hammer with his mother refusing to contemplate living in such a desolate place as San Angelo, so Cole persuades best friend Lacey Rawlins to head south and Mexico with him.
By heading south, Cole is ironically looking for the romantic ideal of the American West and the grumpy cowboy lifestyle of the man and his horse; self-disciplined, iron-willed, loyal, skilled ñ a survivor in the face of adversity. As the old man is buried and the past with it, so Cole and Rawlins set off for the promise of the new and the search for the old.
All the Pretty Horses is the expansive story of this cowboy code of honour. Cole is a true, flawed hero, struggling against social barriers, his youth, history, and change. But Cole also struggles internally with his sense of honour. Confused by the behaviour of adults, confronted with death, violence, and illicit love, the young man attempts to take the moral high ground.
But life around him – in small-town Texas or the vast, isolated cattle stations of Mexico – does not follow such a simple black-and-white template. Instead, Cole and Rawlins find themselves in a world of corruption, theft, blackmail, murder, double-crossing, and violence.
The two ëdecentí boys meet, early in their journey, the self-called Jimmy Blevins and with it a whole heap of trouble. For a young runaway, Blevins rides too fine a bay horse for it to be his, and not long after crossing the border, the horse and the boy create trouble enough for the two friends to high-tale it cross-country.
Cole and Rawlins soon find work at a large ranch, with Cole particularly fine as a wild horse rustler and trainer ñ skills that not only get him noticed by the boss but also by the bossí beautiful 17-year-old daughter. As the two enter into an illicit love affair, events hundreds of kilometres away impact the lives of the two young Texans, leading to further violence, murder, corruption, revenge, and redemption.
Other Cowboy Book Recommendations
He wrote numerous books in the Western genre, capturing the spirit of the Old West with his vivid storytelling and memorable characters.
- Hondo: This novel tells the story of Hondo Lane, a tough and enigmatic gunslinger who finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict between settlers and Apache warriors.
- Sackett’s Land: The first book in the Sackett series, it follows the adventures of Barnabas Sackett, a young man who sets out to explore the American frontier in the late 16th century.
- The Lonesome Gods: Set in the early 19th century, this novel follows the life of Johannes Verne, a young man who grows up in the rugged and lawless California wilderness, eventually becoming a legendary gunfighter.
He is best known for his novel “The Virginian,” which is considered a classic of Western literature.
- The Virginian: This novel is Wister’s most famous work and is often credited with defining the Western genre. It tells the story of a cowboy known only as “the Virginian” and his encounters with ranch life, outlaws, and love.
- Lin McLean: Set in the late 19th century, this novel follows the adventures of Lin McLean, a cowboy with a quick wit and a sharp tongue, as he navigates the challenges and dangers of the Old West.
- The Dragon of Wantley (1892): Although not a Western, this novel is worth mentioning as one of Wister’s early works. It is a humorous fantasy story set in medieval England and tells the tale of a knight battling a dragon.
He wrote over 40 novels, many of which are considered classics in Western literature.
- The Time It Never Rained: Set in the 1950s in West Texas, this novel tells the story of Charlie Flagg, a stubborn rancher who faces the challenges of drought and government intervention in the cattle industry.
- The Good Old Boys: This novel follows Hewey Calloway, an ageing cowboy in 1906 West Texas, as he reflects on his life and experiences in the changing West.
- The Day the Cowboys Quit: Based on historical events, this novel explores the 1883 cowboy strike in the Texas Panhandle, focusing on the struggle between cowboys and ranchers over wages and working conditions.
Whether you’re seeking a thrilling adventure, a poignant story of love and loss, a slow-burn love story, a small-town romance or an exploration of the cowboy’s role in shaping American history, there is a cowboy book out there to satisfy your literary cravings. So saddle up, grab your hat, and journey into the world of cowboys through these remarkable books that pay homage to the iconic figures who have become legends of the Wild West.