Do you want authentic western literature or books like spaghetti westerns?
Clarence E. Mulford wrote 28 novels from 1906 to 1941. He was one of the first writers to invent the genre we now identify as the western. I believe he was more influential than even Owen Wister (The Virginian, 1906). Each book is written with meticulous care and is a masterpiece of western writing, true to frontier life and authentic in its behavior, syntax and motivation. The books bear little or no resemblance to the Hopalong Cassidy films adapted from them.
The Round-Up and Trail Dust are my personal favorites, and I think Mulford’s best books.
- Bar-20 (1906)
- The Orphan (1908)
- Hopalong Cassidy (1910)
- Bar-20 Days (1911)
aka Hopalong Cassidy’s Private War
- Buck Peters, Ranchman (1912)
- The Coming of Cassidy (1913)
- The Man from Bar-20 (1918)
- Johnny Nelson (1920)
- The Bar-20 Three (1921)
aka Hopalong Cassidy Sees Red
- Tex (1922)
- Bring Me His Ears (1922)
- Black Buttes (1923)
- Rustlers’ Valley (1924)
- Hopalong Cassidy Returns (1924)
- Cottonwood Gulch (1925)
- Hopalong Cassidy’s Protege (1926)
- Bar-20 Rides Again (1926)
- Corson of the J.C. (1927)
- Mesquite Jenkins (1928)
- Me and Shorty (1929)
- Deputy Sheriff (1930)
- Hopalong Cassidy and the Eagles Brood (1931)
- Mesquite Jenkins, Tumbleweed (1932)
- The Round-Up (1933)
- Trail Dust (1934)
- On the Trail of the Tumbling T (1935)
- Hopalong Cassidy Takes Cards (1937)
- Hopalong Cassidy Serves a Writ (1941)
Another early 20th century author from the American west is Emerson Hough. Among his best books are 54.40 Or Fight, The Covered Wagon, and Heart’s Desire. He wrote from 1890 to 1924.
For historical western literature, prohibition journalist Walter Noble Burns never ceases to inspire people, and all three of his western books have remained in print since the day they were published: The Saga Of Billy the Kid from 1926, Tombstone: An Iliad of the Southwest from 1928, and The Robin Hood of El Dorado from 1931. Along the same lines, Stuart Lake’s Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall from 1932 started a ball that’s still rolling today.
Like Mulford, Alan Le May wrote about what he knew and experienced and inherited. He wrote about central Texas. Two of his best novels are The Searchers and The Unforgiven. The books are a little different than the movie adaptations, but you won’t be disappointed in them.
Another fine writer from the same period (1930s-50s) was Frederick D. Dillen who wrote under the pen-name of Luke Short. He put the subtext ahead of the clear text, so naturally dramatists loved his stories, which reflect a more modern sensibility than Hough, Mulford or Le May.
Every western novel by the late Elmer Kelton is worth reading, especially those novels from the 1990s and 2000s. He’s another deep Texas author who is highly regarded by his contemporaries. Loren D. Estleman also writes excellent westerns occasionally.
Robert B. Parker, a crime and mystery writer best known for the Spenser For Hire novels and TV series, who also died recently, synthesized a lot of western history into a fictional trilogy about a pair of town-tamers that are worth reading. Each novel is named after the town in which it is set Appaloosa, Resolution, and Brimstone. There’s a fourth which I haven’t read, Blue-Eyed Devil. Parker’s female characters are more sophisticated than in most westerns, and show considerable research and discernment. He’s dialogue-heavy.