March 22 (1908) is the birthday of Louis L’Amour, the astoundingly successful writer of Westerns, which he called “frontier stories”. But he also wrote historical fiction, science fiction, non-fiction, magazine articles, and poetry.
He was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, North Dakota and spent the first 15 years of his life in that small town in the northern plains. His father was a veterinarian, and he learned a lot about animals from that. But very importantly his family was one of readers. “Ours was a family in which everybody was constantly reading.” He frequented the local library and felt he had already learned more about a subject than was supposed to be taught him in school about it. He developed a life-long passion for books and reading and education. He also met cowboys, farmers, and ranchers in Jamestown and listened to tales of adventure from elderly relatives.
He had a remarkably varied background in his youth. His family left North Dakota in 1923, and eventually settled in Oklahoma in the early 30s. Louis wandered where he could find work. He skinned cattle, baled hay, worked in mines and saw mills and lumber camps, boxed professionally, and sailed aboard ship as a merchant seaman. He traveled all over the country and many parts of the world. He also served in the army in WWII.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading his memoir, “Education of a Wandering Man”, published the year after he died. He called the book “a story of an adventure in education.” In it describes what he learned from all this wandering and seeing places and meeting people. It is also, maybe even primarily, a celebration of books. He said, “Books are the building blocks of civilization.” He read and read and read. (Oh, and he also wrote.) His memoir ends with a listing of all the books he read in 1930-35 and 1937. His home library contained 10,000 books.
He was a prolific and very popular writer. He wrote over 100 novels and 250 short stories. His books had sold over 200,000,000 copies by the time he died in 1988, and millions more are sold each year to this day. His works have been translated into ten foreign languages. Several dozen of his works were made into movies.
In 1982 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1984 President Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He died on June 10, 1988.