"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Killoe by Louis L’Amour

Seven riders at the showdown

Killoe (1962) is not perhaps my favorite Louis L’Amour novel but it’s still a good read. It reminds me a bit of Elmer Kelton; it’s really a story of Texas settlers, cattle men, who in 1858 decide to escape overcrowding and feuding by moving West into New Mexico or Colorado. The majority of the action takes place in Texas, the confrontation with the Comanchero bandit in El Paso.

The hero is a Keltonesque young man, Dan Killoe, who becomes head of the family when his father is killed. Of course he is brave and resourceful. He beats the badmen and and gets the beautiful Mexican girl. It’s a fairly conventional affair, as, to be truthful, most L’Amour Westerns were, but also like other L’Amours, it is tightly constructed, has strong characters and it has a ring of authenticity.
Another good read
It’s a cattle drive story and we have rather ‘done’ cattle drives. They always come across as faintly didactic; the author can’t resist telling us all he knows about these drives and it smacks ever so slightly of a history lesson. They still make enjoyable reading.

The book is dedicated to Bill Tilghman (1854 – 1924), one of the underrated lawmen of the Old West who rarely appeared in movies but who was quite a figure.
Bill Tilghman
Stylistically, the book is recognizably L’Amour. He loved anaphora and epistrophe:

Westward the land was open, westward lay our hopes, westward was our refuge.

It comes across these days as consciously literary and slightly old-fashioned but a lot of the prose is also quite modern – economical, action-packed. It was 1962 and a time of transition in the Western novel as much as in the movie.

Every so often the writing verges on the brink of pulp. On page 47 we have “It’s quiet out there… too quiet” and on page 146, “It’s only a flesh wound.” Such phrases do risk bringing a wry smile to the hard-boiled Western-reader’s face. But again, it was 1962.
L’Amour was interested in firearms and many of the books have a particular or interesting weapon in the hands of the hero. This time it’s a “Patterson” .56 revolving rifle. It should properly have been Paterson, named for Colt’s plant at Paterson, New Jersey. Revolving rifles were an attempt to apply the effectiveness of the new revolving pistols to carbines and rifles. The most widely produced revolving rifle was Colt’s Model 1855. Only 4,435 were manufactured, from 1856 to 1864, so Killoe’s would have been quite rare and quite new. It did have its weaknesses: gunpowder would sometimes escape from the paper cartridges and could ignite, in “chain fire”, all the chambers waiting to be fired. Sometimes a spray of lead fragments would shoot into the user’s hand or arm. Not ideal. Still, the revolving rifle was widely used in the Civil War.
Colt Paterson .56 revolving rifle
Just occasionally these rifles pop up in Western movies. Deputy Arthur Hunnicutt has one in El Dorado (Paramount, 1967) and in Barquero (Universal, 1970), Marie Gomez, Lee van Cleef’s cigar-smoking gal, is a crack shot with a revolving rifle. Maybe you can tell me of other movies. Leave a comment if you can!

Best of all in Killoe, for me, is that when the hero and his men ride out for the final showdown against the rustlers, their band numbers seven - that Mystical Western Number, the ideal quantity for any posse, gang or riders of the range.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeff!

    Like your blog, great work, written with a lot of knowledge & enthusiasm as well as with tongue-in-cheek...

    Now, please allow me this addendum: The rifle you show is not a Paterson Colt, but instead it's a Colt Root Model of 1855, I reckon a carbine. The Colt company built a whole series of them, they came as civilian versions (half and full stock sporting rilfes) in .36, .40, .44, .50 & .56 calibers as well as military-styled versions i.e.v. rifle, rifled musket & carbine (.44 & .56 caliber). Oh yes, not to forget, there was a 1855 shotgun with a 5-shot-cylinder. "Colt" stands for Samuel Colt and his company Colt's Patent Firearms, "Root" stands for Elisha K. Root, a gifted inventor, livelong friend of Colt's and for a while president of the company just mentioned. Colt collectors know all these versions summarily as "Root Model".

    The Model 1855 characteristics: It's a percussion-muzzleloading gun with a solid frame-construction, with a sidehammer and a cylinder-axis which is to draw backwards out of the frame (all of that is quite unusual within the league of muzzloading Colts). With the same kind of principal construction Colt builds a pocket-sized revolving pistol as well.

    The 5-shot 1855 rifle was used in the Civil War with Hiram Berdan's Sharpshooters, but only for a while, they dislike it: Here & there, it seams, all chambers went of together - not good for the fingers of the hand holding the gun in front of the cylinder (but this goes for ALL muzzleloading-revolving rifles, not only for the ones made by Colt's).
    Berdan's men preferred Sharps falling block rifles (and yes: the name is "Sharps", not "Sharp"). Besides that: The gang of Ned Kelly, the "Iron Clad Outlaw" of Australian fame, used one of these Colt Root longarms in 1880 within their last fight at Glenrowan, Victoria.

    The longarms from Colt's company in Paterson in New Jersey (not: Patterson) look definitely different from the Colt-Root-stuff made in Hartford, Connecticut.

    In Paterson, Colt build repeating or revolving pistols as well as shotguns and rifled longarms and smoothbore carbines. The rifled longarms had calibers from .34 to .44, the carbine came in .525. That means: No .56 caliber-revolving-longarm in Colt's Paterson era. The Paterson rifles had an unique ring-shaped cocking piece in front of the triggerguard & no outside hammer. The Paterson carbine has a conventional exposed center-hammer with hammer spur, as well as the shotgun (caliber 16 gauge.

    As far as known: Colt guns had their first fighting experience (so to speak) within the Seminole wars in Florida, General Thomas Jessup bought a few of them for his troops. But the fame of Colt, which was the beginning of that publicity career what made Colt an international phenomen until today, that started in Texas. It started with the Texas Rangers and it started with a revolving pistol made in Paterson.

    The Paterson pistols had no visible trigger when uncocked. Cock the hammer, and the trigger sprang out of the frame. The largest version of the Colt Paterson Revolver-pistols came in .36. Today it is called "Texas Pateson" within collector circles (officially it'S known as "Holster revolver No. 5"). The Texas Paterson made Colt famous: In 1839, the Republic of Texas bought roundabout 200 longarms and 180 of these fife-shooting revolver-pistols - first for the navy. But after the dissolution of the Texas navy, Jack Hays from the Texas Rangers grabbed them and found this pistols perfect for his unit, especially when in combat with Comanches and other plains indians. And these fights made not only the rangers famous, but their Colt revolvers too. From there stems the fame of Colt's, from there it is all history.

    Best regards from Germany

    Matthias S. Recktenwald