Books by Elmer Kelton

Elmer Kelton is a native Texan, author of forty novels. He has earned countless honors including a record seven Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, Inc., an organization that has voted Kelton the greatest Western Writer of all time. He lives in S

SANDHILLS BOY by Elmer Kelton
Released: May 1, 2007

"'The word ‘cowboy' has taken on negative connotations in recent times,' writes Kelton wryly, 'especially in a political or military context.' This memoir helps restore what to westerners is an honorable term, and it's a pleasure through and through."
Charming memoir of renowned western novelist Kelton's (Texas Showdown, not reviewed) early years in the saddle, at the desk and in the trench. Read full book review >
SIX BITS A DAY by Elmer Kelton
Released: Nov. 1, 2005

"Easygoing days in the saddle, related in a drawl that's sweet as pure honey. One has to appreciate a Western whose hero is so bad with a revolver that he couldn't hit water if he was standing knee deep in a lake."
One of the last cowboys still riding through American fiction moseys through Texas, and gets into trouble. Read full book review >
SONS OF TEXAS by Elmer Kelton
Released: June 1, 2005

"Dialogue from heaven and storytelling fresh as a gunshot grip each page about the true West. "
The greatest living writer of Western historicals (Jericho's Road, 2004, etc.) sets spurs to a new trilogy. Read full book review >
JERICHO’S ROAD by Elmer Kelton
Released: Nov. 1, 2004

"Another triumph in the genre: Kelton, author of some 40 novels, holds a record seven Spur Awards."
Sixth and final (we think) entry in the Texas Rangers saga by Kelton. Read full book review >
TEXAS VENDETTA by Elmer Kelton
Released: Feb. 1, 2004

"Storytelling as rich as a bank ripe for robbing. Its quietly knifelike sentences will skin you alive."
Honored as the Greatest Western Writer of All Time, Kelton offers his fortysomethingth novel, carrying forward his Texas Ranger series begun with The Buckskin Line, Badger Boy, and 2001's The Way of the Coyote (the first three have been reprinted in one volume as Lone Star Rising.) It can only be said that Kelton's vision of the roles of the Texas Rangers offers a prism that brings the brightest facets of Texas's post-Civil War decade into a single image that's richer and more graspable here than in nonfiction of the Southwest for that period—and Kelton's spacious eye will leave readers hungry for more. The novels together strive for the epic sweep of McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, though Kelton, in spite of a gift for humor, lacks McMurtry's high talent for words baked in the landscape and for full-bodied characters who loom like myth. In the present installment, Andy Pickard and Farley Brackett set out to deliver Jayce Landon to trial for the murder of Ned Hopper. But their job finds them caught between the feuding Landon and Hopper families, who have differing views on whether Jayce should stand trial, be freed, or simply killed on sight. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 2001

"May Kelton's rangers ride on many a long mile."
With 40 novels in his gunbelt, Kelton has been named "The Greatest Western Writer of All Time" by the Western Writers of America. In this outing, Rusty Shannon returns in the third installment in his Texas Rangers series (The Bucksin Line, 1999; Badger Boy, 2001). When the federal government moves into Texas and takes over, following the Civil War, Shannon falls into a briar patch of Kelton plotting that includes raids by the Ku Klux Klan, the loss of his homestead to killers from his past, playing big brother to almost-grown Badger Boy Andy Pickard, saving ranchers from marauding Indians (in his youth, the Commanches killed his original family, his foster father, and held him captive, and Andy himself has only recently escaped being a captive of that tribe). Rusty tries to settle back into his old life as a farmer—but it's not to be. What's more, he's suffering from an arrow wound in his leg. Meanwhile, he joins some lawmen chasing Indians, clansmen, and whiskey runners. As the dust settles, will bad Clyde Oldham sign Rusty's farm back to him? Read full book review >
BADGER BOY by Elmer Kelton
Released: Jan. 1, 2001

"Drama bright as daylight that leaves your tongue dry as powder."
Kelton, called "The Greatest Western Writer of All Time" by the Western Writers of America, returns to the Texas frontier he limned so brilliantly in telling of redheaded David "Rusty" Shannon and the founding of the Texas Rangers in The Buckskin Line (1999). That began in 1840 and moved up to the Civil War. With the war ended, mean-spirited Union soldiers are taking over the territory, as are angry Confederate returnees and army renegades, while the Rangers whom Rusty joined earlier to save settlers from the Comanches (who killed his original family and later his foster father and who once held him captive) are disbanding. Now he's faced with a deeply ironic dilemma: a white lad called Badger Boy, whose parents were also murdered by Comanches and who was himself captured and raised by a Comanche warrior, falls prisoner to Rusty. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 5, 1999

Six-time Spur Award—winner Kelton (The Smiling Country, 1998, etc.) chronicles the early days of the Texas Rangers. Recently voted "the greatest Western writer of all time" by the Western Writers of America, Kelton creates characters more complex than L—Amour's, though his descriptions lack the latter's sensuous genius. Here, Kelton concentrates on the Rangers before they were officially formed, in the hardscrabble days when they were merely small companies of badly paid, badly fed volunteers in homespun and buckskin who, without badges, protected landowners' unmarked borders in Mexican Texas; the time comes when they—re called upon to save ranchers from marauding Indians. Kelton's lead character, Rusty Shannon, who joins the group in 1861 to hold off the Indians, has a strongly complicated background: back in 1840, his original family was murdered by Comanches; then in 1859 his foster father was also killed. Redheaded Rusty thinks he knows his father's murderer was Isaac York, whom he's marked in his mind for killing. The father and brother of his skinny, blue-eyed beloved, Geneva Monahan, are lynched by southern zealots; later, the Monahan house is burned to the ground by vengeful nightriders. Once he joins the Rangers, Rusty finds himself conflicted by prejudices among the outfit's members—and the day comes when he must meet Buffalo Caller, the Comanche brave who slaughtered Rusty's original family. To all this, which hints at the cruelty and horror Huck Finn met along the Mississippi, Kelton adds a surprisingly strong elements of humanity, remorse, reversals of character, and terrific nobility for the "red devils." Wonderfully satisfying, sophisticated, unsentimental, superbly crafted, and full of a whopping good humor out of Twain. Hard to beat. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1998

Western storyteller Kelton (Cloudy in the West, 1997, etc.) returns for his fortieth-plus novel, a sequel to 1978's The Good Old Boys that again features hang-loose Hewey Calloway, circa 1910, as his lovable old —Smiling Country— of West Texas fades into the automobile age. We first meet Hewey chasing a longhorn bull on the loose, an animal that symbolizes the breed of overmuscled, hardscrabble beasts soon to be phased out of beef production. In these animals, Hewey glimpses his own fate, as he herds his steers into pens at Alpine, Texas, for shipping by rail to Kansas City. When his boss, Old Man Jenkins, buys the Circle W outfit and asks Hewey to run it for him, Hewey at first passes up the promotion, not wanting to give orders and preferring to work for wages as a top hand. But after feeling some regrets about never having married Miss Spring Renfro and never having quite made his mark on the country, he accepts the Circle W job and its hundred square miles of wonderful smiling pasture. Hewey also takes his very young nephew Tommy under his wing when the boy joins the crew and learns to bust broncs. Hewey believes that he himself is still up to stomping some outlaw, extra-wild, fairly insane broncs—but when he does, he winds up with a broken arm, ribs, knee, and internal injuries. Still, he won—t surrender to trucks and automobiles, although eventually he gets around to struggling into and out of a passenger seat. By then even the sheepherders have moved in. The town livery stable may turn into a garage. . . . And just watching a bronc being busted gives Hewey a chill. Well, maybe he'll ask for Spring Renfro's hand (again). Old-timey dialogue, newly minted, rhetorical stretchers, and whopping good humor right out of Twain. Read full book review >
CLOUDY IN THE WEST by Elmer Kelton
Released: April 17, 1997

From award-winning western yarnspinner Kelton (The Pumpkin Rollers, 1996, etc.) comes his 36th, the tale of a gentle Texas boy forced by harsh circumstances to come of age while on the run from both the law and a murderous stepmother. When Joey Shipman's father dies after a suspicious accident, leaving his farm to his 12-year-old child and thereby lighting the fuse of the boy's already mean-tempered stepmother, it's only a matter of time before the fireworks begin. Sure enough, Joey's last protector, the old family handyman, is found dead in his bunk; knowing that he's next on the list, Joey takes the first opportunity to run away, heading west to find his cousin Beau, a man he barely remembers but who is his only known kin. Beau proves to be a dedicated drunk, spending as much time in the county jail as in his own tumbledown shack. Taking reluctant responsibility for his orphaned cousin, Beau is only too happy to hand him over when Joey's new stepfather comes to take the runaway home. But when the man tries to drown the boy, Beau intervenes and, after a desperate struggle, the would-be killer is himself apparently killed. Running from the deed, the cousins fall in with a feared outlaw, who turns out to have a son Joey's age. The outlaw takes them to a hole-in- the-wall hideout, but bad blood between bandits soon has them on the run again, this time with a young ex-prostitute who was the cause of the ruckus. They join up with an old sheepherder taking his flock home for the winter, but ultimately Joey and Beau turn back toward home, determined to face the consequences of what they've done. Adventure aplenty, and no lack of trademark historical detail, but plot and characters are a tad formulaic here, making this a less engrossing yarn than its predecessors. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1996

One still experiences a sense of dÇjÖ vu reading a historical by Kelton (The Far Canyon, 1994, etc.). We have met these characters and they are us: sometimes weak and foolish, sometimes heroic, always complex and, for the most part, fundamentally decent. Young Trey McLean is a pumpkin roller (farmer) with ambitions of being a cattleman. Leaving his father's East Texas farm with a dun horse and four old cows he rides toward the unclaimed lands ``out west.'' When his cows are stolen by a greedy farmer with the connivance of a dishonest sheriff, it is not his anger at this injustice but his helplessness to alter the situation that wins us over. He is not an archetypal macho hero with blazing six-guns but an ordinary man who confronts unfairness with gritted teeth. We share Trey's confused response to Jarrett Longacre, a top hand and a fugitive from the law, whose thoughtless outlaw ways embroil Trey with Marshal Gault, a lawman with an obsessive, unforgiving nature. Jarrett is a likable, troublesome presence in each stage of Trey's life and labors: the wagon yard in Fort Worth; on Ivan Kerbow's cattle drive, the event signalling Trey's rite of passage from farmer to cowboy; on Kerbow's ranch in far West Texas. When Trey marries Sarah Stark and agrees to manage Kerbow's ranch, Kelton adds a feminine dimension to the narrative. Just as Jarrett stands in contrast to Trey, Katy Rice, a former prostitute who becomes involved with Jarrett, is Sarah's opposite. Sarah's fear of loneliness has her hearing voices in the wind, while Katy relishes solitude. The final confrontation between Jarrett and Gault forces each of these four characters to resolve their inner conflicts and accept the consequences. A superb coming-of-age novel by a master western storyteller whose deft touch with characterization is underappreciated. Read full book review >
THE FAR CANYON by Elmer Kelton
Released: Aug. 1, 1994

In this sequel to the award-winning Slaughter (1992), Kelton again proves himself to be a resonant voice of the American West. In 1874 Jeff Layne, a Confederate veteran and reformed hide hunter sick of killing both men and buffalo, is on his way back to Texas to revive the family ranch, which fell into carpetbagger hands. With him are good-hearted—and big- bellied—Cap Dolittle, sophisticated Englishman Nigel Smithwick, and independent Ohio woman Arletta (now Mrs. Nigel Smithwick). When they reach Jeff's hometown, however, they discover that what's left of the Layne property is now owned by Jeff's longtime nemesis, Vesper Freed. Vesper also stole Jeff's girl, Eva, while Jeff was away. Rather than fight Vesper for an admittedly worthless piece of land, Jeff decides to build up a herd of cattle and then set out for a canyon he knows in Northern Texas to start a ranch. During the winter, however, Jeff becomes entangled in a vendetta involving Vesper, Mexican bandits, and his own hired hands. When Jeff's party moves out in the spring, they are accompanied by Eva (who plans to go as far as San Antonio) and the newest Smithwick, baby Becky. They eventually reach Jeff's distant canyon, although not without losses, and begin to build a new life. Interwoven with the story of Jeff and his friends is that of Crow Feather, a Comanche warrior. Rather than submit to the indignity of reservation life, Crow Feather and his family go to live in the relative safety of a sheltered canyon. They manage well until Crow Feather is captured and taken to the reservation. He attempts to escape repeatedly and suffers terribly at the hands of the soldiers before he finally is reunited with his family, who are living peacefully with the newly arrived ranchers. Finely crafted western fare. Wonderfully satisfying. Read full book review >
SLAUGHTER by Elmer Kelton
Released: Nov. 9, 1992

An Englishman, a tough girl from Ohio, a cowboy, and a Comanche come together in a search for the last of the great herds of bison—in another outstanding western by the author of Honor at Daybreak (1991). Most Comanches find it impossible to believe the ridiculous rumors that reach them from the territory of the less-than-credible Cheyenne, who believe that white men have begun systematically to eliminate the bison, the animal on which the Plains tribes depend for food. The big animals have always been limitless. Crow Feather, an intelligent and capable hunter, sets out to see whether there's a basis for the rumor and quickly learns that the reality is worse than the Cheyennes' stories: The white men are killing just for skins, leaving thousands of corpses to rot on the plains. Crow Feather's search brings him closer and closer to a hunting operation headed by a former Union army colonel, Damon Cregar. Colonel Cregar's most capable scout is Jefferson Layne, a displaced Texan who's befriended British remittance man Nigel Smithwick. Smithwick fell in with the company after being thrown from a westbound train for winning too much at poker. Smithwick and Col. Cregar are both much taken with Arletta Browder, the competent, redheaded daughter of one of the colonel's subcontractors. Arletta favors the Englishman, but, despite good advice from Layne, Smithwick is still too class-conscious to know how to handle her. Meanwhile, exhaustion of the herds on the northern plains drives the white hunters farther and farther south into Indian territory, where the tribes have begun to understand that success for the white man will mean the end of the Indians' lives as free men. A horrifying story told without sentiment or bias. Kelton's spare, unadorned, and sophisticated writing gives intense pleasure without ever calling attention to itself. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1990

Gangsters threaten the balance of power in a west Texas cow town already rocked by the oil boom of the 1920's. Kelton's long string of westerns includes The Man Who Rode Midnight and The Good Old Boys. Sheriff Dave Buckalew, a veteran of the Great War and a former cowboy, is The Law in Caprock. There is a judge somewhere in the background, and the stingy county commissioners have sprung for a deputy's salary, but Buckalew is the one with the brains and the nerve and the day-to-day duty of keeping the lid on Caprock as it endures the transformation from a predictable little ranching center to an oil town. The growth from the discovery of oil has come so fast that the big, new, labor force of cowhands-turned-riggers is housed in a suburb comprised of tents. The influx of money has also brought gambling, prostitution, fights, robbery, and bootlegging. With no one but his proto-Barney Fife deputy to help, about all Buckalew can do is keep the criminal dealings clean and open until things settle down. What he fears most is the arrival of organized crime, gangsters with more firepower and clout than he can muster—and indeed Mr. Big Boy Daugherty, recently evicted from the Panhandle by the Texas Rangers, has sent a couple of emissaries to scout out the wild little town. As Sheriff Buckalew prepares for battle, an unlucky, overspent wildcatter and his pretty young wife drill deeper and deeper; a drunken driller tries to get a grip on himself; and a cowboy named Slim loses his saddle, gets oil under his nails, and also gets to know a smart little waitress. All this, mind you, as the Chrysler building is going up. Entertaining, romantic, and authentic. Kelton was there and it shows. Read full book review >