What a name that is. Some never heard it. Some heard it too late. Those who heard it received it second hand, or they were not on the wrong end of his gun. If they were there, and somehow survived, it was because he saw fit to spare them.
A tall, lean, wide-shouldered man with a hard-boned face was Hondo Lane. There was no softness in him, yet also no cruelty. At heart, a kind man, with gentleness in him that was hidden and well-protected. To show kindness and compassion at the wrong moment in his time could lead to a quick end.
And Hondo Lane is not interested in dying soon.
But at the beginning of his story, that seems hard to avoid. A couple of young Apaches shot his horse out from under him, thinking to make a quick kill. They end up dead alongside the horse – but a man without a horse in the desert is a man who will not live long.
Then Hondo comes upon a little ranch house in a nearby valley. In the house are Angie Lowe and her son, Johnny. They are situated smack dab in Apache territory, and currently the Apaches are not happy. They are on the war trail.
This is why Hondo lost his horse and was almost killed. The treaty made with the Apaches has been broken, and now they want the white man to pay. So the U.S. Army has moved in to take care of the trouble. Hondo is carrying dispatches for the Army, since he is a scout for them, and he needs to get them to the nearest fort as soon as possible. To do that, he needs a horse.
Angie Lowe has two horses to choose from, and she allows Hondo to pick out and borrow one. But she dismisses Hondo’s warnings about the Indians. Angie tells him that the Apaches have always gotten along well with them, and that her husband will be back soon.
Hondo, however, has read the spoor around her land. Not only are the Apaches running around the place on their way to war, the hoof prints from her husband’s horse are old. He has been gone a long time, long enough for the ranch he has not been taking care of to fall into further disrepair.
To pay for his meal, bed, and horse, Hondo sharpens the family’s axe and chops wood for them. He also re-shoes the plough horses, whose hooves have grown over the old shoes. He tells Angie again that she would be safer coming with him out of Indian Territory than staying in it, even if the land is hers through inheritance from her father. He also tells her that she is an “almighty poor liar,” and he knows her husband is not present or coming back any time soon.
Angie is most upset by this. Her husband, who was raised with her on the ranch, is actually a bum. The guy works little on maintaining the ranch and goes on “trips” to the fort and nearby towns. There he gambles, drinks, and pays attention to the saloon girls. Meanwhile, Angie is left to mind the ranch and raise Johnny. She cannot handle the ranch alone, but she loves it and it is hers. So she is determined to take care of it to the best of her ability.
But most of what upsets her is that she likes Hondo. She likes him very, very much. Of course, being married to another man, for better or worse, that kind of puts a damper on things for her and Hondo.
The story spins its way out from here, readers, and this is as much of the trail as I am going to guide you on. From here on, you will have to saddle, bridle, and rope this book yourselves. If you do all that, then you may do to ride the river with. If you have already crossed this and other trails of Louis L’Amour’s, then I salute you and am happy to ride in your company.
Hondo was Louis L’Amour’s first full-length publication. Before Hondo was published, Mr. L’Amour had only produced short stories for various magazines. Hondo was his breakout novel. After it hit the market, he had no need to look back. He was off to the races, and he kept going till the end of his days.
John Wayne was in a film based on Hondo. The film goes by the same name as the book. It is a good film – a great one, I think. And before some of you say that it is just a “cowboy movie,” let me step in here and make something clear. A “cowboy” is someone who “punches cows.” He manages another man’s herd for him, whether it is cattle or horses. He helps with the branding, driving, and protecting of the herd from outside attackers.
Hondo is not a cowboy. He is a scout for the Army. So when John Wayne played Hondo Lane in the film Hondo, he played a U.S. Army scout. There is plenty of daylight between the two positions, as much as there is between a military sniper and a beat cop. Do not ever go mixing the two up – especially around me.
You get that story straight, and you’ll do to ride the river with.
See ya around, readers!
The Mithril Guardian