At what point does a group of strangers become a community When young Bendigo Shafter and a ragtag bunch of travelers settle in the rugged Wyoming mountains, they quickly come to depend on a toughness and wisdom many of them never knew they possessed. Led by the beautiful and resourceful widow Ruth Macken, the settlers battle harsh winters, renegade opportunists, and the destructive lure of gold. Through these brutally demanding experiences, young Bendigo is forged into a man. But when he travels to New York to reclaim the love of Ninon, his childhood sweetheart, Bendigo is faced with new challenges. Will hard-edged instincts, honed from years in the mountains, serve him in the big city Does Ninon's heart belong to the lights and glamour of the theater And if his destiny deems it so, will he be willing to leave the community he toiled so long and hard to build
- National Book Awards
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December 31, 1978
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Excerpt from Bendigo Shafter by Louis L'Amour
WHERE THE WAGONS stopped we built our homes, making the cabins tight against the winter's coming. Here in this place we would build our town, here we would create something new.
We would space our buildings, lay out our streets and dig wells to provide water for our people. The idea of it filled me with a heartwarming excitement such as I had not known before.
Was it this feeling of creating something new that held my brother Cain to his forge throughout the long hours He knew the steel he turned in his hands, knew the weight of the hammer and where to strike, knew by the glow of the iron what its temperature would be; even the leap of the sparks had a message for his experience.
He knew when to heat and when to strike and when to dip the iron into the water; yet when is the point at which a group of strangers becomes a community What it is that forges the will of a people
This I did not know, nor had I books to advise me, nor any experience to judge a matter of this kind. We who now were alien, strangers drawn together by wagons moving westward, must learn to work together, to fuse our interests, and to become as one. This we must do if we were to survive and become a town.
No settlement lay nearer than Fort Bridger, more than a hundred miles to the southwest . . . or so we had heard.
All about us was Indian country and we were few.
There were seven men to do the building, two boys to guard our stock, and thirteen women and children to gather wood and buffalo chips for the fires of the nights to come, and kindling against a time of snow.
Only now did we realize that we were strangers, and each looked upon the other with distant eyes, judging and being judged, uneasy and causing uneasiness, for here we had elected to make our stand, and we knew not the temper of those with whom we stood.
It was Ruth Macken, but lately become a widow, who led the move to stop while supplies remained to us, and we who stood beside her were those who favored her decision and joined with her in stopping.
My father had been a Bible-reading man and named his sons from the Book. Four of our brothers had gone the way of flesh, and of the boys only we two remained. Cain, a wedded man with two children, and I, Bendigo Shafter, eighteen and a man with hands to work.
Our sister was with us. Lorna was a pretty sixteen, named for a cousin in Wales.
"You will build for the Widow Macken," Cain said to me. "Her Bud is a man for his twelve years, but young for the lifting of logs and the notching."