"The Cherokee Trail" by Louis L'Amour

When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was Five Mile Creek (1983-85), which was "inspired by" The Cherokee Trail.  You can read my overview of that series here.

My whole family enjoyed Five Mile Creek -- we rented two episodes on VHS every weekend to watch as a family -- but I absolutely loved it.  (It's still in my top ten for favorite TV shows.)  So, my mom found The Cherokee Trail at the library (presumably at my insistence) and read to see if it would be something she could read aloud to my brother and I for our bedtime read-aloud.  I was probably nine or ten at the time, and I remember being really disappointed because, as I remember it, she said it wasn't appropriate for us.  She said it had too much bad language and was "too grown-up", and we wouldn't like it.  

So, I've resisted reading this book for thirty years.  But I've also been curious about it.  Recently, a couple of friends recommended it to me, and I decided to just take the plunge and read it.  And guess what?  I didn't hate it!  In fact, I'm kind of confused by my memory of my mom's judgement of it.  Because there's hardly any bad language, and there's no inappropriate content.  Like, there's zero romance.  The word 'rape' does appear once, in connection with something that happened years earlier and in a different place, but she could have just read over that if she had read it aloud to us, same as she would have read over the bad language.  

She was probably right that I wouldn't have liked it at the time, though.

Why?  Because it actually doesn't bear much resemblance at all to Five Mile Creek.  They're both about a stagecoach way station being run mainly by women, and that is it.  That's the only similarity.  The Cherokee Trail is about one widow and her daughter and an Irish girl running a way station along a Colorado stagecoach route.  Five Mile Creek is about an unmarried Australian woman and an American woman with her daughter running a way station along a New South Wales stagecoach route.  The book is extremely serious, and the TV show is fun, family-oriented fare.  The characters and the plot are entirely different.

In The Cherokee Trail, widowed Mary Breydon takes on the job of running a way station along the Cherokee Trail in Colorado, a job her husband had been hired to do.  But he was murdered in cold blood by the man who, a few years earlier, led a band of guerillas that looted and burned down their plantation and stole all their horses.  This man is now living in Colorado and has high political ambitions, and no word of his past behavior can be allowed to spread because that would ruin his high hopes.  But Mary Breydon knows who he is and what he did, and so, even though she rapidly wins friends and respect with her handling of the way station, her life is in serious danger from her husband's murderer.

It's an awesome story, and Mary Breydon herself is a marvelous character.  I want to hang out with her, which you know is about the highest praise I have for fictional characters.  I am SO glad that my friends urged me to try reading this!

Here's one random thing that surprised me, though -- I always thought this book was published long before Five Mile Creek aired.  But it wasn't!  It was published in 1982, one year before Five Mile Creek debuted!  My mind is blown.

Particularly Good Bits:

If a man could do it, why couldn't she? (p. 33).

Like many another western man, his past was his own secret, and he never spoke of it (p. 39).

"If one has a book, Mr. Boone, one is never alone. They will talk to you when you want to listen, and when you tire of what they are saying, you just close the book.  It will be waiting for you when you come back to it" (p. 61).

"Never read much, myself.  Seen a few plays from time to time.  That Hamlet now, seen that one twice.  There was some mighty fine talkin' in that play, but folks were makin' a lot of what they called his indecision, and that seemed kind of silly to me.  After all, he had no evidence of wrongdoin' there, on the word of a ghost.  Now, a man's got to be reasonable.  A man who would attack somebody or even accuse somebody on the word of a ghost would have to be off his trail mentally" (p. 99-100).

This was their land of Canaan, the land where dreams came true, but here there was a difference, for each on of them seemed sure that he had to make the dreams come true, that it would be the result of something he did (p. 179).

"A family is a place where a body can share the no-account things, can talk of the little matters important only to ourselves, where we can laugh and cry and tell of the day-by-day happenings and then forget them" (p. 193).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for western violence and a little mild cussing.

This is my 45th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.


  1. So glad you enjoyed this book, Rachel! :D I really need to reread it, I think I forgot most of the plot. And I don't remember that quote about Hamlet at all, but it sounds HILARIOUS. I mean, the man has a point!

    1. Katie, I'm so glad you and Eva convinced me to read it! It's marvelous. And yes, when I hit that bit about Hamlet, I was like, "I want to hug Louis L'Amour!!!"

  2. You're making me want to reread this!

    Isn't Mary amazing??

  3. I didn't watch Five Mile Creek as a kid, but my uncle, who knew about it, did find a BUNCH of tapes on eBay or somewhere years ago. He sent them home with us and I did thoroughly enjoy them. Just a wholesome and entertaining show. :)

    1. Rissi, hurrah for your uncle! It is such a good show.


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