Bendigo Shafter

( 23 )


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 ...

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Bendigo Shafter

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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?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553264463
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1983
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 205,089
  • Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.88 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Louis L'Amour

L Louis L’Amour is undoubtedly the bestselling frontier novelist of all time. He is the only American-born author in history to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of his life's work. He has published ninety novels; twenty-seven short-story collections; two works of nonfiction; a memoir, Education of a Wandering Man; and a volume of poetry, Smoke from This Altar. There are more than 300 million copies of his books in print worldwide.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louis Dearborn LaMoore (real name); Tex Burns and Jim Mayo
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 22, 1908
    2. Place of Birth:
      Jamestown, North Dakota
    1. Date of Death:
      June 10, 1988

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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."

So I went up the hill through the frost of the morning, pausing when I reached the bench where their cabin would stand. A fair place it was, with a cold spring spilling its water down to the meadow where our oxen and horses grazed upon the brown grass of autumn. Tall pines, sentinel straight, made a park of the bench, and upon the steep slope behind there was a good stand of timber.

The view from the bench was a fine one, and I stood to look upon it, filling myself with the quiet morning and the beauty of the long valley below the Beaver Rim.

"You have an eye for beauty, Mr. Shafter," Ruth Macken said to me, and I kept my eyes from her, feeling the flush and the heat climbing my neck as it forever did when a pretty woman spoke to me. "It is a good thing in a man."

"It works a magic," I said, "to look upon distance."

"Some people can't abide it. Bigness makes them feel small instead of offering a challenge, but I am glad my Bud will grow to manhood here. A big country can breed big men."

"Yes, ma'am." I glanced about the bench. "I have come to build you a cabin, then."

"Build it so when spring comes I can add a long room on the south, for when the wagons roll again I shall open a trading post."

She turned to Bud, who had come up the slope from the meadow. "You will help Mr. Shafter and learn from him. It is not every man who can build a house."

Ruth Macken had a way of making a man feel large in his tracks, so what could I do but better than my best?

The morning chill spoke of winter coming, yet I notched each log with care and trimmed them with smooth, even blows.

There is a knowledge in the muscles of a workman that goes beyond the mind, a skill that lies in the flesh and the fiber, and my hands and heart held a love for the wood, the good wood whose fresh chips fell cleanly to the left and the right.

Yet as I worked my thoughts worried over the problem of our town. We were ill-prepared for winter, although our sudden decision to stop left us better off than had we pushed on to the westward.

Going on would have been simple, for travel is an escape, and as long as our wagons moved our decisions could be postponed. When one moves, one is locked in the treadmill of travel, and all decisions must await a destination. By choosing to stop we had brought our refuge tumbling about us, and our problems could no longer be avoided.

The promised land is always a distant land, aglow with golden fire. It is a land one never attains, for once attained one faces fulfillment and the knowledge that whatever a land may promise, it may also demand a payment of courage and strength.

To destroy is easy, to build is hard. To scoff is also easy, but to go on in the face of scoffing and to do what is right is the way of a man.

Neely Stuart already regretted the stopping and spoke of continuing on to California in the spring, and Tom Croft, who listened to Neely, was a man who never knew whether the course he had taken was the right one. So he was always open to persuasion. Nor was his Mary of a different mind.

Even Webb talked of going on when spring should again bring grass to the hills, yet he had been the first to break off from the wagon train and follow Ruth Macken in her decision. He was a discontented, irritable man, always impatient for change, yet he was also strong and resolute and would stand up in an emergency. He had a son, an arrogant, disagreeable boy named Foss . . . short for Foster.

John Sampson, my brother Cain, and I were for staying on, which left only Ethan Sackett, a single man who had been guide for the wagon train but had chosen to leave it when we did.

"What has he to do with us?" Webb demanded, when I wondered aloud if Sackett would stay on. "He's a drifter, not one of us."

"He chose to stay with us, and that makes him one of us."

"He chose to stay because of Mrs. Macken. Would he have come with us had it not been for her? I say he does not belong here."

It was our first night around the fire, the first after leaving the wagon train, and we huddled close to the flames for there was an autumn chill in the night. The truth was we were all a little frightened at what we had done, and our nerves were on edge because of it.

"He won't be with us long," Neely Stuart said. "His kind have no stability. He is more like an Indian than a white man."

"Who among us," John Sampson asked mildly, "has wintered in this country? I think before the winter is gone we shall be glad he is among us."

"We could have been miles from here," Stuart complained. "We were fools to stop."

"Mrs. Macken," I told them, "will open a store, come spring."

"To sell what?" Stuart scoffed. "And to whom?"

"She will sell boots and clothing she and her husband packed against that purpose and vegetables we ourselves will raise. Whenever possible she will accept goods in payment, goods to be sold again."

"A silly woman's dream!"

"There might be good trade with the wagon trains," Webb admitted, "but no matter. When it is warm again I shall move on."

"I shall stay."

It was the calm voice of my brother, to whom all men listened. Until then he had remained silent, watching the leap of the flames and thinking his thoughts.

Cain's face was square, massive, and might have been hewn from oak. His body was also square, but large and powerful. He moved easily, as one who is in complete command of himself and his every muscle. He was not a man given to talking, speaking only when his mind was made up, not as many men do who shape their thoughts as they speak.

"I shall open my smithy and a shop for the mending of guns. I believe the widow Macken knows what she is about."

"Stay on if you wish," Stuart said defensively. "I shall not." Yet his tone had weakened before the weight of my brother's decision.

"I shall leave with the first grass," Tom Croft said. "The wilderness and the thought of Indians distresses my wife."

The sickness of disappointment lay upon me, for if they left our strength would be pared to nothing, and we must also go. We were too few as it was, and if attacked by Indians our chances would be slight.

This valley we had chosen lay upon a highroad for the Shoshone, but it was traveled by the Sioux as well and occasionally by the Ute or Blackfeet. Our presence invited trouble.

On the morning I went up the slope to build for the Widow Macken. There was a fringe of ice along the stream's edge, and the meadow was white with frost. My breath showed in a cloud, and the bodies of the cattle steamed as they worked, hauling down the logs after I felled the trees.

The morning air sang with the hum of axes, a fresh and lovely sound on a chill morning. Looking down from the bench to where the town would lie, I could see my brother pacing off the limits of his cabin site.

The blade of the double-bitted axe sank deep, and chips as large as a man's palm fell into the needles under foot. From time to time I paused to listen to the squirrels, scolding from the pines nearby, yet the pauses were few for the time was short. There is a pleasure in working with the hands and muscles, a pleasure in the use of good tools, and I gloried in the grip of my hands upon the axe and the smell of honest sweat and fresh pine wood.

When I went up the slope with Bud beside me, I chose the trees with care, choosing not only for size and straightness, but to leave the forest as it was, to give the trees room to grow taller and thicker.

"Trees are a crop, Bud Macken," I said, "to be taken only with care and a thought for the forest."

"But there are lots of trees," he protested.

"A forest is a living thing like a human body," I told him, "each part dependent on all the other parts. A forest needs its birds, its beaver . . . all its animals and plants. The forest gives shelter to the birds, but they repay the debt with the insects they eat, the droppings they leave, the seeds they carry off to plant elsewhere. The beaver builds dams for himself, but the dams keep water on the land, and although the beaver cut trees to use and to eat, their ponds provide water for trees during the hot, dry months."

For a moment I held still. "Listen," I whispered, "and you can hear the forest breathe."

This was a lesson my father had taught me, that we only borrowed from the land, and borrowed with discretion and a thought for the years to come.

He taught us that to live in the wilderness one must live with it. Live from it, but allow it to live also. Such was my intention now, and so I explained to Bud Macken my reasons for choosing trees as I did.

What I had received from my father and Cain, this I would pass on to Bud and perhaps someday to sons of my own, for a bee that gathers honey must pass the honey on to those who can best use it. Yet it was little enough that I had to teach and much I had to learn.

When I had felled my third tree, I put Bud to trimming the limbs, watching him first to be sure he knew the use of an axe, for this was no country in which to be left without a foot. I was beginning the fourth tree when Ethan Sackett rode up the hill to draw rein beside me.

He leaned on the pommel of his saddle and watched for a moment before he spoke. "Bendigo, at this time of year there will be few Indians about, but do you take a walk up the ridge now and again to look over the country. If they are about we must know it, so keep your eyes wide for a sign."

"You believe they are holed up for the winter?"

"Soon . . . but a body can't be too caring. Bendigo, I count on you. I cut little ice with those men down yonder, but neither do I pay it much mind. But if there's trouble comes I figure you'll stand. You and that brother of yours."

"Webb will fight. I have a feeling you can count on him, too. He's a mean, cantankerous man, but come fightin' time, he'll be around."

"You are right, I am thinking. You keep shy of that man, Bendigo. He's dangerous."

He rode away then, and as I worked I gave thought to what he had said and began to gather the sense of it. There was a temper in Webb that flared sudden and often. At first I had thought him only a sullen, disagreeable man, but as the days passed on the westward way I saw him change. He took no pushing, and when somebody moved toward him he pushed back . . . hard.

The westward way had a different effect on folks, and many of them grew in size and gathered in spirit. John Sampson was such a man. Back home in the States he had been the village handyman, and nobody paid much mind to what he thought about anything. He did his work and he took his pay, and that was the sum of it. Folks turned to teachers, ministers, storekeepers, and bankers for opinions.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    A good and different L'Amour story

    I always liked L'Amour, and a lot of other people do, too. Mostly, I guess it's because we know how his characters will act and pretty much what they'll do next. I've heard people argue that the characters are all individual and different, but it's obvious these people haven't read very many L'Amours. However, this book really is different, if not in the hero, in the story and its progression. It's not the typical gunfighter story, and he doesn't have to be the best man in town with his fists, too. Bendigo Shafter shows a man of the wilderness who goes about the everyday survival of a pioneer. This is a good book that puts me in mind of other books by the man critics are calling 'The New Louis L'Amour', Kirby Jonas. Jonas writes a lot like L'Amour, but a lot better. We get into his characters a lot more deeply and can see the scenery more clearly. Bendigo Shafter was a good book, but it's too bad Kirby Jonas, the 'New Louis L'Amour', doesn't have as many books out as the real L'Amour.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2014

    Wonderful story. It's neck and neck with Last of the Breed, as

    Wonderful story. It's neck and neck with Last of the Breed, as L'Amour's greatest novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    Great book

    Good story line

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

    Great Read

    As usual another Lamour outanding book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    Great book.

    Enjoyed it a lot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2007

    A L¿Amour classic that stands out above the rest.

    I first picked up a L¿Amour book years ago from a used book store. I¿d never read westerns books before, but always loved the movies. Instantly I was drawn into his stories and found them so much more riveting than the movies. LL has a wonderful writing style and a gift for drawing the reader into the world of his characters. Bendigo Shafter is a classic that stands out above the rest. It tells the story of a young man who comes of age in the harsh world of the American Frontier. Having travelled far from the east his wagon train decides to stop well before the winter comes and build a small settlement to wait it out. Bendigo, along with the other men, sets to work to build houses for all to live in. But this man is more than just muscle and hard work, he discovers a love for reading through the books given to him by the widow Macken, a strong, intelligent woman for whom Bendigo builds a house. She sees in this young man someone of great intellect and promise, and introduces him to a way of learning about the world through reading. While others move on come summer, many decide to stay and continue to build a town. While the story focuses mainly on the young man¿s journey from teenager to manhood, it¿s also a reflection of the real people that made the Wild West, through hard work, strength, courage, dedication and reliance upon each other. Unlike the Hollywood movies, this book paints a realistic picture of how tough life was on the frontier. Over the years the settlers battle harsh winters, the threat of starvation, renegade outlaws and see their town grow from a small settlement into a thriving community, not all of it good. Bendigo ventures off now and then in search of his destiny, but such is his dedication to the people of this town, that the moment trouble flairs he heads straight back to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friends and defend the place they built with blood and sweat. LL¿s descriptions of the land are so vivid that as a traveller I feel I was there with Bendigo, riding across the plains on horseback with the wise old Indian. This book has it all, action, love, wisdom, history and adventure. Reviewed by Ian Middleton: Travel Writer, Photographer and author of Mysterious World: Ireland.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2006

    Not your typical Western

    A good book by Louis LaMour. Written about a young man named Bendigo Shafter. It starts as a normal western book with a wagon train moving across the plains. The book drags in the beginning but this is just because it is explaining all the histories and types of people on the train. The train begins to build their town and go through the usual struggles of Indians and renegades but has less shooting than a lot of other LaMour books. Ben is more of a hand fighter and a basic moral man than a heroistic killer like other main LaMour characters. Ben begins to have dreams of other, bigger places and doesn't want a wife when he begins falling for young Mae and the older Widow Macken. The big twist in the story is how Ben decides between a possible small town life in a town he helped build or run off and live the exciting life of a bachelor traveling around the west coast and the big city life of San Francisco. Overall a good book but if you read westerns for the exciting and shooting this most likely isn¿t for you. I enjoyed the book due to the moral content of it and how Ben strives to live life by good morals.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2011

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    Posted August 22, 2009

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    Posted June 12, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

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