Code of the West

Code of the West

5.0 2
by Aaron Latham

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From Aaron Latham—one of the premier voices in western fiction and the author of Urban Cowboy—comes a tale of two men, a dream, an the woman who comes between them: a classic Texas saga of friendship and love, hatred and war, and the never-ending conflict between good and evil in all men's hearts.


From Aaron Latham—one of the premier voices in western fiction and the author of Urban Cowboy—comes a tale of two men, a dream, an the woman who comes between them: a classic Texas saga of friendship and love, hatred and war, and the never-ending conflict between good and evil in all men's hearts.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A captivating barnburner of romance, adventure, and gruesome frontier justice. Latham...carries off this rollicking tale with class and style. —Publishers Weekly

"Originality, vitality, old-fashioned entertainment. —Larry L. King, author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

"I couldn't put Code of the West down. —James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a captivating barnburner of romance, adventure and gruesome frontier justice, Latham takes the mythical legend of King Arthur and Camelot and dresses it in buckskin, sweat and cow manure to create a sweeping saga of three decades of Texas cowboy history. From the 1860s to the 1880s, Jimmy Goodnight runs the Home Ranch, a cattle empire hidden in a canyon paradise. One-eyed Jimmy is gifted; he's a natural leader of men and he's able to talk with animals. Ever since he pulled an ax out of an anvil at a county fair, the ax has been his weapon of choice, and Jimmy is mighty handy with it as he smashes thumbs and skulls to bring law and order to his empire. When Jimmy and his knightly cowboys rescue a young woman from a gang of outlaws, he is smitten by her beauty and charm. Revelie Sanborn marries the ax-wielding cattle baron, and they begin a short-lived life of bliss. Jimmy's best friend, Jack Loving (read Lancelot), takes advantage of incipient marital discord, and his betrayal begins a spiral of lust and murder that no one can stop. Throw in a bloodthirsty gang of foul-smelling outlaws; a violent cowboy rebellion; a bitter, long-lost son; and dark secrets from Jimmy's past; and this yarn picks up speed and intensity like a runaway herd of cattle. In melding ancient legends with our cowboy mythos (and a few real-life historical details), the narrative is far more sophisticated than a typical good vs. evil western; indeed, almost everyone has a mean streak, a powerful passion and a finger on the trigger. Latham, a versatile writer whose novels and screenplays (Urban Cowboy; Perfect) have earned him critical acclaim and an Oscar, carries off this rollicking tale with class and style. Agent, Sterling Lord. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Few laws existed in late 1860s Texas, where settlers and natives fought brutal wars and outlaws took advantage of the weak. It is here that Latham, author of Urban Cowboy, brings to life the legend of King Arthur through his main character, Jimmy Goodnight. Taken by the Comanche Indians as a boy and recaptured by the whites, Goodnight returns to his Camelot: the beautiful red canyon of his shaman Comanche father. His adopted people are long gone, but with the help of his cowboys, Goodnight begins to build his dream. His Guinevere is a banker's daughter named Revelie, and he finds his Lancelot in a drifter cowboy named Loving. Finding his strength in love, Goodnight must face all of the trials of the legendary Arthur. Latham's fable is full of rich symbolism, and his writing (especially the use of short chapters) puts the reader at ease. Readers won't soon forget this new twist on an old story. Highly recommended. Loree Davis, Broward Cty. Libs., Pembroke Pines, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.05(w) x 9.01(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3

On a fine April morning, Jimmy Goodnight and his outfit perched on the rim of the canyon that stretched beneath them as deep and measureless as time. He felt his good eye trying to stretch itself to take in such a vast and gorgeous panorama. He had begun to worry that he had lost his ability to see beauty, but now he was blind to it no more. He had gotten his eye back.

Turning his attention from the canyon to his men — Coffee, Too Short, Simon, Black Dub, Tin Soldier, and Suckerod — the boss watched their faces as they stared down into the abyss. He hoped he had chosen his cowboys wisely. Three times as many had wanted to come, but he had limited the size of his crew to the bare minimum he felt he couldn't do without. On the brink of the abyss, the boys' wisecracking and ribbing had suddenly stopped. The outbursts of laughter had died away. Jimmy Goodnight thought his bunch looked almost reverent. They were behaving as if they had ridden into the biggest church in the world rather than to the edge of the biggest canyon on earth. Well, anyway the biggest one Jimmy had ever seen or heard tell of in Texas. The sight of the canyon confirmed his prophecy and him as the prophet. He had not parted the Red Sea but rather the red earth itself. Now his men were once again looking at him with that look: the look that said they trusted him. The look that made him all the more determined not to let them down. He had to live up to their look, and he had to live up to the canyon. He couldn't disappoint any of them.

"Take a good look," Jimmy Goodnight shouted. "Ain't this the purdiest sight" — he reveled in the superlative — "you ever seen in your life?"

But his boys had been struck dumb by the void before them and didn't answer. They looked so solemn, they were funny. He wondered if they were more reverent or more afraid? They stood perched on the rim of the known world. They had come to the boundary that separated the everyday from the extraordinary. They were acting as if they had reached the edge of the earth and were worried they were going to fall off.

Then the cook did go over the edge: the four mules that pulled his chuck wagon spooked, stampeded, and charged right out into the void. Poor Bob Wanger, better known as Coffee, started screaming, which didn't help to calm down the mules any. The pots and pans in the chuck wagon were banging and clanging away, sounding like a blacksmith gone insane, which didn't help the mules' nerves any either. Jimmy Goodnight started laughing so hard he couldn't breathe. Poor Coffee was speaking some primeval language that didn't have any words in it but expressed fear eloquently.

"Let 'em run!" Jimmy Goodnight yelled when he got his breath. "You never seen a purdier place for a drive!"

Coffee tried to curse, but he was too scared for the words to come out right. Jimmy thought: He's screaming so loud he's liable to hurt hisself, and I'm laughing so hard I'm gonna hurt myself. He wondered who would get hurt first. It seemed like some kind of race.

Jimmy Goodnight laughed even harder when the bedrolls started bouncing out. This chuck wagon was just a regular wagon with a kitchen cabinet built on the back of it. Pots and pans and coffee and beans and flour rode in the cabinet. And all the cowboys' bedrolls traveled in the bed of the wagon. But now the wagon was bouncing so high and so hard that everything that could get out did get out. The cowboys were so pleased to be revenged on Coffee — who somehow made red beans taste like coffee and coffee taste like red beans — that they didn't even mind seeing their bedding scattered all over the side of the canyon. The freed bedrolls were racing each other down the steep inclines, hopping, jumping, having a good old time.

Then the chuck wagon door, the cabinet door, banged open, spilling out the coffee pot and the bean pot and pans and metal plates and tin cups. The plates raced the bedrolls to see who could get to the bottom of the canyon first.

Jimmy Goodnight didn't think he could howl any harder, but then he did. All the cowboys were laughing except Coffee — until they saw a big bag of coffee bounce out of the back of the chuck wagon. The cloth bag burst open and scattered coffee across the canyon cliffs. Then a bag of flour followed, exploded on impact, and left a white scar on the red face of the canyon wall. Now that was carrying the joke too far.

The mules seemed to agree, for they tried to call a halt to their reckless race down the cliff. They put on the brakes so fast that the chuck wagon almost ran over them. Their hooves skidded on the loose canyon scree. But eventually the wagon did start slowing down.

Jimmy Goodnight kicked his horse — Mister Goddog by name — and hurried forward to see if his cook was alive and his wagon still in one piece. They both appeared to be in better shape than they had any right to be.

"Nice drivin'," drawled Jimmy Goodnight.

"It ain't funny," Coffee said, his chest still heaving.

"You okay?"

"I bith my tongue."

"Sorry. We better take the wagon apart and pack it down in pieces. It's almost apart already, huh?"

The cowboys got busy rounding up the bedrolls that hadn't rolled too far. They would pick up the others as they made their way on down into the canyon. The cowboy named Too Short Johnson roped a maverick coffee pot so he didn't even have to get off his horse to pick it up. Too Short was small and wiry, with black hair and a drooping black mustache. It was too long just as he was too short. But on a horse he was tall enough and could outrope most men. He tossed the coffeepot to the cook, who accidentally dropped it and watched it roll on down the canyon. Too Short started the laughter and the other cowboys joined in.

"I'm gonna poison all you sons-a-bitches," Coffee threatened. "I'm warnin' you sons-a-bitches."

"We ain't the ones that run away," Too Short pointed out. "Poison them damn mules."

"Naw, but you laughed."

"You wouldn't kill a man just for laughin' when somethin's funny."

"Naw? Well, I'd sure watch what chew eat if'n I was you."

Jimmy Goodnight decided it was time to make peace. If he was going to live up to that look in their eyes, maybe he should try starting now. He decided to give an order and see what happened.

"Okay, boys," said the boy boss, "git busy and pick up that spilled coffee 'n' flour." He straightened up taller in his saddle. He spoke slower. He was trying to copy how the shaman would have done it — short of taking off all his clothes and painting himself yellow.

"Pick it up?" protested Coffee. "It'll be full a dirt!"

"Prob'ly taste better," said Too Short.

"Don't worry," said Jimmy Goodnight. "We'll strain out the biggest rocks. Now git to it. You, too, Coffee."

Strangely enough, the cowboys — Coffee too — obeyed his order. They climbed down off their horses, balancing on the steep canyon side, and started picking up coffee and flour. Since the sacks had exploded, they collected these staples in pots and pans. Seeing his men respond to his order, Jimmy Goodnight felt he had passed another test. He didn't bother to tell them that he was who he was, the boss he was, because of what he saw in their eyes. It was as if the mirror made the man, rather than the man making the reflection.

"Pick it up a grain at a time if'n you have to," chimed in Simon Shapiro, who had the biggest hat. "They ain't another store like my daddy's for a month a Saturdays, so we gotta make this here grub last."

"You mean a month a Sundays," said Coffee.

"No, I don't neither. I'm Jewish and mighty damn proud of it. Month a Saturdays. Trouble with you, Coffee, is you don't take no pride in nothin'. You drive too fast and cook too slow. Course your cookin' slow's a mercy, come to think on it."

Coffee picked up a rock and cocked his arm.

"Take it easy," said Jimmy Goodnight. "You know Simon don't insult you less'n he likes you. It's kinda a compliment."

"Hate to have the son-of-a-bitch in love with me," Coffee said.

"Don't worry," said Simon. "Chances are real slim you're gonna cook your way into my heart. You dunno matzo balls from calf balls."

"That's enough fun," Jimmy Goodnight said. "Git back to work, both a ya."

Then once again he waited to see if "his" men would obey him. He was pretty sure he could handle Coffee, but he wasn't too sure about Simon. For Simon came from a different class. He was richer and better educated than the rest of the boys, but he didn't talk like it because he wanted to fit in. Perhaps for the same reason, he got right down to work picking food up off the ground.

Simon's father, a successful merchant in Weatherford, had substantially outfitted this expedition. Of course, some money had changed hands, but not much. The flour and coffee and other staples scattered all to creation had been more or less his gift. It had been the father's way of supporting his son's participation in a venture that he didn't entirely approve of. The merchant had said he hoped his boy would get cowboying out of his system and come back to the store one day. But if he didn't return — if this wild red-canyon scheme worked out — then his son would probably have a more interesting life than he himself had had. Jimmy Goodnight hoped that if he ever had a son, he would be as understanding. But, well, he wouldn't count on it.

Simon's participation had meant that Goodnight could save most of the $900 he had won at the county fair for future expenses. Of course, he had supposedly "won" $1,000, but he had been forced to take $100 on account, which probably meant he would never get it. The fair had claimed the $900 was all the ready money it had on hand. Jimmy's uncle told him he was lucky to get that much.

When they finished picking up all the coffee and flour they could find, the cowboys attacked the chuck wagon with hammer and crow bar. Black Dub Martin, who had been a slave as a boy, did most of the heavy lifting because he was the biggest and the strongest. He had been one of the strongmen who broke an ax handle trying to pull the blade from the anvil that memorable day at the fair. Black Dub single-handedly lifted the cabinet off the back of the wagon and tied it to the back of a mule. They didn't have to jack the wagon up to take its wheels off. Black Dub just picked it up, one end at a time.

"Hey, we don't need no mules," said Tin Soldier Jones. "We got Black Dub. He could pack this sucker down all by hisself. And he'd think it was fun."

Tin Soldier, the very first volunteer, who had been a blacksmith back home in Weatherford, owed his name to the steel helmet he had made for himself at his anvil. It looked sort of like an upside-down pot, but it had a spearhead on top. If worse came to worse, he could butt his enemies to death.

They pulled apart the wagon and attached the pieces to the mules as best they could. So, instead of pulling the chuck wagon, the poor mules had to carry it down on their backs. It was going to take several trips. Served them right for running away.

"We better start workin' the cattle down," Jimmy Goodnight said. "Don't rush 'em. Take it nice 'n' easy."

Soon his cowboys began feeding the 1,600 longhorns down single file. This herd had cost nothing except the effort it had taken to round it up. Which was considerable. During the Civil War, when the men in Texas marched off to fight the Yankees, their cattle ran off. Now the state was full of wild longhorns — owned by nobody — hiding out in the brush-and-breaks country. So Jimmy Goodnight and his bunch had just helped themselves to a herd.

The longhorns followed a narrow, four-mile Comanche trail that Jimmy Crying Coyote remembered from his life among the Human Beings. Jimmy Goodnight wondered where the Humans were now. He had expected a few curious braves to make an appearance by now. He was looking forward to a reunion with old friends and relatives. He hoped he might even see the Sun Chief again. He felt sure that the vast red canyon was big enough for both Writers and Humans, for both his cattle and their shaggy, heavy-headed, hump-backed "Human-cattle." He planned to suggest that the boundary line be the blood-red river that ran down the middle of the canyon. He would ranch the land south of the river and leave the territory north of the river for the Humans. Or the other way around. It didn't make any difference to him. He looked forward to proving to the world — or at least to Texas — that red men and white men could live in peace and friendship together. And who was better prepared to lead such an experiment than he was?

Goodnight supposed that his cattle represented the first domesticated cloven hooves ever to leave their tracks on this wild path, this trace. They seemed nervous but not badly frightened as they wound their way down toward the center of the earth. It was slow work. The cattle trickled down into the canyon all morning, then all afternoon and on into the evening. As the light began to fail, Jimmy Goodnight knew that he would soon have to call a halt to this single-file cattle drive. The Comanche trail was dangerous enough in broad daylight but would be impossible in the dark.

"Hold 'em up!" Jimmy Goodnight yelled. "Bring them that's started down on down, but don't start no more. Pass the word up." He felt he was beginning to get the hang of this leadership thing. He sure hoped so.

So that night the herd was divided, half on the rim above, half on the canyon floor below. Jimmy Goodnight assigned Tin Soldier and Black Dub to stay on top and look after the cattle up there. The rest of the cowboys would spend their first night in their new home, the red canyon.

Copyright © 2001 by Aaron Latham

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A captivating barnburner of romance, adventure, and gruesome frontier justice. Latham...carries off this rollicking tale with class and style. —Publishers Weekly

"Originality, vitality, old-fashioned entertainment. —Larry L. King, author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

"I couldn't put Code of the West down. —James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

Meet the Author

Aaron Latham is best known for his novels and screenplays, including Urban Cowboy and Perfect. He has been a regular contributor to such publications as Rolling Stone, Esquire, Talk, and The New York Times.

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Code of the West 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. This book was my dream come true; why? Here's my background... I have been a King Arthur fanatic since I was in High School (late 70's). I've jousted on horseback as an armored knight for the last 10 years. I've lived the 'knight's life' I grew up on. I also grew up with cowboys on a small horse ranch in Arizona and have read lots of western novels, especially Larry McMurtry's westerns. I'm also a big fan of Terry C. Johnston's 'Plainsmen Novels'. I never would have thought someone could combine my two literary passions in one book but Aaron Latham did it. Code of the West was perfectly written, combining a very authentic western sensibility with the endearing nobility of Camelot. Compulsively readable and heartbreaking. Just like a good Arthurian story should be. Looking forward to reading '...Tiffany Gun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Recognized for his novels and screenplays, Aaron Latham created an iconic Western tale with 'Urban Cowboy.' He's done it again with 'Code Of The West,' a pleasurable blend of the Arthurian legend and cowboy lore. This epic tale, which spans three generations, introduces Jimmy Goodnight, a former Comanche captive, who runs a cattle empire, the Home Ranch. One-eyed Jimmy visits a county fair where he accomplishes a feat that has defeated the strongest Texans - he smoothly pulls an ax from an anvil. After Jimmy and his crew rescue a beautiful young woman, Revelie Sanborn, from an evil outlaw, Jimmy falls hopelessly in love. Reverting to the Comanche tongue, he tells Revelie, 'My mind cries for you.' They marry. But living happily ever after isn't in the cards with the appearance of Jimmy's best friend, Jack Loving (remember Lancelot?) Desperados, feuds, jealousy, rebellion, chivalry, love, and sacrifice are all part and parcel of this adventuresome, highly enjoyable tale. Kudos to Aaron Latham.