Telegraph Days

Telegraph Days

by Larry McMurtry


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Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry

I've come to think that in times of crisis human beings don't have it in them to be rational. The Yazee gang was riding down upon us, six abreast. We all ran outside and confirmed that fact. The sensible thing would have been to run and hide — but did we? Not at all.

The narrator of Larry McMurtry's newest book is spunky Nellie Courtright, twenty-two years old and already wrapping every man in the West around her little finger. When she and her teenage brother Jackson are orphaned, she sweet-talks the local sheriff into hiring Jackson as a deputy, while she takes over the vacant job of town telegrapher. When, by pure blind luck, Jackson shoots down the entire Yazee gang, Nellie is quick to capitalize on his new notoriety by selling reviews to reporters. It seems wherever Nellie is, action is sure to happen, from a love affair with Buffalo Bill to a ringside seat at the O.K. Corral gunfight. Told with charm, humor, and an unparalleled zest for life, Nellie's story is the story of how the West was won.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743250931
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 06/17/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 786,021
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.


Archer City, Texas

Date of Birth:

June 3, 1936

Place of Birth:

Wichita Falls, Texas


B.A., North Texas State University, 1958; M.A., Rice University, 1960. Also studied at Stanford University.

Read an Excerpt


"I hope you're carpenter enough to build an honest coffin," I told Jackson, my younger brother. About an hour ago, I would guess, our father, Perceval Staunton Courtright, had foolishly hung himself from a rafter in the barn.

From the rope burns on his hands, it seemed likely that Father changed his mind at the last minute and tried to claw his way back up to the rafter, where he might have rid himself of the inconvenient noose -- last-minute mind changes were a lifelong practice of Father's. In this case, though, the mind change had come too late, meaning that Jackson and I were faced with the necessity of burying Father in windy No Man's Land, a grassy part of the American West that, for the moment, no state claimed.

My younger brother, Jackson, was just seventeen. Here we were, the two surviving Courtrights, having already, in the course of our westering progress, buried two little brothers, three little sisters, an older sister, three darkies, our mother, and now look! Father's tongue was black as a boot.

"I'm a fair carpenter, but where will I get the lumber?" Jackson asked, surveying the vast grassy prairie. We were just south of the Cimarron River, in a part of the plains populated by no one, other than Jackson and myself -- and I, for one, didn't plan to stay.

"Use some of this worthless barn," I told my brother. "It's only half a barn anyway, and we won't be needing it now." Father had first supposed that the prairies beside the Cimarron might be a good place to start a Virginia-style plantation, but he wisely discarded that notion while the barn was just half built. Now, with Father dead, we were down to Percy,our strong-minded mule, and a flea-filled cabin with glass windows. Ma had insisted on the glass windows -- it was her last request. But she was dead and so was our gentle, feckless father. We had no reason to linger on the Black Mesa Ranch -- the name Father had rather grandly bestowed on our empty acres.

I was twenty-two, kissable, and of an independent disposition. My full name was Marie Antoinette Courtright, but everyone called me Nellie. Mother told me I got named after Marie Antoinette because Father happened to be reading about the French Revolution the night I was born -- my own view is that he anticipated my yappiness and was secretly hoping the people would rise up and cut off my head.

Jackson began to rip boards off the barn. He handed me a pick and a spade, implements I accepted reluctantly.

"Being a lady, I try to avoid picks and spades," I mentioned.

"I guess you've kissed too many fellows to be calling yourself a lady," Jackson remarked, picking up a crowbar -- or half a crowbar. At some point, mysteriously, our family crowbar got broken in two; this setback annoyed Father so much that he threw the other half in the Missouri River.

"It's not my fault you're off to a slow start in the kissing derby," I told him.

"Where would I get a girl to try and kiss, living way out here?" he asked.

For once Jackson had a point. My various cowboys could always slip away from their herds long enough to provide me with a spot of romance, but very few young ladies showed up on the Cimarron's shores.

"I expect you'll get your chance once we get settled in Rita Blanca," I assured him.

Jackson looked a little droopy as he laid out Father's coffin. We Courtrights are, in the main, not a very sentimental lot. But burying brother after brother, sister after sister, and now parent after parent, as Jackson had been required to do, was the kind of work that didn't put one in the whistling mood. I marched over and gave my brother a big hug -- he didn't sob aloud but he did tear up.

"I expect I'll miss Pa more than you will," he said, with a catch in his voice. "Pa, he always had a story."

"It's just as well he didn't hear you call him Pa," I reminded Jackson.

Father had no patience with abbreviation, localisms, or any deviation from pure plantation English; but Jackson was right. Father always had a story.

When we were at home, he was always reading stories to the little ones, but once we left Virginia and headed west, the little ones soon commenced dying -- a common thing, of course, for westering families, but a heavy grief nonetheless. It broke our mother's heart. All along the Western trails, in the years after the Civil War, families that got caught up in westering died like gnats or flies. Santa Fe Trail, Oregon Trail, California Trail -- it didn't matter. The going was deadly. The brochures the land agents put out made westering seem easy -- sparkling water holes every few miles, abundant game, healthy prairie climate with frequent breezes -- but in truth, there were no easy roads. Death traveled in every wagon, on every boat. Westering made many orphans, and picked many parents clean.

Jackson and I were young and healthy -- that was our good fortune. Neither of us shied from hard work. I set aside being a lady and had the grave half dug by the time Jackson finished the coffin. We buried Father in a buffalo robe he had bought from an old Osage man. Then we rolled him in the coffin and eased the coffin into the earth. Dust was on its way to dust.

"We ought to sing a hymn at least," Jackson suggested.

Hymn singing makes me mopey -- I have a good voice but a poor memory for the words of songs. Since Jackson and I had not been churchly people we could not quite string together a whole hymn, but we did sing a verse or two of "Amazing Grace," and then we sang "Lorena," in memory of the thousands of fallen heroes of the South. Since our vocal chords were warmed up we finished with a rousing version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It was a Yankee hymn, of course -- Father, who fought with Lee at the Wilderness and elsewhere, might not have approved, but Father was dead and his fight was over. Maybe it was time to let bygones be bygones -- singing one another's songs was a start.

Across the Cimarron, to the northwest, the July sun was shining hard on Black Mesa, the only hill anywhere around. Rita Blanca, the little town we had decided to head for, was more than thirty miles away. Percy, our strong-minded mule, hated long stretches of travel and would balk and sulk most of the way. But Percy would just have to put up with a lengthy travel, since neither Jackson nor I felt like spending another night in the flea-filled cabin.

"Let's go partway and camp," Jackson suggested. "It's a full moon. It'll stay light till almost morning."

Having no one to keep us, or say us nay, that is exactly what we did.

Copyright © 2006 by Larry McMurtry

Table of Contents







What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Entertaining." — The Washington Post

"A darn good read: an entertaining spoof about the Wild West that brings alive the romance of outlaws, gunfighters and shootouts.... McMurtry has created a modern-day dime novel, a romantic knock-up of the West — proof that an old-fashioned oater can be as much fun to read as a literary work." — The Washington Post

"Sassing her way through a series of sometimes improbable adventures that just happen to put her in the middle of famous moments in history, Nellie proves herself irresistible." — Library Journal

"This rollicking epic is filled with excitement and humor, tinged with sadness and a longing for the past." — Booklist

"Most readers won't be able to help cracking a smile.... As purposely over-the-top as an episode of South Park." — Publishers Weekly

"More laughs and a lot more sex.... An easy, breezy read." — Kirkus Reviews

Customer Reviews

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Telegraph Days 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Funny, I couldn't even begin to read Lonesome Dove, so I have nothing to compare this book to except Zeke and Ned, which I absoltely loved. This book was a whole lot of fun, mind candy. The characters were bigger than life, over-whelming the time frame of the book, actually kind of blurring the time frame, but after realizing it is just-for-fun, the reader can get over how McMurtry changes the well-known characters into real-life people. The Earp's weren't nice, Bill Cody was was just fun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading almost 30 of Larry McMurtry's books, I suppose I read them now more by reflex than out of curiosity. It dawned on me during 'Telegraph Days' that the author quit really writing novels somewhere in the Late Child-Comanche Moon-Duane's Depressed era. It seems this gifted story-teller doesn't want the bother of a fully developed novel. Rather than the overland route, he prefers the helicopter ride above it all. He becomes more the arrogant essayist than the great teller of stories. In Telegraph Days, it is hard to guage what is more preposterous - the many events that just happen as Nellie arrives, or the way the rough and uncouth cower before her. Finally, the gratuitousness of the near non-stop prurience of the heroine - a late-McMurtry staple - is somewhere between a distraction and an irritant.
srgwriter More than 1 year ago
Perhaps because I loved the entire Lonesome Dove series, Dead Man's Walk to Streets of Loredo, I was expecting something else. This book is definitely not along the lines of those hardened western stories. There is little intensity, and I had trouble finishing it for lack of interest.
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Lori-from-Iowa More than 1 year ago
Another job well done by Larry. I think he depicts the times realisticly.
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I didn't enjoy the story or the characters so much, but I didn't put it down. I kept picking it up and even finished it because I still wanted to know what came next and how it ended. As we all know, McMurtry is a master story teller . . . His stories grip me even when I don't particularly like them.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books of all time, maybe my favorite, and I have read all of Mr. McMurtry's work. Since Lonesome Dove, his work has steadily gone downhill. For the first time ever, I was not able to finish one of his books. The cover of the book says there has never been a book like this since Lonesome Dove. The two should never be mentioned together. Dull, dull, dull.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have an hour commute to and from work and was looking for my first 'book on cd' to listen to in the car. I picked this book because I like Annie Potts and historical fiction. Listening to this made the drive go much faster, and I fell in love with every character. This was my first experience reading Larry McMurty and I will definintely look for him in the future. This story just flowed effortlessly and had my attention the entire time. I also loved Annie Potts for the narrator, she did an excellent job. I couldn't imagine a better Nellie!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Larry McMurtry writes, not from a woman's point of view, but what a man wishes was a woman's point of view. His heroine has the depth of a gnat and is more than willing to screw around indiscriminately with anyone, anywhere. This should be billed as a comedy. Mr. McMurtry should have quit with Lonesome Dove. This would have received 0 stars but that was not an option.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Telegraph Days, McMurtry creates history's horniest heroine! This once upon a time Southern belle has definitely strayed far from her well-bred roots. But, she is great fun to read about. McMurtry portrays a side of the Earps that is at variance with that of Hollywood legend, but he does include a multitude of Old West characters. As much fun as this book is, it is NO Lonesome Dove!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I kept waiting for something exciting to happen which only happened once in this book. It was well written but the story had no purpose. This book is nothing like Lonesome Dove that was filled with excitement.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a Lonesome Dove fan and have been waiting for Mcmurtry to write something close, well he has. I really enjoyed this book, a mix of fiction with real west people, go out buy this and get back to the west.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marie is funny and her adventures west with brother Jackson will pass the time easily. Also recommend Boone's Lick.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the quickest reads for me in a long time. Its summer, so I appreciated the light and airy writing. I was reading that some of you are irritated that it was no lonesome dove, and I agree, but lighten up. McMurtry is a well respected author so why don't we let him have a little fun for once.