Saturday, December 8, 2012

Louis L'Amour's Short Christmas Story

By Celia Yeary

Louis L'Amour is a legendary master of tales from the American West frontier. In addition to a large number of novels, he also created many short stories. While researching his life and his work, I learned he had written one short Christmas story titled "The Moon of the Trees Broken by Snow."

American Indians gave names to each of the full moons to keep track of the passing year. The names are associated with the entire month until the next full moon occurs. This helped them keep track of the passing year. Since a lunar month averages 29 days, the dates of the moon change from year to year.
Many full moon names exist, as each tribe has its own.

The names are derived from some event in nature. Although Louis L'Amour does not identify the Native American tribe in his story, the title more closely resembles the moon names of the Dakota Sioux:

Moon When the Trees Pop
Moon When the Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow
Moon When Berries Are Ripe
Moon When Horns Are Broken Off
With some difficulty I found a copy of this short story. Originally, it had been printed in an collection of his stories titled Yondering. But when historians were collecting and printing these short stories, L'Amour's son said this particular one did not belong with the others. So, a second edition was printed which omitted the Christmas story.
The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: Unabridged Selections from The Frontier Stories: Volume 1

When the internet proved fruitless, I asked my local librarian. She took me to several areas in the library to look for volumes of short stories categorized by author. No luck. Disappointed, I searched the Louis L'Amour shelf for a novel titled Bendigo Shafter  in which he had included a Christmas scene, thinking that might work for my post. During this search, I found three very thick volumes titled: The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour. In volume one, I found "The Moon of the Trees Broken by Snow."

Imagine my excitement!

I checked out the book and read the very short story. It's a parable concerning Christmas, a haunting desolate tale that becomes obvious early in the story. The time is long ago, and the setting is somewhere in the American West.

Brief Synopsis:
A very old man and a twelve year old boy, along with his mother and little sister live in a cave. A long drought has driven everyone away long ago. The four remain, trying to survive, but soon the situation becomes impossible.

The boy had taken on the role of the man of the group, but he had no idea what to do or where to go.

The old man told him of a dream in which he saw men in shining robes following a star. He explained that he had no idea who these people were, or why they were following a star, but...he was certain the message was important.

The boy and the woman paid him no mind, attributing the story to the ramblings of an old man. But one night, when the four were at their lowest point, starving and dehydrated, the old man calls the boy out and tells him to look up. There, he pointed to the dark sky with a full moon and bright stars. One star stood out more than the rest. He told the boy, Follow the Star. The men in shining robes in my dream followed a star, he said.

The next night, the boy goes out and sees the star. He breaks a straight limb from a dead yucca plant and aligns it on the ground with a boulder and the star. There, he said. That is the direction we will take in the morning. The boy did this every night where they rested so he would know which direction to travel the next day, and soon they found damp earth and more seeds to eat.

At one point, the old man told the boy of strange beasts the men with the shining robes rode.

The boy asked what they found at the end of their journey. By that time, snow had fallen. The old man answered that they found a place where animals lived, and inside was a baby on a bed of hay.

The men in shining robes? What did they do?

He said, they brought gifts and bowed down and worshipped him. It was the time of The Moon of the Trees Broken by Snow.

The boy said, I will think on this later. Now, we have much work to do in the place of our new home.
I've learned to love and appreciate short stories, and have written a few. Although I will never match the uniqueness and creativity of Louis L'Amour, I strive to write good ones.
May the remainder of 2012 be good to you and yours, and may
Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men reign in our hearts.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


  1. Celia, we must have an abridged version of Yondering because I had not read this story. Thanks for sharing. Hero and I love Louis L'Amour's writing and thought we'd read all of his books and stories. I'll look for this one now.

  2. I love Louis L'Amour. Bendigo Shafter was my first read. I wanted to read more. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned what a prolific writer he was. Thanks so much for bringing back so many good memories.

  3. What a lovely story! Thank you SO much for going to so much trouble to find it and share.

  4. Great story and I'm so glad you found it.

  5. Caroline--I'm thrilled you will read this and complete his entire works.His son said this story did no belong in Yondering because that volume told stories of more modern times. The title alone is intriguing--I couldn't get it out of my head.

  6. Judy--I've read only a few of his novels, but I will read more, now. I have Bendigo Shafter here from the library, but I don't know when I can get to it--too many books on my Kindle and they are in a queue! This story was written in 1979, but I have the 1993 paperback version. That doesn't sound like so long ago, but this paperback is yellowed and curling--such a shame.
    Thanks for giving me your memories.

  7. Jenny--you're welcome! I loved the story--the synopsis was the best I could to tell readers what it was about. Glad you liked it.

  8. Lisa--is it a wonderful little story. Thank you for visiting.

  9. I'm so glad you wrote a summary of this wonderful story. Like so many of us who love westerns, I am a big fan of Louis L'Amour. I must read every word of this story now.
    I hope your holiday season proves to be the best ever. sure hope the Myans are wrong about the world ending on December 21.
    All the best to you, Celia

  10. Sarah--I hope you can find it to read, too. If you're a big fan of LL, to me it is a must.
    Oh, yes, the end of the world--on our anniversary, at that!
    Thanks, my friend.

  11. Celia,

    What a delightful story. I love that the full moons have different names. Your summary of Yonderling made me want to read more of Louis L'Amour's writing. I read some of his work years back, but it has such a clear message. Thank you for finding this and letting us know about it. Merry Christmas!

  12. This is beautiful, Celia. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading it. May your holidays be full of love and joy.

  13. Maggie-I'm so glad you liked it. Yes,the names of the full moons are poetic in themselve. This was all new to me, you understand. I had no knowledge that full moons had names. Each tribe had different names, too.
    Thanks, and anything we can do or say or enhance our love and appreciation of the Christ story is good for me.
    Merry Christmas!

  14. Thank you, Paisley.I hope it brought just a little bit of Christmas joy to your holidays. Merry Christmas!

  15. I want to read this story! I've read quite a few LL books but not any of his short stories. Thanks for posting this. But no thanks for adding to my TBR pile. LOL.

  16. Hi, Jacquie--I know what you mean--too many books, so little time. The thing is, this book is very difficult to find to read--it's only in tht Vol. I of his collected short stories, and it's an expensive book--but may your public library will have it.
    Thanks for commenting....

  17. Celia, thanks so much for sharing that Louis L'Amour Christmas story. What a poetic title. I love the names Native Americans give the full moons. And have used them in my flash scenes.

    I read a lot of Mr. L'Amour's books as a young teenager.

  18. Savanna--you surprised me. I hadn't thought you'd be a person/author to read LL or use the names of moons in your stories. I'm so happy you liked the Christmas Story--well, the synopsis. The story itself is so beautiful and haunting that it's riveting.
    Thank you for commenting--I appreciate it.

  19. Awesome. My mother was his number one fan. She had this story and read it to me often. I'd almost forgotten about it - thank you.

  20. Sorry to be getting here sooo late. It's been nuts around the house with three bathrooms getting remodeled...prelim galley edits to do AND two outlines for my ed. Sheesh. Anyway, I love this post. The Sioux names for the months of the year are so poetic and descriptive. xo

  21. Celia, I couldn't resist this SS title and I found your synopsis fascinatin. I must read more of LL and I confess to having read none so far. (Are we still friends?)
    Thanks for enlightening me.


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