Best Westerns of all Time
Finding the best Westerns of all time was a challenge. There are many incredible authors and stories of how the West was won, of taming the great American frontier, and the realistic fiction stories that capture the harsh terrain and tough characters who had the true grit to tame it. These stories were selected based on reviews, search volume, and feedback from readers. Many of them are also bestsellers.
As L. Ron Hubbard loved and understood the tradition and spirit of the West, we created this post to share not only a few of his classics in the genre, but some of the amazing stories that make up this well-loved literature.
As an author, L. Ron Hubbard did not just invent colorful frontier characters—he recreated them, styled to be as authentic as the American frontier folk he remembered from his youth. “I grew up with old frontiersmen,” he recalled, “[with] cowboys, and had an Indian medicine man as one of my best friends.” Indeed, his Montana was a microcosm of the Western frontier, an immense natural expanse that “swallows men up rather easily,” and a place he treasured, in retrospect, for “its do-and-dare attitudes, its wry humor, cowboy pranks, and make-nothing of the worst and most dangerous.” Read a free Western eBook, to see why True West Magazine claims that Mr. Hubbard writes with the “Flair of a Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey.”
If you love the Wild West or need a great book to read for a Western reader on your list, here are book recommendations and gift ideas that stand among the best Westerns of all time—capturing the adventure and spirit of the Old West:
Buckskin Brigades by L. Ron Hubbard
The Lewis and Clark murder of a Native American Blackfoot Chief changes the course of history. Experience a panoramic journey across the pages of American history as one white man raised by the Blackfoot, Yellow Hair, undertakes a treacherous adventure across the uncharted wilderness—a thrilling story of a proud, courageous man pushed to the limits of endurance and of a country on the threshold of a bloody conflict that will change it forever. This was a watershed novel in Western fiction for it’s unconventional sympathetic understanding and portrayal of Indian mores, sensibilities and culture, and its powerful historical detail. For more information about Mr. Hubbard’s books and special offers click here.
“Mr. Hubbard has reversed a time-honored formula and has given a thriller to which, at the end of every chapter or so, another paleface bites the dust. An enthusiasm, even a freshness and sparkle, decidedly rare in this type of romance.” —New York Times
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
An enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family. Retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents’ remarkable story—their days spent settling the harsh American Western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he’s willing to admit…
“Brilliant. Two stories, past and present, merge to produce what important fiction must: a sense of the enchantment of life.” —Los Angeles Times
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian brilliantly subverts the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the “Wild West.” Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving. This is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion.
“From the opening scenes about a 14-year-old Tennessee boy who joins the band of hunters to the extraordinary, mythic ending, this is an American classic about extreme violence.” —Amazon Reviewer
Centennial by James A. Michener
This magnificent saga of the West is an enthralling celebration of the American frontier. The story of Colorado—the Centennial State—is manifested through its people: Lame Beaver, the Arapaho chieftain and warrior, and his Comanche and Pawnee enemies; the cowboy, Jim Lloyd, who falls in love with a wealthy and cultured Englishwoman, Charlotte Seccombe; and Levi Zendt, fleeing with his child bride from the Amish country. The homesteaders, trappers, traders, gold seekers, ranchers, and hunters are brought together in the dramatic conflicts that shape the destiny of the legendary West—and the entire country.
“An absorbing work. Michener is a superb storyteller.” —Business Week
The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson
Sheriff Walt Longmire’s hopes for a peaceful completion of his term are dashed when he finds Cody Pritchard dead near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, a mere two days after his sentence for raping a local Cheyenne girl was suspended. It would seem somebody is seeking vengeance, and Longmire might be the only thing standing between the three remaining boys involved in the incident and a Sharps 45-70 rifle. With lifelong friend Henry Standing Bear, Deputy Victoria Moretti, and a cast of characters both humorous and tragic, Longmire attempts to prevent that revenge.
“A strong sense of place, a credible plot, and deft dialogue lift Johnson’s good-humored debut novel, the first of a new series, set in Bighorn Mountain country.” —Publishers Weekly
Dances With Wolves by Michael Blake
In 1863, Lieutenant John Dunbar, while in a desolate and deserted outpost, finds himself in contact with the lords of the southern plains—the Comanches. Though he has no knowledge of their customs, does not speak their language, and is considered a trespasser, Lieutenant Dunbar finds himself intrigued by the exotic and alien culture of the buffalo-hunting people of the plains. This desire to know more about his wild neighbors ignites a great adventure of transformation that culminates with the emergence of a different kind of man—a man called Dances With Wolves.
“A vivid picture and realistic characters. I felt like I was right there with him as the army came in and attacked. It was a beautiful tribute to the West and our past.” —Amazon Reviewer
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
“Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’ resourceful, no-nonsense, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. Lily, by age six, was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, she left home to teach in a frontier town. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. Lily survived tornadoes, floods, droughts, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds. She raised two children, one who is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle. Rosemary always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, she channels that kindred spirit.
“One of those heartwarming stories about indomitable women.” —Publishers Weekly
Jonah Hex by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
The mysterious bounty hunter and thinking man’s killer was a hero to some, a villain to others, and wherever he rode, people spoke his name in whispers. This legendary DC gunslinger returns in this action-packed Western graphic novel.
“The art clearly nods to Clint Eastwood’s classic Westerns, especially in the framing of action scenes. Whether meeting Mr. Hex for the first time or renewing an acquaintance made with his earlier incarnation in the early 1970s, Western comics fans should be impressed by his frontier-noir adventures.” —Booklist
Kansas Bleeds by Melody Groves
Luke Colton believes two things: the states must be allowed to make their own laws and slaves are crucial to the South’s well-being. However, no one else in his family agrees. Lawrence, Kansas, 1862, is a hotbed where Northern sympathies are openly displayed. William Clarke Quantrill is the leader of a guerrilla band of Southern supporters, called Bushwhackers, who foray from Missouri into Kansas to attack—ultimately setting Lawrence on fire and killing 177 people. Shortly after Luke joins the Bushwhackers, he realizes his family’s views are right, and in trying to defect finds himself the next target for Quantrill—as a traitor.
“A solid entry in Groves’ Colton Brothers Saga, attentive to borderlands history as well as the interior life of young Luke, who learns with bitterness that one’s family always comes first.” —Booklist
The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour
The Navajo called them the Anasazi, the “ancient enemy.” Their abandoned cities haunt the plateaus and canyons of the Southwest. The sudden disappearance of these people baffled historians for centuries. Renowned investigator Mike Raglan is drawn into a world of mystery, violence, and explosive revelations, when he receives a desperate letter from an old friend. Crossing a border beyond the laws of man and nature, he will discover the astonishing world of the Anasazi and the most extraordinary frontier ever encountered.
“Lots of action in a great plot. Haunted Mesa a great sci fi book with a modern western twist. Highly recommended, 5-stars.” —Amazon Reviewer
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books are classics of children’s literature, beloved by millions. These are brilliant narratives of the early life of Laura Ingalls and her family as they grow up with the country in the woods, on the plains, and finally in the small towns of the advancing American frontier. Enjoy the quiet poetry of Wilder’s prose and her force and poignancy as she portrays the lives of American pioneers.
“Every mother’s daughter should have this.” —Vogue
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
An adventure, a love story, and an epic of the American frontier, Lonesome Dove is one of the greatest Westerns ever written. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, ladies and whores, Indians and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, this epic Western will make you laugh, weep, dream, and remember.
“If you read only one Western novel in your life, read Lonesome Dove.” —USA Today
Northfield by Johnny D. Boggs
In 1876, on September 7, the James-Younger gang attempted to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota, with disastrous consequences. This compelling novel shifts perspectives from one first-person account to another to describe the bloody robbery, those things that lead to it and its aftermath.
“Boggs has created a vibrant retelling of the Old West’s most notorious and deadly bank robbery flop.” —Publishers Weekly
Pronto: Raylan Givens Series by Elmore Leonard
A Western crime fiction gem and electrifying thriller that sends the indomitable Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan racing to Italy on the trail of a fugitive bookie who’s hiding from the vengeful Miami mob. This is a tale of very dirty doings and extremely dangerous men coming together in the birthplace of Puccini, Garibaldi, and La Cosa Nostra.
“The man knows how to grab you—and Pronto is one of the best grabbers in years.” —Entertainment Weekly
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
Riders of the Purple Sage is the story of Lassiter, a gunslinger in black, who shows up in a remote Utah town just in time to save the young and beautiful rancher Jane Withersteen from having to marry a Mormon elder against her will. Lassiter is on his own quest, one that ends when he discovers a secret grave on Jane’s grounds. This classic Western includes adventure, violence, action, conflict, crisis, and sentimentalism in an extremely shrewd mixture.
“Bravery, scoundrelism, chivalry, horsemanship, and ready shooting.” —The New York World
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
Capturing the majesty of the Montana wilderness and the strength of the American family, A River Runs Through It has established itself as a classic of the American West. Growing up, both boys rebel against their stern minister father. While Norman channels his rebellion into writing, Paul descends a slippery path to self-destruction.
“If there is a smarter, more affecting meditation on the themes of fathers and sons, brothers, the pleasures of the natural world, love, loss, and the haunting power of water, I have yet to come across it. As it has for many others, A River Runs Through It became for me a kind of central text, equal parts fishing primer, literary masterwork, and spiritual guide. It remains one of my most beloved books.” —New York Times
Shane by Jack Schaefer
A mysterious stranger, Shane, finds himself in the Wyoming Territory joining local homesteaders as they seek to avoid the intimidating tactics of cattle driver Luke Fletcher and fight to keep their land. While trying to leave his gun-slinging days behind him, Shane is tested by Fletcher and his men. This perfect Western narrative explores the overarching themes of virtue, the human condition, and a man’s search for self.
“Captivates the reader’s attention from beginning to end. His skill in depicting a character, a situation, or a mood, with a minimum of words, gives the story a tightly woven quality. The book almost demands completion in one sitting.” —Library Journal
The Son by Philipp Meyer
Part coming-of-age story, part epic of Texas, part unflinching examination of the bloody price of power, The Son is an intimate portrait of one family across two centuries. Deftly interweaving Eli McCullough’s story with those of his son, Peter, and his great-granddaughter, JA. It explores Eli’s impossible beginnings among the Comanche, the legacy of his ruthlessness, his drive to power, and his life-long status as an outsider, even as the McCullough family rises to become one of the richest in Texas, a ranching-and-oil dynasty of unsurpassed wealth and privilege. A gripping and utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American West with rare emotional acuity.
“The Son, as ambitious a book as any you’ll read this year—or any year. Early reviewers call it a masterpiece, and while it’s easy to dismiss so many raves as hyperbole, The Son is an extraordinary achievement.” —Amazon Reviewer
Texas Ranger by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle
A Texas Ranger fights for his freedom, his life, and the town he loves as he investigates his ex-wife’s murder—for which he has been accused. In search of the killer, he plunges into the inferno of the most twisted and violent minds he’s ever encountered, vowing to never surrender. That code just might bring him out alive.
“An effective mystery. Patterson and Bourelle’s rapid-fire chapters squeeze in plenty of dishy small-town drama on top of the murder case [and] the story is picking up speed like a semi barreling down the Interstate.” —Houston Chronicle
The Searchers by Alan Le May
After the return to their decimated ranch, burying the bodies of their family, and confronting the evil cunning of the Comanche who had slaughtered them, Martin Pauley and Amos Edwards became searchers in pursuit of the missing Debbie Edwards. Enduring storms of nature and of men, seeking more than a missing girl, more than revenge, they are driven by secrets, love, guilt, and rage. Defying the dangers all around them, the two men become a frontier legend—searching for the one moment … the one last battle … that will finally set them free.
“In this ‘drama of stubborn courage, to which the prose lends a matching stature,’ Alan Le May crafted one of the most enduring Western tales ever—and inspired a work of cinematic genius that still stands to this day.” —Kirkus Reviews
Trail of the Burned Man by Thomas McNulty
When Rafe Morgan rides into Twisted Oak, Wyoming, he gets into a brawl and horribly disfigures Dutch Williams, a notorious outlaw. Vowing revenge, Dutch and his men pillage the town and take two hostages, including the marshal’s daughter. Rafe joins Deputy U.S. Marshal Ethan O’Hara and a small posse to recover the hostages, but soon realizes that Dutch wants blood, and he’ll stop at nothing until Rafe and the posse are destroyed.
“This is a classic Western, wonderfully written, and brought to life by characters that pop clean off the page with such clarity and reality that you’ll smell the leather of their saddles and feel the trail dust in the back of your throat.” —Amazon Reviewer
True Grit by Charles Portis
The story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen when a coward by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home, determined to avenge her father. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory. True Grit inspired the movie of the same name starring John Wayne and again later starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and Matt Damon.
“I loved the book. Charles Portis got a real Mark Twain feeling—the cynicism and the humor.” —John Wayne
Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose
High adventure, suspense, drama, politics, and diplomacy, combined with romance and personal tragedy, make this outstanding work of scholarship as riveting as a novel. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson selected Captain Meriwether Lewis, his personal secretary, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies, onto the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis’ dangerous expedition across this previously uncharted territory was not made alone, he traveled with and was supported by a cast of many: Clark, a rugged frontiersman whose love for Lewis matched Jefferson’s; numerous Indian chiefs; Sacagawea, an Indian girl; John Quincy Adams; the French-Indian hunter Drouillard; the great naturalists of Philadelphia; the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis; and many more leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.
“Ambrose uses his skill with detail and atmosphere to dust off an icon and put him back on the trail west. History Book Club main selection.” —Publishers Weekly
The Virginian by Owen Wister
A classic novel of the Wild West and the Johnson County War—a dispute over land use in Wyoming, 1890, between large cattle ranchers and smaller operators. Rich with detail of the Western frontier days and, at its core, a insightful look at the inherent nature of man drawn out by of the wilderness.
“In the genre of Western novels, this is certainly the granddaddy of them all. The story, the characters, the realism of the settings, all make this the quintessential Western.” —Amazon Reviewer
The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
The Way West brings to life the adventure of the pioneer spirit while charting a frontiersman’s return to the untamed West in 1846. Dick Summers, as pilot of a wagon train, guides a group of settlers on the difficult journey from Missouri to Oregon. In sensitive, but unsentimental prose, Guthrie illuminates the resounding triumphs and harsh trials of pioneer life and pays homage to the grandeur of the Western wilderness, its stark and beautiful scenery, and its extraordinary people.
“Portrays the grit, perseverance, and stamina of these early day pioneers. Taste the dust, hear the distant coyotes, see the vastness of the prairies, smell the campfires, and feel the relentless wind. A gem.” —Amazon Reviewer
Wild Wild West 10th Anniversary Collection by L. Ron Hubbard
L. Ron Hubbard spent his formative years in a rugged Montana, among the lawmen, cowpunchers, and desperados who would later people his Wild West adventures with remarkable authenticity. Living on the American frontier, he was breaking broncs at a tender age and was among the few whites ever admitted into Blackfoot society as a blood brother. He wrote tales of integrity, honor, and courage of the American West. This collection includes ten of these original short stories, in four volumes.
“Bears comparison to such notable Western writers as Max Brand, T. T. Flynn, and Alan Le May.” —Booklist
As our gift, get your free eBook download of L. Ron Hubbard’s Western The Ghost Town Gun-Ghost, where Old Pokey Mackay joins forces with a young gunslinger—just one step ahead of the law—to thwart a gang of outlaws who have plans of their own for the ghost town of Pioneer.
Western books, while historical fiction, often focus on the latter half of the 19th century in the Western United States or have similar characters and themes—depicting life on the American frontier, taming of the Old West, and people with the charisma and daring approach to life this era is most remembered for.
While we focused on literature, the early Western movies with John Wayne and Gene Autry, and the TV series like Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie (and even the recent Netflix hit, Longmire), have all contributed to the popularity of Westerns. The genre includes Western frontier books, classic Westerns, comedy Westerns, romantic Westerns, contemporary Westerns, epic Westerns, and stories about Native American Indians, pioneers, ranchers, cowboys, gamblers, gunslingers, and outlaws.
These Western book recommendations are only a glimpse of this amazing literature, but each story is a gem that will be read again and again. Please share your comments and let us know if you have a favorite we missed.
You may be interested in:
L. Ron Hubbard, a Literary Legend of the Western Frontier
How the Arizona Rangers Live on
Download a free copy of “The Ghost Town Gun-Ghost”
Get any two audiobooks for free with Audible’s free month trial
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Some good choices but I’m surprised by the omission of LITTLE BIG MAN (Thomas Berger) HOMBRE by Elmore Leonard, THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS by John Prebble, THE BIG SKY by A. B. Guthrie Jr., BLOOD BROTHER by Elliott Arnold, THE LAST FRONTIER by Howard Fast, THE AUTHENTIC DEATH OF HENDRY JONES by Charles Neider, THE SHOOTIST by Glendon Swarthout and WHILE ANGELS DANCE by Ralph Cotton among others.
Interesting assortment of titles. I’d like to add my own, A Collection of Tales.
Omitted one of the truly great ones
Warlock by Oakley Hall