Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.
Here are some famous western short stories, some of which can be read online. I hope you find a new favorite western here. Enjoy your reading!
1. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" | Brett Harte
John Oakhurst, a gambler, notices a change in the moral atmosphere of Poker Flat. It turns out he's right; a town committee has decided to oust the most undesirable citizens. A small group, including Mr. Oakhurst, are escorted to the edge of town and told not to return. They set out for Sandy Bar.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of The Mammoth Book of Westerns.
2. "The Defense of Sentinel" | Louis L'Amour
Finn McGraw, the town drunk, wakes up one morning to silence. The street is empty and there's no sign of any activity. He thinks it must be an elaborate practical joke. An inspection of the town reveals what might have happened.
3. "Gun Job" | Thomas Thompson
When Jeff Anderson got married, he quit his job as town marshal and moved with his wife to a small ranch. One Sunday morning he visits the new marshal, Billy, whom he recommended for the job. Jeff has been getting some pressure from the mayor and council to resume his duties. Billy is aware of the complaints against him. He's been having problems with Hank Fetterman, a man whom Jeff had run-ins with during his time as marshal.
4. "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" | Leslie Marmon Silko
Leon and Ken find an old man, Teofilo, under a cottonwood tree. He's been dead at least a day. They get his body ready for burial according to their custom. When the Catholic priest, Father Paul, asks about Teofilo they don't let on that he has died.
5. "A Man Called Horse" | Dorothy M. Johnson
A young New England aristocrat goes West. He hires a few men to cook, hunt and guide him. One day his group is attacked by a raiding party of Crow Indians. He's taken captive.
6. "The Colt" | Wallace Stegner
It's a busy spring on the farm. The son, Bruce, went to bed exhausted. The next morning the dogs are yapping and excited. When his mother tells him to check on Daisy, the mare, Bruce realizes he left her out all night. If she had her colt, there could be a problem.
Read "The Colt" (Ctrl + F the title, pg 186)
But just looking at her he knew that it might be bad, that there was something to be afraid of. In another moment they were both out the door, both running.
— Wallace Stegner
7. "All Gold Canyon" | Jack London
A prospector is panning for gold in an untouched canyon. He sings, talks to himself, and works eagerly. He methodically combs the canyon, getting a full sense of its deposits while warning a "Mr. Pocket" that he's coming.
8. "On the Divide" | Willa Cather
Canute lives in a Nebraska shanty near Rattlesnake Creek. He's a huge man who keeps to himself and drinks heavily. When the Yensen's move into the area, Canute starts drinking with Ole Yensen. Word gets around that he's going to marry Ole's daughter, Lena. She likes to tease Canute and flirt with other men.
9. "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" | Stephen Crane
Jack Potter is riding the train with his new bride back to his hometown of Yellow Sky. She's never been there before, and he's explaining some of the sights along the way. Jack is the sheriff. He's concerned over the effect of bringing an outsider into the town. There's nothing wrong with it, but his sense of duty brings it to mind. Meanwhile, Scratchy Wilson is on the loose.
"And will he kill anybody? What are you going to do? Does this happen often? Does he rampage around like this once a week or so? Can he break in that door?"
— Stephen Crane
10. "The Caballero's Way" | O. Henry
The Cisco Kid kills for the love of it and for fun. He's a quick draw and has a short temper. Tonia Perez loves him. He visits her hut, but she denies any knowledge of him to the authorities. Lieutenant Sandridge rides into the area to look for the Kid.
11. "The Great Slave" | Zane Grey
Siena knows it's his fate to be the chief of the Crows and bring his bride north and become father to a great people. At sixteen he's the last hope of his tribe. He's a hunter and is fully in touch with his environment. The tribe is visited by some desperate white men. Siena divides the tribe's fish with them. They repay his kindness by offering him a wonderful shooting stick.
12. "The Gift of Cochise" | Louis L'Amour
Angie Lowe is holed up in her cabin with a shotgun in her hands. Outside is Cochise, leader of the warriors who have attacked her. Seven of his men lie dead and three more are wounded. Cochise asks her about her husband. He's been gone for months. They both know he's dead. They talk about who has the right to use the land.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of The Collected Stories of Louis L'Amour Volume 1: Frontier Stories.
His braves reported that there was no man in the house, only a woman and two children, so Cochise had come to see for himself this woman who was so certain a shot with a rifle and who killed his fighting men.
— Louis L'Amour
13. "Three-Ten to Yuma" | Elmore Leonard
Paul Scallen rides into Contention with his prisoner, Jim Kidd. They go to the hotel, where a room has been prepared for Jim. It's morning and the train to Yuma—the one that will take Jim to jail—doesn't come in until three ten in the afternoon. Scallen doesn't want any of the Kidd's associates finding out where he is before he gets on that train.
14. "Tennessee's Partner" | Bret Harte
Tennessee leaves town and takes up with his partner's wife. When she also leaves him, Tennessee returns to town. The onlookers are expecting some shooting but they're disappointed. Tennessee's Partner welcomes him back. Tennessee has a bad reputation in the town. It's assumed that his Partner is involved in some unsavory things as well.
15. "The One Thousand Dozen" | Jack London
David Rasmunsen is a hustler and a single-minded man. He becomes focused on a scheme to sell his eggs up North. He figures he can get five thousand dollars for the lot. Figuring in expenses, he should be left with four thousand profit. He talks it over with his wife, makes the necessary arrangements, and sets out.
And thereafter the name and fame of the man with the thousand dozen eggs began to spread through the land. Gold-seekers who made in before the freeze-up carried the news of his coming.
— Jack London
16. "One Night Stand" | Louis L'Amour
Stephen Malone is an out-of-work stage actor who's been cheated out of his wages. He overhears a desperate man who's under threat from the Pioche Kid. The man wishes his friend, Bill Hickok, was there to help him. Malone has an idea.
17. "Wine in the Desert" | Max Brand
Durante is riding to see Tony, a man with a vineyard who'll offer him refreshments. Durante has about a day's head start before the body is found and the sheriff comes after him. Tony has an efficient system built to gather water during the rainy season and pump it into iron tanks. It's a perfect resting point during Durante's flight from justice.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.