Reading Forrest Carter’s Josey Wales novels


I have been a fan of Clint Eastwood’s 1976 western The Outlaw Josey Wales since I first saw it with my dad back in the 80s.  I actually saw and know Clint Eastwood more for Josey Wales than I do “The Man with No Name” because I saw it first and it led me to Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy”.  So, being a fan of it for so long I was surprised a few years ago when I discovered the movie was actually based on a 1973 book by Forrest Carter called Josey Wales: The Rebel Outlaw.  The story would subsequently be retitled Gone to Texas.

Being such a huge fan of Eastwood’s take on the character I felt I needed to read the source material. So I got the above book from and set about reading about one of my favorite gunslingers.

I have to say, I’m really surprised how close to the story the movie was. Carter writes a very good, gritty, action-y western. The feel on the page is the same as watching the movie. It helped that I had Eastwood’s visage burned into my brain whenever I hear the name Josey Wales. The mannerisms, the speech. It’s obvious Eastwood was very respectful of the original stories and strayed little from not only the character but the overall storyline. The only thing I think the book does better is the character of Laura Lee is a much better character in the book. But, honestly, I’m not a big fan of Sondra Locke, so that may have been a factor.

But the book, I can honestly recommend it for both fans of Eastwood’s movies and fans of good, western action in general.  The book is a fast paced read, clocking in at around 200 pages and offers a lot of gunfights and good dialogue.  It actually got me excited to read Old West fiction again, something I haven’t really done since high school.

In 1980, Carter followed up Gone to Texas with a sequel called The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales.  This sequel was also included in my book copy.  Needless to say, I was pretty eager to read this sequel and see what could have also been a sequel to Eastwood’s Josey Wales (Eastwood did consider doing it but it never developed).

Josey Wales - Eastwood

The story picks up a short time after the original book.  A terrible tragedy befalls Josey Wales’ bride and his newborn child.  Honestly, the tragedy is told in detail and it’s pretty horrific to read, especially as a father.  And the rest of the book is also incredibly violent, even more so than the first novel which is not as much as you’d expect.  However, I was pulled in again by Carter’s writing style and the way he tells a story.  It’s another excellent Josey Wales novel and I liked it as much if not MORE than the original.

It’s sad that Carter never wrote anymore Wales novels.  I know Eastwood had the book and I think he was considering, but by 1980 I think he wanted to do other movies and leave the Western behind.  When he did his final Western, Unforgiven, I was surprised that the main character wasn’t Josey Wales, however, there may have been rights issues.

So if you enjoy good action, you can’t go wrong with these Josey Wales books.  They are excellent examples of fast paced Old West fiction that I personally enjoy reading.  Do yourself a favor and give it a chance.


One Response to “Reading Forrest Carter’s Josey Wales novels”

  1. like I always say, all films are westerns.
    though sometimes the directors don’t realize it yet

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