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Notes on Cap Roundtree

Cap Roundtree is a recurring character in several of Louis L'Amour's novels of the Sackett clan. He's the tough, salty old sidekick, deserving of his own page in this compendium. Here is a summary of what we can glean about old Cap from L'Amour's novels. It's a work in progress, and one that I will add to as time allows.

From The Daybreakers (1960)

We meet Cap Roundtree in The Daybreakers, L'Amour's first Sackett adventure, published in 1960. Here are the key excerpts:

Cap is “a thin, wiry old man with a walrus mustache who looked to have ridden a lot of trails.” Chapter One.

“He was a mighty hard old man, rode as many hours as any of us, although he was a mighty lot older. I never did know how old he was, but those hard old gray eyes of his had looked on a sight of strange things.” Chapter Two.

“That old man had learned a lot in his lifetime, living with the Sioux like he did, and the Nez Perce.” Chapter Three. [Always a bit of a know-it-all, L’Amour informs us that the correct pronunciation of “Nez Perce” is “Nay-Persay”. He’s right that the name comes from the French for “pierced nose,” and that’s how the French say it. But in the U.S., and in the English tongue, everyone pronounces it “Nezz Purse.”]

“Roundtree humped his old shoulders under his thin shirt and looked ready to fall any minute but the chances were he would outlast us all. There was iron and rawhide in that old man.” Chapter Four.

“Cap knew the country, knew every creek and every fork. There were no maps except what a man had in his skull, and nobody of whom to ask directions, so a body remembered what he saw. Cap knew a thousand miles of country like a man might know kitchen, to home.” Chapter Four.

“Behind that rasping voice and cold way of his I think there was a lot of sentiment in Cap, although a body would never know it.” Chapter Twelve.

From Sackett (1961)

“That old coot was a man to ride the river with, believe me.” Chapter Three.

“Cap had been up the creek and over the mountain in his time. Anybody who latched onto that old man latched onto trouble.” Chapter Three.

“Cap had a sour, dry-mouthed look to him. He was the kind if you got in trouble you didn’t look to see if he was still with you—you knew damned well he was.” Chapter Four.

Cap was “a thin old man with cold gray eyes and a gray mustache above a hard mouth. There was no give to this man, I figured.” Chapter Four.

“Cap had a face on that would sour milk.” Chapter Four.

Cap Roundtree smokes a pipe. Chapter Seven.

“He was a thin, tough old man without too much blood in him. He ran mostly to bone and sinew.” Chapter Ten.

Cap Roundtree’s Age

Just how old is Cap Roundtree? In The Daybreakers, Tyrel Sackett himself says he doesn’t know, though that’s barely credible. The plot of The Daybreakers spans five years, and during that period Tyrel and Cap become best friends and are rarely apart. Surely, over some campfire, Tyrel would have asked the obvious question. But credibility is not the point, storytelling is. L’Amour is playing with several archetypes in the character of Cap Roundtree, including the Sidekick, the Mentor, and the Sage. Age doesn’t matter, and indeed it’s probably better that we never know how old Cap is. Do we care how old Dumbledore is? Gandalf? Yoda? I suspect that L’Amour is playing with us on another level as well. In Chapter Three of The Daybreakers, we learn that Cap had come over the Santa Fe trail in 1836. That was thirty-one years before the story starts. If Roundtree was in his twenties when he came over the Santa Fe trail, then he’d be in his fifties when he met the Sacketts. Louis L’Amour was fifty-three when he wrote The Daybreakers.

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