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Notes on Cap Roundtree

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

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.

From The Sky-Liners

One old codger with a face that looked as if it was carved out of flint was sitting there . . . . He was a lean, savage-looking old man, one of those old buffalo hunters or mountain men, by the look of him—nobody to have much truck with.

Roundtree: “You boys new to this country? I rode through here in the fall of 1830, my first time. And a time or two after that.” He nodded toward the mountains. “I brought a load of fur out of those mountains two jumps ahead of a pack o’ Utes. Ran into Bridger and some of his outfit, holed in behind a stream bank. I made it to them, and those Utes never knew what hit ‘em. They’d no idea there was another white man in miles, nor did I . . . . Good fighters, them Utes.”

From Borden Chantry

Events take place around 1883, by which time Roundtree would have been (see reckoning, below) around 75. Roundtree wrote a letter to Tyrel Sackett which is quoted; the language and spelling is quaint.

Cap Roundtree’s Age

Just how old is Cap Roundtree? In The Daybreakers, Tyrel Sackett himself says he doesn’t know, but 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 maybe it's best that we never know how old Cap is. Do we care how old Dumbledore is? Gandalf? Yoda?

Still, we can get a pretty good estimate of Cap Roundtree's age from hints inL’Amour’s novels. In The Sky-Liners, we learn that Roundtree was in Colorado with Jim Bridger in 1830. In The Daybreakers, we learn that Cap had come over the Santa Fe trail in 1836. If Roundtree was between twenty and twenty-five when he was with Bridger in Colorado, then he was born around 1805-10.

Based on this information, the action in the following novels that include Roundtree occurs in the following years, making him the ages indicated:

The Daybreakers: 1867-72. Roundtree would be between 57 and 67.

Sackett: 1875, Roundtree would be between 65 and 70.

The Sky-Liners: 1878 or 1879. Roundtree would be between and 68 and 74.

Borden Chantry: 1883. Roundtree would be between 73 and 78.

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