Boone’s Lick



  • Boone’s Lick : a novel / Larry McMurtry.


Publication Info

  • New York : Simon & Schuster, c2000.


  • 0684868865; $24.00


  • 287 p. ;


  • Hardcover
  • eAudiobook


  • Western
  • Historical fiction

Rating Scale

4Q; 4P

Reader’s Annotation

15-year-old Shay Cecil chronicles his family’s journey across the western plains to find his wandering father.


Sherman “Shay” Cecil lives with his mother, three siblings, grandpa and Uncle Seth in Boone’s Lick, Missouri. Shay’s father is a wagoneer and spends most of his time hauling to the western forts, coming home only once every year or two. Life has been hard in the post-Civil War years, and Ma (Mary Margaret) is tired of her husband’s absence. She packs up the family and sets off to find him to tell him she’s quitting him. 15-year-old Shay narrates the family’s journey west, up the Missouri River and across the upper midwest to Fort Phil Kearney in Wyoming. Along the way they encounter storms, freezing temperatures, grizzly bears, and unfriendly Indians. Grandpa is lost on a raging river. Still Mary Margaret presses them forward, determined to say her piece in person.


Boone’s Lick is a leisurely-paced story, but nonetheless filled with adventures. McMurtry writes with humor, displayed early on with a darkly comic shoot out with a band of outlaws and involving Wild Bill Hickock, with whom Shay’s sister is obsessed, and a black bear. The characters are well-developed, strong and each unique, from independent, determined Mary Margaret, to hot-headed, impulsive G. T., to wise but somewhat befuddled Uncle Seth.

The book has a very strong sense of place, with lyrical descriptions of western scenes now long gone. It tells of outlaws, cowboys, Indians, and cavalry, acknowledging the moral issues of white westward expansion. It is gritty, not shying from describing scenes of violent death, poverty, nor the flawed characters of people like Colonel Fetterman.

With a teen-aged boy and his mother as the main characters, this may not be a typical western, but it has all of the necessary elements, and fans of the genre and of McMurtry should enjoy this story.


Visit the author’s Facebook page.

An interview with the New York Times

NPR interview



Publisher’s Weekly

The Chicago Tribune

Appeal Factors

This book will appeal to McMurtry’s fans and to many Western fans in general. Those who like a gritty but humorous tale with lyrical descriptions of a special place will enjoy the book. It may also appeal to reader’s looking for a strong female lead character in a western setting.


True Grit, by Charles Portis. Both novels are Westerns and feature descriptive writing with a strong sense of place.

Deadwood, by Pete Dexter. These novels share the genre Western and are darkly humorous and gritty. Wild Bill Hickock also appears in each, as a major character in Deadwood and a minor one in Boone’s Lick.

Fine Just the Way It Is, by Annie Proux. This book is a collection of three stories, but they share with Boone’s Lick the genre Western and the topic “family relationships.”

Booktalk Ideas

A humorous booktalk could be made featuring the story of the shootout with outlaws contained in chapters 8-10. Alternatively, it could feature the strong sense of place by describing the western places through which the family traveled.

Discussion Questions

Do you agree with Mary Margaret’s decision to track down her husband to state her case in person? Was it worth the risks to her family?

Mary Margaret did not seem too surprised to find out about Dick’s Indian families. Why might that be? How would you have reacted to this news?

What was your opinion of Shay? Did he seem to fit in with the rest of the family? Why or why not?

Do you think this book is a realistic portrayal of the American West? Give examples to support your answer. If you could travel in time, would this be a place and time you would want to visit?

Why I chose this book

Larry McMurtry is one of the best known authors of the Western genre, so I wanted to sample his writing. The family being the focus of this book was a draw.

Memory Hooks

The Old West, cowboys, Indians, forts, Boone


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