The Sergeant's Lady

Forge Books  ISBN 0765305062

Forge paperback  ISBN 0765344246

The Sergeant's Lady

Click here to read the first few pages of The Sergeant's Lady

The Sergeant's Lady is based upon a Saturday Evening Post short story published in 1959, "Attack On The Mountain," by my late father, Glendon Swarthout. It is a frontier love story between an aging Army Sergeant Scout and a rancher's middle-aged divorcee' sister, set against the backdrop of the very last raid into Arizona by renegades under Chiricahua Chief Naiche's (Cochise's second son) leadership at the tail-end of the twenty-six year war with the fierce Apaches in the spring/summer of 1886. Historically then, General Nelson A. Miles had just taken over command from disgraced General George Crook, who had lost Geronimo and some of his recalcitrant warriors after they'd first surrendered and started back under escort to Fort Bowie, then changed their minds after an all-night drunk and fled back across the border to their trackless sanctuary in Mexico's vast Sierra Madres, soon to terrorize us again.

To secure his military communications, Brigadier General Miles Glendon Swarthoutorganized a system of heliographs, a newly tested system of sun-flashing devices utilizing Morse code, which were soon set up on 33 mountaintops across that huge southwestern territory in areas the Apaches were known to frequent, to watch out for them from on high, and to facilitate the movement of Army patrols and supplies between the forts, as the massive manhunt, involving one quarter of the entire United States Army at that time, went on for these few renegades that blazingly hot summer of 1886. 

This is the story of four soldiers and their leader, Sergeant Ammon Swing, temporarily sidelined with a leg wound, running one of these heliograph/observation posts, and their friendship with two homesteaders who live on the ranch below their mountain, where the detail goes down to several times a week to pick up water and supplies. Interestingly, the Lady of this tale happens to be the best fighter, better with her rifle than these soldiers she befriends, and it is she who ends up saving her boyfriend's bacon in the fierce climax, "the attack on the mountain" of the original short story. Unmarried, opinionated, a herbalist and a crack shot, Martha Cox is a memorable character quite the match for her tough, "lifer" Sergeant and all the men, both Indian and white, she comes in contact with in that harsh, violent land. 

It is also the grueling story of who else was out there that long, hot summer, and what (and why) they are attempting to do. If this tale of vengeance and survival reminds one of Hondo, the first and very best of the stories of the legendary Western author, Louis L'Amour, it is intentional. Or the WWII foxhole movie, Steve McQueen in Hell Is For Heroes, with Apaches replacing the German snipers. But our heroine, the Sergeant's Lady, is far from the passive love interest of the traditional Western. This is also the first Western story ever set against the backdrop of the Army's heliograph communications system, General Miles' pride and joy, which has largely been forgotten in the extensive writing about this last major campaign against the very last fighting Indians of the American Southwest.


"A beautifully written novel filled with historical facts concerning both men in the Army and the Apaches. Each chapter begins with quotes by historical figures, some humorous, some factual, but all interesting. Interwoven with Swarthout's account of the final campaign against the Apaches under Geronimo, is the tender love that develops between Sergeant Ammon Swing and Miss Martha Cox, a woman on the sunny side of forty who is as well suited to Arizona Territory as the century plant. There is not a weak point in The Sergeant's Lady. The dialogue is authentic and occasionally amusing to our modern ears; the characters are complex and three-dimensional; and the sense of place is as strong as an unwashed Private in the U.S. Cavalry. This is a book worthy of a comfortable chair, cold beer, and chips and salsa."  Doris Meredith, The Roundup, April, 2003, the magazine of the Western Writers of America.

"Reminiscent of a John Wayne movie -- appropriate since Swarthout adapted his father's story The Shootist for film -- this good old-fashioned Cavalry yarn features a host of wily Apaches, a crusty veteran General and his reliable Sergeant, a beleaguered rancher, and an intrepid young woman/love interest. All these familiar characters are interwoven into a compelling -- if recycled -- tale of passion and valor on the Western frontier. Set in the wilds of post-Civil War Arizona, the narrative pits the U.S. Cavalry -- represented in fine fashion by General Nelson A. Miles and his sidekick Sergeant Ammon Swing -- against Geronimo and his band of fierce and experienced warriors. Caught in the middle of the conflict are rancher Jacob Cox and his plucky sister, Martha. When romance blossoms between Ammon and Martha, the stakes grow suddenly higher for all concerned. Inspired by a short story penned by the author's father, novelist Glendon Swarthout, this stirring adventure is a writer's tribute to both his old man and a time-honored literary and film genre."  Margaret Flanagan -- Booklist, for the American Library Association.

"Swarthout based his novel on a short story his father published in the 1950's. The author's screenwriting experience (The Shootist) stands him in good stead. He paints excellent word pictures, and the story moves at a rapid pace through the short chapters. The character development is many cuts above most genre novels. Minor characters such as Swing's men and the Apaches are all distinct individuals. Swarthout imparts much interesting information about Apache and cavalry life without force-feeding the reader. An outstanding Western, worthy of many re-reads."  B.J. Sedlock,  Historical Novels Review, issue 25, August, 2003

"The author is best known for his screenplay of The Shootist (John Wayne's last movie), adapted from the novel by Swarthout's father, the brilliant Glendon Swarthout, who died in 1992. Another combined talent -- the son's first novel was inspired by his dad's 1959 short story, 'The Attack On The Mountain' -- in this richly detailed account of the Apache Wars."  Johnny D. Boggs, True West Magazine

An adapted screenplay of The Sergeant's Lady is available from Hoodwinks Productions in Los Angeles (310-578-5404) or

Read an interview from Malibu Monthly Magazine about writing this first novel

Buy this book at Barnes and Noble or Amazon