They Came To Cordura

Random House  Library of Congress # 58-5264

Signet paperback  IBSN: 0-451-14658-1

Click here to read the first chapter of Glendon Swarthout’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated bestseller of 1958, They Came To Cordura, about an awards detail sent back to the States with a small group of potential Medal of Honor winners during the Pershing campaign into Mexico for eleven months in 1916, chasing the revolutionary bandit, Pancho Villa. Cordura was made into a big Western film for Columbia Pictures in 1959, starring Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, and Tab Hunter, directed by Robert Rossen.  

They Came to CorduraGlendon took fifteen years before he was ready to publish his second novel, a bestseller now considered one of his masterpieces. Cordura (not one of Dupont's miracle nylons, although this is where the chemical company might have gotten the name from) is the first novel ever to be set against the backdrop of 1916's American Army campaign into Mexico to capture the bandit Pancho Villa, whose troops crossed our border on March 8th at Columbus, New Mexico, and killed eight civilians and seven American soldiers posted there, wounding seven more.

They Came to CorduraAmerica was outraged and President Wilson forced to act, authorizing General John J. Pershing to lead a punitive expedition of four regiments of Cavalry and support units after the Villistas. For eleven hot months they chased them all over northern Mexico by horse, truck, train, motorcar, and aeroplane, never catching Pancho, but fighting a number of largely forgotten engagements, including a battle at Ojos Azules, which was the last mounted charge against an enemy in the history of the United States Cavalry.

They Came To Cordura details the results of that last battle, as a disgraced Major is ordered to take five soldiers who have distinguished themselves in the fight back to base at Cordura and write them up for Medals of Honor, which they'll be shipped home to the States to receive. They Came to Cordura An American woman prisoner, the ranch owner who aided the Villistas, is also being sent home for trial, and it is in their confrontations with the bandits and increasingly, each other, that this grim, historical adventure across a burning desert for six days is made of. While trying to keep his men alive so that they can receive their medals for valor, harsh circumstances reveal all five "heroes" to be pathetic, corrupt, hypocritical, cowardly, and degenerate. Cordura describes with unsparing accuracy the conduct of the human spirit under stress. Its setting is a small corner of military history, but its concern is with war and the qualities that it unchangingly demands. It is a remarkable book for its creation of tension and its probing into the motives which make men behave courageously and selflessly on the battlefield.

The Came To Cordura was a top ten New York Times bestseller  and became a major motion picture the following year (see film listings). It was published internationally to more rave reviews and was Random House's nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for 1958. In 1980, Cordura made the Western Writers of America's initial list of the 30 Greatest Western Novels ever written. 


"A superb piece of storytelling . . . guaranteed to hold the reader absolutely absorbed from beginning to end."  Saturday Review Syndicate

"Bloodcurdling excitement from start to finish."  The New York Times

"One of the most gripping novels I've ever read . . . Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner can move aside and make room for Swarthout."  Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Tight as a saddle girth . . . a strong, harsh, haunting novel which will outlast most of the season's fiction . . . An ironic and revealing study of courage and cowardice."  Chicago Tribune

"A vivid, bruising story . . . Its dramatic impact is immediate . . . it conveys a concept of heroism that is both profound and thought-provoking."  New York Herald Tribune Book Review

". . . the reader feels that he has actually experienced the events described . . . Mr. Swarthout's people live and perform powerfully in these pages. Throughout the book, the narrative, the characterization and the descriptive writing are excellent. Although the episodes have an authentic and documentary flavor, the story is the timeless one of human behavior under great stress. It seems to this reviewer that this distinctive novel is sure to bring its author recognition as a promising original talent."  Lewis Nordyke, New York Times Book Review

"This novel is above all sheer story-telling . . . But Glendon Swarthout is a real writer, and his story is much more than a what-happens-next epic. He asks and seeks to answer a question: what is courage? The central human situation he has invented is both intriguing and ironic . . . It is a pleasure to report that he winds up the book at the top of his form, with a wonderful last paragraph that recaptures the heart of his story . . . We close the novel feeling that we have been given a sharp insight into the mystery of courage."   Benjamin Appel, The Saturday Review

"This immensely powerful novel is written in language that is  stripped bare of emotion, as flat and barren as the desert in which it is set. It has the same bleak majesty."  London Evening Standard