Hondo is an expansion of the short story "the Gift of Cochise" - well, I say expansion but there is a bit more to that. The short story was bought for movie rights by Robert Fellows and "the Duke" himself. Louis L'Amour wrote the novelisation of his original short story, which placed it a few years later in history and made it a lot darker in tone
Angie Lowe is the same, a courageous woman with a young son, taking care of the homestead in Arizona in the absence of her husband, Ed; in the original story she has a daughter as well. she wins the respect of Cochise (Victorio in the novel and film) by fighting off his warriors, killing seven of them in the process. She also shows that her young son can shoot, further engendering his respect.
Ed Lowe has been changed, drastically- the original story has him as a well intentioned but idling man, who works hard when he has to but likes to laze about. The novel turns him into a much darker character, the kind of man who would desert his family for months on end and not give them a second thought. In the short story(full text provided above) he steps into a fight where Ches Lane is facing superior odds, saves the other man but is fatally wounded himself. This sets Ches off on a quest to find the wife and kids of this man, and...tell them? save them? he's not 100% clear on his intent, except that he can't let it slide
in the novel, Ches Lane becomes Hondo Lane, an army dispatch rider who once lived among the Apaches. He is very tough, a very good desert survivor, and has a dog trained to alert to the smell of an Indian (seriously). There seems to be very little softness in him even an indifference initially, which is why I tend to like Ches a lot more than his brother Hondo. Hondo himself turns out all right in the end, he's just not quite as nice a good guy as Ches is.
I'm not going to open wide the plot for you, read the book if you are interested in how it turns out. I kind of feel like the story got a "Hollywood" treatment, to make it a tough as nails western for John Wayne to play in. Ches becomes Hondo the gunfighter. Ed Lowe becomes a lowdown gambler. We have Victorio, who's an honorable warrior but we also have Silvio who is a savage in every definition of the word, and completely base. What I did find interesting is that all through the book, I never got the sense of John Wayne as the character. I tried over and over again to fit the Duke in there, and he just wasn't quite the right fit. He wasn't a square peg in a round hole, but he was at least oval.
I liked Hondo- I liked it a lot. but I can't help but wonder what a full length novel of the original story would have been like...