Originally sponsored by Levi Strauss Corporation of San Francisco, the Owen Wister Award was first called the Saddleman Award. It made its debut at the Fort Smith, Arkansas, convention of Western Writers of America, Inc., on June 22, 1961, with the award presented to Will Henry (Henry Wilson Allen).
Originally, the award was given to the author of the best book of the year (from the then five Spur categories: nonfiction, historical novel, novel, juvenile, and “short material”). In 1967 the rules were changed and the award was given for “Outstanding Contributions to the American West” and was presented to non-writers such as John Wayne, John Ford, and Clint Eastwood.
With Levi Strauss’ decision to retire the Saddleman Award after the 1990 WWA convention, a committee chaired by novelist Win Blevins, originated plans for a new award for “Lifetime Achievement” in writing Western history and literature. Owen Wister (1860-1938) is considered the “father” of the Western story and author of The Virginian (1902). The Owen Wister Award was adopted by the Executive Board of Western Writers in time for the Oklahoma City convention in 1991. Glendon Swarthout was a popular choice to be first recipient of the new Owen Wister Award.
The first four recipients of the Wister received a stylized engraved bronze figure of a cowboy until, at the Billings, Montana, convention in 1994, Texas sculptor Robert H. Duffie was commissioned to design an original bronze work to be given each past and future Wister awardee. His magnificent buffalo design continues to symbolize WWA’s highest honor.
The Owen Wister honorees are:
Will Bagley (2019) – Will Bagley, a journalist known for monumental nonfiction books about the Mormon West and overland trails, is a three-time winner of WWA’s Spur Award for Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows; The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858; and With Golden Visions Bright Before Them Trails to the Mining West, 1849–1852, all published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Bagley has also received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Caroline Bancroft History Prize. His books have also been honored by Westerners International, Utah Division of State History, Wyoming State Historical Society and the John Whitmer Historical Association.
Rudolfo Anaya (2018) – Rudolfo Anaya has inspired the field of Chicano literature. He is best known for his novel, Bless Me Ultima.
Louise Erdrich (2017) – Louise Erdrich is a contemporary novelist.
Lucia St. Clair Robson (2016) – Lucia St. Clair Robson is the 2016 Owen Wister Award recipient and Western Writers Hall of Fame inductee. Her first novel, Ride the Wind, an account based on the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, remains in print. She won a Spur Award for that first novel, and a second Spur in 2010 for the Last Train to Cuernavaca, an action drama set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution. Among her other books are Light a Distant Fire, set during the 1840s Seminole Wars, Ghost Warrior, based on the life of the revered Apache warrior Lozen, and Walk in My Soul, based on the life of Cherokee healer and teacher Tiana Rogers, who befriended Sam Houston during his youthful sojourn with her people.
Win Blevins (2015) – Win Blevins is the 2015 Owen Wister Award recipient and Western Writers Hall of Fame inductee. His work spans more than 40 years and has garnered a host of honors, including two Spur Awards for best novel. Give Your Heart to the Hawks, Blevins’s first book, a seminal account of the mountain men, has been in print since its publication in 1973. Stone Song, a stunning fictionalized version of the life of Crazy Horse, won him his first Spur in 1996.
Robert J. Conley (2014) – Robert J. Conley was a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies and Founding Director of the Tsalagi Institute at Western Carolina University. He is a past president of Western Writers of America, and the author of around 80 books, including the Spur Award-winning novels The Dark Island and Nickajack. He also won a Spur for his short story “Yellow Bird: An Imaginary Autobiography,” published in The Witch of Goingsnake. Among his other novels are Mountain Windsong, War Woman, Cherokee Dragon, Sequoyah, and Brass. Conley blended a career as a novelist with historical research and publishing, including material about his tribe: A Cherokee Encyclopedia and Cherokee Thoughts Honest & Uncensored. His poems and short stories have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies over the years in Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. They appear in multiple languages: English, Cherokee, German, French, and Macedonian. He also wrote the novelization of a screenplay, “Geronimo: An American Legend,” published in the United States by Pocket Books and reprinted in translation in Italy.
Jory T. Sherman (2013) – From his early years as a Beatnik era poet in San Francisco Jory T. Sherman created an amazing number of books, poems, articles, and essays plus well more than 400 novels, including The Spur Award-winning novel Medicine Horn, a fur-trade story that was the first of a series he called The Buckskinners. The publication of Grass Kingdom proved to be a turning point in his writing life. It was a major historical novel, the first in Sherman’s epic Barons of Texas series of novels dealing with the ranching Baron family of Texas through several generations. That series cemented his reputation as a distinguished storyteller of the American West. But writing fiction is only one facet of a varied career. He was also a book packager, and at one point his Taneycomo packaging company was generating 52 titles a year for various paperback houses. The most notable of these was the Rivers West series, published by Bantam, with stories set upon the great rivers of the American West.
Loren D. Estleman (2012) – Loren D. Estleman is the recipient of Spur Awards for his novels The Undertaker’s Wife, Journey of the Dead, Aces & Eights, and his short stories, The Bandit,” and “The Alchemist.” He has received Western Heritage Wrangler Awards for Journey of the Dead The Master Executioner and his short story, “Iron Dollar.” Among his other publications are the novels Roy & Lillie: A Love Story (2010); The Branch and the Scaffold (2009); The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion (2006),and Black Power, White Smoke (2002).
James A. Crutchfield (2011) – James A. Crutchfield’s career has included writing about the early frontier and the American West. The Franklin, Tennessee, resident has already received a Spur Award, three Stirrup Awards, and the Branding Iron Award for Outstanding Service to WWA. His newest published work is The Settlement of America: Encyclopedia of Westward Expansion from Jamestown to the Closing of the Frontier, a two-volume encyclopedia that includes essays about the trans-Appalachian West as well as the region extending to California and Oregon. His books include A Primer of the North American Fur Trade, Mountain Men of the American West, the biography George Washington: First in War, First in Peace in Forge Books’ American Heroes Series, The Battle of Franklin: Twilight of the Army of Tennessee, The Santa Fe Trail, Tragedy at Taos, and ten books in the It Happened In series, which he originated with Falcon Press in 1992 with publication of It Happened in Montana. Crutchfield won a Spur award for “Best Western Nonfiction Article” in 1991 for a magazine article about the American occupation of New Mexico and events leading up to the Taos Revolt of 1847. Crutchfield also has served Western Writers of America as secretary-treasurer from 1994 to 2004, and was the first Executive Director of the organization from 2004 to 2006.
N. Scott Momaday (2010) – Navaree Scott Momaday was born at the Kiowa and Comanche Indian Hospital, in Lawton, Oklahoma. His Kiowa name is Tsoai-talee (Rock-Tree-Boy). He began writing and publishing poetry before he saw the publication of The Journey of Tai-me, a collection of Kiowa stories to honor his grandmother, Aho, who had died in 1963. His father helped translate the stories. His most well known works, however, are his novels, House Made of Dawn, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, which was published by Harper & Row in 1968. The Way to Rainy Mountain was published in 1969. Other works include The Names: A Memoir, The Gourd Dancer, The Ancient Child, In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991, The Indolent Boys (a play, 1994), The Man Made of Words (1997), and In The Bear’s House (1999).
Elmore Leonard (2009) – Elmore “Dutch” Leonard was born in New Orleans in 1925. Leonard wrote for pulp Western magazines and slick magazines, like Collier’s, the Saturday Evening Post, and Argosy magazine. The story, “Trail of the Apache,” appeared in the December, 1951 issue of Argosy, and began Elmore Leonard’s professional writing career. He quickly followed up on his success with Argosy, and published six short stories in 1952 in Dime Western Magazine, 10 Story Western Magazine, and Zane Grey’s Western Magazine. Houghton Mifflin in 1953 published The Bounty Hunters, Leonard’s first novel. He quickly followed with more Western novels: The Law at Randado, Escape from Five Shadows, Last Stand at Sabre River, and Hombre. Leonard also continued to write short stories, and Hollywood soon came calling. His short story, “Three Ten to Yuma,” became the movie 3:10 to Yuma in 1957 starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. His short story, “The Captives” became the film The Tall T andhis novel Valdez is Coming, became the film of the same name. Works in crime fiction, such as Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight, have made Elmore Leonard a household name.
Tony Hillerman (2008) – Born on May 27, 1925, Tony Hillerman grew up in the small town of Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. Hillerman began his writing career on the police beat at the Borger News Herald in the Texas Panhandle — he later modeled the character of Joe Leaphorn after a county sheriff — then took a job at the Morning Press-Constitution in Lawton, Oklahoma, and eventually covered politics for United Press in Oklahoma City. Next came a job managing the United Press bureau in Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by a stint as editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican. He then taught journalism at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, wrote nonfiction essays and articles for magazines, and he began working on a novel, calling back experiences he remembered from his first encounter with the Navajos. The Blessing Way was published in 1970, earning an Edgar Award nomination from Mystery Writers of America as Best First Novel. Hillerman followed that with another mystery, The Fly on the Wall (an Edgar finalist). Dance Hall of the Dead was published in 1973. Other books include Listening Woman (1978), People of Darkness (1980). The Dark Wind (1982) and The Ghostway (1984), Skinwalkers which brought together two of Hillerman’s characters, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, won the Spur Award, and Chee and Leaphorn have been working together, directly or indirectly, ever since. The next novel, A Thief of Time in 1988, not only earned Hillerman an Edgar nomination but also served as Hillerman’s breakout novel, and many consider it his finest piece of fiction. He retired from the University of New Mexico in 1987 and kept writing successful, best-selling mysteries: Talking God, Coyote Waits, Sacred Clowns, The Fallen Man, The First Eagle, Hunting Badger, The Wailing Wind, The Sinister Pig, Skeleton Man. Mystery Writers of America presented him the Grand Master Award in 1991, and Hillerman took his second Spur in 2007 for The Shape Shifter. In between The Blessing Way and The Shape Shifter, he has written essays, articles, introductions, even a children’s book (The Boy Who Made Dragonfly: A Zuni Myth) and a memoir (Seldom Disappointed), not to mention a non-Southwestern mystery, Finding Moon. A collection of his nonfiction, The Great Taos Bank Robber, was first published in 1973.
John Jakes (2007) – When Pyramid Books commissioned Jakes to write a five-volume saga of an American family, christened The American Bicentennial Series, no one could foresee its impact on publishing, historical fiction, or Jake’s career. Yet The Bastard, the first book in a series that grew to eight volumes and became known as The Kent Family Chronicles, became a phenomenal bestseller. A syndicated TV movie followed, and when the next three installments (The Rebels, The Seekers, and The Furies) were published in 1975, Jakes became the first writer to score three books on The New York Times bestseller list in one year. The Kent Family Chronicles have seen more than 55 million copies in print, while Jakes’ follow-up series, the North and South trilogy–North and South, the first book in the series, came out in 1982, introducing readers to the Mains of South Carolina and the Hazards of Pennsylvania. The novel streaked to No. 1, as did the next two installments, Love and War in 1984 and Heaven and Hell in 1987–sold 10 million copies, and ABC scored top ratings for the miniseries version of those three bestsellers. He wrote for the pulps: Ranch Romances, Max Brand’s Western, .44 Western and 10-Story Western — and sold his first Western novel to Ace Books, which published Wear A Fast Gun in 1956. Other historical novels followed: Homeland, American Dreams, On Secret Service, Charleston, Savannah: Or, A Gift For Mr. Lincoln, and, last fall, The Gods of Newport. Short Western fiction also appeared: “Little Phil and the Daughter of Joy” (under the pseudonym John Lee Gray), “Shootout at White Pass,” “Dutchman,” “Carolina Warpath” and, in 1994, a gem of a tale called “Manitow and Ironhand.” John Jakes currently divides his time between homes in South Carolina and Florida.
Andrew J. Fenady (2006) – Andrew J. Fenady, is an extraordinary Western novelist, motion picture screenwriter and producer, song lyricist, stage play writer, and creator of network television “Movie of the Week” features and TV series, including the classic “The Rebel.” He created “The Rebel,” produced Branded, and wrote screenplays, including John Wayne’s Chisum, plus Broken Sabre and Ride Beyond Vengeance. Fenady has written thirteen novels, including Claws of the Eagle: A Novel of Tom Horn and the Apache Kid (Walker & Company), Runaways (Walker & Company and Putnam Berkley), Summer of Jack London (Walker & Company and Berkley) and There Came a Stranger (Tor-Forge). Dorchester Publishing (Leisure Books) has published Double Eagle, Riders To Moon Rock, a reprint of The Rebel: Johnny Yuma, and Big Ike. He also wrote the lyrics to several theme songs, including “Johnny Yuma Was a Rebel” for the television show, “You Can’t Ever Go Home Again” for Ride Beyond Vengeance and “The Ballad of John Chisum” for Chisum, and “See the Man With Bogart’s Face” and “Looking At You” for The Man With Bogart’s Face. Fenady lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Mary Ann.
Judy Alter (2005) – Judy Alter is a past president of Western Writers of America, former secretary-treasurer of the Texas Institute of Letters and was director of TCU Press for two decades. Her 1987 novel, Mattie (Doubleday), the story of an early-day Nebraska woman doctor, won a Spur Award from WWA, Luke and the Van Zandt County War, was named Best Juvenile Novel of 1984 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and two short stories, “Fool Girl” and “Sue Ellen Learns to Dance” have won Western Heritage Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum “Sue Ellen Learns to Dance” also won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America. Her novels for adults and children include Sundance, Butch and Me, Cherokee Rose, Jessie, based on the life of Jessie Benton Frémont, wife of explorer/soldier/statesman John Charles Frémont, and her book, Libbie, which reconstructs the life of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of General George Armstrong Custer, Sam Houston Is My Hero, Callie Shaw, Stableboy, Maggie and a Horse Named Devildust, Maggie and the Search for Devildust, Maggie and Devildust–Ridin’ High, After Pa Was Shot, and Katie and the Recluse. Judy makes her home in Fort Worth, Texas.
Matt Braun (2004) – Matt Braun has been honored with the National Festival of the West Cowboy Spirit Award and a Spur Award for The Kincaids and Dakota. His novel, Black Fox, was adapted for a six-hour CBS mini-series. Sam Elliott and Katherine Ross starred in the adaptation of Matt’s One Last Town, which TNT renamed You Know My Name. Matt Braun resides in western Connecticut with his wife, Bettiane.
Don Coldsmith (2003) – Don Coldsmith has written historical novels, Tallgrass and South Wind, which expand the documented history of his Kansas home, and he has also delved deep into the prehistory and archaeology of his native plains and state in his monumental Spanish Bit Saga. The Trail of the Spanish Bit, the first novel of Don’s most popular series, originated when he discovered an old bit in a bin in an Oklahoma antique shop. The Spanish Bit Saga encompasses tales of numerous tribes, real and fictional: Pawnee, Comanche, Osage, Kaw or Cenzas, Lakota, Head Splitters, Horn People, and forest and mountain bands. It begins with the coming of the white man and covers centuries of struggle against white pressures, Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, and United States. Other titles are Walks in the Sun, Bride of the Morning Star, Moon Thunder, Buffalo Medicine, Medicine Hat, and Track of the Bear.
David Dary (2002) – Television news editor and director, journalism teacher and administrator, and historian, David Dary (born in Manhattan, Kansas, in 1934) won acclaim for his The Buffalo Book (1974) and the acclaim has sustained for each Dary book, each a model of clarity and style, that has followed: three books on Kansas history,Cowboy Culture, Entrepreneurs of the Old West, Seeking Pleasure in the Old West, Red Bood and Black Ink, and The Santa Fe Trail. He lives with his wife Sue in Norman, Oklahoma.
Richard S. Wheeler (2001) – Master of the Western historical novel and four-time Spur Award winner, Richard Shaw Wheeler spent a decade as a newspaperman in the West, and many years as a Western book editor before his first novel, Bushwack, was published in 1978. His fifty-one books include several successful series (the “Barnaby Skye” novels number thirteen titles since 1989). He is author of such historicals as The Buffalo Commons, Aftershocks, and The Fields of Eden; the biographical novels Masterson, Eclipse (Lewis and Clark), and Exile (Thomas Francis Meagher); novels set in gold and silver mine camps: Cashbox, Goldfield, Sierra, Second Lives, and Sun Mountain, and the non-traditional Westerns Richard Lamb, Dodging Red Cloud, Winter Grass, and Where the River Runs. Wheeler makes his home in Livingston, Montana.
Dale L. Walker (2000) – Born in Decatur, Illinois, in 1935, the son of a career Army sergeant, Dale Lee Walker moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1959 after four years in the Navy, and in 1962 graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a journalism degree. He is or has been a newspaper book page editor, book and magazine writer, director of a university press, magazine editor, book reviewer, book columnist, anthologist, and consulting editor for Tor/Forge Books of New York. He is author of seventeen biographies, literary studies (several on Jack London’s life and work) and Western historical works, most recently: Legends and Lies (1997), The Boys of ’98 (1998), Bear Flag Rising (1999), Pacific Destiny (2000), and Eldorado: The California Gold Rush (2003). Dale L. Walker and his wife Alice live in El Paso, Texas.
Norman Zollinger (1999) – Fifty-seven years old when his first novel (Riders to Cibola) appeared in 1978, Norman Zollinger (1921-2000) rose quickly to a mastery of the historical novel. All his books are critically hailed as works of literature: Corey Lane, Passage to Quivera, A Rage in Chapadera, Not of War Only, Chapultepec, Meridian: A Novel of Kit Carson’s West, and his last, posthumously published, The Road to Santa Fe.
José Cisneros (1997) – Born in Durango, Mexico, in 1910, the year of the Great Revolution, Cisneros and his family emigrated to Cuidad Juárez and later to its sister city, El Paso, Texas, where José became a naturalized citizen. His artistic gift was evident even as a teenager, and his works–in particular his pen-and-inks of horses and horsemen–have appeared in hundreds of books and magazines. Long associated with the master book designer Carl Hertzog, and with such authors as J. Frank Dobie, C.L. Sonnichsen, J. Evetts Haley, and Carlos Castañeda, Cisneros is himself author of such illustrated books as Riders of the Border, Faces of the Borderlands, and Riders Across the Centuries.
David Lavender (1996) – David Lavender’s first book, the autobiographical One Man’s West appeared in 1943. This was followed by The Big Divide, Bent’s Fort (1954–the first nonfiction book to receive a Spur Award), Land of Giants, The Fist in the Wilderness, beyond argument the best book on the Lewis and Clark expedition, The Way to the Western Sea, and Let Me Be Free: The Nez Perce Tragedy (1992).
Gordon D. Shirreffs (1995) – A ground-breaker in Western fiction, Gordon Donald Shirreffs (1914-1996) began writing for pulp magazines while stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1940. He wrote often of Apaches, Mexico, and the Mexican border country–Rio Bravo, Massacre Creek, The Border Guidon, Judas Gun, and Showdown in Sonora, among many others. His masterwork is his Quint Kershaw trilogy: The Untamed Breed (1981), Bold Legend (1982), and Glorieta Pass (1984).
Robert M. Utley (1994) — Among the greatest of Western historians, Robert M. Utley (born in Arkansas in 1929) is a graduate of Purdue with an M.A. from Indiana University and served twenty-five years with the National Park Service. A world authority on the Plains Indians, the Lincoln County War and its participants, and the Army of the West, he is author of a dozen celebrated books and countless magazine and journal studies. His works include The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, Frontiersmen in Blue, High Noon in Lincoln, Cavalier in Buckskin, Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life, The Lance and the Shield, A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, and a history of the first century of the Texas Rangers, Lone Star Justice. Robert Utley and his wife Melody Webb live in Arizona.
Douglas C. Jones (1993) – Douglas Clyde Jones, born in 1924 in Winslow, Arkansas, was a gifted artist in paint and print, and in common with the others, served in combat in WWII. Jones, in fact, made a career of the Army (1943-1968) before turning to fiction in 1976 with publication of his The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer. This best-seller, based on the premise that Custer survived the Little Bighorn battle, was followed by such memorable novels as Arrest Sitting Bull, A Creek Called Wounded Knee, Winding Stair, Elkhorn Tavern, Gone the Dream and Dancing, Come Winter, and others.
Tom Lea (1992) – Tom Lea (1907-2001) earned success as a Southwestern artist before turning to fiction. He attended the Chicago Art Institute and worked as an art teacher there before becoming a combat correspondent for Life in WWII Pacific campaigns. After returning to his hometown he wrote and illustrated his first novel, The Brave Bulls (1949). The Wonderful Country followed in 1952 (adapted into a film starring Robert Mitchum), The Primal Yoke in 1960 and The Hands of Cantú in 1964. Lea’s two-volume history of The King Ranch (1957) remains the standard work, and his war books, Grizzly from the Coral Sea and Peleliu Landing, are prized collector’s items.
Glendon Swarthout (1991) – A literary stylist of the first order, Glendon Fred Swarthout (1918-1992), born in Pinckney, Michigan, earned a doctorate at Michigan State University and served as a professor there and at the University of Maryland after combat service in WWII. His first Western novel, They Came to Cordura (1958) was adapted for a memorable film starring Gary Cooper. Following, between non-Western novels and children’s books in collaboration with his wife Kathryn, were such novels as The Cadillac Cowboys, Bless the Beasts and Children, The Tin Lizzie Troop, The Shootist (1975, John Wayne’s last film), The Old Colts, and The Homesman.
The Saddleman honorees are:
Max Evans (1990) – Cowboy, rancher, trapper, prospector, artist, and for over forty years an eminent figure in Southwestern letters, Max Evans was born in Ropes, Texas, in 1925. He served in the infantry in Europe in WWII and published his first book, Long John Dunn of Taos, in 1959. Evans’s The Rounders (1965) and the film made from it, introduced him to Hollywood and associations with such directors as Sam Peckinpah, about whom Evans has written two seminal books. The author’s The Hi-Lo Country, 1961, also became a beautifully rendered movie in 1998. Evans is also author of The Mountain of Gold (1965), Bobby Jack Smith, You Dirty Coward! (1974), Bluefeather Fellini (1993), Faraway Blue (1999), and most recently Madam Millie (2002) and War and Music (2010). He is co-editor of a book of short stories written by ranchwomen and cowboys, Hot Biscuits, (2002) that he worked for twenty years to collect. Max Evans lives with his wife Pat in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Wayne D. Overholser (1989) – A member of an elite group of Western writers with 100 or more books to their credit (Max Brand, Louis L’Amour, Nelson Nye, Lauran Paine, and a few others), Washington-born Wayne D. Overholser (1906-1996), began writing for pulp magazines in 1936, and rose to eminence in the field after publication of his first novel, Buckaroo’s Code (1947). In a writing life of sixty years he also produced upwards of 400 short stories under his own and such pennames as Dan J. Stevens, Joseph Wayne, John S. Daniels, and Lee Leighton.
Don Worcester (1988) – Historian-novelist Donald E. Worcester’s historical books, all greatly respected, include The Apaches: Eagles of the Southwest, The Chisholm Trail, The Spanish Mustang, and The Texas Longhorns. Among his novels: The War in the Nueces Strip, Brazos Scout, and Gone to Texas.
Clint Eastwood (1987) – Clint Eastwood, born in San Francisco in 1930, drifted to Hollywood in 1955, played bit parts in Universal films, and earned first recognition as the character Rowdy Yates in the “Rawhide” TV series (1959-66). Following the end of the series, he appeared as “The Man With No Name” in three of Sergio Leone’s enormously popular “spaghetti Westerns,” and returned from Italy as a marketable star. Celebrated as “Dirty Harry” Callaghan and smiled at for “Paint Your Wagon” (1969), Eastwood is a versatile actor-director. His Western movies include Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976), Pale Rider (1985), and The Unforgiven (1992).
Jack Schaefer (1986) – Forever associated with his short story-into-short novel Shane (1954), Jack Warner Schaefer (1907-1991) was a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a graduate of Oberlin College. He was a career newspaperman and editor with United Press International, the New Haven, Connecticut Journal Courier, the Baltimore Sun, Norfolk, Virginia Pilot, and other news and magazine outlets. He regularly wrote short fiction for Collier’s, Holiday, The Saturday Evening Post, and similar prestigious magazines. Among Schaefer’s novels are The Canyon (1953; the author’s own favorite), The Pioneers, Company of Cowards, The Old Ramon, and Monte Walsh.
Leon C. Metz (1985) – Southwestern historian and biographer Leon Claire Metz is the author of such histories as Fort Bliss and Border. His fascination with Western outlaws and lawmen, encouraged by his mentor, C.L. Sonnichsen, has continued to the present day. His books on these subjects are Pat Garrett, the Story of a Western Lawman, The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, Dark Angel of Texas, and An Encyclopedia of Gunfighters, Outlaws, and Lawmen.
Leon and his wife Cheryl live in El Paso, Texas.
Dee Brown (1984) – Author of some of the most celebrated nonfiction books of all Western literature–The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West, The Galvanized Yankees, The Year of the Century, 1876, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971), Dee Alexander Brown’s career has also included honored historical fiction. Beginning in 1942 with publication of his David Crockett novel, Wave High the Banner, he is author of Creek Mary’s Blood, Kildeer Mountain, Conspiracy of Knaves, and many others.
Bill Gulick (1983) – Grover C. “Bill” Gulick’s work has ranged from children’s books and novels, to outdoor dramas, screenplays and such nonfiction classics as Snake River Country and Chief Joseph Country: Land of the Nez Perce. His The Man From Texas serial was filmed, as was his Bend of the Snake (1952) and The Hallelujah Trail (1963). Gulick’s historical novels, such as The Land Beyond, They Came to a Valley, and the Northwest Destiny trilogy, are considered among the finest in Western literature.
He makes his home in Walla Walla, Washington.
Eve Ball (1982) – Eve Ball (1890-1984), earned degrees in Kansas universities, taught in public schools in Kansas and Oklahoma, and taught English and Apache Culture at the college level. Her interest in the Apache people, and deep research into their culture, included nearly thirty years interviewing Apache elders and ranchers in southern New Mexico near the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Among her books are Ma’am Jones of the Pecos (1969), In the Days of Victorio (1970), and Indeh: An Apache Odyssey (1980).
Louis L’Amour (1981) – One of the most recognizable names among Western writers, perhaps the most recognizable, Louis Dearborn L’Amour (1908-1988) of Jamestown, North Dakota, wrote well over 100 novels in a career that began in 1950 and became the bestselling Western writer of all time. His Hondo (1953, based on the screenplay of his story, “The Gift of Cochise”) and the John Wayne film made from it, secured his career. Among his many excellent novels are Sitka (1957), Shalako (1962), Down the Long Hills (1968), Where the Long Grass Blows (1976), The Shadow Riders (1982), and the sixteen books of the Sackett Saga. L’Amour was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984.
C.L. Sonnichsen (1980) – Charles Leland Sonnichsen (1901-1991), earned a Ph.D. degree in English literature at Harvard and came to El Paso, Texas, in 1936 to teach at the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy. He intended to stay briefly, then return to an Ivy League school to make a career. He remained at the “Mines” (later the University of Texas at El Paso) forty-one years, rose to become Dean of Liberal Arts, and fell in love with the Southwest and its history. His first book, Billy King’s Tombstone (1942) was followed by twenty-six others, including Roy Bean (1943), I’ll Die Before I’ll Run (1951), Tularosa (1960), Pass of the North (1968), Tucson (1982), and Pilgrim in the Sun (1988).
Lewis B. Patten (1979) – A Denver native, Lewis Byford Patten’s (1915-1981) writing career began in 1950 when he began selling stories to Mammoth Western and Zane Grey’s Western Magazine. In the thirty years that followed he wrote ninety Western novels for such publishers as Ace, Fawcett, Avon, Dell, Berkley, NAL, and Doubleday. His first novel was Massacre at White River (1952), his last, Track of the Hunter (1981). His Red Sabbath (1968), and A Killing in Kiowa (1972), earned Spur Awards and in 1989 The Best Western Stories of Lewis B. Patten, was published by Southern Illinois University Press.
A.B. Guthrie, Jr. (1978) – Author of the masterpieces of Western fiction The Big Sky (1947), The Way West (Pulitzer Prize, 1950), These Thousand Hills (1956), and Fair Land, Fair Land (1982), Alfred Bertram Guthrie, Jr. (1901-1991) also wrote screenplays (notably “Shane,” for which he won an Academy Award, and “The Kentuckian”), mysteries, short stories, a book of animal fables for children (Once Upon a Pond), and a remarkable autobiography, The Blue Hen’s Chick (1965).
Elmer Kelton (1977) – No Western writer, not even Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour, has better defined the genre, or been more respected and honored for his work than Elmer Kelton. A native Texan (born in Andrews County in 1926) who wrote of Texas and Texans, Kelton is recipient of a record seven Spur Awards, several Western Heritage Awards, and three of his books–The Day the Cowboys Quit, The Time it Never Rained, and The Good Old Boys, are regarded as among the best Western novels ever written. The ultimate accolade from WWA was the vote by his WWA peers naming him the Best Western Writer of All Time. Kelton wrote more than fifty novels–the first, Hot Iron in 1956–several nonfiction books, and many short stories.
Dorothy M. Johnson (1976) – Dorothy Marie Johnson (1905-1984) wrote four stories (“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Lost Sister,” “A Man Called Horse,” and “The Hanging Tree”) that are regarded as among the finest in the Western genre (as are the films made from three of them) and appear regularly in anthologies. Johnson was a book, magazine, and newspaper editor, a journalism professor, a novelist (Buffalo Woman, All the Buffalo Returning), author of such nonfiction books as Famous Lawmen of the Old West and The Bloody Bozeman, as well as short stories and young adult books.
Nellie Snyder Yost (1975) – Nellie Yost was born in 1905 in a sod house in the Nebraska Sandhills and published her first book, Pinnacle Jake, in 1951. Her biography of William F. Cody, Buffalo Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures, and Fortune (1979) remains a standard book on Cody, and such other titles as Boss Cowman, Medicine Lodge, and A Man as Big as the West, earned her awards from WWA and the Nebraska State Historical Society.
W. Foster-Harris (1974) – W. Foster-Harris (1903?-1978) was an Oklahoman, an educator, oilman, editor, and author. His fiction, most of it Western but with a mixture of oilfield stories, humor, and adventure tales, appeared in such pulp and slick magazines in the 1928-1950 era as Argosy, Short Stories, All Western, Walt Coburn’s Western Magazine, and Ace-High Western. Foster-Harris wrote few books but his The Look of the Old West (1955), a lively, illustrated description of the weapons, tack, wagons, clothing, and gear of the Western frontier, remains a classic standard work as does his The Basic Formulas of Fiction (1944).
Glenn Vernam (1973) – Glenn Vernam’s best-known books are Indian Hater, Pioneer Breed, Redmen in White Moccasins, The Talking Rifle, The Power of the Gods, and a nonfiction book, Man on Horseback (1969).
John Ford (1972) – Called “Coach” by John Wayne and “Pappy” by other associates, John Ford (born John Martin Feeney in Maine in 1895), most honored of all movie directors, began his directing career in 1917. In 1939 Ford directed Henry Fonda in Drums Along the Mohawk and Young Mr. Lincoln, and John Wayne in Stagecoach, and in 1940-41 won back-to-back Oscars for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. His Westerns–My Darling Clementine (1946), the Wayne “Cavalry trilogy,” The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and others, are considered the prime classics of the genre.
Thomas Thompson (1971) – Co-founder (with Nelson Nye) of Western Writers of America and twice its president, Thomas “Tommy” Thompson (1913-1993) was a native Californian who worked as a merchant sailor, a nightclub entertainer, and a furniture salesman before becoming a full-time freelance writer in 1940. His first novel, Range Drifter, appeared in 1949, his last, written after a twenty-one-year hiatus from print fiction, was Outlaw Valley (1987). He worked ten years as script writer, associate producer, and consultant on the “Bonanza” TV series, and wrote for “Wagon Train,” “Restless Gun,” “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke” and other television productions. He also wrote the screenplays for Saddle the Wind (1958, with Rod Serling), and Cattle King (1963).
John Wayne (1970) – Born Marion Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907, he adopted his screen name in 1930 for the Raoul Walsh film The Big Trail. (“Duke” came from an Airedale dog Wayne had as a child growing up in Glendale, California). After a long apprenticeship in low-budget Westerns, director John Ford cast Wayne in Stagecoach (1939) and launched him on a forty-year career as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars and an American icon. Among his most popular films are the John Ford cavalry trilogy, Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950), and The Alamo (1960), True Grit (1969; Best Actor Oscar), and The Shootist (1976).
Frederick D. Glidden (1969) – In a forty-year career as Western novelist, Frederick Dilley Glidden (1908-1975), best-known by his Luke Short penname, Glidden produced fifty novels published by some of America’s finest houses, Macmillan (And the Wind Blows Free), Houghton Mifflin (High Vermilion), Doubleday (Ride the Man Down), Random House (Rimrock), and Bantam (Paper Sheriff, Debt of Honor, many others).
Nelson C. Nye (1968) – In a brotherhood that includes Max Brand, Lauran Paine, and Louis L’Amour, Chicagoan Nelson Nye (1907-1997) was among the most prolific Western writers of all time. He produced something close to 125 books from the first, Two-Fisted Cowpoke, in 1936, until he retired from writing in 1971.He also wrote under the name Clem Colt. He was the WWA founder (with Thomas Thompson), its first president, and the first editor of The Roundup.
S. Omar Barker (1967) – The father of cowboy poets, a fine short story writer, a president and founding member of Western Writers of America, S. (Squire) Omar Barker (1894-1985) grew up in Beulah, New Mexico. Barker’s single novel, Little World Apart, appeared in 1966; his poetry collection, Rawhide Rhymes (1968) was a pathmarker in the cowboy poetry movement, and he wrote many children’s books under the name “Dan Scott.”
Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. (1966) – Journalist-editor-historian Alvin Josephy, a New Yorker (born in 1915) was an editor and writer for American Heritage and Time, served as the first chairman of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution, and had a life-long interest in the American West and advocacy for Indian nations. His books, gracefully written and painstakingly researched, include The Patriot Chiefs, The Nez Perce and the Opening of the Northwest, The Civil War in the West, and A Walk Toward Oregon.
Benjamin Capps (1965) – Capps (1922-2002), is the author of Hanging at Comanche Wells, The Trail to Ogallala–still considered one of the supreme trail drive novels, Sam Chance, A Woman of the People, and The White Man’s Road. The author also contributed two books (The Indians, The Great Chiefs) to the Time-Life “Old West” series.
Mari Sandoz (1964) – A distinctive stylist in such books as Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas, Winter Thunder, Love Song to the Plains, and Cheyenne Autumn, Nebraskan Mari Sandoz (1896-1966) also wrote short fiction and children’s stories, deftly mixing history and fiction in all her work.
Fred Grove (1963) – Frederick Herridge “Fred” Grove is a five-time Spur Award recipient. Grove is acclaimed for his novels of the Apache wars, the Civil War, and quarter horse racing, with such books as No Bugles, No Glory, Warrior Road, Comanche Captives, The Buffalo Runners, Match Race, The Great Horse Race, A Far Trumpet, and Red River Stage.
Jeanne Williams (1962) – Jeanne Williams has written children’s books, novels of what she calls “the Western experience as it affected women,” and mainstream books set in medieval Wales, in England, Ireland, Russia, Norway, Mexico, and Brazil. A Lady Bought With Rifles, A Woman Clothed in Sun, the “Arizona Saga” (The Valiant Women, Harvest of Fury, and A Mating of Hawks), No Roof But Heaven, Oh, Susanna!, Harvest of Fury, The Cave Dreamers, and The Island Harp, are among her best-loved works. A WWA past president and four-time Spur Award winner, Williams lives in Arizona.
Will Henry (1961) – An immortal among Western novelists, Henry Wilson Allen, under his pennames Will Henry–the name he preferred, personally and professionally–and Clay Fisher, produced fifty novels between 1950 (the year of his No Survivors and, as Clay Fisher, Red Blizzard) and his death in 1991. Among feature films made from his books are The Tall Man, Journey to Shiloh, Mackenna’s Gold, Yellowstone Kelly, and Tom Horn. His best known books, most remaining in print today, are Santa Fe Passage, Who Rides With Wyatt, Alias Butch Cassidy, From Where the Sun Now Stands (his personal favorite), The Gates of the Mountains, and Chiricahua.