Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dead French in L.A.: Artist/Writer Will James Dies in Hollywood 1942 "Smoky the Cowhorse"

Will James (June 6, 1892 - September 3, 1942)[1] was an artist and writer of the American West. He is known for writing Smoky the Cowhorse, for which he won the 1927 Newbery Medal.[2]

Early life

James was born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault, in 1892 in Saint-Nazaire-d'Acton, Quebec, Canada.[1] He started drawing at the age of four on the kitchen floor. James, a Canadian Francophone, settled in the new French-Saskatchewan settlement of Val Marie in 1910 and learned to be a western cowboy. Accused of cattle theft, he left three years later[3] and traveled to the United States with a new name, William Roderick James.

During the next several years, he drifted and worked at several jobs. He was arrested in Carson City, Nevada for cattle rustling and took care of the prison's horses during his 15 month sentence. He then worked as a stuntman in movies and served in the U. S. Army from 1918-1919. He began selling his sketches. He was a horse wrangler for the First Annual Nevada round-Up in Reno in July 1919. He met and married Alice Conradt, while living in Reno, Nevada, in 1920.


He sold his first writing, Bucking Horse Riders, in 1922. The sale of several short stories and books followed, enabling him and his wife to buy a small ranch in Washoe Valley, Nevada, where he wrote his most famous book, Smoky the Cowhorse. It was published in 1926 and won the Newbery Medal for children's literature in 1927. Several film adaptations were made of the book, with James narrating the 1933 film. His fictionalized autobiography, Lone Cowboy, was written in 1930 and was a bestselling Book-of-the-Month Club selection. He wrote his last book, The American Cowboy, in 1942. In all, he wrote and illustrated 23 books.

His later years were spent on his ranch at Pryor Creek, Montana and at his Billings home on Smoky Lane. In the late 1930s he lived in the California high desert on the Godshall C Bar G Ranch. The ranch overlooked the Mojave River and is now within the boundaries of the Town of Apple Valley, California. While on the ranch, he wrote at least one book, "Flint Spears."

Will James died of alcoholism in Hollywood, California, in 1942.[1]

The largest public collection of James' writings, artwork, and personal effects is at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana.

James was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1991, and into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1992.[4]

Selected bibliography

Cowboys North and South (short stories, 1924)
Drifting Cowboy (short stories, 1925)
Smoky, the Cowhorse (Newbery novel, 1926)
Cow Country (short stories, 1927)
Sand (novel, 1929)
Lone Cowboy (1930)
Sun-Up: Tales of the Cow Camps (reprints and 7 new short stories, 1931)
Big-Enough (novel, 1931)
Uncle Bill: A Tale of Two Kids and a Cowboy (1932)
All in the Day's Riding (short stories, 1933)
The Three Mustangers (novel, 1933)
Home Ranch (1935)
Young Cowboy (juvenile edition of Big-Enough, 1935)
In the Saddle With Uncle Bill (1935)
Scorpion: A Good Bad Horse (1936)
Cowboy in the Making (probably a juvenile edition of Lone Cowboy, 1937)
Look-See With Uncle Bill (1938)
The Will James Cowboy Book (1938)
Flint Spears, Cowboy Rodeo Contestant (1938)
The Dark Horse (1939)
Horses I've Known (1940)
My First Horse (juvenile, 1940)
The American Cowboy (1942)
Will James Book of Cowboy Stories (1951)


1.^ "Will James: Nevada Writers Hall of Fame 1991". Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. University of Nevada, Reno. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
2.^ Association for Library Service to Children Newbery Medal and Honor Winners (1920s)
3.^ Ron Miksha (2004). "Bad Beekeeping". Bad Beekeeping, pp 177-178.
4.^ "National Cowboy Museum". National Cowboy Museum. Retrieved 2013-02-16.

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