Elmo Scott Watson

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Elmo Scott Watson
Born 1892
Colfax, McLean County
Illinois, USA
Died May 6, 1951 (aged 59)


University professor
Nationality American
Alma mater

Colorado College

Northwestern University
Period 1916-1951
Genre American West

Elmo Scott Watson (1892–May 6, 1951) was an American journalist and college professor, whose longest educational stint was at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He was particularly known for his emphasis on the American West, having been a reporter for the Gazette and Telegraph newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before he entered the field of higher education.[1][2]

Watson meets Frank Maynard[edit]

In 1923, while attending the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in Colorado Springs,[3] Watson met the frontier figure Frank H. Maynard (1853–1926), credited with the revised composition of Cowboy's Lament, a western poem and song better known as The Streets of Laredo.[4] When he was "discovered" by Watson, Maynard was working as a nightwatchman to be near the rodeo because he was still attracted to the western life-style of his earlier years. Watson penned a story on Maynard which brought the old-time cowboy into the public spotlight. It may be argued that Maynard did not write the ballad but adapted it from an Irish poem. Watson explains: "The matter of authorship of a ballad is a perplexing one. . . . In a sense the ballad represents the contribution of a succession of bards, rather than the work of a single poet."[5] Yet, it is plausible that Maynard adjusted the poem so that the "ranger," a reference to the cowboy on the prairie, became the central character of the poem.[6]

Watson also helped Maynard publish the old-timer's article on the Battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle in 1874. The article required extensive rewriting to make it salable. Just over two years after Watson met Maynard, the cowboy-turned-carpenter was dead.[7]

The article on Maynard, dated January 24, 1924, netted recognition to Watson as an up-and-coming young journalist. During the late 1920s, Watson's syndicator, the Western Newspaper Union, called him "the most widely read historical feature writer in the country."[8]


Watson was born on a farm near Colfax in McLean County in the Bloomington metropolitan area of central Illinois. In 1916, he received a bachelor's degree from Colorado College, a private liberal arts school in Colorado Springs. He worked at the Gazette and Telegraph only from 1916–1918, when he became an instructor of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana. There, he wrote a book, eight newspaper or magazine articles, and 394 syndicated features, mostly on the American West. He left Illinois in 1924 to take his penultimate position at Northwestern, where he received his master's degree and remained on the faculty until 1947. He then joined the faculty of Methodist-affiliated Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, where he received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. The move change brought him close to his family farm, where he had hoped to retire. In June 1950, Watson was again enticed to move west and returned to the Rocky Mountains to head the journalism department at the University of Denver in Denver. He died a year later at the age of fifty-nine.[9][10]

In 1936, Watson published A History of Newspaper Syndicates in the United States, 1865-1935.[11]


In June 1940, Watson wrote "The Old Chisholm Trail" in Frontier Times magazine, published by J. Marvin Hunter, based in Bandera, Texas. The article examines the historical legacy of the longhorn cattle trail which extended from San Antonio, Texas, to Abilene, Kansas. Watson referred to the Chisholm cowboys, accordingly, "as bold, as reckless, as brave a crew of daredevils as the world has ever known."[12] Watson also wrote Stories of Great Indians, (1922–1923) a study of Native Americans in the United States. He attempted to correct the noble savage image of the tribes that had previously prevailed among many writers.[13]

In 1944, Watson co-founded in Chicago, with Leland Case, the editor of The Rotarian magazine, the interest group known as Westerners International, which promotes the non-academic history of the American West.[14] Watson edited Publishers' Auxiliary from 1932–1945 and contributed a regular column to the journal. He was president of the Society of Professional Journalists, formerly known as Sigma Delta Chi, and he was particularly active in the Chicago "Corral" of the Westerners. His papers are housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago. The holdings also include 133 of Watson's western photographs from the time period of 1875-1936. Many are pictures of the Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Oglala Sioux, and Brulé Sioux.[15]

"No. 320 "THE COWBOY"[edit]

"The Cow Boy", ca. 1888

The Elmo Scott Watson collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago contains an original print of this image. On the lower left corner is the text:

"No. 320 "THE COWBOY"
Fred Pierce, a noted cowboy of Wyoming.
(Photo. and copyright by Grabill, 1887)."

On the back is printed:

"Grabill Chicago Portrait and View CO.,
113 Adams Street,
Opposite Post Office, CHICAGO."

However, Fred Pierce does not appear on either the 1880 or 1890 census of Wyoming. A search of newspapers in Wyoming from this period reveals no mention of Pierce. A search of Ancestry.com for a Fred Pierce in Wyoming during this time reveals nothing.

According to Arizona author Gladwell Toney Richardson, who wrote many historical articles and many dime novels and under pseudonyms like "Maurice Kildare", "The Cow Boy" is an unknown member of Yavapai County Arizona Sheriff John Mulvenon's posse which was sent twice in 1887 to intervene in the Pleasant Valley War. "The Cow Boy" does bear a striking resemblance to posse member Fletcher Fairchild, later Sheriff of Coconino County.


  1. ^ Frank H. Maynard, Cowboy's Lament: A Life on the Open Range (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2010), p. 29, ISBN 978-0-89672-705-2
  2. ^ The Gazette and Telegraph was renamed The Gazette in 1997.
  3. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 29
  4. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 135
  5. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 137
  6. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 137
  7. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, pp. 30-31
  8. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 29
  9. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 29
  10. ^ Watson's place of death and burial location are unknown.
  11. ^ A History of Newspaper Syndicates in the United States, 1865-1935, in Catalog of Copyright Entries. New Series: 1936, Part 1
  12. ^ "Frontier Times Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 9 (June 1940)". frontiertimesmagazine.com. Retrieved December 9, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Stories of Great Indians". allacademic.com. Retrieved December 9, 2010. 
  14. ^ Maynard, Cowboy's Lament, p. 29
  15. ^ "Inventory of Elmo Scott Watson Papers". newberry.org. Retrieved December 9, 2010. 

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