J. T. Edson

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John Thomas Edson

John Thomas Edson (17 February 1928 – 17 July 2014) was an English author of 137 Westerns, escapism adventure, and police-procedural novels. He lived near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire from the 1950s onwards, and retired from writing due to ill-health in 2005.[1]


He was born in February 1928 near the border of the County of Derbyshire, England, in a small mining village, Whitwell, where his relatives still live.[2] Both his grandfathers and assorted uncles were coalminers [3] His paternal family was native to Whitwell, his paternal grandfather Herbert Edson, being born in the hamlet of Steetley, near Whitwell. His maternal grandfather, Robert Gill, was born in Heeley, Yorkshire. Although there was a considerable age gap between his grandparents, Herbert and Elizabeth Ann Edson being 25 years younger than Eobert and Eliza Charlotte Gill, his parents John Thomas Edson and Eliza Charlotte Gill (junior) were the same age (b. 1905) as Eliza was the twelfth born of the Gills' thirteen children [4]

His parents married at Whitwell Parish Church of St. Lawrence on 5 April 1926, and John Thomas (J.T.) Edson (junior) was their first child. In June 1928 the Edson family suffered a sudden bereavement when 7-year-old John Vincent Edson, the young son of John Edson's namesake cousin John R Edson, died suddenly; a month later, John Thomas Edson himself also died in July 1928, leaving Eliza a 23-year-old widow with a six-month-old baby son. Eliza Edson remarried in 1946 when J.T. Edson was 18 years old.

For many decades, every UK town had its own small cinema, showing Saturday matinees and escapist-adventure fare, such as The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, and others. As a young son of a working widow, J.T. often went to the cinema whilst she worked, and he became obsessed with Escapist Adventure and Western serials shown from an early age; in the foreword and appendices of many of his later novels he explained how he often "rewrote" cowboy movies and the adventure serials that he had seen at the cinema. One thing that always intrigued him was the minutiae—how did the baddie's gun jam? What were the mechanics of cheating at cards? How did Westerners really dress and speak? His writing was helped to develop by a schoolteacher who encouraged him.

J.T. Edson joined the British Army at the age of 18 years in 1946. Edson served in the army for 12 years as a Dog Trainer.[2] Cooped up in barracks for long periods, he devoured books by the great escapist writers (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert McCraig, Nelson C. Nye and Edgar Wallace). He also sat through hours of movies starring John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Errol Flynn and his all-time favourite, Audie Murphy. His first appearance in print was "Hints On Self-Preservation when attacked by a War Dog" in the Osnabrück camp magazine Shufti in 1947. Acquiring a typewriter in the early 1950s and putting it to good use while posted to Hong Kong, by the time of his discharge he had written 10 Westerns, an early version of Bunduki and the first of the short detective-type stories starring Waco.

Edson decided to leave the Army on his marriage and as he and his wife began to raise their six children, he sought to turn his hobby of writing into an income to support his family. He won second prize (with Trail Boss) in the Western division of a literary competition run by Brown & Watson Ltd, which led to the publication of 46 novels with them, becoming a major source of revenue for the company. He sometimes needed additional income and also served as a postman, and the proprietor of a fish and chip shop. He branched out as a writer and wrote five series of short stories (Dan Hollick, Dog Handler) for the Victor boys' paper,[2] and wrote the box captions for comic strips, which instilled discipline and the ability to convey maximum information with minimum words.

His writing career forged ahead when he joined Corgi Books in the late '60s, which gave Edson exposure through a major publishing house, as well as the opportunity to branch out from Westerns into the Rockabye County, the science-fiction hero Bunduki [5] and other series.

Later life[edit]

Edson openly claimed, though rather tongue-in-cheek, that he wrote for the money.[2] In an article for Time magazine in February 1999, he declared that unlike such authors as Louis L'Amour, he had "no desire to have lived in the Wild West, and I've never even been on a horse. I've seen those things and they look highly dangerous at both ends and bloody uncomfortable in the middle."

This remoteness from the West placed Edson in company with the popular Western author Zane Grey, who was a middle-aged east coast dentist. Similarly, Western author George G. Gilman, real name Terry Harknett, was born and bred in Essex, England.

Edson paid scrupulous attention to historical detail and accuracy, while striving not to overburden his stories with the fruits of his research. Not including his individual novels such as Slaughter's Way and Is-A-Man, J. T. Edson wrote 9 principal series, covering the following eras of American Western history:

Event Timespan
Ole Devil 1835–1837
Civil War 1861–1865
Floating Outfit 1866 – early 1880s
Waco series late 1870s – late 1890s
Calamity Jane Late 1860s – c.1880
Waxahachie Smith 1880s – 1890s
Alvin Fog c.1918 – c. late 1920s
Rockabye County 1960s – 1970s
Bunduki 1960s – 1970s

His style[edit]

J T Edson delighted in using real-life and fictional characters as crossover "guest stars" in his works and often used the relatives/descendants of his characters to create spin-off series. He backs the existence of these guest stars with frequent references to "fictionist-genealogist" Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton family.

His first hero, Ole Devil, is the maternal uncle of his Civil War & Floating Outfit hero, Dusty Fog. Fog in turn is the first cousin of gunfighter John Wesley Hardin—supposedly Ole Devil's paternal nephew. Lon Ysabel's cousin is "Bad Bill" Longley. Alvin Fog was Dusty's grandson; Rockabye County hero Bradford Counter was Mark Counter's great-grandson, and Bunduki was Bradford Counter's cousin and another great-grandson of Mark Counter, his mater Dawn Drummond-Clayton being the great-granddaughter of Tarzan through their son, Jack Clayton, aka Korak the Killer. Alvin Fog shares his series with Edgar Wallace characters J G Reeder and the Three Just Men. A variety of real (Wyatt Earp) and fictional (Matt Dillon) characters pop up in every series.

The huge procession of characters from book to book ensured that the first few pages of an Edson book always ended up looking alike, with descriptions of a small, insignificant looking Dusty Fog, who suddenly appeared to become a giant when villains he faced down felt the full force of his personality, the tall and Greek-god handsome Mark Counter, the baby faced but highly dangerous, black dressed, rifle and bowie knife toting Ysabel Kid, and various other characters. Western critic Ray Merlock has lauded Edson for his characterisation of these three heroes.[2] His later novels moved all these descriptions, and their associated family histories, to lengthy appendices/footnotes at the back, to save regular readers from being bored by this repetition. Shrewdly, Edson also littered these appendices with the titles/references of other books* dealing with that character, which enticed/encouraged the reader to go and buy those as well, for example, Trail Boss, page 89, and Wanted! Belle Starr, page 136.

Edson's books avoided explicit sex and graphic violence; they also advocated right-wing political views.[2] Edson also avoiding having "losers" and anti-heroes as protagonists.[2] Merlock stated: "Edson's strength as a Western writer is that he loves his main characters...His villains are stereotyped, his plots usually familiar,but his emphasis on his three, rather pleasant leading characters is the basis for his understandable popularity".[2]

Female fight fetish[edit]

Almost all J. T. Edson books contained female fights. They are usually rough, well-described catfights between equally-tough women. For example, in "The Wildcats", we read:

Calamity's idea of fun was to ride in, find a saloon, locate its toughest female employee and pick a fight with her. If in doing this Calamity could also embroil the rest of the saloon in a general free-for-all it made her day and she enjoyed it to the full. (...) Like some men would ride out of their way to meet a fast gun and pick a fight with him, so Calamity Jane sought out, to try conclusions with, any tough woman she heard about. Calamity felt some pride in her toughness and the notoriety it brought her way. She laid claim to the same talents as legend had it Madam Bulldog showed, so what would be more natural but that Calamity would ride over to Tennyson and see who was the better woman.

This is recurrent fetish on many Edson's books. Here is a partial list:

- 'A Horse Called Mogollon' - Libby Shell, clad in Levi’s, fights Beatrice

- 'Calamity, Mark, and Belle' aka 'Texas Trio' (1989) - Calamity Jane vs Belle Starr; and saloon girls Jill vs Joy

- 'Diamonds, emeralds, cards and colts' - The whole book is basically an excuse to have a mud catfight.

- 'From Hide and Horn' - Dawn Sutherland vs Barbe de Martin.

- 'Hell City' - Belle Boyd had a long battle against a buxom bargirl called Emma.

- 'Hell in the Palo Duro' - Belle Boyd vs Emma Nene

- 'Old Moccasins on the Trail' - Kidnap victim Mavis vs gang girl Florencia

- 'Ranch War' - Two women start fighting in a corral, roll down a hiil, take turns using a whip, end up fighting topless on the edge of a cliff and fall into water, still fighting.

- 'Renegade' - Rebel spy Belle Boyd vs Yankee spy Eve Coniston.

- 'Slip gun' - Wil Jeffreys is the mayor and Lily Shivers is the saloonkeeper. Their rivalry goes back to childhood. They finally agree to fight topless. Lily locks the door and they have a sexy, long battle.

- 'The Bad Bunch' - Calamity Jane vs Tawny

- 'The Bull Whip Breed' - Calamity Jane vs savate expert Jacqueline.

- 'The Cow thieves' - Calamity Jane vs saloonkeeper Ella Watson. Calamity almost twenty minutes to subdue Ella, and she is on the verge of defeat.

- 'The Fortune Hunters' - Joan vs larger woman Marlene

- 'The Hide and Tallow Men' - Marlene vs Gianna

- 'The Law of the Gun' - Sallie the Goat vs Maggie Gallus, saloon brawl

- 'The Quest for Bowie’s Blade' - Belle Starr vs Belle Boyd, fight by the river

- 'The Quiet Town' - Arranged fistfight in Bearcat Annie’s saloon: Eeney Hoffman vs Olga Petrosky, fight between Eeney Hoffman and Bearcat Annie

- 'The South Will Rise Again' - Belle Boyd vs Baroness Virginie

- 'The Texan' - Saloon girls fight, Iris vs older woman Pauline

- 'The Town Tamers' - Wrestling match in a saloon between Taffy Davies and Fran Markie

- 'The Trouble Busters' - Buffalo Kate Kilgore vs Miss Freddie Woods. They are rival saloonkeepers. The confrontation builds up over several chapters and culminates in a showdown behind locked doors in Freddie's saloon. The saloon girls stopped the fight, so they go into Freddie's office, lock the door, pause for a drink, and then continue their battle.

- 'The Wildcats' - Calamity Jane pick a one-hour-long brawl against saloon owner Madame Bulldog only to enjoy discovering who is the better woman. Plus: Madame Bulldog teach Viola who is the new boss, and professional gamblers Poker Alice vs Madam Moustache fight about the best table to play poker.

- 'Trigger Master' - Two wrestling matches in a ring, described in a sexy manner.

- 'Troubled Range' - Salon brawl; An epic Cat Fight beyween Calamity Jane and Belle Starr. In the middle of it, the two combatants break off, stagger to the bar, down a drink, and then start waling on each other again. Then there's an outdoor fight between Tilda-Mae, a mountain girl, and Jaya, an oriental girl. The third fight is between Cattle Annie and Little Britches, which starts in a cabin and ends up out doors.

- 'Waco’s Debt' - Mary Anne Catlan vs Della Christine, outdoor fight


One of the features of J.T.Edson's writing is his willingness to write stories which conflict with previous books. Most of the "expansions" do not just add features to the original story but actually change the original story. Edson explains it thus: "When supplying us with the information from which we produce our books, one of the strictest rules imposed upon us by the present-day members of what we call the 'Hardin, Fog and Blaze' clan and the 'Counter' family is that we never under any circumstances disclose their true identities or their current whereabouts. Furthermore, we are instructed to always include sufficient inconsistencies to ensure that neither can happen inadvertently". JT would have us believe that people of the status of Ole Devil Hardin or Dusty Fog could have existed in the West without being recorded in formal history.

The most striking inconsistency surrounds Dusty Fog and Freddie Woods. Dusty and Freddie meet in The Trouble Busters (published 1965) when Dusty takes on as Town Marshal for a few weeks. They meet subsequently from time-to-time (e.g. Buffalo are Coming, The Fortune Hunters) when Dusty was in Kansas with trail herds etc. and become increasingly close, culminating in Dusty pondering marriage in Guns in the Night (last book in Floating Outfit series) at the end of which he decides to settle down and "send for Freddie". Notwithstanding these previously published books, it turns out in Decision for Dusty Fog (published in 1986) that Dusty and Freddie were actually married in Mulrooney when Dusty was marshal, a few weeks after they first met.

JT notes also Dusty's romantic links with Belle Boyd, Candy Carde and Emma Nene in various Floating Outfit novels and apologises in The Code of Dusty Fog for 'creating the misconception'. His inconsistencies were a challenge for his dedicated fans.


After being enormously prolific through the 1970s, culminating in the publication of JT's Hundredth in 1979, his style began to gradually change. His plots became simpler (e.g., Beguinage / Beguinage is Dead) and his previously thorough approach to detail became even more so. In many cases, a fight scene that would have lasted 10 seconds ran over many pages.

JT's political beliefs became more and more prominent in his writings, to summarise a few:

  • The American Civil War was all about the right to secede and had little to do with slavery;[citation needed]
  • Cowboys (Texans in particular) were routinely victimised* in Kansan trail end towns;[citation needed]* as told in Trail Boss, page 182, pp. 5
  • Anyone with "liberal" beliefs is likely to be intolerant of others, believe that they are superior beings, are usually idle and dirty, and (in his later books) are likely to be homosexual.[6]
  • Homosexuality is sexual deviance;[citation needed]
  • Punitive jail terms and capital punishment are mandatory for a strong society[citation needed]

Incredible detail and expression of his political beliefs simplified and slowed down his plots.[citation needed] There is a huge difference between the pace and complexity of the plots of Trail Boss (1963) and Diamonds, Emeralds, Cards and Colts (1986). To illustrate the point, he began revising, changing and expanding previously published short stories and publishing them as full novels (sometimes 2 novels):

  • Dusty Fog the School Teacher from Hard Riders became Master of Triggernometry;
  • Sam Ysabel's Son from The Texan became Old Moccasins on the Trail;
  • Part 1 – The Setup from Sagebrush Sleuth became Waco's Badge;
  • Part 1 – The Futility of War from Fastest Gun in Texas became A Matter of Honour;
  • Part 1 – The Half-Breed from The Half-Breed became White Indians;
  • Part 2 – The Quartet from The Half-Breed became Texas Kidnappers;
  • Part 1 – Better than Calamity from The Wildcats expanded into 2 books – The Hide and Horn Saloon and Cut One, They All Bleed;
  • Part 1 – The Bounty on Belle Starr's Scalp from Troubled Range was expanded into Calamity, Mark and Belle.

Despite selling over 27 million books globally and producing over 100 books, his books fell out of favour with UK publishers and from the 1990s were only published in the USA.


Towards the 1990s as his health began to fail, as well as the expansions, he primarily wrote "fill in the gaps" books or anthologies of short stories about characters. The last J T Edson book available in the UK, Mark Counter's Kin, was an anthology. However, he also wrote and published the first three in a quartet of new books designed to fill in what happened to Dusty Fog, Mark Counter and Lon Ysabel as they made their way home to the OD Connected after the events of the Floating Outfit title Return to Backsight (which Edson used as a springboard to launch his Waco series): Wedge Goes To Arizona, Arizona Range War and Arizona Gun Law are only available via American bookstores, as is his long-promised "Belle Boyd"-centric novel, Mississippi Raider (also a new work). The final book in the quartet, Arizona Takeover, was apparently not published. Whether it was completely unwritten or prepared in manuscript form is unknown.

He eventually decided to semi-retire by 1999 but couldn't stop writing altogether; he lived near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and would often come up with plots at his local Public House. However, by 2005, his failing health forced him to retire altogether from writing, frustrating him immensely as he had been unable to complete the five long-awaited tie-up titles for his respective series, including, unfortunately, the long awaited Miz Freddie of Kansas which was to have been an anthology of supposed anecdotes and reminiscences being told directly to the reader by Freddie Fog née Woods, as an aged octogenarian, the most anticipated story being how Dusty, Mark, and Lon, his three primary protagonists, were killed fighting the Communist Mau Mau terrorists in Kenya in 1911. However, many years of active, manual work involving a lot of movement, such as postman and café owner, had caused him severe joint problems, as had the cumulative effect of long hours hunched over a heavy old manual typewriter in cold, draughty barracks, and a yo-yo weight problem caused by an underlying medical condition.

His American publishers Dell and later Harper Collins began to periodically reissue his books, causing a surge of new interest, though their tendency to change the books' original titles causes problems for eager collectors who should ensure that they are getting one of the few new books and not a republished old one under a new name. Title changes were as follows:

  • .44 Calibre Man is now Forty-Four Caliber Man (1980);
  • Beguinage became The Texas Assassin (1986);
  • Master of Triggernometry became The Trigger Master (1986);
  • You're in Command Now, Mr Fog is now Rebel Vengeance (1987);
  • Diamonds, Emeralds, Cards & Colts became simply Cards and Colts (1988);
  • Back to the Bloody Border is now Renegade (1989);
  • Calamity, Mark and Belle became Texas Trio (1989);
  • Beguinage is Dead ! became The Lone Star Killers (1990) and Texas Killers (2004);
  • Set A-Foot is now The Nighthawk (1990);
  • You're a Texas Ranger, Alvin Fog is now Alvin Fog, Texas Ranger (1991);
  • Set Texas Back on her Feet is now Viridian's Trail (1992);
  • Get Urrea! is now Texas Fury (1993);
  • Is-A-Man became Texas Warrior (1997);
  • Wanted! Belle Starr became Oklahoma Outlaw (1997);
  • The Cow Thieves became Running Irons (2005);
  • Calamity Spells Trouble is now The Road To Ratchet Creek (2005);
  • White Stallion, Red Mare was republished as Ranch War (2006).

As well as the most eagerly awaited of J T Edson's new works by his fans, the previously mentioned Miz Freddie of Kansas, an anthology of anecdotes related by the octogenarian widow of Dusty Fog in which, so Edson promised, would be revealed details of how Dusty, Mark and Lon were killed together in Kenya, Africa in 1911, the next most awaited book would have been Arizona Takeover the fourth and final novel in a quartet of sub-titles within the main Floating Outfit series.

J T Edson had had 137 books published and had sold over 27 million copies globally. Unfortunately, it is not currently known whether he has finished any of the above-mentioned new books, or whether sufficient of these exists in manuscript form to be completed and/or published. J T Edson has at least one complete, unpublished novel, Amazons of Zillikian, which was #5 in the Bunduki series, but which remained unpublished due to his disillusion with the intransigence of the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, as mentioned by Laurence Dunn in his online article.[7]

Western author and journalist Jean Henry-Mead did a brief online interview with J T Edson for her 2002 book Maverick Writers, which can be found at www.jeanhenrymead.com. A retrospective of J T Edson's literary career to date and his books can be found in the article, The Inkslinger, by C. D. Stewart.


For many years from the 1950s – 1970s J T Edson's books were hugely popular. However, in the 1980s he increasingly clashed with UK publishers over his books' treatment and portrayal of racial politics and issues in the post-Civil War Southern States.[citation needed] Perhaps because of his experiences in the British Army, Edson developed a deep disapproval of Liberal and Liberal-Radical politics and was avowedly Right of Centre in his political ideology.

J T Edson's treatment of racial politics and issues in the post-Civil War South dealt with potentially controversial issues. His novel, The Hooded Riders, portrayed a Ku Klux Klan like organization as a heroic resistance group.[1] His heroes, Dusty Fog and Mark Counter, are responsible for founding this group. The same novel also portrays the outlaw and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin as a wrongly accused hero, and his killing of a black man is presented as self-defence. [8] The novel also refers to Reconstruction as a "period of stupidity and bigotry" directed against white Southerners.[9] In other novels, Edson refers to black slaves in the South who came to the defense of their masters against Northerners.


  1. ^ a b "JT Edson - obituary". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Ray Merlock,"Edson, J(ohn) T(homas)" in Twentieth Century Western Writers, edited by Geoff Sadler. Chicago and London, St. James Press, 1991, ISBN 0-912289-98-8 ,p.203-5
  3. ^ "UK census records & electoral rolls". Ancestry.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  4. ^ "Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records at". Ancestry.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  5. ^ Bradley Mengel, Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction: An Encyclopedia from Able Team to Z-Comm. McFarland, 2009 (p.26-7).ISBN 0786441658 .
  6. ^ Some commentators regarded Edson's depiction of liberals as straw men; see [1]
  7. ^ "ERBmania! - Dunn/Bunduki". Erblist.com. 1999-04-30. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  8. ^ J.T. Edson,The Hooded Riders, London : Hale, 1981, (reprint of 1968 edition), ISBN 0-7091-8188-4. p. 156-7
  9. ^ The Hooded Riders, p. 158.