James Oliver Curwood

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E. B. Johnson, James Oliver Curwood (second from left), Harry O. Schwalbe, and David Hartford in 1920

James Oliver "Jim" Curwood (June 12, 1878 – August 13, 1927) was an American action-adventure writer and conservationist. His books were often based on adventures set in the Yukon or Alaska and ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States in the early 1920s, according to Publishers Weekly. At least eighteen motion pictures have been based on or directly inspired by his novels and short stories; one was produced in three versions from 1919 to 1953. At the time of his death, Curwood was the highest paid (per word) author in the world.[1]

Curwood Castle

He built Curwood Castle as his residence in his hometown of Owosso, Michigan, and used one turret as his writing studio. The mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now operated as a museum. The city commemorates him with an annual Curwood Festival.

Biography and career[edit]

The Mouse (short story, 33 min.)

Curwood was born in Owosso, Michigan, the youngest of four children.[2] Attending local schools, Curwood left high school before graduation. He passed the entrance exam to the University of Michigan and was allowed to enroll in the English department, where he studied journalism.

After two years, Curwood quit college to become a reporter, moving to Detroit for work. In 1900, he sold his first story, while working for the Detroit News-Tribune. By 1909 he had saved enough money to travel to the Canadian northwest, a trip that inspired his wilderness adventure stories. Because his novels sold well, Curwood could afford to return to Owosso and live there. He traveled to the Yukon and Alaska for several months each year for more inspiration. He wrote more than thirty adventure books.

By 1922, Curwood had become very wealthy from the success of his writing. He fulfilled a childhood fantasy by building Curwood Castle in Owosso. Constructed in the style of an 18th-century French chateau, the estate overlooks the Shiawassee River. In one of the homes' two large turrets, Curwood set up his writing studio. He also owned a camp in a remote area in Baraga County, Michigan, near the Huron Mountains, as well as a cabin in Roscommon, Michigan.

Title page of The Grizzly King, one of James Curwood's best-known novels

Curwood was an avid hunter in his youth; however, as he grew older, he became an advocate of environmentalism. He was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission in 1927.[3] The change in his attitude toward wildlife is expressed in a quote from The Grizzly King: "The greatest thrill is not to kill but to let live."

In 1927, while on a fishing trip in Florida, Curwood was bitten on the thigh by what was believed to have been a spider, and he had an immediate allergic reaction. Health problems related to the bite escalated over the next few months as an infection developed. He died in Owosso at the age of 49, and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery there in a family plot.

Literary and film legacy[edit]

Curwood's adventure writing followed in the tradition of Jack London. Curwood set many of his works in the wilds of the Great Northwest and often used animals as lead characters (Kazan; Baree, Son of Kazan, The Grizzly King, and Nomads of the North). Many of Curwood's adventure novels also feature romance as primary or secondary plot consideration. This approach gave his work broad commercial appeal; his novels ranked on several best-seller lists in the early 1920s. His most successful work was his 1920 novel, The River's End. The book sold more than 100,000 copies and was the fourth best-selling title of the year in the United States, according to Publishers Weekly.[citation needed]

Curwood's short stories and other pieces were published in various literary and popular magazines throughout his career. His bibliography includes more than 200 such articles, short stories, and serializations. His work was also published in Canada and the United Kingdom. Some of his books were translated into French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and Polish, and published in those respective countries.

Curwood's final novel, Green Timber, was nearly finished at the time of his death. It was completed by Dorothea A. Bryant and published in 1930.


At least eighteen movies have been based on or inspired by Curwood's novels and short stories. Curwood's story "Wapi the Walrus" was adapted for film three times. The first was as Back to God's Country (1919), starring Nell Shipman as a brave and adventurous woman in the wilds of the North.[4] Another version by the same title was released in 1927, and again by this title in 1953.[5]

A young John Wayne and Noah Beery Jr. starred in the 1934 film The Trail Beyond, based on Curwood's novel The Wolf Hunters. Filmmakers produced a film series featuring Kirby Grant as Mountie Corporal Rod Webb, assisted by his dog Chinook; they made a total of ten films.

In the late 20th century, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud adapted Curwood's 1916 novel The Grizzly King as the film The Bear (1988). The film's success prompted a revival of interest in Curwood's books.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Curwood drawn by James Montgomery Flagg.
  • His writing studio, Curwood Castle, which he commissioned in a French chateau style, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is preserved and operated as a historic house museum.
  • The city of Owosso holds an annual Curwood Festival during the first full weekend in June, to commemorate him and celebrate the city's heritage.
  • A mountain in L'Anse Township, Michigan was named as Mount Curwood in his honor.
  • The L'Anse Township Park was renamed as Curwood Park.

List of his works[edit]

  • 1907-
    • "Captain Kidd of the Underground" [6]
  • 1908 –
  • 1909 –
    • The Great Lakes
    • The Gold Hunters. Polish writer Halina Borowikowa (using the pen name of Jerzy Marlicz), published a 1932 novel The Adventure Hunters that "completed" the action of this novel.[7]
  • 1910 – The Danger Trail
  • 1911 –
    • The Honor of the Big Snows
    • Steele of the Royal Mounted
  • 1912 – The Flower of the North
  • 1913 – Isobel: A Romance of the Northern Trail or Icebound Hearts
  • 1914 – Kazan
  • 1915 – God's Country and the Woman
  • 1916 –
  • 1917 – Baree, Son of Kazan
  • 1918 –
    • The Courage of Marge O'Doone
    • Jacqueline
  • 1919 –
  • 1920 –
    • Back to God's Country and Other Stories (Featuring the story "Wapi the Walrus", here renamed Back to God's Country, following the release of the adapted 1919 film of the same title)
    • The Valley of Silent Men
  • 1921 –
    • God's Country – The Trail to Happiness
    • The Golden Snare
    • The Flaming Forest
  • 1922 – The Country Beyond
  • 1923 – The Alaskan
  • 1924 – A Gentleman of Courage
  • 1925 – The Ancient Highway
  • 1926 –
  • 1928 – The Plains of Abraham
    • The Glory of Living
  • 1929 – The Crippled Lady of Peribonka
  • 1930 –
    • Green Timber
    • Son of the Forests
  • 1931 – Falkner of the Inland Seas



  1. ^ Eldridge, p. 2
  2. ^ Eldridge, p. 1
  3. ^ "James Oliver Curwood". Newmarket Press. 2003. Archived from the original on January 4, 2003.
  4. ^ Gittings, Christoper E. (2002). Canadian National Cinema: Ideology, Difference and Representation. New York: Routledge. pp. 21–32. ISBN 0-415-14281-4. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  5. ^ "Back to God's Country (1919): Notes". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  6. ^ (June 1907: Cosmopolitan Magazine)
  7. ^ "7 Writers Banned by Communist Poland’s Censorship". Culture.pl
  8. ^ "James Curwood Films". www.sdl.lib.mi.us.


  • Eldridge, Judith A. James Oliver Curwood: God's Country and the Man. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993.
  • "James Oliver Curwood". Shiawassee County, Michigan History. Retrieved on February 7, 2012.

External links[edit]