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James Oliver Curwood

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

James Oliver 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 Hudson Bay area, the Yukon or Alaska and ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States in the early and mid 1920s, according to Publishers Weekly. At least one hundred and eighty 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 a place to greet guests and as a writing studio in his hometown of Owosso, Michigan. The castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now operated by the city as a museum. The city commemorates him with an annual Curwood Festival.

Biography and career

The Mouse (short story, 33 min.)

Curwood was born in Owosso, Michigan, the youngest of four children. His great-grandmother was Mohawk and this influenced his later books which often feature First Nations characters and storylines. [2][3] 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 1898, he sold his first story while attending the University of Michigan. In 1907 he was hired by the Canadian government to travel to the northern reaches of Canada to write and publish accounts of his travels to encourage tourism, his trips in Canada inspired his wilderness adventure stories. For many years he traveled to the Hudson Bay area, the Yukon and Alaska for several months each year for more inspiration. He wrote and published twenty-eight adventure/nature novels, two collections of short stories, one non-fiction volume (The Great Lakes), a volume of introspection (God's Country: The Trail to Happiness), and an autobiography, (The Glory of Living).

By 1922, Curwood had become very wealthy from the success of his writing. After a tour of Europe with his family where he toured old European castles, he came home and built his own, Curwood Castle in Owosso, Michigan. Constructed in the style of an 18th-century French chateau, the castle is set on the Shiawassee River near downtown Owosso. In one of the castles two large turrets, Curwood set up his writing studio. He also owned a lodge on the Ausable River near Roscommon, Michigan that he used as a retreat for rest and relaxation from his rigorous writing career.

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 conservation and environmentalism. He was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission in 1927.[4] 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."

Curwood's daughter, Carlotta Curwood Tate, documented in an account in the Curwood Collector that in 1927, while on a fishing trip in Florida, Curwood was bitten or stung through hip waders by something, source unknown. 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


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 many best-seller lists in the early and mid 1920s. One of his most successful books was his 1919 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.[5]

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, Czech and Polish, and published in those respective countries.



Over one hundred and eighty 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.[6] Another version by the same title was released in 1927, and again by this title in 1953.[7]

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

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

  • 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.[8]
  • 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 or "Kazan, The Wolf-Dog"
  • 1915 – God's Country and the Woman
  • 1916 –
  • 1917 – Baree, Son of Kazan
  • 1918 – The Courage of Marge O'Doone published as "The Girl Beyond the Trail" in the UK.
  • 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
    • "Swift Lightning" (First published in England in 1920, not published in America until 1926).
  • 1921 –
    • God's Country – The Trail to Happiness
    • The Flaming Forest
  • 1922 – The Country Beyond
  • 1923 – The Alaskan, or "The Last Frontier"
  • 1924 – A Gentleman of Courage
  • 1925 – The Ancient Highway
  • 1926 –
    • The Black Hunter
  • 1928 – The Plains of Abraham
    • The Glory of Living (Curwood's Autobiography as he wrote it, only published in England until a limited edition was published in America in 1983)
  • 1929 – The Crippled Lady of Peribonka
  • 1930 –
    • Green Timber
    • Son of the Forests (Heavily edited autobiography)
  • 1931 – Falkner of the Inland Seas




  1. ^ Eldridge, p. 2
  2. ^ Curwood, James Oliver (November 4, 1925). The Black Hunter (1st ed.). Toronto, Ontario Canada: The Copp Clark Co. Limited. pp. Intro.
  3. ^ Eldridge, p. 1
  4. ^ "James Oliver Curwood". Newmarket Press. 2003. Archived from the original on January 4, 2003.
  5. ^ The Publishers Weekly. F. Leypoldt. 1921. p. 281.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Back to God's Country (1919): Notes". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  8. ^ "7 Polish Writers Banned by Censorship Under the Communist Regime". Culture.pl.
  9. ^ "James Curwood Films". www.sdl.lib.mi.us. Archived from the original on 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2019-03-05.


  • 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.