Will James (artist)

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Will James
Born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault
(1892-06-06)June 6, 1892
Saint-Nazaire-d'Acton, Quebec, Canada
Died September 3, 1942(1942-09-03) (aged 50)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation Novelist, children's writer, artist
Nationality American
Period 1922–1951?
Genre Western
Notable works
Notable awards Newbery Medal
Spouse Alice Conradt

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[edit]

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 near the new French-Saskatchewan settlement of Val Marie in 1910 and learned to be a western cowboy. He was taught wrangling by local cowboy Pierre Beaupre and the two built separate homesteads along the Frenchman River in southwest Saskatchewan. James's property later became part of the Walt Larson ranch which has been folded into the new Grasslands National Park. James's original homestead shack is still there. 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. According to cowboy and folksinger Ian Tyson, James traveled to San Francisco to sell sketches and began working as a stuntman in western movies there.[4] Soon he was in the U. S. Army, serving from 1918-1919. He was a horse wrangler for the First Annual Nevada Round-Up in Reno in July 1919. He met and married Alice Conradt, sister of Fred Conradt, his rodeo business partner, while 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, shortly before his death and the last line he wrote was "The cowboy will never die." In all, he wrote and illustrated 23 books, 5 of which were made into feature films.

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." He 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.

In 1988, the Canadian National Film Board sponsored an 83-minute biography, Alias Will James, which commemorates the French Canadian's life and features his art and storycraft.[4] Folk singer Ian Tyson wrote "The Man They Called Will James" for the score and it became a minor hit for Tyson.

James was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1991,[1] and into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1992, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth.[5]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Cowboys North and South (short stories, 1924)
  • Drifting Cowboy (short stories, 1925)
  • Smoky the Cowhorse (Newberry novel, 1926)
  • Cow Country (short stories, 1927)
  • Sand (novel, 1929)
  • Lone Cowboy (1930)
  • Sun-Up: Tales of the Cow Camps (reprints & 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. ^ a b c d "Will James: Nevada Writers Hall of Fame 1991". Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. University of Nevada, Reno. Retrieved April 20, 2016. 
  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. ^ a b http://www.nfb.ca/film/alias_will_james/
  5. ^ "National Cowboy Museum". National Cowboy Museum. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Arthur Bowie Chrisman
Newbery Medal winner
Succeeded by
Dhan Gopal Mukerji