Will James (1892-1942)

Very well-known Canadian artist and author. Considered by many the all-time best writer of cowboy stories. Was born Joseph Ernest DuFault in Quebec in 1892. He left home at an early age and travelled to America where he became a cowboy (and sometime cattle rustler!) and changed his name to Will Roderick James. His life amongst horses and cattle was to form the basis of many of his subsequent literary works.

James had been a talented artist from an early age and when his very hard life as a cowboy began to pall, he turned instead to a career as artist and author. He wrote 24 self-illustrated books which were all centred around the lives of cowboys and cowhorses, both fiction and non-fiction. The most famous of his novels was
Smoky the Cow Horse which was awarded the Newbery medal and also made into a number of films. Smoky was first published in 1926, making it one of the earliest American horse stories. Smoky was based on a real horse and it is clear from his narrative that James believed in a gentler form of training a horse than the traditional cowboy breaking of spirit.

It is quite hard to pick those of the author's books which were more horse stories than general cowboy tales, as horses and cowboys and are so closely entwined, but I have tried to choose those in which a horse or horses figured centrally in the plot. For those of you who are interested in cowboys and the cowboy lifestyle, please visit the bibliographical link on the right which lists all his works.

Apart from
Smoky, quite a few of his other books were also made into popular films, including his semi-fictionalised auto-biography, Lone Cowboy.

Horse & Pony Books:

SMOKY THE COW HORSE
aka SMOKY
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS [USA] 1926
FIRST UK EDITION SCRIBNERS 1926
ILLUSTRATED BY THE AUTHOR
Reprinted many many times in both hardback and paperback in both the USA and UK. These included editions by Grosset & Dumlop, Scholastic, Puffin and movie tie-in editions.
Some later editions were just entitled
Smoky
Latest UK edition is the Dodo Press 2008 paperback.
SUMMARY: Smoky the horse knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can't imagine anything else. But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs. Smoky can't beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that's even more valuable?

THE DARK HORSE
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS 1939
ILLUSTRATED BY AUTHOR
Reprinted in hardback by Grosset and Dunlop also in 1939
More recently reprinted by Mountain Press in 2003
Still in print
SUMMARY: Two reject colts become friends and overcome their bad starts in life. Colonel is a sent away from his home as his colour does not reflect his fine racing lineage. Churro is a an orphaned wild horse rescued from starvation by a cowboy. They meet at the ranch where they both end up and form a close bond.

HORSES I'VE KNOWN
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS 1940
ILLUSTRATED BY AUTHOR
Reprinted in hardback by World a few times in the 1940s
Reprinted by Mountain Press in paperback in 2004 and 2009
Still in print
SUMMARY: Collection of short horse stories by the author. One of the stories is linked to the novel
Smoky the Cow Horse

SAND
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS 1929
ILLUSTRATED BY AUTHOR
Reprinted in hardback by Grosset and Dunlop and Burt also in 1929
Reprinted in hardback by original publishers
Reprinted in hardback by Sun Dial Press in 1941
More recently reprinted by Mountain Press in both hardback and paperback: latest edition paperback 2009
Still in print
SUMMARY: A  feckless young city man decides to learn to become a cowboy in order to give meaning to his life and to catch the beautiful wild black stallion which all the cowboys coveted.

SCORPION: A GOOD BAD HORSE
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS 1936
ILLUSTRATED BY AUTHOR
Reprinted in hardback by Grosset and Dunlop also in 1936
Reprinted by University of Nebraska Press in paperback in 1975
Reprinted by Mountain Press in paperback in 2001
Still in print
SUMMARY: An unusual western-type horse story. Pete is breaking in his favourite horse Scorpion when an old friend Tim appears on the run from a train robbery. Pete gives Tim Scorpio to escape on. On his travels Tim finds the horse, although usually willing, is occaisionally extremely badly behaved. The truth of the matter is that Scorpion only behaves like that when Tim is about to make a stupid decision. Can the horse keep his new master on the straight and narrow and out of trouble?

BIG-ENOUGH
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS 1931
ILLUSTRATED BY AUTHOR
Reprinted in hardback by World a number of times
Also reprinted by the original publisher
Reprinted by Mountain Press in paperback in 2007
Still in print in the USA
SUMMARY: Cowboy-type horse story. A young boy and a horse are born on the same day and grow up together. Although his parents don't want him to become a cowboy, Billy has his heart set on it. One day he takes his horse Big Enough and the two set off to fulfil his dreams.

Collector's info:
All of these are easy to find in America, although price varies depending on edition. A reading copy will be cheap. Some of the earlier editions are more expensive. All the titles are also still in print in the USA, as of 2015, in the Mountain Press edition.
In the UK,
Smoky is easy to find second-hand and there is a new copy in print also. All of them except Big Enough are in print  in the UK and can be ordered from Amazon, etc. Second hand copies are harder to find and you may have to buy from the USA.

Short stories in other books & collections:

CHAPO THE FAKER
in C. W. ANDERSON'S FAVOURITE HORSE STORIES
Edited by C. W. Anderson
FIRST EDITION DUTTON [USA] 1967
ILLUSTRATED BY C W ANDERSON
Reprinted in hardback by original publishers.
SUMMARY OF STORY: A wily cowhorse tries to get the better of its rider.

You can find more about this book on the American Short Stories web page

Collector's info:
Easy to find in the USA, quite hard to find elsewhere.

Books about the author:

LONE COWBOY: MY LIFE STORY
FIRST EDITION SCRIBNERS [USA] 1930)
ILLUSTRATED BY THE AUTHOR
Reprinted in hardback by original publisher a few times
Reprinted in paperback by University of Nebraska Press
Reprinted in paperback by Mountain Press
Dodo Press UK paperback edition (print on demand)
SUMMARY: Autobiography. This is a fictionalised account of the author's life so some of the events may have to be taken with a pinch of salt!

Collector's info:
Easy to find in the USA, where there is an edition in print at the moment. It can be found in the UK, although there may not be many copies available. There is a print on demand edition available via Abebooks.co.uk