Friday, September 11, 2009


The man who turned western stories into literature has died. Elmer Kelton, died at 83, Aug. 22, 2009. For more than 50 years the American west, and particularly Texas was portrayed in his 40 novels, short stories and articles.

He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, where his father, R.W. "Buck" Kelton worked for 36 years. His college education was interrupted a couple of years by World War II (there he met his bride Ann of Austria), but he earned a University of Texas degree in journalism in 1948.

His life was writing. He was writer and editor for 15 years for the San Angelo Standard-Times (before it was called that) and five years as editor of Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine. He was associate editor of Livestock Weekly 22 years. And with all that work, he produced so many good books that he was seven times honored with the Silver Spur award for western writing.

Four of his books won the Western Heritage Award. They were: "The Time It Never Rained," "The Good Old Boys," "The Man Who Rode Midnight," and the captions and text for "The Art of Howard Terpning."

The one time I had the opportunity to visit with him, he told me about a request from Sweden or Norway for some of his short stories about the American West. He sent them and as far as he knew they were translated and published.

It was some years later that he wrote them, wondering if they wanted some more for translation. They were very gracious, but told Mr. Kelton, his stories were just not bloody enough.

No, he wrote about the real west and the real men we call cowboys. He was not into creating a Gary Cooper or John Wayne type of story.

Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America's most distinguished writers ("Memory of Fire," "Open Veins of Latin America," and "Mirrors.") wrote about the epic of the Wild West being "the invention of imigrants from Eastern Europe with a keen eye for business." Men like the four Warner brothers, Louis B. Mayer and Adolph Zukor cooked up the most "successful universal myth of the twentieth century."

I am sure that Elmer Kelton would agree with that. His stories told of real ranches and human cowboys and their problems with family, weather and making a living. One real cowboy, Tommy Lee Jones, brought one of Kelton's books to the screen, "The Good Old Boys."

Another honor by his equal with a story, Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities at Midwestern State University granted him a lifetime Achievement award. He was "doctored" twice, once by Hardin-Simmons University and the other by Texas Tech

All those good things do not count for much until you see that this man of letters and a real rancher and cowboy, was also a real person with everybody. He looked down on no one and was the same humorous, engaging self with peasant or prince, peon or us below-average writers. FOR HIS BOOKS:

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