In 2008, I almost met Elmer Kelton, a highly respected western author and member of the Western Writers Association (WWA). Women Writing the West (WWW) grew from WWA, and many of us long-time members belong to both groups. While attending the 2008 WWW conference in San Antonio, Texas, I drove 30 miles to the small town of Boerne, which I had visited in the past. I stopped by the bookstore and learned that Elmer Kelton would appear there the following day, on Saturday.
Bad luck. My roster was full on Saturday, keeping me busy at the WWW writers’ conference. However, I was able to return to Boerne on Sunday with a couple of author friends. We were thrilled when the bookstore owner invited us to sign a wooden tabletop autographed by Kelton the previous day. It was a near miss.
Ten months later, Elmer Kelton passed away. I regretted that I was unable to shake his hand in admiration that day in Texas. Instead, he would have been pleased if I read a couple of his award-winning westerns, of which there are many. So I have. His books leave the legacy of a great storyteller and writer, doing his part to preserve the history and culture of the American cowboy.
Recently, I read Kelton’s Spur Award Winner, The Day the Cowboy’s Quit, published in 1971. The story is about a strike which erupts from a skirmish over a cow brand, rocking the lives of the cowboys, ranch owners, and community. The lively storyline confronts the ethics of a situation with no easy solution. In addition, it contains fascinating details about cattle drives, branding, and the relationship between large ranches and independent outfits scrambling to exist.
Wherever western writers gather, the topic of identifying the real west is often close to the surface. Consequently, a well-researched western book, written by a knowledgeable author such as Elmer Kelton, not only preserves the history and culture of the American West, but also provides a role model for other authors, and great reading material for western book enthusiasts.
Joyce B. Lohse, 5 July 2018
“A little honest swearin’ wipeth away anger and bringeth peace to the soul.”
— Elmer Kelton, “Lone Star Rising: The Texas Rangers Trilogy”, p. 104, Macmillan 2007.