Will James was born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault on June 6, 1892, in Quebec. He was raised in Montreal. His family was very poor. At age 15 he renamed himself, made himself a cowboy, and went on the road, ending up in Montana.

In 1920 he married a Reno girl, Mice Conradt (!), who encouraged his writing and illustration. That year, Sunset magazine published some of the first Will James illustrations.

Smoky, the Cowhorse, a kids' book, was a gigantic hit. It won the Newbery and was made into THREE separate bigtime Hollywood films in the 20s. At the At the height of James's success, he and his wife would enter New York nightclubs and bands would strike up "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," in honor of his book. His royalties bought him the Rocking R ranch, near Billings, Montana.

Some say the ranch is what ruined James - to keep the ranch going, James had to maintain a murderous pace of selling drawings and stories. He began to drink. In 1930 he published Lone Cowboy, his autobiography. It told of his life as an orphan raised by a Montana fur trapper. Reportedly a great book. And completely untrue. He knew his image would begin to unravel as people realized he's passed off lies as truth.

I don't know exactly what happened - can't find details anywhere. I do know he lost the ranch, and it broke his heart. But he wrote twenty-four immensely popular books, each of which he illustrated himself. They were all about the West, about cowboys, about horses. His books were imaginative and fast-paced and easy to read, and America loved them. He made people want to move. They called him "the Pied Piper of the West."

Will James died in 1942, at the age of fifty.


All in the Day's Riding


Cow Country

Cowboys North and South

The Drifting Cowboy

Home Ranch

Lone Cowboy: My Life Story


Smoky, the Cowhorse   (1927 Newbery Award)

Sun Up: Tales of the Cow Camps

Three Mustangeers

Uncle Bill: A Tale of Two Kids and a Cowboy

Will James' Book Of Cowboy Stories

Young Cowboy

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