Reading the West 8-31-09
August 31, 2009
Over the many years that I have written this column, I have often included material about the work of Elmer Kelton. And now I must devote this space to a final tribute, for Elmer died on Saturday, August 22, 2009, in San Angelo, Texas. He had suffered and recovered from pneumonia, but was active until the night before he died.
His biographer and editor/publisher, Judy Alter, told me on Friday evening, August 21, he visited with family and friends, outlining for them the next book he intended to write. He did not awake the next morning.
That is good, and the way I would expect the man who was unquestionably the greatest Western Writer of the past century, to carry on. For Elmer the story is what mattered, the characters he could create and the situations in which they found themselves.
Over the course of his career, which included writing for pulp magazines, writing novels and nonfiction books, writing for and editing Texas livestock publications, he maintained a solid and steady output. He brought us such characters as Hewey Calloway in “The Good Old Boys,” a book that became a popular movie starring Tommy Lee Jones. He wrote of drought, and cowboys, of ranchers and Texas rangers. With wife Anni, he wrote of his own life in “Sandhills Boy” sharing his fear of going to war, his life in West Texas, and meeting the love of his life in Austria.
Elmer Stephen Kelton, was born April 29, 1926, at Horse Camp in Andrews County, Texas to Mr. and Mrs. R.W. “Buck” Kelton. He grew up on the McElroy Ranch in Upton and Crane counties in West Texas. He completed his education at the University of Texas after serving in Europe during World War II.
Kelton married Anna Lipp of Ebensee, Austria, in 1947 and began a career in agriculture journalism at the San Angelo Standard-Times in 1949. He became editor of the Sheep and Goat Raiser magazine in 1963 and associate editor of Livestock Weekly in 1968, retiring in 1990.
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Kelton maintained a parallel career as a freelance writer, beginning with short stories in the post-war pulp magazine trade, progressing to novels, nonfiction books and countless magazine articles. In all, he wrote more than 40 books, including “The Time it Never Rained,” “The Wolf and the Buffalo,” “The Day the Cowboys Quit,” and “The Good Old Boys,” which became a Turner Network movie directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones.
Elmer was named the number-one Western writer of all time by the Western Writers of America in 1995 and he maintained that position the remainder of his life. The WWA voted him seven Spur awards for best Western novel of the year and the career Saddleman Award, and he received four Western Heritage Wrangler awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Elmer recently completed his last book, “Texas Standoff,” due out next year. Another novel, “Other Men’s Horses,” will be released this fall.