Close up of Nevada Writers Hall of Fame medal

Will James

1991 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Inductee


Will James was born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault in St. Nazaire de Acton, Quebec, Canada. He began working as a cowboy as a teenager. In 1910, he entered the United States with a new name: William Roderick James. By 1914, he was working in Nevada, where he was arrested for rustling cattle. He served his sentence from 1915-16 at the Nevada State Prison at Carson City, taking care of the facility's horses. He then worked as a stunt man in western movies and served in the U. S. Army from 1918-19. He was a horse wrangler for the First Annual Nevada Round-Up in Reno in July 1919. He married Alice Conradt, a Reno native, on July 7, 1920.

His western drawings and short stories began to appear in national magazines, including Red Book, Saturday Evening Post, and Scribner's Magazine. The Drifting Cowboy, a collection of magazine stories, settled him as a professional writer and enabled him to buy a small ranch on Franktown Road in Washoe Valley, Nevada, where he and his wife lived from 1923-1927. James is best known for the beloved Smoky, The Cow Horse, which won the coveted Newberry Medal for children's literature in 1927 and has been made into several movies. James narrated the 1933 film. The novel won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, given by the University of Wisconsin, in 1965. His invented autobiography, Lone Cowboy, was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and bestseller. Gregory Peck starred in the 1971 motion picture adaptation, Shoot Out. The largest public collection of James' writings, drawings, paintings and personal effects is at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana, where James had a ranch.