Western Writer Profile: Elmer Kelton

elmer kelton

Name: Elmer Kelton (1926-2009)

Pseudonyms: Tom Early; Alex Hawk; Lee McElroy

Notable Works: 

The Time It Never Rained, The Day the Cowboys Quit, The Wolf and the Buffalo, The Good Old Boys, and The Man Who Rode Midnight.



  • Hot Iron (1956)
  • Barbed Wire (1957)
  • Buffalo Wagons (1957)
  • Shadow of a Star (1959)
  • Texas Rifles (1960)
  • Donovan (1961)
  • Bitter Trail (1962)
  • Pecos Crossing (Horsehead Crossing) (1963)
  • Massacre at Goliad (1965)
  • Llano River (1966)
  • After the Bugles (1967)
  • Captain’s Rangers (1968)
  • Hanging Judge (1969)
  • Shotgun (1969) Originally published as Shotgun Settlement under pseudonym Alex Hawk
    Bowie’s Mine (1971)
  • The Day the Cowboys Quit (1971)
  • Wagontongue (1972)
  • The Time it Never Rained (1973)
  • Manhunters (1974)
  • Joe Pepper (1975)
  • Long Way To Texas (1976)
  • The Good Old Boys (1978) HEWEY CALLOWAY
  • Eyes of the Hawk (1981)
  • The Wolf and the Buffalo (1980)
  • Stand Proud (1984)
  • Dark Thicket (1985)
  • The Man Who Rode Midnight (1987)
  • Sons of Texas (1989) Originally published under the pseudonym Tom Early
  • The Raiders: Sons of Texas (1989) Originally published under the pseudonym Tom Early
  • The Rebels: Sons of Texas (1990) Originally published under the pseudonym Tom Early
  • Honor at Daybreak (1991)
  • Slaughter (1992)
  • The Far Canyon (1994)
  • The Pumpkin Rollers (1996)
  • Cloudy in the West (1997)
  • The Smiling Country (1998) HEWEY CALLOWAY
  • The Buckskin Line (1999) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Badger Boy (2001) TEXAS RANGERS
  • The Way of the Coyote (2001) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Ranger’s Trail (2002) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Lone Star Rising: Texas Ranger Trilogy (2003) Includes first three novels of the Texas Rangers series
  • Texas Vendetta (2004) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Jericho’s Road (2004) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Six Bits a Day (2005) HEWEY CALLOWAY
  • Ranger’s Law: A Lone Star Saga (2006)
  • The Rebels: Sons of Texas (2007)
  • Sand Hills Boy: The Winding Trail Of A Texas Writer (2007) Memoir
  • Hard Trail to Follow (2007) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Texas Sunrise (2008)
  • Many A River (2008)
  • Other Men’s Horses (2009) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Texas Standoff (2010) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Long Way To Texas: Three Texas Novels (2011) Joe Pepper, Long Way To Texas, and Eyes of the Hawk
  • Wild West (2018)


Spur Award

1957 Buffalo Wagons
1971 The Day the Cowboys Quit
1973 The Time It Never Rained
1981 Eyes of the Hawk
1992 Slaughter
1994 The Far Canyon
2002 The Way of the Coyote
2009 Many a River

Western Heritage Award

1974 The Time It Never Rained
1979 The Good Old Boys
1988 The Man Who Rode Midnight

1977 Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement

2010 (posthumously) American Cowboy Culture Association Fictional works for Lifetime achievement

WWA Survey (2000)

Greatest Western writer of all time

In the author’s own words:

-A majority of my fictional works are based strongly in history, mostly Texas history, my own personal niche. I have chosen various periods of change or of stress in which an old order is being pushed aside by the new, and through the fictional characters try to give the reader some understanding of the human reasons for and effects of these changes. The challenge of meeting changing times is one thing each generation faces in common with all those which have gone before and all those yet to come. I strongly believe history remains highly relevant to us today, for what we are -our customs, our attitudes, our reactions to events at home and around the world -is the sum product of all that has gone before us. The better we understand history the more likely we are to understand the present and to be able to cope with the future.

-I’ve often been asked how my characters differ from the traditional, larger-than-life heroes of the mythical West. ‘Those,’ I reply, ‘are seven feet tall and invincible. My characters are five-eight and nervous.’

-As a fiction writer I have always tried to use fiction to illuminate history, to illuminate truth, at least as I see the history and truth. A fiction writer can often fire a reader’s interest enough to make him want to dig into the true story and make him search out the real history to find out for himself what happened.

-As a livestock reporter, I am in everyday contact with the kinds of people I write my stories about, the spiritual sons and grandsons of the characters in my historical works and, in many cases, the actual characters in my more contemporary stories.


The Good Old Boys was a made for TV movie in 1995.

What the critics said:

-“Kelton’s works have recurrent themes which center on the courage and integrity of the cow rancher, cowboy, and settler; the ordeals, losses, and successes of his people; the authenticity of his locales; the effect of change upon people and how they meet the challenge of change.”

-“All of his work is realistic and filled with action. The strength of his fiction lies in the historical background, the folklore, and the development of his characters. He is especially good with dialogue and he certainly knows Texas history”

-“…his western novels are realistic studies of the land, animals, and men and women who gradually settled the Llano Estacado and other parts of Texas.”

-“…Kelton passes comment on the culture whose dissolution he is tracing. Although it seems inappropriate to label him a master of the novel of manners, his life-earned knowledge of the cattleman’s existence shines brightest in his commentary on range etiquette.”

-“The most knowledgeable and perceptive contemporary novelist to write of both historical and present-day cowpunchers is Texan Elmer Kelton. He grew up on a ranch around story-telling old cowhands, so Kelton acquired first-hand much of the knowledge of cowboy life he depicts in his fiction.”

-“Kelton explores here with a sure pen the complexities of the kind of human spirit that can never alight in one place long.”

-“Kelton’s fiction is of two sorts: the shorter, simpler novels, which were often early in his career, and the longer, more complex ones, which tend to explore the consequences of the western myth.”

-“A Kelton hero does not vanquish his enemies, win the hand of the heroine, or find serenity in general. More often then not, he must stoically accept what his sometimes harsh, unforgiving environment metes out. Most of Kelton’s characters simply endure, rather than triumph. Yet the novels are not bleak; in fact, there is much humor in them.”

-“Kelton…broke away from Western stereotypes in his fiction and instead wrote sbout simple people–the working cowboy, the working rancher, and the working lawman.”

-“The conflict quite often in Kelton’s Westerns is not supplied by the formulary  hero vs. villain convention, but rather by confrontations between opposing beliefs or viewpoints.”

-“Perhaps what makes Kelton one of the most important contemporary Western authors is the tremendous respect he had for the people he wrote about. His men and women are sensitively drawn people of integrity who suffer great hardships in building their homes and working the land.”

-“Elmer Kelton has come to be seen as a priceless literary commodity, hitting all the notes with essential American archetypes, and leavening his work with a dry wit.”


Sources for this article:

A Literary History of the American West

Updating the Literary West

The Wister Trace

Twentieth Century Western Writers

Read the High Country: A Guide to Western Books and Films

Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction




Click to access 417a60_5fc54b1f283b4c4da5f8d10aa1dc2e6a.pdf

Author: Brian Lindenmuth

Former non-fiction of Spinetingler Magazine and fiction editor at Snubnose Press. Long time reviewer.

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