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Will James
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Will James

His best known work was the classic story “Smokey The Cow Horse.” It was followed by more spellbinding stories of the real working cowboy world, brought to life with his amazing action filled illustrations. In Ian Tyson’s words, “on every page they’d come alive and jump straight out at you.”

It was many years after his books and art became famous that the world learned the facts. Will James was born Joseph Ernest Dufault in Quebec in 1892.

As a teen ager he worked as a cowboy in Southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, and according to the Will James society he entered the U.S. in 1911 or 12 the name of William Roderick James, and the grey horse from the Cypress Hills Moyer Ranch just happened to leave the country at the same time, never to return.

He was arrested for cattle rustling in 1914 and served his sentence at the Nevada State Prison at Carson city, taking care of the facility’s horses.

Following his release, he worked as a western movie stuntman and served in the U.S. Army. Around 1920 his drawings and short stories began to appear in national magazines. His autobiography “The Drifting cowboy, my Life’s Story” was widely believed but was later revealed to be largely embellished with the myth he wanted folks t believe. He was however a superb cowboy, a great bronc rider and a brilliant artist and writer.

Canadian born Will James was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National cowboy and Western heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 1991.

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