History Teacher

Elmer Kelton is likely the best Texas author you've never heard of

Fortunately, the San Angelo Standard-Times was looking for a journalist with a rural background to serve as its farm and ranch editor. It was a job he held for 15 years, writing so elegantly about the struggles of West Texas cattlemen and cotton farmers that on several occasions his editors submitted his work for Pulitzer Prize consideration.

While he held firmly to his day job, Kelton continued to write fiction in evenings and on weekends, hoping to advance from short-story writer to novelist. In time it would become what he refers to as "a satisfying sideline." And along the way he put a personal face on a good portion of Texas' history.

Now and then, he remembers, he'd be approached by a rancher at some cattle auction he was covering who would come up and say, "Hey, didja know there's some ol' boy with your name who's writing books?"

Elmer Kelton writes westerns and is proud of it.
Carlton Stowers
Elmer Kelton writes westerns and is proud of it.

He's no longer the well-kept secret of those days. While he entertains no thoughts of superstar status, he admits a satisfaction that comes from writing books that accurately capture the bygone time and place he cherishes. "I can't say that I set out to be a 'historian,'" he says, "but I've always felt that our history is very important. It's part of who we are today."

While he was born too late to view the Old West firsthand, he listened closely to the stories of those who were there. "I was fortunate to grow up around cowboys who talked constantly about those days, the range wars and cattle drives and the life struggles of early-day West Texas. Ranch cowboys are great storytellers. They had their own to tell as well as those passed down by their fathers and grandfathers."

And, in time, their stories became his.

Now he admits that his career is winding down. "I've got one more novel in mind that I want to do," he says. "And my editor is after me to write an autobiography. I've been thinking about it, wondering if there's that much in my life that would interest people."

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