(Image credit: AmericanCowboy.com)
Elmer was born in 1926 on the Five Wells Ranch, one of the Scharbauer ranches, in rural Andrews County, Texas. His father was Robert William “Buck” Kelton and mother was the former Neta Beatrice “Bea” Parker. Three years later, Buck took a job at the McElroy Ranch in Crane, Texas near Midland, where he would remain for 36 years. Elmer grew up on the ranch, hearing the colorful stories told by Buck and the other cowboys on the ranch.
Elmer graduated from high school in Crane and then entered University of Texas in Austin in 1942. He left the school in 1944 to serve in the U. S. Army during WWII as a combat infantryman in the European theater and resumed his education in 1946. He would go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1948, married and started his family.
His first job was to be the farm and ranch editor of the San Angelo Standard-Times and would work there until about 1963. He then became the editor of Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine for five years, followed by twenty-two years as editor of Livestock Weekly from which he retired in 1990.
During his career as an editor, he began to write short stories along with his own articles in the publications. Building on his success with this, he branched out to write paperback westerns and then hardcover novels. He wrote over 60 books, including his autobiography Sandhills Boy and many others. Some are stand alone works while others, such as his Texas Ranger series, follow a group of characters through multiple generations. This series begins with the early days of Texas, shortly after the establishment of the Republic, through the succession years and the Civil War, the Reconstruction era and the years that followed it. The nine novels blend historical facts and characters with Kelton’s fictional characters, allowing the timeline to play itself out through their lives and experiences. If you are just getting into reading Elmer Kelton, this might be a good series to start with. If you want to read them in order, the first book in the series is The Buckskin Line.
Kelton’s work has won a number of awards including the Spur Award, the Western Heritage Award and lifetime achievement awards including the Owen Wister Award, the Levi Strauss Golden Saddleman Award and American Cowboy Culture Association award from the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas. He was honored by having a star bearing his name placed in the Fort Worth Stockyards and also with a statue by Raul Ruiz being displayed at the Stevens Central Library in San Angelo. The Academy of Western Artists created the Elmer Kelton book award to honor western authors in both fiction and non-fiction work.
Elmer wrote scripts for two television episodes for the television series Maverick and Colt .45 and one of his books was used as the basis for a television movie, The Good Old Boys (1995), starring Tommy Lee Jones, Frances McDormand, Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Matt Damon, Bruce McGill, bull rider Larry Mahan and others.
Elmer Kelton died in 2009 at the age of 83 and is interred in Lawnhaven Memorial Gardens in San Angelo, Tom Green County, Texas.
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