Elmer Kelton
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Elmer Kelton


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Elmer Kelton, son of Buck and Bea Kelton and a descendant of Robert and Catherine Kelton, was born in 1926 at the Horse Camp on the Five Wells Ranch in Andrews County, Texas, and grew up on the McElroy Ranch near Crane, Texas, learning much about the cattle business although he realized he would never make a cowman. He has become a prolific writer, who as a "part-time" novelist has written more than 40 books, which include "some of the finest novels written about Texas."[1] Elmer retired from his career as an agricultural journalist. He died Saturday, August 22, 2009, in San Angelo after an illness of several months.

While serving in World War II in Austria, Elmer met and later married Anna Lipp. After returning from the war, Elmer completed his bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Texas in Austin in 1948 and became an agricultural reporter for the San Angelo Standard-Times. He became editor of the Sheep and Goat Raisers magazine in 1963. In 1968, he joined The Livestock Weekly in San Angelo, where he was associate editor until his retirement in 1991.

As he traveled throughout Texas gathering news about the livestock business, he also gathered insights and stories that he combines with his ranch background to create tales about Texas. He has received the Western Heritage Award from the Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 1977, he won the Levi Strauss Golden Saddleman Award from the Western Writers of America for his distinguished body of work. He has won the Western Writers' Spur Award for the best Western novel of the year six times for the best novel of the year for Buffalo Wagons (1956), The Day the Cowboys Quit (1972), The Time It Never Rained (1974), Eye of the Hawk (1981), Slaughter (1993) and The Far Canyon (1995). Elmer is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and is often invited to speak across Texas about writing and West Texas.

Though originally considered a "Western" writer, his work is beginning to be viewed as more universal. "I believe that his book The Time It Never Rained is one of the dozen or so best novels written by an American in this century," wrote critic Jon Tuska in his book The American West in Fiction. His best known and most critically acclaimed works -- in addition to The Time It Never Rained -- are The Day the Cowboys Quit, The Wolf and the Buffalo and The Good Ole Boys.[2]

The Good Ole Boys was made into a television movie in 1995 for the TNT cable network, in project by Tommy Lee Jones. Jones wrote the screen play, director and starred in the movie.

This, then, is Elmer Kelton, an outstanding regional novelist whose work inspires devoted fans but has, to date, failed to gain the critical and popular acclaim of which it is deserving; a writer whose career has spanned more than three decades and seen the western go from popularity to literary ignominy; a cowboy's son who is more comfortable before a typewriter -- or word processor -- than in the saddle; and a respected livestock journalist. But beyond all that, Elmer Kelton is a genuine, unaffected, kind and gentle man, the sort who, in person, makes you want to hunker down and listen to his stories, his voice, and his wisdom.[3]

Elmer's son Steve, who is also a reporter for the The Livestock Weekly, had a non-fiction book, Renderbrook: A Century Under the Spade Brand, published by the TCU Press in 1989. Elmer wrote the introduction to Steve's history of this West Texas ranch's 100 years. [4]

Elmer is generous with his time and knowledge, spending considerable time each year speaking to libraries, participating in writing conferences and attending book signings.


[1] Quoted in "Texas Institute of Letters gives cash awards to top state writers," The Dallas Morning News, Sunday, March 22, 1987, p. 49A.

[2] These books, originally published by Doubleday, have been reprinted by the TCU Press in Fort Worth.

[3] Judy Alter, Elmer Kelton and West Texas: A Literary Relationship, Number One, Texas Writers Series (Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 1989), p. 4.

[4] Steve Kelton, Renderbrook: A Century Under the Spade Brand (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1989).

You may email Elmer Kelton at elmerk (at) suddenlink (dot) net.

    Comments or additions may be sent to Ed Kelton [email to family (at) kelton (dot) org] .
    ©2006 by Edward F. Kelton.
    Updated Page on Sept. 24, 2006