Owen Wister

July 14 (1860) was the birthday of Owen Wister, considered the father of Western fiction. 

He was born into a wealthy and socially prominent Philadelphia family, graduated from Harvard with a degree in music, worked in a bank, went to law school, and established a law practice. But he started writing in college and thought of himself foremost as a writer. 

At the suggestion of his friend Theodore Roosevelt he spent the summer of 1885 at a friend’s ranch in Wyoming near Glenrock. He fell in love with the West and returned many times. It happens to lots of us. J 

During his lifetime he wrote many short stories, several novels, poems, biographies, plays, operas, and essays, in a variety of areas. But he is most famous by far for his 1902 novel “The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains”. 

The novel was a huge success. It sold over 200,000 copies in the first year and has never been out of print. It inspired a successful stage play soon after its publication. A TV series starring James Drury and Doug McClure ran from 1962 to 1971. And the story has been made into a movie SIX times:

1914 Dustin Farnum as the Virginian

1923 Kenneth Harlan

1929 Gary Cooper (the iconic version)

1946 Joel McCrea

2000 Bill Pullman

2014 Trace Adkins 

The novel contains the line considered the most famous line in any Western: “When you call me that, smile.” See http://jimjanke.com/writing/western_authors.htm for the line in context. 

The story takes place partly in the small town of Medicine Bow, WY. If you are traveling on I-80 in Wyoming between Laramie and Rawlins, take the little longer route on Hwy 30 and stop in Medicine Bow, population under 300. Visit the Medicine Bow Museum and have a meal in the picturesque Virginian Hotel. I’ve done both several times. They are across the street from each other.  http://www.medicinebow.org/ 

Owen Wister died in 1938.