Gary Scharnhorst’s Owen Wister and the West is the most in-depth biography of this Eastern-bred writer who has been credited with creating the template for the 20th-century Western novel with The Virginian.
The biographer exhaustively tracks Harvard-educated young Wister through his countless journeys around the West to “gather material” for his short stories. Wister stayed at the ranches of friends, hunting and fishing, listening to the cowboys retell their real adventures, which the budding author often reworked into stories published by Harper’s Monthly, Cosmopolitan and, later, the Saturday Evening Post. Wister’s characters were based on unusual Westerners he befriended during his travels away from his Philadelphia law practice, which he needed to recover from bouts of nervous exhaustion. Scharnhorst provides a good career-arc biography for wannabe Western writers to study.
—Miles Swarthout, author of The Last Shootist