Thursday, 19 October 2017 14:37

Childhood dream leads to literary career for French-Canadian cowboy

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Adventure has drawn young men to the West for decades.

 


As a boy growing up in Eastern Canada, Will James dreamed of becoming a cowboy. Like the famous naturalist Gray Owl, an Englishman who successfully passed himself off as a Native, Will James assumed a fake identity and became a celebrated author who chronicled the vanishing frontier.
Born Joseph Ernest Dufault on June 6, 1892 in the province of Quebec, he would become one the best-loved Western writers.
His novels rank on par with Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour whose legacies include classics such as “Riders of the Purple Sage” and “How the West was Won.”
Besides his obvious literary talent, Dufault was an excellent illustrator. Many consider his drawings of horses superior to even those of Charlie Russell who is widely considered the pre-eminent Western artist.
As a young man, Dufault travelled to Saskatchewan and began working on ranches in the Val Marie area. Over time, he became a cowboy and changed his name to Will James.
After leaving Val Marie, James was arrested for cattle rustling and spent time in an American prison. According to legend, he convinced the parole board to release him by showing them his sketches and by promising to use his talent to write children’s books instead of stealing cattle.
A prolific author, James wrote and illustrated 23 books. His first book, “Bucking Horse Riders,” was published in 1922. Five years later, he was awarded the Newbery Medal for “Smoky the Cow Horse,” which is his best-known work.
In the story, we meet a wild horse named Smoky who’s caught and broken by a cowboy named Clint. Smoky becomes the best cow horse, but is unfortunately stolen.
He lives through a series of adventures before being returned to Clint.
The John Newbery Medal has been awarded by the American Library Association since 1922 to recognise excellence in children’s literature. The prize is one of the most prestigious in the United States.
James wrote a fictional autobiography in 1930 called “Lone Cowboy.” His final book, “The American Cowboy,” appeared in 1942.
There are many parallels between James and his contemporary Gray Owl.
Both moved to Saskatchewan at a time of change and wrote of the disappearing way of life they loved. Gray Owl trapped and lived off the land at the end of the fur trade economy. James witnessed the arrival of settlers and the impact agriculture had on open-range ranching.
Both their former homes are preserved in national parks.
Visitors wishing to see James’ line shack can get directions at the Grasslands National Park Visitor Reception Centre in Val Marie or by calling 306-298-2257. The park’s website is www.parkscanada.gc.ca/ grasslands.
Dominique Liboiron is a speaker, author, teacher, journalist and photographer. To raise awareness about heart disease and to honour the life of one of its victims, Liboiron canoed from Saskatchewan to New Orleans. He is the first person to undertake that journey. He enjoys outdoor sports such as camping, hunting, fly fishing and canoeing. For more info about his speaking engagements, phone 306-661-8975 or visit: www.canoetoneworleans.com.

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Dominique Liboiron

Dominique Liboiron is a speaker, author, teacher, journalist and photographer. To raise awareness about heart disease and to honour the life of one of its victims, Liboiron canoed from Saskatchewan to New Orleans. He is the first person to undertake that journey. He enjoys outdoor sports such as camping, hunting, fly fishing and canoeing.