This is the first installment in the Western Writer Series. Other writers in the series can be found here by searching Western Writers Series.
Every now and then, I am asked to recommend a western writer or a western novel to someone unfamiliar with the genre. In most cases as I probe to see what they may have already read and hence what may be a good fit for them, I find that they really only know: two names, Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry… and one book, Lonsesome Dove.
Over the next few weeks, MontanaWriter will be highlighting some good western writers that may be household names as far as western fans are concerned, but are relatively unknown to most other people.
Will Henry, the pen name of Henry Wilson Allen (1912-1991), was a prolific writer: novels, short stories, and screenplays… western and otherwise. His work garnered him five Spur Awards. (For the un-initiated, Spur Awards are the western equivalent of a Hugo or an Edgar.)
Most of his acclaimed work – Chiricahua, The Gates of the Mountains, From Where the Sun Now Stands, Tom Horn – tends toward the historical-fiction end of the western spectrum. While solid research and real life-experience as a cowboy and a gold miner ensure that all the little western details are correct, in the end it is his strong writing style and wonderful story-telling ability that won him his awards… that make him worth reading.
Allen (Will Henry), like most of the writers of his day, lived and wrote in the shadow of L’Amour who so dominated the western marketplace that in the end it was probably not much different than what it is like writing westerns today: what you publish is virtually invisible. Allen spoke of this phenomenon in an interview:
Louis L’Amour, for the past many years, worked for the same company Will Henry has worked for, namely Bantam Books, and if you think standing second in line to Louis L’Amour is any great riot of fun or delight, try again. After Louie, the fall to number two place would kill anyone; would kill an ant or an elephant. And yes, Will Henry has certainly been affected by the presence of Louie L’Amour at Bantam Books. There are, or have been, other authors: Luke Short, Jack Schaefer, all types of name brand authors at Bantam Books through the years–the Louie years–who have been affected by him. But that’s inescapable. Not just at Bantam, either. If you are in the western writing business retail sales points, looking for a copy of your novel, and you have one little single copy in the last part of the rack, farthest from the front, where, if you don’t have your flashlight or a cigarette lighter with you, you can’t even see it. Now, that’s being affected. (cf. “Will Henry Interview by Jean Henry-Mead)
A quick look at Amazon show that there are some kindle editions available of his work but most of what is available is from the used marketplace. Little has changed apparently for Allen (Will Henry). Louis L’Amour is everywhere… but Will Henry westerns remain difficult to find. But certainly worth the search.
Will Henry Partial Bibliography
- No Survivors, 1952
- Death of a Legend, 1954
- The Tall Men, 1954
- To Follow a Flag, 1955
- Who Rides with Wyatt, 1955
- The Fourth Horseman, 1956
- The North Star, 1956
- The Texas Rangers, 1957
- Yellowstone Kelly, 1958
- Journey to Shiloh, 1960
- The Seven Men at Mimbres Springs, 1960
- From Where the Sun Now Stands, 1962
- MacKenna’s Gold, 1963
- The Gates of the Mountains, 1966 (Spur Award)
- Custer’s Last Stand: The Story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, 1968
- One More River to Cross, 1968
- Alias Butch Cassidy, 1969
- Outlaws and Legends, 1969
- Chiricahua, 1973 (Spur Award winner)
- I, Tom Horn, 1976
- Summer of the Gun, 1978
- The Squaw Killer, 1983
- The Ballad of Billy Bonney, 1984
- Reckoning at Yankee Flat, 1989
- Jesse James: Death of a Legend, 1996
- The Hunting of Tom Horn, 1999