Will James Society annual ‘Gather’ rides into Newcastle

Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

“I feel a good horse under me whether he’s bucking, or running, or cutting out a wild cow, and it don’t matter where I’m at when I draw or paint ‘em … I can always feel ‘em from the tip of my boot toe to my hat band.” — Will James, 1892-1942



n organization formed to honor that French Canadian cowboy who spent much of his life forking horses behind cows across Montana, Nevada, and other Western lands will enjoy “our part” of the West a few days this week as they celebrate their hero.  Will James Society members from many states are expected, with activities centered at the Newcastle Lodge and Convention Center.  

The non-profit Will James Society was formed in 1992 to preserve the memory and works of their namesake artist/author through preserving and reprinting his marvelous books and gifting them to schools and libraries nationwide. Their latest philanthropic outreach is awarding annual Will James Scholarships to high school graduates planning careers in Will James’ signature fields — ranching, farming, the equine industry, art or literature. Information is available at willjamessociety.org. WJS Gather visitors are eager to experience the beauty and history of our region — and we hope to show them true Western hospitality with our special Wyoming warmth. Make plans to be at the Newcastle Lodge for Saturday evening’s “boot-stompin’ open-to-everyone” event kicking off at 5 p.m. 

Keynote speaker Winston Satran will open the evening with prayer before introducing WJS Chair Sharon DeCarlo and sidekicks John Washington and BB Palmer to present the “Big Enough” award and honor this year’s WJS Scholarship recipients.

Later Satran will share wisdom, humor and pathos from a rich pool of experience, expressing his love of America’s West through stories from his exciting life. Having worn the career hats of horseman, educator, husband, father, prison warden, horse racing commissioner and finally counselor/manager of at-risk young people in North Dakota’s Home on the Range, Winston’s tales will take you from laughter to tears, and back again. Talented Montana Cowboy musician Jay Linderman will also be on hand, bringing a toe-tapping touch to the entertainment through his fine vocal and instrumental stylings.  

It’s your opportunity to meet and greet the wonderful WJS members who’ve traveled across the nation to see the wonders of our region as well as becoming better acquainted with the life and legend of the late Will James, who author Lauren Feldman calls “a cowboy, cattle thief, author, and artist.”

Will James, born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault in Quebec on June 6, 1892, was infatuated with cowboys from an early age. He left home at 15, wrangled in western Canada a while, found ranch work in the United States, assumed the alias William Roderick James, and fabricated his life story, claiming to be born in Montana. He shifted outfit to outfit until 1914 when he was arrested for rustling and sentenced to Nevada State Prison. Allowed to care for the prison’s horses, James passed cell time writing about the West and sketching horses and range scenes to illustrate them.

Apparently a well-behaved prisoner, the lad was released just shy of his full 15-month sentence. Drifting town to town, job to job, James sometimes documented his work in scribbled stories on scraps of paper and memories sketched on bunkhouse walls. Pay of $50 to sketch a poster for the 1919 Nevada Round-Up in Reno made James a professional artist, and he married his cowgirl sweetheart Alice Conradt the following year.

The gritty authenticity and accuracy of James’ cowboy art garnered quite a following and the kids were soon able to buy the Washoe Valley, Nev., ranch where he composed his most famous work, “Smoky the Cowhorse” (1926). Smoky went on to win the Newbery Medal for children’s literature, enjoyed several film adaptations, and ensured that generations of children would fall in love with the West. Soon after writing “Smoky,” James bought a ranch in Montana and continued to write prolifically, including his fictionalized autobiography “Lone Cowboy” (1930).

If you’d like to become part of the WJS you can join for just $35 per year or $90 for three.

WJS invites the public to enjoy their annual fundraising banquet this Saturday, Sept. 18. You’ll be welcomed to an evening of food, fun, camaraderie and the special excitement of live and silent auction bidding for a variety of items — many hand-crafted! Will James Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.


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