About the Will James Society
The Will James Society History and Heritage
Renewing it's Purpose, Goals and Dedication
By Sharon DeCarlo, editor and publisher of the Cowboys North & South, the official publication of the Will James Society
There is a new fire in the belly of the Will James Society. After many years of steadfastly keeping Will James wonderful cowboy books and his phenomenal art preserved and alive before the public by way of a yearly Gather, the magazine “Cowboys North & South” and an outstanding and generous book gifting program, some new exciting avenues of promotion are paying off.
Recently the efforts have been enhanced and stepped up because of hard work generated in the areas of interest and awareness of the Will James Society; these newly instituted ideas have brought the Will James Society mission and goals to a larger spectrum of the public, which has created new support and exposure of the Will James Society.
The Will James Society is aggressively reaching out with a membership drive, connecting with other western minded groups and individuals who seek to support, preserve, and educate people of all ages and background about who Will James was and his tremendous contributions to the literary and western art world. The Society seeks in turn to support our ranching and cowboy heritage by demonstrating the positive affect it has had on our lives. It must be preserved and it must prevail. That is what the Will James Society stands for!
Will James was born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault, in 1892 in Quebec, Canada. Still in his teens he left in 1910 and traveled to the United States with a new name, William Roderick James. He soon became everything he dreamed of becoming, the quintessential western cowboy! He drifted and worked for several western cattle ranches, he worked as a stuntman in movies and served in the U.S. Army from 1918 to 1919. While in the Reno area, he met and married Alice Conradt. With Alice's encouragement he sold his first writing, Bucking Horse Riders in 1922. "Smoky the Cowhorse"(1926) won the coveted Newbery Medal for Children's literature in 1927 and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, given by the University of Wisconsin, in 1965. Smoky was written at Will and Alice's ranch in Washoe Valley located about 30 miles south of Reno, Nevada. His cabin still stands today. More wonderful self illustrated cowboy books followed, 24 in all. James was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1991.
Recently the Will James Society was awarded the Seven Seals Award for meritorious leadership and initiative in support of the men and women who serve America in the National Guard and Reserve.
In the beginning:
In order to look ahead, I think it is important to see where the Will James Society came from and who some of the individuals are who are responsible for the WJS existence today. In 1991 a group of Will James enthusiasts attended a Will James Symposium in Cimarron, New Mexico to honor James. As Jack Wong describes it, " We were sitting around after the ceremony visiting and talking about James wonderful art and his contribution to the literary world and how it was a shame that more folks didn't know about it.” In attendance was Anne Hamilton, Will James niece. Anne stood up and proposed the idea that, given all the enthusiasm, they form some sort of organization to help promote and preserve James work in both fields. Others in that first group included Tom Decker, Curtis Fort, Henry Bedford, Fred Fleischmann, Steve Zimmer and Les Davis. Anne's idea was met with resounding approval!
The year was 1991 and by 1992 the Will James Society, a nonprofit organization, was born and has been growing ever since while donating hundreds of Will James books to libraries, schools and our troops all over the world. Our current President is Gary Verhaeghe who has been a great innovator and leader when it comes to pursuing new ways to enhance our book gifting program by applying for grants and seeking sponsors to help support the funding of the program. Charlie Nightengale is the WJS's dedicated Director of the Book Gifting Program. If you are interested in sponsoring books for distribution or are seeking books for your school library or want to send books to our troops, please contact Charlie Nightengale at P.O. Box 2767 McCall, ID 83638 or call 208-634-3861. Request for Book Donation form is here: link
The home base of the Will James Society used to be Billings, Montana but was relocated to Elko, Nevada in 2010 because of the wonderful acceptance and support this exceptional and traditional cowboy oriented town has offered the Society with their last three Gathers. The decision to locate the entire Will James Society business to Elko has proven to be a good one. Some great things have transpired as a result of the move. With the enthusiasm and generosity of the Elko businesses and residents, the Society has new support and interest and as a result new awareness. Debbie Hoover works tirelessly for the Will James Society in Elko, raising money, and setting up the Society with professionals to manage the business and website. She typically has made the arrangements with the Elko contacts for the yearly Gather in Elko.
If you are in Elko, you can view the magnificent Will James original art and first edition books at the Northeastern Nevada Museum on display at all times. Donated by WJS charter member Don Frazier.
Along with fund raising for the book gifting program, the Will James Society holds an annual fall gathering usually in the first week of October for the purpose of raising public awareness of James art and books. This is where we hold our main fund raiser auction as well as a banquet and full schedule of educational and entertaining events.
The Will James Society welcomes you to join them at the 21st Annual Will James Society Gather in Reno, Nevada, September 26-28, 2013 and learn all about the goals and future plans to continue to distribute sets of Will James books to as many deserving schools, libraries and troops as we possibly can. This year the theme is "The Reno Days". There is considerable history in the Reno area from Will James early years as a working cowboy, artist and writer. The University of Nevada Reno has numerous items in their collections related to James. The Gather this year has planned a storytelling session, visits to locations around the Reno area, entertainers and speakers who will share the Will James and cowboy heritage we all treasure. Check the 2013 Gather schedule on the website for planned activities. See you in Reno!