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Will James (1892–1942)

Author of Smoky, the Cowhorse

38+ Works 2,013 Members 25 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Will James was born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault in the province of Quebec on June 6, 1892. He left home as a teenager to live out his dream of becoming a cowboy in the American West. James went on to write and illustate twenty-four books and numerous magazine articles about horses, cowboying, show more and the West. His works consistently captured the imagination of the public. He died in 1942, at the age of fifty show less


Works by Will James

Smoky, the Cowhorse (1926) 1,268 copies
Lone Cowboy: My Life Story (1777) 106 copies
Cow country (1927) 63 copies
Sand (1929) 57 copies
Cowboys North and South (1924) 55 copies
The Dark Horse (1777) 38 copies
Scorpion, a good bad horse (1936) 36 copies
Home ranch (1935) 32 copies
The Drifting Cowboy (1925) 31 copies
Big-Enough (Tumbleweed) (1899) 31 copies
Young cowboy (1936) 25 copies
Three Mustangeers (1933) 25 copies
All in the day's riding (1933) 24 copies
The American Cowboy (1942) 23 copies

Associated Works

The New Junior Classics Volume 07: The Animal Book (1938) — Contributor — 175 copies
The Wonderful World of Horses (1966) — Contributor — 22 copies
Stories to Remember: Literary Heritage Series (1967) — Contributor — 20 copies
Unbridled: The Western Horse in Fiction and Nonfiction (2005) — Contributor — 6 copies
Writing Books for Boys and Girls — Contributor, some editions — 5 copies
The Boys' Book of the West (2005) — Contributor — 3 copies
The New Roger Caras Treasury of Great Horse Stories (1999) — Contributor — 3 copies


Common Knowledge



Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can't imagine anything else.

But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can't beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that's even more valuable?… (more)
PlumfieldCH | 22 other reviews | Sep 22, 2023 |
It's Black Beauty, only not as well written. Happy colthood, humans train him to be useful and he bonds with one particular man. I was amused to note that in his first encounter with humans, he's branded and the book specifically says that's all that happens...but after that, "the colt" is referred to as "the gelding". Hmm. And then he's stolen, abused, trained to buck, stops being abused and eventually loses the hatred that made him such a good bucking horse. So he's sold, and sold, and sold, going lower each time, until he's half-starved and still being forced to pull a heavy wagon. And then he's saved - his one particular man discovers and rescues him. Yay. The ending was nice, Smoky doesn't suddenly become happy and healthy and regain his trust in humans - it takes a while. But eventually, a happy ending.
The story was trite. The dialect that was used throughout - not just speech (in fact that was often clearer) but description and narration - drove me nuts. I don't know if it's an accurate depiction of some dialect, but it utterly did not work for me. It reads awkwardly, sounding like a put-on accent, and...it just sounds unlikely, not like anything a real person would say (word choice (and spelling of same), phrases, everything read fake to me). It made it very hard to read the story - which wasn't worth the effort. Not a winner.
… (more)
jjmcgaffey | 22 other reviews | Aug 26, 2022 |
This is one of the bigger books, and it started off kind of slow, which can make a person worry. How fascinating can a book written from the perspective of a horse get? But around halfway through, as Smoky starts to really face peril, I found myself unable to put the book down. I was fully engaged. So while there were a few slow bits, it's not nearly as rough as I thought it would be.
Allyoopsi | 22 other reviews | Jun 22, 2022 |
I was on a convention panel talking about horse books last weekend, and author Will James came up. I remembered that I owned a library discard of his classic book Smoky, that I probably haven't read since I was 9 or 10. Before I bought this discard copy, even. I needed to read a classic book for my goal this month, so I decided to read this one for the first time in decades.

Oooooh boy. How to sum this up.

First of all, there's no way this would be a kid book these days. All the major human characters are adults. There is rampant animal abuse, even by the 'good guy.' And wow, is this book racist. Jaw-droppingly so. The major villain is described as "being a breed of Mexican and other blood that's darker" and is often just named as "the breed," and is so abusive to the titular character that the horse straight-out tries to kill every man with dark skin for years afterward.


The thing is, the first 2/3 of the book is actually a decent horse book, complete with beautiful action-packed illustrations by the author. James is an incredibly descriptive writer, and the chapters on Smoky's colthood on the range and his training (which is cringe-worthy in some ways) and growing relationship with Clint is fascinating in its deep detail. But then Smoky is stolen, and the book decides to go "Black Beauty on a western-grimdark" route.

The good news is, I feel like I can now donate-away this hardcover book that I've been hauling around for over twenty years. I definitely won't be reading it again, now do I feel much inclined to pick up Will James's other books.
… (more)
ladycato | 22 other reviews | Sep 9, 2021 |



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