This article is over 8 years old

Texas Originals

Western Writer Elmer Kelton

Considered the greatest Western writer of all time


To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>
western mural featuring cowboys and Elmer Kelton
A downtown mural, by western artist Stylle Read, in San Angelo, the seat of Tom Green County, Texas

April 29, 1926–August 22, 2009


Author of more than forty Westerns, the writer Elmer Kelton depicted the South Texas Plains with both romance and realism. These were qualities that Kelton knew well, having spent his entire life in the region.

book cover for The Time it Never Rained
The Time it Never Rained

Born in 1926, Kelton grew up on the McElroy ranch near Midland, where his father was the general manager. Young Elmer, with his poor eyesight and love of books, realized he would never become the cowboy his father wanted him to be. Instead, he enrolled at The University of Texas in Austin, majoring in journalism.

After serving in the army during World War II, Kelton returned to Texas to work as an editor for farm and ranch journals. But he also wrote fiction, and gradually gained fame as an authentic voice of Western literature.

His 1973 novel The Time It Never Rained, set in the drought-stricken Texas of the 1950s, ushered in a new kind of Western—one concerned with the modern day rather than a bygone era of pioneers and cattle drives.

Kelton once explained, “I can’t write about heroes seven feet tall and invincible. I write about people five feet eight and nervous.”

In 1995, Kelton was voted the "greatest western writer of all time" by the Western Writers of America. The Time It Never Rained is now remembered as his finest work, and a lasting contribution to Texas literary history.


four men standing behind a book table
Copy negative of four men standing behind a book table at the Moody Center at HSU at a luncheon in honor of Elmer Kelton. From left to right they are Dr. Don Graham from UT Austin, Elmer Kelton the San Angelo novelist, Dr. Lawrence Clayton the Dean of Arts and Sciences at HSU, and Dr. Ken Hammes from Cisco Jr. College. Men by Book Table.


Selected Bibliography

Alter, Judy and James Ward Lee, eds. Elmer Kelton: Essays and Memories. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2011.

Alter, Judy. Elmer Kelton and West Texas: A Literary Relationship. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1989.

Kelton, Elmer. Sandhills Boy: The Winding Trail of a Texas Writer. New York: Forge, 2007.

Kelton, Elmer. The Time It Never Rained. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.

Miller, John J. “He Created a New Kind of Western.” Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2009.