Will James Papers

Identifier: NC579

Scope and Contents

The materials Amaral collected and used for James' biography, Will James, the Gilt Edged Cowboy (Los Angeles, Westernlore Press, 1967), comprise the bulk of the collection. Included are correspondence with many individuals who knew James, photocopies of legal documents relating to James, photocopies of James' correspondence, clippings, and notes. A copy of the published book is not included in the collection but is available in the Special Collections Department (call number: PS3519.A5298 Z56 1967).

In addition, the collection contains a typescript manuscript and galley proof of Amaral's book as well as a typescript manuscript of James' The Three Mustangeers, published in 1933, with the author's holograph corrections.

Other items in the collection are three original pencil sketches done by James, photos of James' art work and copies of his illustrations taken from printed materials. James family photographs and the John Newbery Medal presented to James for his book, Smoky: the Cow Horse, complete the collection.

Location of originals of legal documents and James' correspondence unknown.


  • 1921-1967


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Conditions Governing Use

As per agreement with Princeton University, all requests for copies must be made through Manuscript Curator, Princeton University.

Biographical Note

Will James was born Joseph-Ernest Dufault on June 6, 1892, at St. Nazaire de Acton in Quebec, Canada. His parents, Jean and Josephine Dufault were French. The family moved to Montreal where James spent his childhood.

In 1907, at age fifteen, James left home for the Canadian west. After a scrape with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, James escaped to the American West. There he became a cowhand, changing his name to William Roderick James. Accused of rustling horses, he was convicted of grand larceny in Ely, Nevada, and was sentenced to the Nevada State Prison at Carson City for a year to fifteen months.

During his prison term, James began sketching and writing, the turning point in his life which led to his becoming one of the best known Western writers and artists. After his release, and until his death in 1942, he wrote and illustrated twenty books and numerous articles.

James married Alice Conradt of Reno, Nevada. They lived in Washoe Valley, Nevada, and Billings, Montana, where James died in 1942.

James kept his real identity secret until his death. Not even his wife was aware of it until a dispute arose over the estate. It forced James' brother, Auguste, to prove that Ernest Dufault and Will James were the same person.

Anthony Amaral found the well-guarded estate papers and published in Will James, The Gilt Edged Cowboy the true story of James' life with the help of James' widow, Alice James Ross.


1 Linear Feet (1 box, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Chiefly correspondence, notes, typescript and galley proof, of and relating to Will James, The Gilt Edged Cowboy (1967), by Anthony Amaral; together with correspondence, legal documents, manuscript of the Three Mustangeers (1933), sketches, artwork, and photos of James.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Correspondence of Anthony Amaral; 2) Correspondence of Will James; 3) Legal Documents; 4) Manuscript of Anthony Amaral; 5) Galley Proof of Will James, the Gilt Edged Cowboy; 6) Manuscript of Will James; 7) Typescripts; 8) Art Work of Will James; 9) Photographs and Negatives; 10) Notes on Will James; 11) Printed Materials; 12) Newspaper Clippings and Articles; 13) John Newbery Medal

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Anthony Amaral and Alice James Ross in 1967.

Related Materials

An additional manuscript collection on Will James is by his wife, Alice Conradt James (Manuscript Collection 90-13). This collection consists of an incomplete manuscript autobiography of their early married life.

Additionally, three roles of positive microfilm from Charles Scribner’s son’s archive at Princeton University are available. No copying of these is permitted without prior permission from Princeton University.

Separated Materials

Photographs transferred to the Special Collections Department photo archives as collection number UNRS-P2270.

Bibliographic References

Amaral, Anthony. Will James, the Gilt Edged Cowboy. Los Angeles, Westernlore Press, 1967.


Guide to the Will James Papers
Carrie M. Townley
September 1978
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)