Canadian Filmmaker Hot on the Trail of Will James

Will James

Portrait of Will James

Sometimes you simply don’t know who may be wanting to use our manuscript collections, and it is a surprise when it turns out to be an international user. In October I was contacted by Canadian filmmaker Claude Gagnon who is working on additional research concerning cowboy writer and illustrator Will James, author of the book Smokey, the Cowhorse (1926), and other titles.

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, later coming to the American west.  At one point he lived in the Washoe Valley after marrying Alice Conradt of Reno.

Will and Alice James

Will and Alice James in their cabin in Washoe Valley

Claude Gagnon, a respected filmmaker, is researching the earlier years of James’ life before he left Canada and is hoping to make a move about these years.  Gagnon is basically pursuing if the commonly held belief is true that Will James hid his earlier identity and was not in communication with his Canadian family. In order to continue his research he drove an RV from Montreal to the United States and has stopped to talk with people living in places where James lived as well as speaking with Will James authorities.  In November he arrived in Reno on our doorstep to review our Will James manuscript collections.  We have a great collection of research pulled together by Anthony Amaral for his biography done on James entitled Will James, the Gilt Edged Cowboy (Los Angeles, Westernlore Press, 1967), and from Alice Conradt James.

As part of his research and with the idea of a future documentary film in mind, Gagnon has kept up a blog about his travels and has also put together a series of short videos with a few highlights of his trips and talks.  One of the video highlights was about working here in Special Collections with our Will James materials.  At the end of his days of research he asked me to say a few words about our department for his next video blog, which I was happy to do so.  If you would like to see his short videos, you may view them in both English or French via this link (look for the one Claude did with me with “University of Nevada, Reno” in the title):

Claude Gagnon also has his Facebook blog “Sur les Traces de Will James – On The Will James Trail” if you wish to follow him there:

We are looking forward to that happy day that Claude Gagnon is able to return with his film crew and make the movie that will tell an additional story about young Will James’ life that needs to be told.

One Comment

  1. Hi, please let Mr. Gagnon know about my collection of Will James. I am the owner of one of the first drawing to reach 100 years this year! I have an exceptional small collection of originals, all with the cowgirl theme. I own the only cowgirl bronc riding drawing he ever did. However, my collection does not stop at drawings, i have a meticulous collection of books, first editions, special editions and magazines he had articles in. Plus, I have put together a complete movie poster collection on all 3 Smoky movies, the
    Sand movie and Lone Cowboy movie. The movie collection includes stills, lobby cards, posters, 1/2 sheets, full sheets and an exceptionally rare 3 sheet of Sand. I am one of the youngest founders of the Will James Society and a woman collector. He would be interested in my stuff. I have had some of it displayed in 2 museum showings. Thankyou. Cheri Raftery

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