Owen Wister


Owen Wister (July 14, 1860 – July 21, 1938) was an American writer and "Father" of western fiction.


Early life

Owen Wister was born on July 14, 1860, in Germantown, a neighborhood within the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Owen Jones Wister, was a wealthy physician, one of a long line of Wisters raised at the storied Belfield estate in Germantown. His mother, Sarah Butler Wister, was the daughter of actress Fanny Kemble.


He briefly attended schools in Switzerland and Britain, and later studied at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was a classmate of Theodore Roosevelt, an editor of the Harvard Lampoon and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Alpha chapter). Wister graduated from Harvard in 1882.

At first he aspired to a career in music, and spent two years studying at a Paris conservatory. Thereafter, he worked briefly in a bank in New York before studying law, having graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1888. Following this, he practiced with a Philadelphia firm, but was never truly interested in that career. He was interested in politics, however, and was a staunch Theodore Roosevelt backer. In the 1930s, he opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Writing career

Wister had spent several summers out in the American West, making his first trip to Wyoming in 1885. Like his friend Teddy Roosevelt, Wister was fascinated with the culture, lore and terrain of the region. On an 1893 visit to Yellowstone, Wister met the western artist Frederic Remington; who remained a lifelong friend. When he started writing, he naturally inclined towards fiction set on the western frontier. Wister's most famous work remains the 1902 novel The Virginian, the loosely constructed story of a cowboy who is a natural aristocrat, set against a highly mythologized version of the Johnson County War and taking the side of the large land owners. This is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel and was reprinted fourteen times in eight months. The book is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt.

Personal life

In 1898, Wister married Mary Channing, his cousin. The couple had six children.

Wister's wife died during childbirth in 1913, as Theodore Roosevelt's first wife had died giving birth to Roosevelt's first daughter, Alice.

In his later years, Wister was an opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, but he was personally and politically close to FDR's distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt.

Wister died at his home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.


Since 1978, University of Wyoming Student Publications has released the annual literary and arts magazine Owen Wister Review. The magazine was published bi-annually until 1996. It became an annual publication in the spring of 1997.

Just within the western boundary of the Grand Teton National Park, there is a 11,490-foot mountain named Mount Wister named for Owen Wister.

Near a home that he had built near La Mesa, California, but was never able to live in because of the death of his wife, is a street called "Wister Drive." In the same neighborhood are found "Virginian Lane" and "Molly Woods Avenue."



  • The New Swiss Family Robinson: A Tale for Children of All Ages (1882)
  • The Dragon of Wantley: His Tale (1892)
  • Lin McLean (1897)
  • The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902)
  • Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University (1903)
  • A Journey in Search of Christmas (1904)
  • Lady Baltimore (1906)
  • Padre Ignacio: or, the Song of Temptation (1911)
  • Romney: And Other New Works about Philadelphia (written 1912-1915; published incomplete 2001)


  • Ulysses S. Grant (Wister biography) (1901)
  • The Seven Ages of Washington: A Biography (1907)
  • The Pentecost of Calamity (1915)
  • The Aftermath of Battle: With the Red Cross in France (1916) (preface to Edward D. Toland's autobiography)
  • A Straight Deal: or the Ancient Grudge (1920)
  • Neighbors Henceforth (1922)
  • A Monograph of the Work of Mellor, Meigs, & Howe (1923) (contributor)
  • Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship, 1880-1919 (1930)
  • The Philadelphia Club, 1834-1934 (1934)
  • The Illustrations of Frederic Remington (1970) (commentary)

Story collections

  • Red Men and White (1895) (aka Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics)
  • The Jimmyjohn Boss and Other Stories (1900)
  • Members of the Family (1911) (Illus. H. T. Dunn)
  • Safe in the Arms of Croesus (1927)
  • When West Was West (1928)
  • The West of Owen Wister: Selected Short Stories (1972)

Short Stories

  • Hank's Woman (1892)
  • How Lin McLean Went East (1892)
  • Em'ly (1893)
  • The Winning of the Biscuit-Shooter (1893)
  • Balaam and Pedro (1894)
  • The Promised Land (Wister short story) (1894)
  • A Kinsman of Red Cloud (1894)
  • Little Big Horn Medicine (1894)
  • Specimen Jones (1894)
  • The Serenade at Siskiyou (1894)
  • The General's Bluff (1894)
  • Salvation Gap (1894)
  • Lin McLean's Honey-Moon (1895)
  • The Second Missouri Compromise (1895)
  • La Tinaja Bonita (1895)
  • A Pilgrim on the Gila (1895)
  • Where Fancy Was Bred (1896)
  • Separ's Vigilante (1897)
  • Grandmother Stark (1897)
  • Sharon's Choice (1897)
  • Destiny at Drybone (1897)
  • Twenty Minutes for Refreshments (1900)
  • Padre Ignazio (1900)
  • The Game and the Nation (1900)
  • Mother (Wister short story) (1901,1907)
  • Superstition Trail (1901)
  • In a State of Sin (1902)
  • The Vicious Circle (Wister short story) (1902)
  • With Malice Aforethought (1902)
  • Stanwick's Business (1904)
  • The Jimmyjohn Boss
  • Napoleon Shave-Tail
  • Happy Teeth
  • Spit-Cat Creek
  • In the Back
  • How Doth the Simple Spelling Bee (1907) (Illus. Frederic Rodrigo Gruger)
  • Timberline (Wister short story) (1908)
  • The Gift Horse (Wister short story) (1908)
  • Extra Dry (1909)
  • Where It Was (1911)
  • The Drake Who Had Means of His Own (1911)
  • Safe in the Arms of Croesus
  • With the Coin of Her Life
  • The Honeymoonshiners
  • Bad Medicine (Wister short story)
  • Captain Quid
  • Once Round the Clock
  • The Right Honorable, The Strawberries (1928)
  • Little Old Scaffold (1928)
  • Absalom of Moulting Pelican (1928)
  • Lone Fountain
  • Skip to My Loo
  • At the Sign of the Last Chance (1928)


  • Where Charity Begins (1895)
  • The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher (1895)
  • Concerning “Bad Men” The True “Bad Man” of the Frontier, and the Reasons for His Existence (1901)
  • Theodore Roosevelt, Harvard '80 (1901)
  • The Open Air Education (1902)
  • After Four Years (1905)
  • High Speed English and American Railroad Flyers (1906)
  • The Keystone Crime: Pennsylvania's Graft-Cankered Capitol (1907)
  • According to a Passenger (1919)
  • How One Bomb Was Made (1921)
  • Roosevelt and the 1912 Disaster: A Friend Remembers - and Interprets (1930)
  • Roosevelt and the War: A Chapter of Memories (1930)
  • John Jay Chapman (Wister essay) (1934)
  • In Homage to Mark Twain (1935)
  • Old Yellowstone Days (1936)


  • "The Pale Cast of Thought" (1890)
  • "From Beyond the Sea" (1890)
  • "Autumn on Wind River" (1897)
  • "In Memoriam" (1902)
  • Done In The Open (1902) (Illus. by Frederic Remington)
  • "Serenade" (1910)
  • Indispensable Information for Infants: Or Easy Entrance to Education (1921)


  • Dido and Aeneas (1892)
  • Kenilworth (unpublished)
  • Listen to Binks (unpublished)
  • Montezuma (unpublished)
  • Villon (unpublished)
  • Watch Your Thirst: A Dry Opera in Three Acts (1923)


  • The Dragon of Wantley (unpublished)
  • The Honeymoonshiners (unpublished)
  • Lin McLean (unpublished)
  • Slaves of the Ring (unpublished)
  • That Brings Luck (unpublished)
  • The Virginian (unpublished)