A former regional librarian,
who once considered westerns a little less than literature, has spent most of his life collecting the works of famed western fiction writer Elmer Kelton. University of Texas Arlington alumni Jerry Hunt, 77, former director of Friends of the Arlington Public Library, began unknowingly collecting Kelton’s work during a past illness. While sharing rides back and forth to therapy with a well-read friend, he says the two also shared trade paperbacks.
After reading “The Good Ol’ Boys,” which Kelton had penned during a trying time in his life when his father lay dying in a hospital room, Hunt became connected with the book’s character because of a similar situation he faced with his own father’s illness.
After that, Hunt read many more westerns, and he soon found himself keeping Kelton’s books rather than trading them. He also began buying Kelton’s new releases in hardcover first editions. Eventually, Hunt realized there were few Kelton novels that he did not own. Stoked by the insight, he began searching for those and anything else by Elmer Kelton.
The value of individual books in Hunt’s collection
range from less than $20 to more than $2,000, he says. And the lone copy missing from his collection is a 1956 first hardcover edition of the author’s first book, “Hot Iron.” The book, which was originally limited to Naval and public libraries, was not for sale to the general public.
“I have been offered a copy of it twice,” Hunt says, but because it comes with a price tag of more than $800, he passed.
In 1993, Hunt authored his own book, “Elmer Kelton: One Collector’s Bibliography,” which sold out almost instantly. Asked once about the book Hunt had written about him, Kelton replied dryly, “Well, now I know how that little frog felt in biology class.”
Hunt, who first met Kelton in 1968, says he traveled to Germany last spring to speak to a group of western culture enthusiasts about Kelton’s novels.”[Kelton’] very popular there,” he says.
Although he has collected the works of other western authors as well, Hunt described Kelton’s as “more realistic.” Hunt plans to donate his collection to UT-Arlington.
About Elmer Kelton
Elmer Kelton was born April 29, 1926
on the Five Wells Ranch east of Andrews, Texas. His father, R.W. (also known as Buck), was a ranch foreman. When Elmer told his father that he wanted to be a writer, he said the elder Kelton didn’t quite view that as real work, and he found himself on the receiving end of a stare. Nonetheless, at 16, Elmer enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin to study journalism.
Paul Patterson, one of Kelton’s former teachers, has told and retold the story among Texas folklorists of how he once saw the young cowboy at work on the McElroy Ranch surrounded by nearly 200 horses, one leg loped over his saddle horn with his nose buried deep in a tale of western fiction.
From 1948-1963, Kelton worked for the San Angelo Standard Times
as a farm and ranch writer than as agricultural editor. He edited Sheep and Goat Magazine from 1963-1968 and from 1968-1990 he was the associate editor of The West Texas Livestock Weekly. Until 1990, Elmer wrote his novels on nights and weekends. After retiring in 1990, in his spare time, Kelton wrote numerous novels and short stories. Kelton died in 2009.
Kathy Kelton, the author’s daughter, wrote in an email that in 2004 Kelton dedicated “Jericho’s Road,” sixth installment of “The Ranger” series, to avid collectors Art and Margie Hendrix and Jerry Hunt.