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The Land of Desperadoes

Emerson Hough was best known as a writer of the American West. Although he was born in Iowa, he became enchanted with the West when he moved to New Mexico. While there he met and interviewed Pat Garrett. Garrett was famous as the man who shot Billy the Kid. Inspired by his connection to Garrett, Hough’s first book was Story of the Outlaw: A Study of Western Desperadoes.

In 1889 he began working for Forest and Stream Magazine as the western editor. He was hired by George Bird Grinnell, the founder of the Audubon Society. Hough became an ardent conservationist. On an 1893 trip to Yellowstone National Park, he expected to find 500 bison. His count barely reached 100.

His articles about the declining bison population caught the attention of eastern newspapers. They took up the cause against poaching, and in 1894, Congress passed a law that protected the wildlife in national parks.
Hough wrote The Story of the Cowboy in 1897. It was the first of more than 20 books about life in the West. When two of his stories were made into silent films, he became the first Western author to find success in Hollywood.

On this date in 1908, the Devils Lake newspaper published an article about the celebrated novelist. Hough had made an extensive trip through western Canada. He was enthusiastic about what he found in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. He wrote of “wheat, crowding up to the trail, high as the wagon seat.”

Hough became acquainted with Teddy Roosevelt and shared Roosevelt’s fondness for North Dakota. He wrote that no one could describe the state better than Roosevelt. Nevertheless, Hough did the best he could. He wrote of the vast expanse of uninhabited land, the hills and plains and rivers. He had a soft spot for men he called “desperadoes,” those who left civilization behind. Hough acknowledged that these desperadoes took the law into their own hands. He said the West attracted “wild men from all parts of the country.”

Over the years, Hough maintained his connection to North Dakota. In 1908, he learned that the State Historical Society created a proposal for a memorial park at the state Capitol. Hough wrote a letter of support, saying he applauded any effort to teach Americans about their history.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Bismarck Tribune. “Approve Plan of Memorial to Ex-Service Men.” Bismarck ND. 2/25/1921. Page 8.
Devil’s Lake Inter-Ocean. “Western Canada as Seen by a Noted Writer.” Devils Lake ND. 11/27/1908. Page 6.
Legends of America. “Emerson Hough -Western Writer.” https://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-emersonhough/  Accessed 10/25/2010.

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