General readers and historians have accepted Jack Warner Schaefer(SHAY-fur) as both a gifted twentieth century storyteller and a writer of the American West. However, academics have largely ignored his works as major American fiction. His parents, Carl Walter Schaefer, a lawyer, and Minnie Luella Hively Schaefer, were avid readers who instilled in the young boy a love of words and reading.
Schaefer’s writing career began as editor of his high school literary magazine and continued after he entered Oberlin College in 1935 and through part of his graduate study at Columbia University. Because of his biased interest in motion pictures, his proposed thesis plan on the development of the movie industry was not approved. This proved a turning point in Schaefer’s literary pursuits. Leaving the university after one semester, he worked in journalism and education. In 1931 he married Eugenia Hammond Ives and divorced her in 1948. He married Louise Wilhide Dean in 1949, and they had four children. Schaefer lived in several eastern cities, working as a journalist, and wrote Western stories. He moved to Gunnison, Colorado, and later to Cerillos, New Mexico, where he lived until his death.
Throughout Schaefer’s prolific writing career, the characteristics of clarity in detail, simplicity, conciseness, and originality based on scholarly and historical research continued. His first book, Shane, began as a three-part serial story for Argosy magazine. He wrote numerous other novels, both long and short. He also produced nonfiction books, articles for journals and trade magazines, and numerous newspaper articles and columns.
Despite his love for historical accuracy and detail as well as the spirit of the American West, Schaefer did not receive critical acclaim from his contemporaries. Though compared often to regional writers such as William Faulkner, Owen Wister, Willa Cather, and Stephen Crane, he was always considered just a storyteller of Western tales and not an American fiction writer. His lifelong quest for accuracy in detail, factual accounting of historical events in a fictionalized story, and strong characters with basic human conflicts marks Schaefer as perhaps the most significant writer of Western stories. Many Western novel readers consider Schaefer’s first novel, Shane, his best work.