Saturday, 10 March 2018

Cherry Wilson - Western Author

“Cherry” Wilson was one of the marquee authors of Western Story Magazine, getting listed on the cover every time she appeared. She wrote more than a hundred stories in 20 years from 1921 to 1943; more than 5 of her novels in print during her lifetime, and six of her stories were made into movies. She has no entry in Wikipedia, her IMDb entry doesn’t have a shred of biographical information. She and her stories don’t deserve this obscurity.

Cherry Wilson c. 1921
Cherry Wilson c. 1921

Rosemary J. "Cherry Rose" Burdick was born on July 12, 1893 somewhere near Erie, Pennsylvania to Frank Elmer and Anna Louise Burdick. They had at least two other children besides her, an elder brother named Charles and a younger sister named Gladys. She attended the public schools in Shenango, Pa., and high school in Greenville, Pa. In the 1900 and 1910 census, she shows up in West Salem, Mercer, Pa with the rest of her family.

In between 1910 and 1920, I could find no trace of her. In the 1920 census, she shows up married and living with her husband, Robert Lee Wilson. Robert Wilson was born in about 1891 in Catskill, New Mexico to parents who had both been born in Missouri, if we are to believe what seems to be his military enlistment record in 1911. Catskill was a short-lived lumber town that was founded in 1890 and dying by 1902, as the lumber was exhausted and the railroad tracks were pulled up.

Robert Wilson’s family moved to Republic, Washington – a tiny town located near the Canadian border, about ninety miles from Spokane as the crow flies. It was a town created by a minor gold rush in 1896, and as the gold ran out by the early 1900s, lumber and mining for non-precious metals became the primary industries.

The mines in Eureka, aka Republic, Washington
The mines in Eureka aka Republic, Washington

The Wilson family shows up there in the 1910 census. Robert Wilson, who gave his profession as teamster, enlisted in the US Army in 1911 and was discharged in 1912.

An article in the Universal Studios magazine had this about her, though I don’t know how much we can believe:
Authoress Cherry Wilson. born of Mystic. Pennsylvania, settled in wildest section of old Oregon Trail cattle country at sixteen (we know this to be incorrect, given the 1910 census shows her single in Pennsylvania), married Bob Wilson, Westerner, and adventured, mined, ranched, trapped wild mustangs for four years.

Then, homesteading on Colville Indian Reservation near the British Columbia border in Washington, her husband's health gave out and in a bad way she wrote and sold a story an Okanagan Indian had told her. Thus a Wild West writer was born. . .

Here’s where things get murky. Though the news article says that Robert and Cherry Wilson were married in 1915 or earlier, I found no marriage record for them. What I did find was something far more confusing:

Marriage certificate for Robert L. Wilson in 1917
Marriage certificate for Robert L. Wilson in 1917

The particulars of Robert L Wilson match Cherry Wilson’s husband in every way – age and state of birth, occupation and names of both parents. But who is this Jeanne Malotte? There’s no record of any such person being born or showing up in any census prior to 1910. Some of the particulars match those of Cherry Wilson – age, state of birth. I suspect that this is their real marriage record, but for some reason they used a pseudonym for her. Why? I don’t know.

Her first story in Western Story Magazine, The Valley of Sinister Blossoms, appeared in 1921. A newspaper article from the time has this account of her:

Facing the absolute necessity of keeping the home fires burning while nursing an invalid husband, Mrs. Cherry Wilson, 1330 W Pacific Ave, wrote a story and sold it to a magazine.

That was three years ago. Since that time she has kept on writing them, and has had 30 or more published. Her latest is called "The Valley of Sinister Blossoms", and appears in the current issue of Western Story Magazine, published at New York by Street and Smith. As a result of the acceptance of this story she has been asked by the editor of the magazine to write a series of similar stories.

Two years ago Mrs. Wilson and her husband took up a homestead near Republic, Washington. The claim was high on a mountain, in the wilds, with no near neighbors. The claim was high on a mountain, in the wilds, with no near neighbors. There she gained her inspiration for writing, and there she located the action of many of her stories. The current story finds its locale there, and centers around an Indian legend of the camas flower.

Lived in Spokane

Mrs. Wilson has been a resident of Spokane for eight years or more, and was formerly Miss Cherry Burdick. They have just relocated in the city after completing their stay on their homestead, and Mrs. Wilson will continue here literary work here.

"They tell me that I have had unusual success for a novice," said Mrs. Wilson. "I know it is fascinating work, and I am appreciative of the welcome my stories have found."

She is writing regularly for the New West magazine of Salt Lake City.

Advertisement for The New West Magazine
Advertisement for The New West Magazine

The New West Magazine was a non-fiction magazine of Western information, established in 1910 and backed by the Mormon Church.  At the same time, she was contributing a column called “Cherry’s Corner” to the local newspaper, The Republic News-Miner.

From then on, she was writing stories regularly for Western Story, with 49 stories appearing in the magazine from 1922 to 1930, about 6 times a year. She was well liked by the readers, and Street and Smith issued her 1929 serial, Stormy Dorn, as a book in the same year. More of her serials were published in British editions by Ward Lock & Co in the 1930s. In 1934, her father passed away.

Cherry Wilson stories featured on the covers of Western Story Magazine
Cherry Wilson stories featured on the covers of Western Story Magazine

“Stormy” was also made into a movie in 1935, starring Noah Beery Jr. and Rex the Wonder Horse.  At least six of her stories were made into movies, four of which starred Buck Jones.

Movies based on Cherry Wilson stories
Movies based on Cherry Wilson stories

Wilson might have gone to Hollywood briefly in 1935 as a staff screenwriter at Universal Pictures but returned to Spokane soon after. She was also the script writer for a radio serial called Hoofbeats from 1936 to 1937. With all this going on, her output dropped to 27 stories in the 1940s.

Her last story appeared in 1943, a year after her mother died. What caused her to stop writing – was it the stress of the loss of her parents, the changing market for westerns or taking care of her husband, we don’t know. Robert Wilson died in 1958. Her last years must have been lonely, far away from her brother and sister. Cherry Wilson died on 18 Nov 1976 in Spokane.


  1. Thanks for this research on Cherry Wilson. I've read several of her stories and she was one of the better writers for WESTERN STORY. She did not waste her time writing the typical shoot 'em ups.

    1. The first Cherry Wilson story i read was "All-in" in the November 8, 1924 issue of Western Story. It's about a group of musically inclined cowboys trying to get one of their number to use his newly inherited money to buy a set of musical instruments for an all-brass band, rather than enter into marriage. I believe that the same set of cowboys from the Triangle Z ranch feature in some other stories as well, similar to B.M. Bower's Flying U stories.

      Definitely not the typical Western plots.