Sunday, 1 March 2020

Photos of Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona


Walt Coburn was a famous western author in the pulps. He started his career as a writer when his lifetime goal of being a cowboy was ended after an accident. With a little encouragement from author Robert J. Horton, who had heard Coburn's stories earlier and realized his talent for storytelling, Coburn parlayed his start with a vignette in the July 8, 1922 issue of Argosy into  a thirty year, multi-million word career in the pulps.



Author Walt Coburn riding a horse near his house in Tucson, Arizona
Author Walt Coburn riding a horse near his house in Tucson, Arizona



From a mini-bio included with the inventory of his papers at the University of Arizona:

Walter John Coburn was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana Territory, on October 23, 1889. His father, a pioneer cattleman, arrived in Montana Territory in 1863 and founded the Circle C Ranch, one of the largest outfits in the Northwest at the time. Walt gained his cowboy experience which served as material for his future fiction and non-fiction stories as a "$40 a month cowhand" on the Circle C.

From his first accepted story in 1922 until the demise of the pulp western serials in the 1950s, Coburn gained a reputation as "king of the pulp westerns." He published more than 1,000 stories and 40 books. At one point he was producing 600,000 published words a year, and he kept that pace up for two decades. His stories were particularly noted for their authenticity to the frontier and range experience.

Coburn first came to Arizona in 1916 and ranched with his brothers in Globe. He moved to Prescott in 1927, spent 35 years in Tucson and returned to Prescott for the last 10 years of his life. Coburn committed suicide at the age of 82 on 25 May 1971. His autobiography, Walt Coburn: Western Word Wrangler, was published posthumously in 1974.

These photos of his house were shared with me recently.

Exterior of author Walt Coburrn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Exterior of author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Looks like a quite lonely place.

Verandah of author Walt Coburrn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Verandah of author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona



The verandah is quite welcoming, but looks like it's from a much older time period.

Living room of author Walt Coburrn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Living room of author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Except for the lamps in the living room, there are no electrical appliances.

Study in author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Study in author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona
The author's study with books and lamp to the right of the desk.

Kitchen of author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona
Kitchen of author Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona
The kitchen was the only modern room, with a refrigerator and an electric cooktop.

These photos (and a few more I haven't shared here) are courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The photographer is Maynard L. Parker. Coburn's wife, Pat Coburn, is missing from all the photos. I don't know what happened to the house in the eighty plus years since then.

If you want to know more about Walt Coburn, his auto-biography is _the_ book to get. James Reasoner reviews Stirrup High (deals with his boyhood and early youth) and Western Word Wrangler (some coverage of boyhood and youth, more about his writing career) here, and prefers the former. You can't go wrong with either.



5 comments:

  1. Thanks for these photos. Walt Coburn is one of my favorite western writers, though as his career progressed, his drinking habits started to interfere with his plots. Many later stories start off great with crisp scenes and western dialog but end up with loose ends. I can imagine Coburn starting some stories sober but as the writing moved on the drinking started to influence the stories.

    But when he was fairly sober, he was one of the best. He was a real cowboy having lived the life and he knew how they talked and acted. Editors helped ruin some of his work by forcing him to tack on romance at the end. I think his best work appeared in WESTERN STORY and some of the Popular Publication titles like DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN. He was one of the few writers to have a pulp named after him.

    But then after a 30 year run in the pulps the whole thing collapsed and he was without a market by the early fifties. Because of his drinking he never made the switch to paperback novels and he ended up killing himself. His suicide note at the end of his autobiography is really sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Coburn was in some ways similar to Max Brand in his prodigious and uneven output. I get the sense with both that they sometimes lost interest in their own stories and rushed to wrap it up before they run up against the word limit. Many of their stories also suffered from the pulps need for a happy ending. Coburn did quite a lot of writing for Fiction House in the 1920s, but i think the editors there didn't want to lose him and the lack of editorial guidance affected the quality of his writing.

      But when they were good, they were very good indeed. One of the best stories I've read from Coburn is Pud Ackley, Cowboy which appeared in West, January 1933. Can you recommend a few stories?

      Delete
    2. There are many stories I could recommend but most of them happened to be published by WESTERN STORY. For a period of time Coburn was appearing once a month and many of the stories are outstanding. We need a comprehensive collection of his best work. His novels don't impress me but some of his novelettes, especially in WESTERN STORY, DIME WESTERN, etc were very good indeed.

      You are right about Max Brand and Coburn. Both wrote too much and too fast. Both were two fisted drinkers but at least Coburn knew his subject having lived the western life. Brand was not a westerner and if fact falsely imagined himself to be a poet. He live in a villa in Italy for many years. At least with Coburn, we are spared such silliness.

      For a long time I've tried to like Brand. Once I knew dozens of Max Brand collectors, many of them excerpting and binding his serials into little home made booklets. They now are almost all dead. We both still know one of our friends that continues this practice and he now is the last of the big time Breakers. Thousands of pulp issues have been destroyed.

      I respect Coburn more. Brand's work can be divided into three parts. One third is outstanding or good; one third is mediocre; and one third is poor or below average. Perhaps the same can be said about Coburn but if you back me into a corner, I'll pick Coburn over Brand. At least he knew the real western life and did not write about a fantasy west like Brand.

      Delete
  2. Most interesting. I live in Cochise County AZ, an hour out of Tucson, and so I know the city and its culture well. I'm also a Walt Coburn fan. (I prefer Brand over Coburn because ol' Heinie's prose, even when the plots disappoint, always has that grand, poetic flow Coburn could never match. But that's just personal preference.) Looks like he was northwest of town, then open country, now either BLM land or suburban. The photos of office, living room & verandah ceiling & walls perfectly capture Southwestern architecture & design as prevelant today as it was then. I've been in many a home out here that looks exactly like that. Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome.

      > The photos of office, living room & verandah ceiling & walls perfectly capture Southwestern architecture & design as prevelant today as it was then. I've been in many a home out here that looks exactly like that.

      I've only been to Phoenix, and that was a weekend trip. Didn't get to see any homes, but the scenery was grand. As was the city. Good to know traditional architecture is still going strong; I prefer these single storey ranch houses to the multi-story ones of today.

      Delete