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A. B. Guthrie Jr. Papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 60

Scope and Contents

The A. B. Guthrie Jr. Papers document the life and literary career of A. B. Guthrie Jr., known for his Western novels and environmental writings. The papers span the dates 1901-1991.

The register that follows is based upon the finding aid produced by D'Archivists to accompany the collection. The papers are organized into nine series: I. Correspondence; II.Writings; III.Personal Papers; IV.Subject Files; V.Research Files; VI.Photographs; VII. Printed Material; VIII. Audio and Video Recordings; and XI. A.B. Guthrie Jr. Papers Addition.


  • 1901-1991


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: oversize

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 55-57 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The A. B. Guthrie Jr. Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The A. B. Guthrie Jr. Papers were purchased in 1993 from D'Archivists. The A. B. Guthrie Jr. Papers Addition consists of three boxes of material donated by Mrs. A. B. Guthrie Jr. in 1993.


26.42 Linear Feet (57 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


A. B. Guthrie Jr. (1901-1991), Montana-born writer whose popular Western novels include The Big Sky (1947), The Way West (1949), and Fair Land, Fair Land (1982). His autobiography was published in 1965. In his later years Guthrie became an outspoken advocate of conservation in the West.

A. B. Guthrie Jr. (1901-1991)

Alfred Bertram ("Bud") Guthrie Jr. was born in Bedford, Indiana, on January 13, 1901. The following June he moved with his family to Choteau, Montana, when his father became principal of the newly created Teton County High School there.

At age fourteen Guthrie began work as a printer's devil for the local newspaper, the Choteau Acantha. He graduated from high school in 1919 and entered the University of Washington to study journalism. After a semester he transferred to the University of Montana because, as he said, "I disliked the climate. Days on end of rain and cloudy skies." While at Montana, he studied under H. G. Merriam, considered the dean of Western journalists, and gained experience by contributing to the regional magazine Frontier.

Upon graduating with honors in 1923, Guthrie went with a friend to Mexico to work on an irrigation project. Soon after Guthrie went to California but failed to locate employment. He returned to Montana in 1924 and found temporary work with the Forest Service, which was conducting a decennial agricultural census. When this job ended, he left Montana to work in an uncle's flour and feed mill in Attica, New York. The mill burned down shortly after Guthrie arrived, leaving him unemployed once again.

In 1926, Guthrie found a position in journalism, working as a reporter on the Lexington Leader in Lexington, Kentucky. His new position and his rapid promotions meant that he felt able to ask his high school sweetheart, Harriet Larson, to marry him. Married in 1931, the couple had two children, Alfred Bertram Guthrie III and Helen Guthrie.

Throughout the 1930s, Guthrie's success as journalist with the Leader increased, but so did his desire to become a serious writer. In 1939 he took a leave of absence to travel to Minnesota with his mother, who was being treated for a terminal illness. While reading many Westerns and detective stories, Guthrie decided to write one himself, later noting that "I was going to write a Western and a mystery but I found out it did not come as easy as I thought it would." The result of this decision was the novel Murders at Moon Dance, published by Dutton in 1943. Although Guthrie later considered it "a trashy piece of work," it did fairly well for a first novel and was also published in England and Argentina.

In 1944 Guthrie received a Nieman Fellowship. During his term at Harvard he met Theodore Morrison, a member of the literature faculty and a former associate editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Under Morrison's tutelage, Guthrie's wrote his first major novel, The Big Sky. Published in 1947 by William Sloane and Associates, it was highly praised and brought him recognition. He immediately began research for a sequel to this popular success, and in 1949 he published The Way West.

The Way West won the Pulitzer Prize in May of 1950. His increasing stature brought him many requests for articles from such magazines as Life, Liberty, Atlantic Monthly, Westways, and the Saturday Evening Post. This income, along with the prize money, allowed Guthrie to retire from journalism and return to Montana.

In 1951 Guthrie was invited to Hollywood to write the screenplay for Jack Schaefer's Shane. After the movie's success, Guthrie went on to write several more scripts. including the Hecht-Hill film The Kentuckian and an adaptation of Bent's Fort that never went to production. His last work in Hollywood was a script based on his own novel These Thousand Hills (1956).

The Big It, Guthrie's first book of short stories, was published in 1960. Guthrie published little in the early 1960s, but his popular autobiography, The Blue Hen's Chick, appeared in 1965. His marriage to Harriet Larson had ended, and Guthrie married Carol Luthin in 1967.

Guthrie now decided to continue his "epic of the West" begun with The Big Sky, producing Arfive, (1970), The Last Valley (1975), and Fair Land, Fair Land (1982). During this period, continuing his early interest in detective Westerns, he wrote a series of books featuring the Western sleuth Chick Charleston (a county sheriff in Montana) and his educated sidekick Jason Beard. The series included Wild Pitch, The Genuine Article, and Playing Catch-up, and won a number of awards, including the Silver Spur Award of the Western Writers Association and an award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Guthrie's last "western entertainment," Murder in the Cotswolds (1989), featured the same characters but was set in the English countryside.

The preservation of the West he loved became a major concern of Guthrie's during his later years. He increasingly accepted public engagements and writing assignments that would allow him to speak out on Western environmental abuses, becoming a "patron saint" for a number of environmental organizations. In 1988 David Petersen edited and published a collection of Guthrie's preservationist writings: Big Sky, Fair Land: The Environmental Essays of A. B. Guthrie Jr.

A. B. Guthrie Jr. died in May 1991.

Guide to the A.B. Guthrie Jr. Papers
by Beinecke Staff
August 1993
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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