Dusty Richards (1937–2018)

aka: Ronald Lee Richards

Dusty Richards was an author of numerous Western novels and a noted mentor each year to hundreds of beginning writers. Beginning in 2000, he was a patron contributor of the Arkansas Writers Conference. In 2005, he received the Cowboy Culture Award for the many hours he has volunteered in helping aspiring authors.

Ronald Lee “Dusty” Richards was born on November 11, 1937, in Chicago, Illinois, to John C. Richards and Jean E. Hogenbirk Richards. His father was a stationary power plant engineer, and his mother was a homemaker. He had one brother and one sister. At thirteen, he moved with his family to Mesa, Arizona. A year later, they moved to Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from North Phoenix High School in 1955 and received his bachelor’s of science from Arizona State University in 1960.

At age twenty-three, Richards moved to a ranch west of Winslow (Washington County), which he owned in partnership with two other ranchers. He taught high school biology and science at Huntsville (Madison County) and at Winslow in 1961–62. On June 5, 1961, he married Patricia Ann (Pat) Donahoe; they later moved to Springdale (Washington and Benton counties), where they lived near Beaver Lake. They had two daughters.

Richards’s first published novel was Noble’s Way, released in hardcover by M. Evans & Co. in 1991. The story follows the character of McCurtain, who is searching for a place to not be persecuted. Rancher’s Law, published by St. Martin’s in 2001, introduces readers to a deputy territorial marshal for Judge Isaac Parker’s court in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). The Natural, part of a rodeo series by North American Library, was published in 2002. It is a contemporary story about a rodeo announcer who meets a rookie bull rider from Arkansas who can ride but has lots of problems; much of the background of the book came from Richards’s twenty years with the Rodeo of the Ozarks. In 2003, The Natural won the Fiction Book of the Year Award from the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. In 2004, Richards’s The Abilene Trail, in a series published by Signet under the name Ralph Compton, won the same award. Another book in the trail drive series, Trail to Fort Smith (Signet 2004), is the story of two saddle partners who travel from San Antonio to Fort Smith to sell cattle. Richards also wrote written a number of magazine columns, and his work was anthologized in the first and second volumes of Echoes of the Ozarks (2005, 2006), as well as in other publications.

History is prevalent in many of his books; his novels are history driven and show how events in a particular time affected the average citizen. He extensively researched the era and used primary sources, including diaries and letters of the people involved. In one interview, he remarked, “Hours and hours, pages and pages, book after book, you can’t have enough knowledge. Take some history, put your hero in the midst and let him find his way home.”

Richards served as president of Ozarks Creative Writers, which has an annual conference at Eureka Springs (Carroll County). He served two terms as president and was a life-time member of the Ozarks Writers League. He was also a board member and lifetime member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., and a three-term board member of Western Writers of America. Starting in the 1980s, he served as president of Northwest Arkansas Writers. He was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame in 2004.

At the annual Western Writers of America conference in Springfield, Missouri, in June 2007, Richards received two Spur Awards. His novel The Horse Creek Incident (Jove/Berkley 2006) won for Best Original Paperback Novel, and Comanche Moon (Amazon Shorts 2007) won for Best Original Short Fiction. The Spur Awards are given annually for distinguished writing about the American West. Recent novels include Once a Ranger (2014) and Ambush Valley (2014). In 2015, he released his 150th book, The Mustanger and the Lady; this novel was adapted for screen in 2017 with the title Painted Woman, which had its debut at the Bentonville Film Festival.

Richards was in a car accident in December 2017, and he died of complications from injuries he received in that accident on January 18, 2018.

For additional information:
Joenks, Laurinda. “Telling Tales.” The Morning News (Springdale). December 31, 2006, pp. 1H–2H.

———. “Western Features Charming Bad Guy.” The Morning News (Springdale). January 15, 2001, p. 6.

Jeanie Horn
Marshall, Arkansas


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