Will Henry, a prolific author of Western adventure novels who drew upon his experiences as a cowhand and gold miner, died Saturday in Van Nuys. He was 79.
Henry died at Valley Hospital Medical Center of pneumonia, said his son, Christopher Allen of Agoura.
Eight of Henry’s 53 novels became motion pictures, including “Pillars of the Sky” (1956) with Jeff Chandler and Dorothy Malone, which was originally published in 1953 as “To Follow a Flag”; “MacKenna’s Gold” (1969) with Gregory Peck, published in 1963; and “Tom Horn” (1979), starring Steve McQueen, originally published in 1975 as “I, Tom Horn.”
His last novel, “Summer of the Gun,” was published in 1978.
Born Henry Wilson Allen in Kansas City, Mo., he began submitting short stories to Liberty and Collier’s magazines when he was 12. His father wanted him to become a journalist, but the self-described “vagrant” left the University of Missouri after a year to explore the West. He worked as a sheepherder, horse wrangler and store clerk on Indian reservations.
He settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1930s and worked as a contract writer for MGM before dedicating his life to novels. He drew on his menial jobs for inspiration, starting with his first book in 1950, “No Survivors.” It chronicled the Indian vantage point of the battle of Little Big Horn and is considered by many to be his best work. Henry, who used that nom de plume primarily but also wrote under the name Clay Fisher, also sketched Indian warriors including Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph. Most of his works were written from his home in Encino.
“If, in this search back through the ponytracks of time, I could stir the heart and memory of only one Indian, returning him his pride and his heritage of honor, then the long ride will have found its proper ending, will have found what it set out to seek: justice,” Henry was quoted in the anthology “Contemporary Authors.”
His other books include “Yellow Hair” (1953) and “The Tall Men” (1954), both under the Fisher name, and “From Where the Sun Now Stands” (1960), written as Henry. Many of his works have been printed in several foreign languages. A spokesman for Bantam Books, which has published about 40 of his works, estimated they have sold 15 million copies.
In addition to his son, Henry is survived by his wife of 53 years, Dorothy; a daughter, Valerie; two brothers; a sister and four grandchildren.
A graveside service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, with a memorial service at 7 p.m. Friday at the mortuary chapel.
The family asks that donations be made in Henry’s name to Hospice of the Canyon, P.O. Box 8896, Calabasas 91372.