Chilton Williamson, Jr.
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About Chilton Williamson, Jr.


Chilton Williamson, Jr. was born in New York City and raised there and on the family farm near South Windham, Vermont where he acquired a lifelong love of nature and of the outdoors, horses, fishing, and hunting.

At Columbia College, he majored in European History and studied voice privately for some years, training to become an operatic tenor. Having given up a musical career, Williamson did four years of graduate work in American history at Columbia before becoming History Editor for St. Martin's Press in New York. During his three years with St. Martin's, he contributed numerous essays and book reviews to many publications, including Harper's, The New Republic, National Review, Commonweal, and The Nation.

In 1976 Williamson became Literary Editor (later Senior Editor) for National Review. The following year he moved to Block Island, Rhode Island, where he spent an isolated winter, gathering material for his first book (Saltbound: A Block Island Winter: Methuen, 1980) and commuting every other week to the magazine offices in New York. In Saltbound, Williamson interwines the history of the island from colonial days down to the present with a narrative account of his own experiences and adventures to depict an isolated traditional community transformed over three centuries by the forces of modernization and "progress."

Williamson moved to Kemmerer, Wyoming in the summer of 1979 to begin work on what he originally planned as the Western equivalent of Saltbound. Still on the payroll of National Review, commuting bi-monthly to his office in New York for four days at a time, he went to work with a crew on a drilling rig in the famous Overthrust Belt, in those days the symbol of the Energy Boom, the Sagebrush Rebellion, and the New West. From his lodgings in the Regency Apartments in Kemmerer, Williamson edited his reviews section, wrote his columns, worked long hours as a rigger and afterward at his desk making notes of all he had seen and heard that day, and completed his education as an outdoorsman begun years before in Vermont. By paying close attention to experienced people who had something to teach him, he learned to shoot a rifle fast and with accuracy, to navigate and survive in the backcountry, to break his own horses and train them to the mountain trails, load a packhorse, and butcher and pack big game. The literary result of his first year in the Rocky Mountain West is Roughnecking It: Or, Life in the Overthrust (Simon & Schuster, 1982): a thoroughly reprehensible work that has been described as a "kickass" book. Inspired by Mark Twain's classic, Roughing It, the book's theme is how the New West was foreshadowed by the Old, and how the Old West lingers on in the New. Roughnecking It was excellently reviewed, and is said to have found its way into the syllabus of a University of Wyoming course devoted to the study of social problems in Wyoming. Best of all, from the author's point of view, it won acceptance in the West as a kind of Oilriggers' Bible. Though presently out of print, it is still in demand by oilpatch veterans twenty-four years after its publication.

Williamson made his permanent residence in Kemmerer after arranging with National Review to become a long-distance editor and contributor, working from his home. In 1989 he left NR for a similar position at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, published by the Rockford Institute in Rockford, Illinois. Early in 1994, Williamson inaugurated a regular Chronicles column, “The Hundredth Meridian,” that continues today. Here he has recorded, for more than a decade now, espisodes from his life and adventures as a Westerner-hunting, fishing, horsepacking, backpacking, pushing cattle, breaking horses-and his travels throughout the West, in particular the southwest and northern Mexico and including the great Indian reservations where he has many friends and acquaintances. (The first twenty-two columns, deliberately planned as a serial book, have recently been published by Chronicles Press as The Hundredth Meridian.) In 2015, Mr. Williamson was appointed editor for Chronicles.

Williamson's first two novels, Desert Light (St. Martin's, 1987) and The Homestead (Grove Weidenfeld), are both set in southwestern Wyoming. However, the setting of his subsequent novels and short fiction (appearing from time to time in "The Hundredth Meridian"), is the American Southwest and Mexico, reflecting Williamson's fascination with the region for its stark desert scenery and its intermixture of Latin, Indian, and "Anglo" cultures. (An aficionado of the corrida, or bullfight, Williamson has witnessed many such fights at the Plaza Monumental in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.) In 1997, he moved from Kemmerer to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he lived for two years gathering impressions and material for The Last Westerner, Mexico Way, A Place You've Never Been, The Prince of Juárez, and his latest work, The White Indian an historical novel inspired by a regionally famous incident concerning the kidnapping of a six-year-old white boy by an Apache raiding party after the raiders had killed his parents on the road between Silver City and Lordsburg, New Mexico, in 1883.

In 1999, Williamson moved back to Wyoming, settling this time in Laramie, on the opposite side of the state from Kemmerer. In Laramie, he remet and married an old acquaintance from his New York days: Maureen McCaffrey, of
a wellknown publishing family. He has recently completed a children's book, The Greatest Lion, and is currently at work on a new novel, The Education of Héctor Villa, inspired by his familiarity with, and affection for, the border region and its people. Williamson also alternates "The Hundreth Meridian" with another column, "What's Wrong With the World." Several times a year, he escapes Wyoming to make a backpack trip in the Grand Canyon or the Lake Powell region of southeastern Utah, or take his horse camping with him in the slickrock country near Canyonlands.

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