Jack Schaefer, the author of Shane, one of the most popular westerns of all time, is born in Cleveland, Ohio.
During the first half of his life, Schaefer was a successful journalist, but Shane was his first attempt at a novel. Published in 1949, when Schaefer was 42, this simple but powerful tale of a high-plains drifter who comes to the rescue of Wyoming homesteaders was a popular and critical success, as was the 1953-film adaptation starring Alan Ladd. Buoyed by this overwhelming reception, Schaefer became a full-time writer and wrote several other memorable novels, short-story collections, and historical books.
Shane, though, has remained Schaefer’s most popular and influential work, in part due to the wider audience the film version captured for the story. Like the protagonist of Owen Wister’s 1902 novel, The Virginian, Schaefer’s Shane helped construct the popular image of the western cowboy as an all-natural nobleman on horseback. Shane was the American version of the valorous European knight, who roams a lawless kingdom righting wrongs and striking down the evil oppressors of the common people.
In Shane, Schaefer deliberately left the hero’s past obscure, only hinting that he had once been a skilled gunman who wished to leave his violent past behind. Loosely based on the true story of the late-nineteenth-century Wyoming range wars between homesteaders and cattle barons, Schaefer set his novel in a high western valley. One of the most elegant representations of the powerful Western novel, Shane inspired legions of imitators and helped make the genre one of the most popular of the second half of the twentieth century.