Editor’s love of western life shows in novels

By Don McAlavy: Local columnist

A light went out in Clovis Wednesday morning, May 23, 1984 for William W. Southard, whom we called “Bill Southard.”

He was a friend to many and a special inspiration to me, he died succumbing after a long and heroic struggle against that insidious and dreaded killer we call cancer. He and I were the same age.

In 1982, Bill Southard, as editor of the Clovis News Journal, called me and told me I’d have a bigger audience if I came over to his newspaper. I had been writing a column for the Curry County Times for five years. I did go over to the CNJ.

I have in my hand three of Bill Southard’s novels with his signature on them.

I started reading them again after 25 years and cried. There was a promise of more fine western novels, a promise of growing older with his wife and children and enjoying the fruits of his labor. Promises now unfulfilled.

Bill told me that as he got older he felt more inclined to appreciate the past — to read about those happenings that recalled for him moments of joy, of sorrow, and of times of hardship. He encouraged me in my writing and I’m indebted to him.

Bill and I talked at length about growing up in the 30s and 40s and reading Zane Gray, Max Brand, and other western writers and learning over and over again how right will triumph in the end.

Bill’s books reflected that same philosophy of the western man being free and strong enough in spirit and body to right all wrongs. At the end of Bill’s novels he told a little about himself and it bears repeating here:

“Writing Westerns is, for me,” said Southard, “a natural reaction to the southwest’s infinite blue skies and majestic mountain-desert landscape, the kind of country that spawned a special breed of men: bold and self-reliant, rawhide tough, and bighearted to a fault. If you look closely, you can find traces of those qualities even today among the oldtimers who inhabit New Mexico.

“New Mexico was also the setting for my boyhood, years spent hunting, fishing, exploring on horseback, and helping wrest a living from land that was more hostile than fertile.”

Bill knew about dying. He also knew about humor, and sometimes in this crazy old world humor can be an antidote to death, a way of easing the pain.

Somewhere Bill is on his horse I would like to think, heading into the sunset, and like all cowboys, going to that great roundup in the sky.

(Some of you may not have known that Bill’s first book was winner of the Bantam Books first Western Novel Contest and he received $25,000.)

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: dmcalavy@telescopelab.com