From the Southern Arizona News-Examiner:

By Harry Alexander / Southern Arizona News-Examiner

Acclaimed western author Harold “Cotton” Smith, Jr. passed away suddenly Aug. 8 at his home in Kansas City, MO. He was 76.

A tribute to Smith was aired on the Voices of the West radio program broadcast on KVOI Radio in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Aug 29. Smith was a regular contributor to the program that features interviews with western authors, discussions on the music and composers of movies about the west and Top Ten lists of the Best of/Worst of categories in the western movie genre. Smith was part of the first panel discussion on the program when it debuted nine years ago.

Hollywood actor and makeup artist Michael F. Blake was also part of that first panel discussion.
“Cotton Smith not only wrote wonderfully entertaining books, he was one heck of a nice guy, ” Blake said.  “A kind and generous soul who embodied the Code of the West. I will miss him and his being part of our group on Emil’s show. Godspeed Cotton.”Host Emil Franzi talked with western authors Johnny Boggs, Nick Ellis and Candy Moulton about Smith and his contributions to keeping alive the western novel. Franzi also had in-studio retired Hollywood stuntman and cowboy Bunker De France.

“Cotton Smith was part of an easy 50 broadcasts over the last nine years sinceVOICES OF THE WEST began,” said Franzi. “I knew we had an audience when my wife reported the month that Boggs was #1 in large type at the Oro Valley Library and Cotton was #2.”

“Damn, he was the only one who’s hand I never got to shake and who I never got to buy a drink,” he added.

One of Smith’s signatures in his novels was character description, but not just of the human characters. He went into great detail describing the character of each horse in his novels, the panel said.

Smith’s son, Scott, called the program to thank the panel for the tribute.

“My wife and I are sitting here having a bourbon in his honor (poured one for him too), crying tears of happy memories. He was a guy who was born about 150 years too late. You’d be happy to know he was buried with his boots on..

Dad absolutely loved doing the show and being on the air with you. Thanks to you and Emil for honoring him.”

After the program aired, Boggs sent host Emil Franzi an email thanking him for the show.

“One weird thing. The boys baseball-burgers trip I always do with Jack takes us to Denver (Jack and his Rockies) and KC (me and my Royals). And I tinker with the schedule up to the last minute. So I had tickets to two Royals games early enough but kept changing plans on where to go after that, although we had to be home before school started Monday.

So about a week or two before our trip, I think that I need to get Jack home at a reasonable hour on Saturday. So I cancel a hotel reservation in Arkansas and book another one in Amarillo. Then I think that maybe we should leave after the Kansas City game on Thursday just to cover some ground. It’s a long haul from KC to Amarillo. But when I try to cancel the hotel room in KC, the computer won’t let me do it. Says try again later. I try again. No luck. Then I say to myself, Just do it later. But I never do. Think about it. But keep putting it off. Then decide to just spend the night in KC. I mean, we’d only be able to drive two hours max after a night game anyway.

And then Candy calls me while we’re driving to St. Louis. And when I realize that visitation is Thursday and the funeral is Friday, I have to think. There’s some reason you couldn’t cancel that hotel room. God’s telling you that you need to be in KC on Friday. You and Jack — Cotton and his wife adored him. The kids made jokes at the funeral home about how Cotton had Jack’s photo taped on the fridge and not his own grandkids — need to be there for that funeral.

If you haven’t figured out, I loved that guy. Gonna miss him a hell of a lot.”

From the obituary that appeared in the Kansas City Star:

A past president of the Western Writers of America, Cotton’s books garnered a Spur Award and the WWA Branding Iron Award. He has published 19 western novels and co-wrote three western story anthologies.

He is also author of Trail to Eagle, a history of the early decades of Boy Scouting in Kansas City; and Tribesmen Arise!, the history of the Tribe of Mic-O-Say.

He was co-creator of First Light, an original musical written for the first televising of the Country Club Plaza Christmas Lighting Ceremony. An Eagle Scout, Cotton also was the recipient of the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award, an honor given to those who implement the Scouting program and perform community service through hard work, self-sacrifice, dedication, and many years of service.

A Western historian and horseman, Cotton was a longtime member and past president of the Saddle & Sirloin Club. For many years, he participated in the annual Desert Caballeros trail drive, covering a hundred miles through the Arizona mountains over the course of a week each year. His many trail rides also included a reenactment longhorn cattle drive into Dodge City.

He coached 3&2 baseball and YMCA football for many years, helping instill character and sportsmanship in the young men who played for him. His teams were scrappy and hard-working, embodying Cotton’s personality and temperament. Cotton and his loving wife and best friend, Sonya, have a close-knit family: son, Scott and his wife Cynthia of Lawrence, Kan.; daughter, Laura Faulkner and husband Owen, grandson Gus and granddaughter Jesse of Bucyrus, Kan.; daughter, Stephanie Kissick and husband Rob, granddaughters Katie and Maggie and grandson Bobby of Leawood, Kan. He also leaves five grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his parents Harold F. Smith, Sr. and Margaret Smith, and a sister, Shirley Smith. He treasured his wife, Sonya, who rode beside him on the trail of life and made it good. His love for his family knew no bounds. He was passionate about life, Scouting and the Jayhawks. He loved a good cigar and a sound horse. He was a steadfast friend and mentor. Cotton’s spirit lit a fire that will live eternally in those who knew him.

A partial list of Smith’s books from his website,

Ride for Rule Cordell
Roundup!: Western Writers of America Presents Great Stories of the West from Today’s Leading Western Writers
Death Mask
The Way of the West, An anthology of three novellas, by three of the best western writers of yesterday and today.
Return of the Spirit Rider
Blood of Bass Tillman
Blood Brothers
Stands a Ranger
Death Rides a Red Horse
Winter Kill
The Thirteenth Bullet (Texas Ranger (Pocket Star Books))

Harry Alexander is the News Editor of the Southern Arizona News-Examiner and the Producer of the Voices of the West radio program.

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