Prolific Western Writers: S. Omar and Elsa Barker

Does the Wild West capture your attention? Well, you are in luck and your place to wander over to is the Archives and Special Collections (ASC). The ASC has the literary papers of famed Western-themed writers S. Omar and Elsa Barker. The couple were prominent writers who composed many short stories, poems, and other fictional works, which involve the cowboy western theme. The duo’s works appeared in magazines of national circulation such as the Saturday Evening Post, Western Horseman, True West, Old West, and the New York Times. S. Omar Barker was known as “S.O.B.” and was born June 16, 1894, in Beulah, New Mexico. During Barker’s lifetime, he held many occupations before writing full-time. His occupations included teaching high school English, Spanish, and Latin in Tularosa and he was principal of the Santa Rosa High School briefly. In 1916, he became a forest ranger stationed in the Carson National Forest. In 1917, he enlisted with the 502nd Engineers, American Expeditionary Force, and served during World War I in France. Having contracted tuberculosis, upon discharge in 1918, he spent time recuperating at Fort Bayard, New Mexico. 

SOB and Elsa Barker

S. Omar and Elsa Barker, undated. Rio Grande Historical Collections, S.Omar and Elsa Barker papers (Ms0209).

From 1921 to 1924, Barker devoted his time teaching English at the New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University) and served as a newspaper correspondent for the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican. He received his degree from the Normal School in 1924 and published his first book of poetry, Vientos de las Sierras, that year. He then turned to politics and served one term in the New Mexico legislature from 1925-1926.

Western Trails Cover

S. Omar Barker featured on the Western Trails publication cover, undated. Rio Grande Historical Collections, S.Omar and Elsa Barker papers (Ms0209).

In 1926, Barker became successful enough as a writer that he decided to make it as a full-time freelancer. He was known primarily as a writer of western material, publishing poems, many of them humorous in nature, stories, and articles. Barker was dubbed the “Sage of Sapello” and the “Poet Lariat of New Mexico.” Over the years, he was awarded prestigious honors within the western writing field, such as the Spur Award for Best Short Story, Spur Award for Best Short Fiction, Spur Award for Best Short Material, and the Levi Strauss Saddleman Award. In 1928, Barker married Elsa McCormick.

During his writing career, he drafted approximately 1,500 short stories, 1,200 articles, and about 2,000 poems. Barker is best known for his poem titled “A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer.” A longtime and influential member of the Western Writers of America, he was named Lifetime Honorary President of the organization in 1975. At the WWA convention in 1978, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Great Western Writers in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Elsa’s papers are also included in the duo’s papers. Elsa wrote a plethora of short stories and novelettes for several Western-themed publications. Her literary works appeared in Ranch RomancesThrilling Westerns, and Popular Westerns, to name a few publications. Omar passed away in 1985 and Elsa in 1996. Both are buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe, N.M.

If you are interested in browsing through their literary works, please send an appointment request to archives@nmsu.edu. 


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