Emerson Hough was among the most respected serious authors of Western stories of the early 20th century, and was among the first to look toward the movie industry as a vehicle for presenting those stories. Born in Iowa in 1857, to parents who had moved from Virginia five years before, Hough graduated from Newtown High School and taught school before entering the University of Iowa, from which he earned a B.A. in philosophy and went to work for a law firm in Newtown, reading the law -- as it was called then -- to prepare for a career as an attorney. He earned his law degree and headed for New Mexico, seeking a fresh start on a new career, and settled in White Oaks. Hough opened a law firm and also wrote for The Golden Era, the town newspaper. It was while living in New Mexico that he first encountered his longtime fascination with the American West and its settlement; his camping trips became the basis for articles about the locales and the history.
Hough returned to the Midwest in 1886 and turned to writing full-time, for newspapers in Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio, and for various hunting and fishing magazines. In 1889, he joined the staff of Forest and Stream, and subsequently wrote for Field & Stream and the Saturday Evening Post. By the 1890s, he'd developed a national following for his writing, and he parlayed this into tremendous political influence on the issues that concerned him, most notably conservation and what we now call environmentalism. Hough's 1893 articles about the destruction of the buffalo herd in Yellowstone played a major role in persuading Congress to pass laws to try and prevent the animal's extinction. He began writing stories of frontier life, built on the actual history of the settling of West, later in the decade -- his first was The Story of the Cowboy (1897).
Over the next decade and a half, Hough became one of the most popular and respected serious authors of novels and stories dealing with the West. His activities as a writer were interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army's Intelligence Division during the First World War, and he had occasion during this period to develop a literary acquaintanceship with former president Teddy Roosevelt, who shared many of his concerns about the environment. In the early '20s, Hough signed agreements with Famous Players/Lasky Corp. (later Paramount) licensing the film rights to two of his most popular novels, The Covered Wagon (1922) and North of Thirty-Six (1923), the former dealing with the settling of the West and the latter the great post-Civil War cattle drives out of Texas. Alas, Hough never got to enjoy the results of those contracts -- he died of heart failure in 1923, following surgery. North of Thirty-Six was later filmed twice more, as The Conquering Horde (1931) and The Texans (1938).