Luke Short – Western story writer

[Luke Short was a prolific writer of western stories, penning over fifty novels and hundreds of short stories. He was a good craftsman, and his stories had action, mystery and good dialog. He passed away on this day, thirty seven years ago, and i thought it would be a good thing to remember him today. More after the jump.]

Frederick D. Glidden, aka Luke Short
Frederick D. Glidden, aka Luke Short

Luke Short, whose real name was Frederick Dilley Glidden, was born in Kewanee, Illinois, on 19 November, 1908.  He was the son of Wallace and Fannie (Hurff) Glidden. His father was an industrialist. His father died when he was 13 years old, and he was brought up by his mother, who worked as a high school English teacher. His mother later became the Dean of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. His mother’s influence on his writing was evident in the strong, intelligent and independent women that were portrayed in his stories, something that was quite different from the majority of other stories being published at the time.
Fred completed his schooling in Kewanee’s public schools and attended the University of Illinois from 1926 to 1928, majoring in journalism. Following this, he went to the University Of Missouri, School Of Journalism, and graduated with his B.A. in 1930. He was a reporter on five different papers from 1930-31.
This was during the Depression, and jobs were scarce, so he became a logger, and then a fur trapper in Canada in 1932-33, and did a stint as an archaeologist’s gofer in New Mexico in 1933-34. On June 18, 1934, he got married to Florence Elder, of Grand Junction, Colorado.
They both decided to go west and ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fred worked as an odd job man, under the alias of Tom Haid, at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs resort, about thirty miles north of Santa Fe. He was reading Dime Western and Star Western at the time, and was convinced that he could tell stories as good as those he read. He decided to take up writing for a living, and since he had experience living and working in the North, he decided to write North-Western stories.
He started writing in September 1934, mostly working at night on a beat up typewriter. This must have been a tough time for him, as most of his wages went to postage for sending manuscripts to publishers. He had to add return postage for every manuscript, otherwise the publishers wouldn’t send them back, and he couldn’t afford to make copies. He got a lot of rejections, but just kept sending the manuscripts to different publishers.
He was renting a house from Brian Boru Dunne, a local newspaperman. Fred asked Dunne if he knew of any agents that could help him sell his stories. Dunne didn’t know any agents, but he knew someone who did. The “someone” was T.T. Flynn, who put him in touch with Marguerite E. Harper. She told him to redraft his stories as Westerns instead of North-Westerns.
In October 1934, Fred sent Marguerite a story, “Six-Gun Lawyer”. On April 17, 1935, she sold that story to Cowboy Stories, a Street and Smith western pulp, and it appeared in the August, 1935 issue under his real name, F.D. Glidden. The publisher, Orlin F. Tremaine, complained that the name didn’t sound very western, so Marguerite suggested that Fred adopt a pen name. She suggested the pen name Luke Short. Fred liked it; it was short and memorable. Neither of them realized at the time that Luke Short was the real name of a western gambler and gunman who was a friend of Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.
In February 1935, he got his first big break. Adventure magazine bought his novel, Feud at Single Shot, and ran it as a serial in five parts from August to October the same year. It was later printed as a novel in 1936.
He urged his wife to write. She started writing western romances, and sold her first story, “The Chute to love” was sold to Rangeland Romances under her pen name, Vic Elder. This name was also chosen by Marguerite E. Harper. She continued writing till 1943, when their third child was born.
Fred’s brother, Jonathan, was working as a gas heater salesman back home in Illinois. Fred persuaded him to try working as a writer. Jonathan came to New Mexico in 1937 and became a writer, writing western stories under the pen name Peter Dawson. This pen name, also chosen by Marguerite, was based on the brand of whisky he liked to drink.
Once he got the wagon rolling, there was no stopping Luke Short. He went on to write around twenty novels and more than a hundred short stories by 1941, selling them to Adventure, Argosy, the western pulps, Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. By the end of the 1930s, he had stopped writing for the pulps and was mostly aiming at the slicks.
Unable to join the army due to his poor eyesight, Fred worked for the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA) from 1943 to 1945. The 1940s were the peak of Luke Short’s career, with nine novels serialized in Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. His paperbacks were selling in the millions. However his stories had taken a darker turn, moving away from the conventional happy endings to more noirish stories.
The Second World War stimulated the demand for western stories from England, and he was able to sell to markets there as well. There were some peculiar problems – he tried to send one manuscript across to his publishers thrice, but each of the ships was torpedoed. Finally, he managed to send the manuscript across by plane. Almost ten novels of his were made into movies in the 1940s.
Frederick D. Glidden, aka Luke Short's house in Aspen, Colorado
Frederick D. Glidden, aka Luke Short’s house in Aspen, Colorado

He moved to Aspen, Colorado in 1947. The 1950s and 60s were disappointing decades. He tried different things, but nothing panned out. He wrote more screenplays, but these were rejected. The thorium mining company he founded failed. His stories were plagiarized by others, and he got no money from the copiers. He also tried to break out of the western genre, but failed.
He was a founding member of the Western Writers of America, and offered help and advice to younger writers, including Brian Garfield, who would go on to be a bestselling writer himself. He gave him advice, “Take out all the Western trappings. Your story should depend on characters and behavior. If it still works after you get rid of the clichés, it’s a story.” He told Garfield that a western isn’t only horsemanship and gunplay.
He had a contract to produce two books a year for Bantam books, but could only produce six books in that decade. His agent, Marguerite, managed to convince the publisher to use Jonathan to write the remaining books. However, Jonathan passed away unexpectedly on June 22, 1957, at the age of 55 while on a fishing trip. The publisher used a ghostwriter to complete the contract, but didn’t get the expected sales. That led to Louis L’Amour getting a chance to deliver paperback originals for Bantam, and the rest is publishing history.
He was active in community affairs – he was on the local hospital board, was a member of the city council, a member of the county zoning and planning commission and at one time was the mayor of Aspen.
The 1960s got off to a bad start for him – his son James, a Princeton student, died of drowning in the college pool. By the middle of the 1960s, he had settled into a routine of summers in Aspen and winters in Arizona. Despite increasing problems with his eyesight, he was still producing western novels, working a couple of hours each morning, dictating to a secretary in his office. In 1966 his agent of the last thirty years, Marguerite Harper, passed away. In 1969 he received the Levi Strauss award from the Western Writers of America.
In the 1970s, Glidden continued to write. He produced six more western novels, and received the Western Heritage Wrangler award from the WWA. He passed away on August 18, 1975 in Aspen, Colorado after a nine-month struggle with throat cancer. He was survived by his wife, his son, Dan Glidden and a daughter, Kate Hirson.

Frederick D. Glidden, aka Luke Short
Frederick D. Glidden, aka Luke Short


  1. I've always liked Luke Short. In addition to his work in ADVENTURE and the slicks, he also had several serials in WESTERN STORY during the 1937-1940 period. Definitely one of the better western fiction writers.

  2. I am the proud owner of every Western Luke Short wrote (and creeping up on Peter Dawson too). I think the two of them were the best writers of Westerns that this country has produced, Louis L'Amour included. It's amazing, when you think about it, that even though they both started out writing in "the pulps," they could and did construct such complex plots (some of which turned on a single minor incident) that were at the same time fast-moving and absorbing. I also like the way they have of putting at least one strong, independent, really-Western-frontier-type woman into each story. They should both be brought back to print!

  3. I haven't read any books by Peter Dawson yet, though I have read some short stories by him. I think Luke Short wrote great westerns.

    I have to say I disagree with you on one thing, though. You say that it is amazing that they wrote complex, fast moving and absorbing plots, despite their start in pulp fiction. On the contrary, I believe that it was their start in the pulp magazines that refined their skill at fast moving and absorbing writing – certainly all the stories I've read by Luke Short so far in the pulps are like that. Of course the plots had to be scaled to the lengths demanded by the story, but many of his novels were originally published in the pulp magazines, and they had complex plots too.

    I do agree with you that their stories should be in print.

  4. If you like Short's style, take my word, you'll like Dawson too. I think that if you had one book by each of them, with no byline on either one, you'd be hard-pressed to tell which one had written which. They're that similar.

  5. Peter Dawson's work is good, but be warned: eight of the novels that bear his name are by another writer. When Dawson died suddenly of a heart attack a few weeks after his fiftieth birthday, he had just signed a contract with Bantam for eight new novels, so Bantam paid a ghost writer from the Disney studios to write the eight books, and published them under Dawson's name. I haven't read any of them, but Jon Tuska says they are inferior to everything Peter Dawson wrote. The eight books to avoid are: The Savages (1959), Yancey (1960), The Texas Slicks (1961), The Half-Breed (1962), Bloody Gold (1963), The Showdown (1964), A Pride of Men (1966), and The Blizzard (1968).

  6. Yes, I'm aware of that ghost haunting PD's posthumous name. As it happens I just read "The Texas Slicks" and was struck by how historically inaccurate it was–not like most of PD's work, which, if it doesn't hew to historical dates, at least doesn't say that it's 18– and then mention something that hadn't happened yet. I read "The Blizzard" and"The Half-Breed" and thought them fairly good. The others I don't recall; I may have read them, or I may not.

    All the same, assuming that you have a *real* PD novel, the style is *very* similar to Short's.

  7. Thank you for letting us know about this. I know I would be surprised if the writer I assumed the book was by did not actually write the book.

    Of course, with celebrities and ghost writers, that's not unexpected. Neither do I look for this when I know the writer I'm dealing with is a house name, but to see this on a well known individual author who used a pseudonym is, I feel, a betrayal of trust.

    Is this called out in the paperbacks themselves (perhaps incidentally in the copyright section)?

    Thank you for taking the time to point this out and caution readers.

  8. I looked at my copy of "The Texas Slicks," and it is copyright to Bantam Publications. My unghosted titles aren't accessible right now, but I would think they're probably copyright Jonathan Glidden (which was Dawson's real name); that was how I first found out that he was related to Short.

  9. Hey all, Isabelle Glidden here. Fred was my Grandfather and am thrilled there are people out there who love his story/stories as I do. Thank you! Thank you for this post. I am reading one of my Grandfather's unpublished manuscripts atm. He was an amazing man!

  10. I hope that if there are several such MSS., you might consider bringing them out one day! It would be such a delight to see a new Luke Short tale. I'm currently rereading my run of his novels.

  11. Fantastic to have you visit here. As the previous commenter says, we'd love to see those unpublished mss published. Maybe self-published. Frederic Glidden aka Luke Short was a wonderful writer and it'd be amazing to have some new stories by him to read.

  12. HI Isabelle Glidden. I am writing about your Grandfather in a book about one of his novels that was made into a movie. I'd love to chat with you about him and his work. Please contact me via if you desire. Best regards, Alan K. Rode

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *