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As It Was: Lumberman Verne Athanas Writes Popular Westerns

Verne Athanas started out working in the Oregon lumber industry and ended up as a successful writer of Westerns.

Athanas graduated from Ashland High School in 1936 and married his school sweetheart the same year.  After suffering an early heart attack, he gave up logging and started writing under the pseudonym Bill Colson. He set a goal of writing 1,000 words daily, and soon began selling stories to magazines, including Colliers, Country Gentleman, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Athanas’ first hit in the Post was a war-time adventure, titled “Charge of the Jungle Battalion.”  His novel titled “The Proud Ones,” was made into a movie by 20th Century Fox and may have been the prototype for the TV series “Gunsmoke.”  He also wrote television scripts for the popular series “Wagon Train.” 

Athanas declared in an interview, “I am a Westerner. I could never write about suburbia or metropolitan life because I am unacquainted with them.”  Athanas died of a heart attack in 1952 while acting as master of ceremonies at a Western Writers of America banquet in Boise, Idaho. 

In his short life, Athanas wrote more than 100 stories and serials and three novels.

Sources: "Author Dies At Banquet." The Oregonian, 23 June 1962.; "Verne Athanas." Southern Oregon Historical Society, Southern Oregon Historical Society, www.sohs.org/biographies;  Athanas, (William) Verne, Who's Who Among Pacific Northwest Authors. McCullough, Faith. "Ashland Author Credits Success To Persistence, Talent, Belief." Medford Mail Tribune, Feb. 1962.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.