Walt Morey has been described as a "wild and wooly man who writes kids' books."* 85 years of hands-on living, several careers and a wide range of colorful jobs in Washington, Oregon and Alaska supplied him with abundant resources for a lifetime of story writing to the happy benefit of several generations of young readers.
He was born in 1907 in Hoquiam, Washington, to a family that moved often as his father sought work. From a sickly baby to a child whom the outdoors had toughened up, Walt loved every activity except school. One day a neighbor gave him a book that caught his imagination (Chip of the Flying U, a biography of Montana artist Charles M. Russell). From then on Morey read vociferously.
Out of highschool Walt's lifetime of varied work experiences began when he worked in mills and construction jobs as his father had done. Later, married and living in Oregon, Walt Morey tried his hand at writing a book without success. Eventually, with encouragement from a fellow writer he turned to a subject he knew well: boxing. So began his apprenticeship in writing as a long series of articles and short stories on all the topics he "knew well" were accepted and published for "story" magazines popular in the days before television. When these magazines were later put out of business, Morey put his energy into filbert farming and being a shipbuilding foreman. Though not writing, he continued to add up experiences of people and places that would one day dramatically find their way into the pages of books for the young.
Spending a summer in Alaska (still a territory) doing underwater rescue and repair diving for fishing ships was the final catalyst that set off Walt's career of writing children's fiction. Once home, he began to write books filled with sights and sounds of Alaska. These books usually featured a relationship between a boy and an animal; or sometimes, as in The Wolf Dog, would take the viewpoint of the animal. Gentle Ben, about a bear who becomes a pet and is protected from uncaring people by the boy who befriends him, is especially well loved. "These stories do not stay long on library shelves; their vivid descriptions of icy wastes combined with the warmth of their emotional tone make them popular reading," says Mary Croxson in Twentieth Century Children's Writers.
In the 1970's Mr. Morey turned to writing books for young people set in Oregon. He combined childhood memories with research into pioneering days, and centered several stories on wild-horse-and-boy relationships. Year of the Black Pony is considered to be one of the best of these. Its climax comes from a personal remembrance of his own: "It happened to me, just as it is written, when I was thirteen. We lived in northern Canada. I rode into town to get a Christmas present for my brother. Returning home, I became lost when I tried to take a shortcut. It was night, and between twenty and thirty below." In Year of the Black Pony, this kind of danger, and the challenge of a wild horse, combined wih careful research and authentic characterization create a story where courage, patience and humility allow four individuals to become a family that will make it through all the hardships of pioneer life. It is to be thought that, once again, the author was writing about something he "knew well"--to the ongoing satisfaction of readers of all ages for many years to come.
Walt Morey died in 1992, in Wilsonville, Oregon.
*(Larry Leonard in Oregon Magazine)