Woodrow Wilson Rawls was born on September 24, 1913 to Minzy O. Rawls and
Winnie Hatfield Rawls. He grew up on a small farm near Scraper, Oklahoma, a
farm which the family referred to as "Mother's Cherokee allotment" since it was
land given to Winnie Hatfield Rawls by the government because of her Cherokee
The Rawls children were unable to attend school on a regular basis, so Winnie
decide to teach them at home by reading aloud from books she ordered through
the mail. Some of these were the children's classics: "The Little Red Hen,"
"The Three Little Pigs," and "Little Red Riding Hood." Wilson thought these
stories were "girl stories" and it wasn't until his mother read Jack London's Call
of the Wild that he became interested in reading. Once his mother
finished reading that book to the children, she gave it to Wilson, who took the
book everywhere with him. He even read the book aloud to his dog. Wilson Rawls
had found his dream. He wanted to grow up and be a writer. He wanted to write a
boy and dog story that would affect others as much as Call of the Wild
had affected him.
In 1929, the Depression hit the country. Wilson was sixteen years old. He left
home and traveled all over the country finding any jobs he could. All the time
he traveled, he wrote stories on what paper he could find. The Rawls family
moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1935. Wilson began going to Albuquerque
each fall to hunt and work with his family. Each year he took the stories he
had written on the road, and locked them in an old trunk in his father's
workshop. One year he headed north to Idaho where he began working at the
Atomic Energy Commission site in the Arco desert. It was in Idaho that he met
Sophie Styczinski, a budget analyst for the Atomic Energy Commission.
In 1958, Sophie and Wilson decided to marry. On a trip to Albuquerque, just a
few weeks before he was to be married, Wilson decided to give up his dream of
being a writer and become more responsible. He had never dared to show those
stories to anyone. On a hot August day, he gathered all the manuscripts from
the old trunk and burned them.
Just a few months after the wedding, Wilson discovered that his dream was not
going to die that easily. He still wanted to be a writer. He confided his dream
to Sophie. He told her of the long nights he had spent writing stories by the
light of hobo town campfires, or by the side of the road as he waited for a
ride. He told her how he had burned all those stories just before their
Fortunately, Sophie was not only supportive, she was extremely enthusiastic and
with her editorial skills, the first version of the Where the Red Fern Grows
was written and came out in the Saturday Evening Post as a three-part
serial in 1961. Later that year, it was published in hardback by Doubleday.
Wilson had realized his dream of being a writer! He went on to write a second
book, Summer of the Monkeys
, while living in Idaho Falls.
In 1975, he and Sophie moved to Cornell, Wisconsin where he died in December of
Short Fact Sheet About (Woodrow) Wilson Rawls
from Something about the Author, Vol.22
PERSONAL: Born, Sept. 24, 1913 in Scraper, OK; son of Minzy O. and Winnie
(Hadfield) Rawls; married Sophie Ann Styczinski (budget analyst for Atomic
Energy; retired, 1972) on Aug. 23, 1958.
CAREER: Became itinerant carpenter in teens and worked for an oil company on a
construction job in Mexico and in South America; also worked on the alcan
Highway in Alaska, on five of the major dam jobs in the United States, in West
Coast shipyards, for the Navy in Oregon, for a lumber company in British
Columbia. Full-time writer, 1959. Visited with and lectured to students in
elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities throughout the