Three Wyoming Authors Awarded Western Writing's Highest Honor

Wyoming authors Craig Johnson, Candy Moulton, and W. Michael Gear are winners of the Western Writers of America's 2024 Spur Awards. The Spur Award is considered one of the most prestigious awards in American literature.

Andrew Rossi

March 12, 20248 min read

Wyoming 2024 Spur Award winners Craig Johnson, from left, Candy Moulton and W. Michael Gear.
Wyoming 2024 Spur Award winners Craig Johnson, from left, Candy Moulton and W. Michael Gear. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming will be well-represented at the 2024 Western Writers of America convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June when three Cowboy State writers will be given Spur Awards, one of the highest honors for Western writers.

When the Western Writers of America announced the winners of the 2024 Spur Awards on Saturday, three Wyoming writers were among them, and a fourth was named as a finalist.

Two of those are Cowboy State Daily contributors Candy Moulton and Rod S. Miller. Moulton won Best Biography for her book “Sacajawea: Mystery, Myth, and Legend.” Miller’s poem “Even the Birds” was a finalist for Best Western Poem.

This is Moulton’s fourth Spur Award, who said even being a winner before didn’t soften the surprise of being chosen again.

“This one really feels good,” she said. “I didn't expect it at all. It really, really surprised me, and I'm really pleased.”

The Spur Award for Best Western Contemporary Novel went to Craig Johnson for the 19th installment of his popular Walt Longmire mystery series, “The Longmire Defense.”

W. Michael Gear won the 2024 Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction for his work “Bad Choices: A Wyoming Chronicles Story.” It’s part of a Western anthology titled “Ridin’ With The Pack: A Western Short Story Collection.”

Rod Miller
Rod Miller (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Spurred Into Excellence

For Moulton, winning a Spur Award is a paramount achievement for any Western writer. The annual awards consider entries submitted by authors and artists from all over the world.

“Winning a spur award is not easy,” she said. “The entries come from the best writers in the whole country and the world. It shows the health and the state of Western literature.”

Anyone can submit work to the Western Writers of America to be considered for a Spur Award. Previous Spur Award recipients review and score all the entries, which range from fiction and nonfiction novels to poems, songs, and documentaries.

Another notable 2024 Spur Award recipient is Dayton Duncan, the longtime scriptwriter for documentarian Ken Burns. He won Best Documentary Script for PBS’s “American Buffalo.”

Moulton believes the caliber of the judging adds to the award's allure. Winning a Spur means “your peers” determined the work was singularly worthy of recognition, she said.

“Western Writers of America has always wanted to have the best in Western literature,” she said. “Being judged by your peers always feels good.”

  • Craig Johnson main new book 4 3 23
    (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • Craig Johnson Desk scaled
    (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • Craig Johnson has fun with the family, and the dogs.
    Craig Johnson has fun with the family, and the dogs. (Courtesy Photo Craig Johnson)

Time Flies

Longmire author Johnson won his second Spur Award for Best Western Contemporary Novel, but he didn’t know until Cowboy State Daily called him Tuesday afternoon.

“I've never had it broken to me by the fourth estate,” he said. “It's very nice to have this happen like it.”

Johnson won his first Spur Award in 2009 for “Another Man’s Moccasins,” the fourth installment in the ongoing Longmire series.

“It's always nice to have your work acknowledged like that,” he said. “You go back down the list of authors who've won Spur Awards: Elmer Kelton, Louis L'Amour, Glendon Swarthout, Larry McMurtry, Tony Hillerman. It's always nice to be thrown into that pot, I have to admit.”

Johnson is pleased that the Western Writers of America selected “The Longmire Defense.” In the book, he explores the past of his iconic character, Walt Longmire, as he investigates a crime that hits close to home.

“I like to think of Walt as being one of the most ecumenical detectives that there is,” he said. “He's a firm believer in the maxim that you're innocent until proven guilty. (This book) sets him off on a different kind of investigation. He's kind of out to get his grandfather. So, it makes for an exciting kind of book, you know, just in the sense that, you know, there's a lot of skullduggery.”

“The Longmire Defense” is the 19th book in the series. Johnson can hardly believe he’s been at it this long.

“It sounds strange coming out of my mouth,” he said. “It doesn't seem like 19 years or 20 years that I've been writing these books. It seems like maybe a couple. I guess that means I'm having a good time, right? If you're having a good time, time flies.”

  • At the Sacajawea Cemetery at Fort Washakie, Wyoming.
    At the Sacajawea Cemetery at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • Sacajawea's grave at Fort Washakie, Wyoming.
    Sacajawea's grave at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Silent Biography

Moulton’s book “Sacajawea: Mystery, Myth, and Legend” is a biography of the Lemhi Shoshone woman who became one of the nation's most revered historical figures through her contributions to the Lewis and Clark Expeditions.

Considering her legendary status in Western and American history, Moulton said nearly everything about Sacajawea is shrouded in ambiguity.

“Honestly, we don't even know how to spell or say her name,” she said. “There are multiple ways, depending on where you are in the country.”

In her research, Moulton couldn’t find a single direct quote or written document directly from Sacajawea. Men wrote every existing account and description of the iconic woman.

While writing her biography, Moulton attempted to get as close as she could to the authentic Sacajawea. The difficulty and success in her effort make winning this Spur Award “even sweeter.”

“When you write a person's biography, you want to know what that person thought, said and felt,” she said. “Her impressions of her life, and we have none of that. We don't know where she was born or where she died. It was challenging to craft a story using a lot of different resources to try to figure out this really interesting woman.”

Gratifying As A Gunfight

Miller’s poem “Even the Birds” was one of several published in “The Dog’s Pancake,” a collection of his work.

Miller said the poem is about “going out on your first cattle drive with the old cowboys waiting around until you can see the cows.”

This was Miller’s first time submitting anything to be judged by the Western Writers of America.

“I’m gratified to be a finalist for the Spur Award,” he said. “As gratified as any winner in a gunfight can be.”

Miller sees a silver lining in being a finalist rather than a winner for Best Western Poetry, at least this year.

“I'm kind of glad that I didn't win first place,” he said, “because that would entail a mandatory trip to Oklahoma to receive the prize.”

Miller received the Wyoming Art Council’s Creative Writing Fellowship for Poetry for “The Dog’s Pancake.” Being a Spur Award finalist for the same work gives him more pride in his writing efforts.

“I'm glad the poem got that kind of recognition,” he said. “And it may lead me to meet a better class of women. Who knows?”

Critical Creds

Gear is also gratified about his Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction. “Bad Choices: A Wyoming Chronicles Story” was set in the same universe as the three novels in his Wyoming Chronicles Series.

“Kathy and I are both dabbling in apocalyptic westerns, which is an entirely new category,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “Dissolution was a finalist for the Spur two years ago. And now, the short story has won a Spur. So, it's like we're establishing critical creds for writing in a whole new genre.”

Gear and his wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, are already among Wyoming’s highest-decorated authors. They’ve both received the Owen Wister Award from Western Writers of America for lifetime contributions to the Western genre and have been inducted into the Western Writers Hall of Fame.

Kathleen won the 2023 Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction for “No Quarter.” Michael says winning in the same category in back-to-back years makes it even more exciting.

“Winning this spur this year was really gratifying from the standpoint that Kathy won last year,” he said. “I have spent my entire career writing in Kathleen's shadow because she's always so much cleverer and better than I am. I'm just delighted that I was able to keep up with the beautiful Kathleen.”

That’s been the key to Gear’s ongoing success, in his words. And perhaps a philosophy similarly romantic Western writers might find beneficial in their Spur-ious pursuits.

“The secret to success is if you have no talent, marry it,” he said.

Community Celebration

Moulton, Johnson and Gear will officially receive their Spur Awards during the Western Writers of America convention in Tulsa. Moulton’s especially excited to share the moment with the Gears, fellow writers and close friends.

“Michael is one of my very best friends in Wyoming,” she said. “It’s great to win an award together with a friend of yours.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.