His first full-length book, The Fabulous Empire: Colonel Zack Miller's Story (1946), was moderately successful (25,000 copies sold), but it was his Hound-Dog Man (1949)that established Gipson's reputation when it became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and sold over 250,000 copies in its first year of publication. Many critics and general readers maintain that Hound-Dog Man was Gipson's best work, and it remains popular with a large audience. The Hill Country writer earned increasing attention for the rapid succession of books that followed: The Home Place (1950; later filmed as Return of the Texan); Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story (1952); Cowhand: The Story of a Working Cowboy (1953); The Trail-Driving Rooster (1955); Recollection Creek (1955); Old Yeller (1956); and Savage Sam (1962).
Old Yeller was the novel that Gipson considered his best work; it sold nearly three million copies by 1973. The novel, set in the Hill Country in the 1860s, narrates several months in the life of a fourteen-year-old boy left in charge of the household while his father is away. Old Yeller, a stray dog adopted by the boy, helps in the formidable task of protecting the family in the frontier wilderness. Though the dog is given considerable status in the novel, Gipson always allows the human element to predominate in his work. Old Yeller, one of four Gipson works made into films, had its world premiere in San Angelo in 1957; its sequel, Savage Sam, dealing with the same family a few years later, had its first showing in Mason in 1963. The movie versions were produced by Walt Disney Studios and continue to be popular attractions.
Gipson was the recipient of the William Allen White Award, the first Sequoyah Award, the Television-Radio Annual Writers Award, and the Northwest Pacific Award. He was president of the Texas Institute of Letters in 1965. His first marriage, which ended in divorce, was to Tommie Wynn; they had two sons. In 1967 he was married to Angelina Torres. Gipson died at his ranch near Mason on August 14, 1973, and by a special proclamation of the governor was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin. According to one critic, Gipson "made the term Southwest literature legitimate and meaningful" and "accomplished the rare but admirable feat of turning the bits and pieces of folklore into myth." His novels were translated into Danish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. Two posthumous publications were Little Arliss (1978) and Curly and the Wild Boar (1979).
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Texas State Cemetery