For the next 20 years Sanford Tousey was a top magazine illustrator. He married and he and his wife had a daughter named Dorothy. The family lived in the Bronx. In the early 1930s, illness forced him to retire from the fast-paced world of magazine work. He had been drawing pictures for other people’s stories for a long time and now decided that he would begin telling stories of his own. Although Tousey had lived in big cities like Chicago and New York for all of his adult life, he didn’t look there for the stories he would tell, nor did he think of his years in Madison County. He looked back to his boyhood in the West — to horses and cowboys, rustlers and trail riders and Indians — for his inspiration.
His first book, published in 1932, was based on his own life. “Cowboy Tommy” is the story of a little boy who goes to visit his grandfather’s ranch near an Indian reservation and becomes acquainted with cowboys and Indians. (Thomas was Sanford Tousey’s first name.) Illustrated in bright colors in a cartoon-like style, the book celebrates the joys of ranch living. Tousey followed it up with a sequel, “Cowboy Tommy’s Roundup.”
Over the next 20 years, Sanford Tousey published over 40 books of his own and illustrated several for other authors. Some were biographies of real frontier heroes like Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, John C. Fremont and Wild Bill Hickock. Others were factual books about Indians.
By far the majority of the books, however, were stories about horses and about boys leading an active life. Tousey’s characters joined the circus, foiled rustlers, panned for gold, rode with the Pony Express and looked for treasure.
Some of the stories were taken from life. “Val Rides the Oregon Trail” is the story of Val and his family who travel the Oregon Trail from St. Louis to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Val rides most of the trail on a small but sturdy mule named Jinny. He takes part in a buffalo hunt and helps to fight off an Indian attack. The original Val was Tousey’s grandfather, Dr. Valentine Adamson.
Tousey’s books were popular and sold well. He was the favorite childhood author of former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Tousey retired from writing in 1952. He died in 1961 at his home in Monroe, N.Y.
Sanford Tousey’s connection with Anderson ended when he went to the Art Institute of Chicago for schooling. His mother continued to live here until the 1930s, but he would return only occasionally to visit her. He was periodically interviewed by the local newspapers and always wished the town well.
The Indiana Room has a large collection of Sanford Tousey’s books and will be doing a display of them during the month of May.