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Cunningham, Eugene (1896–1957)

Martin Donell Kohout Biography Entry

Eugene Cunningham [Leigh Carder], novelist, was born in Helena, Arkansas, on November 29, 1896, the son of Ira Eugene and Istalena Adkins (Stradley) Cunningham. The family apparently moved from Arkansas to St. Augustine, Florida, and then to Texas in 1898. Cunningham attended public schools in Dallas and Fort Worth from 1903 to 1911. From 1914 to 1919 he served in the navy in the Asiatic, Pacific, and Atlantic fleets; in the Mexican campaign; and in the Cruiser Escort Squadron in the war zone (1917). After World War I he was a soldier of fortune in Central America. He served in the naval reserve until 1923, and during World War II he reenlisted and worked in naval intelligence. Cunningham began writing for military publications in 1914 and after his discharge in 1919 spent two years as the Central American correspondent for the London Wide World Magazine.

After several years in San Francisco in the early 1920s, he moved to El Paso, where he held several jobs while establishing himself as a writer. He served as book-review editor for the El Paso Times from the mid-1920s to 1936 and for the New Mexico Magazine from 1936 to 1942. In 1922 Cunningham published Gypsying through Central America and in 1924 The Trail to Apacaz, his first western novel. During the 1930s he hit his stride as an author. He came to rank among the best Western writers who aimed at a middle ground between sophisticated stories and pulp novels. His tales involved an "intricately plotted contest between good and evil" and displayed a sure understanding of the psychology of gunmen. Among the best known of his violent books were Riders of the Night (1932), which involved the deaths of some seventy men, and Buckaroo (1933), in which three Texas Rangers kill about 300 villains. His other works of fiction included Diamond River Man (1934), Texas Sheriff (1934), Trail of the Macaw: Soldiers of Fortune in Banana Land (1935), Redshirts of Destiny (1935), Quick Triggers (1935), Pistol Passport (1936), Whistling Lead (1936), The Ranger Way (1937), Texas Triggers (1938), Gun Bulldoggers (1939), The Red Ranger (1939), The Spiderweb Trail (1940), The Buscadero Trail (1951), Gunsight Chance (1951), and Riding Gun (1956). Under the pen name Leigh Carder he wrote Outlaw Justice (1935), Border Guns (1935), and The Bravo Trail (1938).

His most successful book was probably Triggernometry (1934), a nonfiction study of famous gunfighters, which went through several editions and was reissued in 1941 as Gunfighters All. In 1986 Triggernometry was named one of the thirty-six best nonfiction Western books of all time by the Western Writers of America. Cunningham's other writings included screenplays for television and numerous short stories. The television program "Wagon Train" adopted a number of his plots. He edited the nonfiction Buckboard Days, by Sophie A. Poe (1936), and with W. H. Hutchinson prepared the works of Eugene Manlove Rhodes for publication after Rhodes's death. He also edited Thomas Cruse's Apache Days and After (1941). From time to time Cunningham also worked as a political speechwriter.

He married Mary Caroline Emilstein in 1921. The family moved from El Paso to the San Francisco area in 1942. Cunningham served as vice president of the American Fiction Guild and was an avid collector of cowboy songs, both in English and in Spanish. He died in San Francisco on October 18, 1957. He was survived by his wife, one son, and two daughters.

Florence Elberta Barns, Texas Writers of Today (Dallas: Tardy, 1935). Eugene Cunningham Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Carol Ann Price, "Eugene Cunningham and the El Paso Southwest," Password, Summer 1983. Jon Tuska and Vicki Piekarski, eds., Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983). Twentieth-Century Western Writers (Detroit: Gale Research, 1982; 2d ed., Chicago: St. James Press, 1991).


  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martin Donell Kohout, “Cunningham, Eugene,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 3, 2019