John Lawton McCarty, a journalist, author, and artist, the oldest of four children of William Rush and Ruby (Lloyd) McCarty, was born on a farm near Belton, Texas, on August 10, 1901. His father, a one-time cowboy in the Cherokee Nation of eastern Oklahoma, was a member of the Odd Fellows and was fluent in five Indian languages. In 1907 the McCartys moved to Stamford in Jones County, where William helped build the railroad line to Spur in Dickens County. During the next few years the family worked and lived in their covered Studebaker wagon at various places before settling on a farm they purchased near Abernathy in Hale County. Later W. R. and Ruby McCarty moved to the site of Old Tascosa, where they resided in the old adobe house of Casimero Romero. They afterward moved to Dalhart, where W. R. McCarty served as a peace officer. John McCarty graduated from Abernathy High School in 1920, worked for a time with the Abernathy Breeze, and attended West Texas Normal College (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon. There he met and married Susie Lutitia Baird; they had three children. In 1923 the couple moved to Amarillo, where McCarty was employed as a reporter for the Amarillo Tribune. From 1924 to 1929 he was sports editor for the Amarillo Globe-News (see AMARILLO DAILY NEWS), then editor of the Dalhart Texan and president of the Dalhart Publishing Company until 1936. At that time he returned to Amarillo as editor and associate publisher of the Globe-News and held that position until 1947, when he began his own insurance and public-relations firm. McCarty was in charge of the special Golden Anniversary Edition of the Globe-News in 1938 and also edited the Amarillo Citizen. After attending night school for several years, he received his B.S. degree from West Texas State College in 1942. He delivered his own commencement address, in which he encouraged others who were unable to attend day classes to continue their education. He received his M.A. degree from West Texas State in 1945, the same year that his daughter Evelyn received her B.A. degree from that institution.
McCarty served in the Texas National Guard from 1922 to 1929. He became involved in the Young Democratic Clubs of America, was director of the Dalhart and Amarillo chambers of commerce, and in 1953 was president of the Estate Life Insurance Company and Estate Development Corporation. In addition he served as a director of the Plains Radio Broadcasting Company, a director of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, and president of the Panhandle Press Association. He was also a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Amarillo and a potentate of the Khiva Shrine Temple. Both he and his wife were involved in Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls, and were instrumental in starting the Palo Duro Assembly in Amarillo. As a hobby they bred collie dogs. During the late 1940s and early 1950s the McCartys worked as concessionaires in Palo Duro Canyon State Scenic Park, which they publicized through treasure hunts and other special events featuring artists and a theater group from Dallas. The resultant increase in attendance prompted the state to pave the road and improve park facilities.
Throughout his journalistic career McCarty interviewed Panhandle pioneers and turned out numerous newspaper and magazine articles on the region's history. He was the winner of the Community Service Award, a national newspaper contest, in 1935 and held memberships in the Texas Philosophical Society and the Texas Institute of Letters. McCarty edited and published three poetry anthologies: Prairie Nights and Yucca (1934), Wind in the Cottonwoods (1935), and New Mexico in Verse (1936). His books on the Panhandle frontier include The Enchanted West (1944), Maverick Town (1946), and Adobe Walls Bride (1955). After the death of his wife in 1957 McCarty took up painting and studied under Dord Fitz. His talent in this new endeavor attracted the attention of the Burr Gallery in New York City, which in 1960 invited him to stage a one-man show. Its success encouraged McCarty to open the High Plains Art Gallery in Amarillo later that year, and he built a new home and studio nearby. As an artist he was known primarily for his paintings of plains landscapes, small florals, and historical scenes from the Dust Bowl era. McCarty married Gertrude Kerr Doche on April 3, 1958. He subsequently promoted many artists from the Amarillo area. He died on September 16, 1974, of complications from surgery, just weeks after opening a second art gallery. He was buried in the Llano Cemetery in Amarillo. His papers are housed in the Amarillo Public Library, as are many of his paintings.