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White, Owen Payne (1879–1946)

Cynthia Farah Biography Entry

Owen Payne White, writer and editor, second son of Alward and Katherine J. (Payne) White, was born at El Paso on June 9, 1879. White graduated from El Paso High School on May 27, 1896, briefly attended the University of Texas at Austin in 1898, and returned to El Paso within a few months. He studied law at New York University but never graduated. During World War I White achieved the rank of sergeant serving in a medical unit. On January 22, 1920, White married Hazel Harvey and the same year went to work as a columnist for the El Paso Herald. The publication of his first book, Out of the Desert, in 1923 brought him to the attention of H. L. Mencken, editor of the American Mercury. The book, a local history of El Paso, was also favorably reviewed in the New York Times. Shortly before the inauguration of Miriam A. "Ma" Ferguson as governor of Texas, the New York Times asked White to cover the event. As a result the Times offered him a job, and in 1925 he moved to New York, establishing a home at Cutchogue, Long Island, where he lived until his death. After working as a freelance writer for several magazines and producing two more books about the "wild" West, Them Was the Days (1925) and Trigger Fingers (1926), White was hired by Collier's in 1926 as an associate editor and staff writer, positions he held until 1940. For thirteen years he attracted national attention as a muckraker and outspoken critic of corrupt politicians, especially those from Texas. The oil industry and graft in the lower Rio Grande valley were of particular interest to White. Lawsuits were threatened and brought against White and Collier's by parties ranging from Texas lieutenant governor-elect Walter Woodul in 1935 to Rentfro B. Creager, Republican national committeeman for Texas. While most of the suits were unsuccessful, Autobiography of a Durable Sinner (1942) was recalled before formal release, and the chapter on R. B. Creager was removed. White published eight books of nonfiction, including Frontier Mother (1929), Lead and Likker (1932), My Texas "Tis of Thee" (1936), and Texas: An Informal Biography (1945), and two collections of verse, Southwestern Ballads (1921) and Just Me and Other Poems (1924). At the time of his death on December 7, 1946, in New York, White was working on another book about the Southwest titled Western Trails. It is an account of the major routes of travel west of the Mississippi from the sixteenth century until 1836. Virtually completed, that manuscript, along with thirty-three letters of correspondence between White and H. L. Mencken and numerous other letters and articles, are located in the archives of the University of Texas at El Paso library.

John Gordon Knight, "Owen Payne White," Password, Summer 1965. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Owen P. White Papers, Special Collections, University of Texas at El Paso Library.


  • Journalism
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Publications, Journals, and Magazines
  • Journals and Publications
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Poets

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

Cynthia Farah, “White, Owen Payne,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 21, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995