Dennis, Wesley

About the author

John Wesley Dennis (1903–66) was born of an English father and an American mother in 1903 in Massachusetts. His father had come to America with a sporting team, met his mother, married her and stayed. Both their sons were artistic; Wesley Dennis dropped out of school at the age of 17, and went to live with his elder brother Morgan in Boston, where Morgan was working as an artist for the Boston Herald. Wesley went to the New School of Design, and managed to make something of a living from his drawing, doing fashion advertising sketches.

Unlike his brother, who eventually made his living drawing dogs, Wesley Dennis’ interest was horses. He had a horse of his own as a child – Bob – which he was only allowed to keep if the horse earned its living. Bob was trained to harness, and helped cultivate turnips. As an adult, Dennis joined the Massachusetts National Guard Cavalry so he could be with horses. The Government would keep members’ horses free of expense, as long as they could be called on in an emergency, so he bought two polo ponies, and gained more experience of the equine form by getting a job grooming the horses at the Camp.

Although he was earning a successful living with fashion illustration by this point, he found the process immensely dull. In an attempt to move into equestrian illustration, Dennis contacted Lowes Dalbian Luard, a well known animal and landscape artist, who lived in Paris, to ask if he could be taken on as a pupil. Luard replied that he did not take pupils, but would help, and so Dennis set off for Paris, where he was taught to draw from memory, and studied carcasses in the butchers to learn anatomy.

When he returned to America, he earned money by sketching race horses and selling the pictures to their owners. Whilst on honeymoon with his second wife, he met the juvenile editor for the Viking Press, May Massey, who suggested that he write and illustrate a book. Flip was the result. When Marguerite Henry was searching for an illustrator for her first book, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, her first choices, Will James and C W Anderson, were not available. She found Flip in a local library, and so began her collaboration with its artist.

Although Wesley Dennis wrote several titles of his own for younger readers, he is probably best known for his work with Marguerite Henry, for whom he illustrated 15 titles. The combination of the two was hugely successful and many of their titles are still in print now.

Dennis was a prolific illustrator, and there are over 150 books illustrated by him. I have listed as many of the horse titles as I have been able to trace.

Finding the books
All the books Wesley Dennis wrote and illustrated are easy to find. First editions in very good condition can be expensive. The books Dennis illustrated vary in price considerably; very good first editions of the Dorothy Lyons and Marguerite Henry titles can be very expensive. Most of the Henry titles were reprinted several times, and so it is not hard to find very good reprints for a reasonable price, although postage from America to the UK is alas prohibitive now.

Links and sources
The Wesley Dennis website: an excellent site, with unused illustrations, a bibliography and much more.
The Wesley Dennis papers: University of Minnesota
Tumble – biographical information
The National Sporting Library
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Lisa Catz, Alison MacCallum, Kristin, and everyone else who has helped with photographs.


Flip and the Cows
Flip and the Morning



The Viking Press, New York, 1941, 63 pp, illus the author
In the Dandelion Library with I’m Tired of Lions, Viking Press, New York, 1966
Scholastic Paperbacks, 1973
Reprinted by Puffin, New York, 1979

Flip the colt can’t keep up with his mother, but dreams of how he would be able to if only he had wings. 

Flip and the Cows

The Viking Press, New York, 1942, 63 pp, illus the author
Scholastic Book Services, 1970

Flip is scared of cows, but has an adventure with them, nevertheless.  


Viking Press, New York, 1946, 32 pp

Holiday the pony sees a dog win a blue ribbon at a show, and he decides he
would like one too. After hurdling a fence in front of his owner, he starts a new
career as a jumper.

Flip and the Morning

The Viking Press, New York, 1951, 63 pp, illus the author
Reprinted by Puffin Books, New York, 1977

Flip the colt keeps disturbing Willie the goat’s sleep, but he thinks up a clever way of stopping Flip. 

Tumble, the Story of a Mustang

Hastings House, New York, 1966, 48 pp, illus the author

A short and charming story about Tumble, a wild mustang, who meets man and
is captured, and then escapes.

Short stories

Palomino and Other Horse Stories
World Publishing Company, Cleveland, 1950, 226 pp

With an introduction and pictures by Wesley Dennis. I don’t yet have a full listing of the contents, but some of the stories included are Chapo the Faker by Will James, Sit Your Saddle Solid by Mari Sandoz. Other contributors include Ernest Thompson Seton and Ross Santee.


Portfolio of Horse Paintings

Wesley Dennis, with a commentary by Marguerite Henry
Rand McNally, Chicago, 1964, 16 colour plates

About Wesley Dennis

The Illustrated Marguerite Henry
Rand McNally & Company, NY, 1980, 128 pp
Illus Wesley Dennis, Robert Lougheed, Lynd Ward and Rich Rudish

Contains information on the four major Henry illustrators, including Wesley Dennis.

Horse books illustrated by Wesley Dennis

Graham M Dean: Riders of the Gabilans
Viking Press, New York, 1944

John Steinbeck: The Red Pony
Viking Press, New York, 1945

Marguerite Henry: Justin Morgan Had a Horse
Wilcox & Follett, Chicago, 1945

Dorothy Lyons: Golden Sovereign
Harcourt Brace, New York, 1946

Anna Sewell: Black Beauty
World Publishing, Cleveland, 1946

Forrestine C Hooker: Star, the Story of an Indian Pony
World’s Work, Kingswood, 1946

Marguerite Henry: Misty of Chincoteague
Rand McNally, New York, 1947

Theodore J Waldeck: The Golden Stallion
The Viking Press, New York, 1947

David Grew: Beyond Rope and Fence
Grosset & Dunlap, 1947

Stephen Holt: Prairie Colt
Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1947

Lee McCabe & Norbert Fagan: I’ll Take Cappy
Whittlesey House, New York, 1948

Dorothy Lyons: Red Embers
Harcourt, Brace, 1948

Marguerite Henry: King of the Wind
Rand McNally, New York, 1948

Keith Robertson: Ticktock and Jim
Reprinted by Grosset & Dunlap, 1948, illus Wesley Dennis, in the Famous Horses Series

Charles M Martin: Once a Cowboy
Viking Press, New York, 1948

Keith Robertson: Ticktock and Jim, Deputy Sheriffs
Reprinted by Grosset & Dunlap, 1949, illus Wesley Dennis, in the Famous Horses Series

Dorothy Lyons: Harlequin Hullabaloo/Bluegrass Champion
Harcourt, Brace, 1949, illus Wesley Dennis (right)
Grosset & Dunlap, Famous Horse series

Marguerite Henry: Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague
Rand McNally, New York, 1949

Margaret Cabell Self: The Horseman’s Companion
A S Barnes & Co, New York, 1949

Jack Holt & Carolyn Coggins: Lance and His First Horse
Whittlesey House, Nwe York, 1949

Dorothy Lyons: Silver Birch
Harcourt, New York, 1939
3rd edn, cover Wesley Dennis, internal illus. John Austin Taylor (unsure of date)

Marguerite Henry: Born to Trot
Rand McNally, New York, 1950

Jack Holt & Carolyn Coggins: Lance and Cowboy Billy
Whittlesey House, New York, 1950

Dorothy Lyons: Copper Kahn
Harcourt, Brace, 1950

Dorothy Lyons: Dark Sunshine
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1951

Marguerite Henry: Album of Horses
Rand McNally, New York, 1951

Mary Martin Black: Summerfield Farm
The Viking Press, New York, 1951

Henry V Larom: Bronco Charlie, Rider of the Pony Express
Whittlesey, New York, 1951

Helen Orr Watson: Fools Over Horses
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1952

Frances Cavanah and Ruth Weir: 24 Horses – a Treasury of Stories
Rand McNally, Chicago, 1953

George Agnew Chamberlain: Lord Buff and the Silver Star
A S Barnes & Company, New York, 1953

Dorothy Lyons: Blue Smoke
Harcourt, Brace, 1953

Marguerite Henry: Brighty of the Grand Canyon
Rand McNally, New York, 1953

Mildred Mastin Pace: Old Bones the Wonder Horse
Whittlesey House, New York, 1955

Dorothy Lyons: Java Jive
Harcourt, Brace, 1955

Louise Lawrence Devine: Davy’s Little Horse
Rand McNally, 1956

Peggie Cannam: Black Fury
Whittlesea House, New York, 1956

Shannon Garst: Crazy About Horses
Hastings House, New York, 1957

Marguerite Henry: Black Gold
Rand McNally, New York, 1957

Dorothy Lyons: Bright Wampum
Harcourt, Brace, 1958, cover and frontis

Henry V Larom: Ride Like an Indian!
Whittlesey, New York, 1958

Belle Coates: That Colt Fireplug
Charles Scribners, New York, 1958

Hermann Wiederhold: Your Pony Book
Stephen Greene Press, Vermont, 1958

Jocelyn Arundel: Jingo Wild Horse of Abaco
Whittlesey House, 1959

Wilma Pitchford Hays: The Little Horse That Raced a Train
Lilttle Brown & Co, Boston, 1959

Lilian Moore: Tony the Pony
McGraw Hill, New York, 1959

Jocelyn Arundel: Dugan and the Hobo
McGraw Hill, 1960

Dorothy Lyons: Smoke Rings
Harcourt, Brace, 1960

Dorothy Lyons: Midnight Moon
Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1960 reprint, cover Wesley Dennis, internal illus W.C. Nims

Florence K Peterson & Irene Smith: A Cavalcade Of Horses In Fact, Fantasy and Fiction
Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961

Jane McIlvaine: Cammie’s Challenge
Bobbs Merrill, Indianapolis, 1961

Miska Miles: Kickapoo
Little Brown, Boston, 1961

Marguerite Henry: All About Horses
Random House, New York, 1962

Jocelyn Arundel: Whitecap’s Song
Whittlsey House, New York, 1962

Marguerite Henry: Five O’Clock Charlie
Rand McNally, New York, 1962

Wilma Pitchford Hays: The Little Hawaiian Horse
Little, Brown & Co, Boston, 1963

Marguerite Henry: Stormy, Misty’s Foal
Rand McNally, New York, 1963

Miska Miles: See a White Horse
Little Brown, Boston, 1963

Marjorie Reynolds: A Horse Called Mystery
Harper & Row, New York, 1964

Marguerite Henry: White Stallion of Lipizza
Rand McNally, New York, 1964

Maureen Daly: The Ginger Horse
Dodd Mead, New York, 1964

Jocelyn Arundel: Shoes for Punch
McGraw Hill, New York, 1964

Wilma Pitchford Hayss: Little Hurricane Happy
Little Brown & Co, Boston, 1965

Suzanne Wilding: The Book of Ponies
St Martin’s Press, 1965

Maureen Daly: Small War of Sergeant Donkey
Dodd, Mead, New York, 1966

Marguerite Henry: Dear Readers and Riders
Rand McNally, New York, 1969

Marguerite Henry:  A Pictorial Life Story of Misty
Rand McNally, 1976