Jack Warren Schaefer was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 19, 1907. He was the son of a lawyer. As a child, one of Schaefer’s main hobbies was reading. He read classic authors such as Charles Dickens and Alexander Dumas. At Oberlin College, Schaefer majored in English and received a bachelor’s degree in 1929. He then went straight on to graduate school at Columbia University, studying English literature, but left after one year without graduating. He decided to become a journalist. Over a period of more than twenty years, he worked as a reporter for the United Press news agency in New Haven, Connecticut, then as editorial page editor for the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, VA, editorial writer at the Baltimore Sun, and editor of the New Haven Journal-Courier.
Schaefer began writing fiction in 1945, when he was working for the Virginian-Pilot.His story was published in serial form in the adventure magazine Argosy. It was titled "Rider from Nowhere." Four years later, he published a longer, revised version of the story. This was the western novel, Shane, which became the work for which he is best remembered today. Shane was made into a movie in 1953, starring Alan Ladd. Both book and movie were hugely successful. By the end of the twentieth century, Shane had sold over twelve million copies and been translated into thirty languages. In 1975, Schaefer was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award by the Western Literature Association, and in 1985 the Western Writers of America named Shane as the best western novel ever written.
Schaefer wrote many otherwesterns,includingFirst Blood (1953), The Canyon (1953), Company of Cowards (1957), The Kean Land and Other Stories (1959), Monte Walsh (1963) Heroes Without Glory: Some Goodmen of the Old West (1965), andThe Collected Stories of Jack Schaefer (1966). Monte Walsh was made into a movie in 1970, with Lee Marvin in the title role.
Later in his life Schaefer moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and later Santa Fe, where he developed an interest in writing conservationist novels. He also wrote The American Bestiary: Notes of an Amateur Naturalist (1975).
Schaefer was married twice, first to Eugenia Ives in 1931, and then to Louise Deans in 1949. He died in Santa Fe, on January 24, 1991, at the age of eighty-three. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.