James Evetts Haley was born in Belton, Texas, on 5th July, 1901. His father, John Alva Haley, ran a hardware business and hotel in Midland, Texas. Haley worked as a rancher and as a young man competed at local rodeos. After graduating from West Texas Normal College he was appointed field secretary of the Panhandle Plains Historical Society and began interviewing pioneers. Later he returned to college where he completed his thesis on Texas cattle trails.
In 1929 Haley published The XIT Ranch of Texas and the Early Days of the Llano Estacado. Haley was accused of libel and in 1931 the book was withdrawn and he was forced to pay the plaintiffs $17,500 to settle all pending claims. Over the next few months he published articles in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Southwest Review, Ranch Romances, Nature, Cattleman and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review. His book Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman, was published in 1936.
In 1937 Haley became manager of the Zeebar Cattle Company in Arizona. He also purchased a small ranch of his own in Hutchinson County. He later managed the Atarque and Clochintoh Ranches in New Mexico. He continued to write and George W. Littlefield, Texan was published in 1943. This was followed by Charles Schreiner (1944), Jeff Milton, A Good Man with a Gun (1948) and Fort Concho and the Texas Frontier (1952).
In 1956 Haley tried to become governor of Texas. He advocated segregation and an end to federal price controls on natural gas. His main rival was George Parr. During the campaign Haley went to Parr's office and told him: "Mr. Parr, I'm J. Evetts Haley, and I'm running for governor of Texas. If I'm elected, it will be my pleasure to lock you up." Haley was easily defeated.
When Lyndon B. Johnson became president Haley published A Texan Looks at Lyndon. It was a best seller and it is claimed that in Texas only the Bible outsold Haley's book in 1964. In the book Haley attempted to expose Johnson's corrupt political activities. This included a detailed look at the relationship between Johnson and Billy Sol Estes. Haley pointed out that three men who could have provided evidence in court against Estes, George Krutilek, Harold Orr and Howard Pratt, all died of carbon monoxide poisoning from car engines.
Haley also suggested that Johnson might have been responsible for the death of John F. Kennedy: "Johnson wanted power and with all his knowledge of political strategy and his proven control of Congress, he could see wider horizons of power as Vice-President than as Senate Majority Leader. In effect, by presiding over the Senate, he could now conceive himself as virtually filling both high and important positions - and he was not far from wrong. Finally, as Victor Lasky pointed out, Johnson had nursed a lifetime dream to be President. As Majority leader he never could have made it. But as Vice-president fate could always intervene."
Joachim Joesten argued in his book, The Dark Side of Lyndon Baines Johnson (1968) that Haley's book, A Texan Looks at Lyndon is an important source of information on Lyndon B. Johnson: "Haley's book may not be a masterpiece in the strictly scholarly sense, and it is certainly not a bible of my political creed, but as source material it is invaluable. For the author is not only a fellow-countryman of Lyndon B. Johnson, but an insider of Texas politics and an old political pro in his own right... That this biography of Lyndon B. Johnson is coloured to a considerable extent by bitterness at his own failure in the political game, as well as by an ingrained dislike of the Rooseveltian tradition (which, alas, also produced LBJ) and a generally ultra-conservative stance, I do not doubt. Still, even after making generous allowance for possible exaggeration due to these factors, there remains in his book so much well-documented fact that it cannot possibly be bypassed by anyone seeking enlightenment about the dark recesses of the Johnson story."
Other books by Haley include The Alamo Mission Bell, The Flamboyant Judge, Life on the Texas Range, What a World of Wonder and Rough Times -Tough Fiber: A Fragmentary Family Chronicle.
James Evetts Haley died in Midland on 9th October, 1995, and was buried in Moffat Cemetery, Bell County, Texas.