Wilhelm Heinrich Detlev Körner, better known as W.H.D. Koerner, was born in Prussia and immigrated to Clinton, Iowa, with his parents as a child. Koerner had little art training in his youth, but his obvious talent led to a job as a staff artist for the Chicago Tribune. He followed that with a position as art editor for a new newspaper that subsequently folded, then moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League under George Bridgman, Norman Rockwell’s teacher. Koerner also studied illustration at Howard Pyle’ school in Wilmington, Delaware, where he interacted with famed illustrators of his time such as N. C. Wyeth.
In 1919, the Saturday Evening Post invited Koerner to illustrate two articles with western themes, which proved to be a major turning point in his career. As the West captured his imagination, Koerner soon became one of the best-known artists of the old West, traveling widely to research the life and themes of the region.