Roots of a Santa Fe Writer

Mystery writer Tony Hillerman.

New Mexico’s best known author, Tony Hillerman, was born on May 27, 1925 in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. From the age of five, until he became a teenager at 13, he was one of a few boys to attend St. Mary’s Academy boarding school for Native American girls. It was during those formative years that his bond was solidified with the Native people of the Southwest. After returning from World War II Hillerman received a degree in journalism in 1948 and worked for newspapers in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. He was a reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican where he worked his way up to the position as the editor.

From Fact to Fiction

Hillerman moved his family to Albuquerque in 1963 to pursue a degree in creative writing with the dream of becoming a novelist. For the next two decades he was also a professor of journalism for the University of New Mexico. His most popular fiction was of the Navajo reservation of northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. From 1970 through 2006 he produced 37 original works that include 18 books of fiction, two children’s books, screenplays and five non-fiction books depicting the people and terrain of New Mexico to international acclaim.

A New Mexico Connection

Cherokee actor Wes Studi was born in Nofire Hollow, O.K. and has lived in Santa Fe since 1993. A Viet Nam veteran, activist, native language advocate, horseman, sculptor and musician, is best known for film performances in the Last of The Mohicans, Geronimo: An American Legend, Heat , Avatar, and his portrayal of Tony Hillerman’s Det. Joe Leaphorn for PBS Mystery. He received the Governors Award for Excellence in The Arts in 2010.


Hillerman receiving the Bronze Star during World War II.

Hillerman was a recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart for his service during World War II. He died on October 26, 2008 and is buried at the Santa Fe National cemetery.

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