Lawton, Harry W. 1927–2005

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Lawton, Harry W. 1927–2005

(Harry Wilson Lawton)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born December 3, 1927, in Long Beach, CA; died November 20, 2005, in Dana Point, CA. Journalist, historian, educator, and author. Lawton, who had a longstanding interest in preserving California's history, was best known as the author of Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt, which was adapted as the 1969 Robert Redford film Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here. Earning an A.A. from Riverside City College in 1948, he attended the University of California at Berkeley for two years, but quit before completing a degree. Instead, he opened the Haunted Bookstore in Berkeley, which he operated for three years. Lawton, who had worked on college newspapers earlier, then entered journalism as a profession. During the 1950s, he was an editor for the San Clemente Sun, then Banning bureau chief for the Press-Enterprise Co., and finally a writer and reporter for the Daily Enterprise. Lawton's interest in the story of Willie Boy, a Native American who was pursued by a posse in 1909 in what was called the last manhunt of the Old West period, came about in the 1950s, when he first heard the tale. After three years of researching the story, he turned it into his 1960 "nonfiction novel," a work of fiction largely based on actual events. Willie Boy would become a popular book and earned the James D. Phelan Award in Literature and the Southwest Literature Award. Much later, it was criticized by authors James Sandos and Larry Burgess, who in their 1994 book, The Hunt for Willie Boy, declared that Lawton got too many facts wrong. Lawton disputed this in a legal case that was eventually settled out of court. Though he went on to edit a number of other books on various topics, Lawton would never write another nonfiction novel. Instead, much of his energy was spent on historic preservation. He helped found the Malki Museum, the first Native-American museum to be built on a California reservation, and was cofounder of the Malki Museum Press. In addition, he worked to preserve Riverside, California's Chinatown. After serving as an editor at Lockheed Propulsion Co. during the early 1960s, Lawton was hired in 1965 by the University of California at Riverside, where he worked as an editor, writer, management services officer, and administrative analyst for the College of Natural and Agricultural Services until his 1995 retirement; in addition, he was founding chair of the campus's creative writing program and cofounded the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. It was at UC Riverside that he finally also completed his B.A. in 1969.

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2005, p. B9.

New York Times, December 7, 2005, p. C19.

Washington Post, December 9, 2005, p. B7.

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Lawton, Harry W. 1927–2005

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