RARA-AVIS: The OTHER Indian Cops (B.H. - Before Hillerman)

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 16 Apr 2004

In keeping with this months's theme, it's worth noting that the two things Tony Hillerman is most noted for are his very effective use of Navajo culture and traditions in his police procedurals, AND the extraordinarily effective use of his rural Southwestern settings.

Hillerman, however, was not the first to use American Indian cops in a Southwestern setting. Here are a few of the others.

Manly Wade Wellman's David Return is a uniformed officer in the US Indian Agency Police (what would now be called the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police) assigned to the Tsichah reservation where he grew up. He serves under his grandfather, Tough Feather, who is the senior Agency Policeman on the reservation. The
"Tsichahs" are a fictional tribe combining elements of the Cheyenne and the Pawnee. Return is featured in two short stories that appeared in EQMM in the late
'40's, "A Star for a Warrior" (4/46) and "A Knife Between Brothers" (2/47). "Star" has been reprinted several times, including THE ETHNIC DETECTIVES edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin Goldberg.
"Knife" has been reprinted in MURDER INTERCONTINENTAL edited by Cynthia Manson and Kathleen Halligan.

Oliver LaFarge created another Indian policeman whose name escapes me at the moment, but he's the police chief of a small Apache reservation who wants to be appointed as a part-time deputy sheriff, ostensibly so he can have the authority to arrest tribal members when they go off on a tear off-rez, but actually because he wants the distinction of being a policeman with two badges. He appears in one EQMM short story,
"Woman Hunt No Good" (11/51), which I'm pretty sure was reprinted in a compendium of EQMM stories edited by Anthony Boucher called THE QUINTESSENCE OF QUEEN.

Years before Hillerman thought of setting a cop novel on the Navajo's Big Reservation, former FBI agent Gordon Gordon and his wife Mildred (who bylined their collaborative novels as "The Gordons") used it for CAPTIVE, the third in their series about FBI Agent John "Rip" Ripley. In that one Ripley's leading a multi-juridictional team of police on the trail of a gang of bank robbers who are hiding somewhere on the Rez with a pretty young schoolteacher they've taken hostage (the titular captive). The Navajo Tribal Police play a supporting role to Ripley in CAPTIVE, but years later, in a similar book called ORDEAL, the Gordons would return to the Navajo Reservation, and, this time, would put the Navajo Police at center stage.

At just about the same time Hillerman was introducing his tribal cops in 1970's THE BLESSING WAY, Richard Martin Stern created a part-Apache, part-Hispanic New Mexico cop named Johnny Ortiz, a lieutenant in the Santo Cristo (read Santa Fe) Police. Ortiz appeared in three novels, MURDER IN THE WALLS, YOU DON'T NEED AND ENEMY, and DEATH IN THE SNOW in the early '70's, then dropped out of sight, while Stern sought blockbuster best-seller money with books like THE TOWER (one of the books that THE TOWERING INFERNO was based on). Fifteen years later, Stern resumed the series with TSUNAMI which was followed by THE TANGLED MURDERS, MISSING MAN, and INTERLOPER.


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