Occasionally, he was accused of exploiting his knowledge of Navajo culture for personal gain, but in 1987, the Navajo Tribal Council honored him with its Special Friend of the Dineh award. He took greater pride in that, he often said, than in the many awards bestowed by his peers, including the Golden Spur Award from Western Writers of America and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, which elected him its president.
Hollywood was less kind to Hillerman. Its adaptation of his 1981 novel, "Dark Wind," with Lou Diamond Phillips and Fred Ward regrettably cast as Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, was a bomb.
Although Hillerman was best-known for the Navajo series, he wrote more than 30 books, including a novel for young people; the memoir, "Seldom Disappointed"; and books on the history and natural beauty of his beloved Southwest.
"Those places that stir me are empty and lonely," he wrote in "The Spell of New Mexico," a collection of his essays. "They invoke a sense of both space and strangeness, and all have about them a sort of fierce inhospitality."
He also edited or contributed to more than a dozen other books including crime and history anthologies and books on the craft of writing.
Born May 27, 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, population 50, Tony Hillerman was the son of August and Lucy Grove Hillerman. They were farmers who also ran a small store. It was there that young Tony listened spellbound to locals who gathered to tell their stories.
The teacher at Sacred Heart's one-room school house was rumored to be a member of white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan, so Tony's parents sent him and his brother, Barney, to St. Mary's Academy, a school for Potawatomie Indian girls near Asher, Oklahoma. It was at St. Mary's that he developed a lifelong respect for Indian culture — and an appreciation of what it means to be an outsider in your own land.
Hillerman is survived by his wife, Marie, and their six children. Services are pending.
Associated Press Writer Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this report from Phoenix.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
Born May 27, 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, population...