Remembering Author Robert M. Utley

“Robert Marshall Utley (October 31, 1929 – June 7, 2022) was an American author and historian who wrote sixteen books on the history of the American West. He was a chief historian for the National Park Service.

“Much of his writing deals with the United States Army in the West, especially in its confrontations with the Indian tribes. He wrote:

“‘the frontier army was a conventional military force trying to control, by conventional military methods, a people that did not behave like conventional enemies and, indeed, quite often were not enemies at all. This is the most difficult of all military assignments, whether in Africa, Asia, or the American West.’

“The Western History Association annually gives out the Robert M. Utley Book Award for the best book published on the military history of the frontier and western North America.” – Wikipedia

We lost another great author and historian last year when Utley died in June at 92. He wrote within the somewhat narrow niche of western history which explains why the national press and social media weren’t over the top in their coverage of his passing. He wrote about the Texas Rangers, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Billy the Kid, Custer, the Apaches, and the Sioux with impeccable research and understanding that made its mark with western historians more than the general public.

Writing in “Montana, the Magazine of Western History,” Cary Collins said that Utley “achieved a rare status among historians: instantaneous name recognition: Robert M. Utley was a giant of Western history. Over an extraordinarily productive career that began in the 1940s. he remained at his desk until a week before his death.”

According to Collins, Utley was captured by the west after seeing the Errol Flynn movie “They Died With Their Boots On” when he was twelve years old.

For those who can find a copy of the magazine, you’ll be rewarded with a series of articles about Utley. However, you’ll gain a lot more by reading his work. The new edition (2004) of The Last Days of the Sioux Nation might be a good place to start.

–Malcolm

I was captured by the West after seeing the Howard Hawks adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s novel “The Big Sky” starring Kirk Douglas.

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