Tony Hillerman was born on a farm near Sacred Heart, a small town in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, on May 27, 1925, to August Alfred and Lucy Grove Hillerman. Situated amid worn-out farmland, the town was mostly Roman Catholic. Hillerman grew up with children of Blackfoot, Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Comanche, and Pottawatomie farmers, since Oklahoma has historically been the relocation place for many displaced tribes. In an unusual move, his parents had him attend grade school at St. Mary’s Academy in Sacred Heart. Not only was the academy for girls, but it was also for American Indian girls; the Hillermans showed a value for education and also a tolerance for another people that was unusual in that time period. Growing up amid these cultural influences and his family’s lack of prejudice clearly had an impact on Hillerman’s later writing.
At age eighteen, Hillerman had to leave his studies in chemistry at the University of Oklahoma to enter military service in Europe during World War II. His service in Germany led to his receiving the Purple Heart and Bronze and Silver Stars. In a propitious move for mystery readers everywhere, upon his return he switched his college major to journalism. He felt his eyes were no longer suited for chemistry since they had been damaged in the war and he wore a patch over one. He graduated with a journalism degree in 1948. That same year, he married Marie Unzner and started a family that soon included six children. His first reporting job was with the Borger, Texas, newspaper, where he covered crime. Moving up in the field, he eventually became editor of The New Mexican in Santa Fe.
Hillerman found success in his chosen profession, but his desire to write fiction led him to leave his newspaper job in his thirties to...
(The entire section is 731 words.)