Robert M. Utley formal pose

Biographical Information
for Robert M. Utley


I served for 25 years in various capacities with the National Park Service and other federal agencies. Since my retirement from the federal government in 1980, I have devoted myself full time to historical research and writing. My specialty is the history of the American West. Ten of my books have been selections of the History Book Club, eight of the Book of the Month Club.


Silver U.S. Park Ranger BadgeI was born in Arkansas October 31, 1929, but reared in Indiana. I attended Purdue and Indiana Universities (BS 1951, MA 1952). I spent six collegiate summers as a ranger-historian at Custer Battlefield National Monument, Montana, now Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. I first pinned on the silver park ranger badge (not the present gold one) in June 1947 and took it off in September 1952 to be drafted into the U.S. Army. I served four years, both as an enlisted man and an officer. Although trained as an infantryman, I served the final two years (plus one as a civilian), as a historian for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon.

Robert M. Utley at Custer Battlefield in 1949I returned to the National Park Service in permanent status in September 1957 and served, successively, as Regional Historian of the Southwest Region in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1957-64; as Chief Historian in Washington DC, 1964-72; as Director, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, 1972-73; and as Assistant Director of the National Park Service for Park Historic Preservation, 1973-76. From 1977 to 1980 I was Deputy Executive Director of the Presidentís Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

One of the founders of the Western History Association, I served on its governing council 1962-74 and as its president 1967-68. I was a member of the editorial board of The American West Magazine, 1964-80. The Western Historical Quarterly was launched during my presidency, and I served on its editorial board 1968-73. I was a founder of the Potomac Corral of the Westerners Club Robert M. Utley holding Lone Star Lawmenin 1955 and its sheriff in 1973. I was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association 1985-87 and 1989-92. I have appeared frequently on television productions related to the history of the West (Real West, for example, and How the West Was Lost, as well as others on the History, Discovery, and other channels).

In 1974 Purdue University awarded me an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree, followed by the University of New Mexico in 1976 and Indiana University in 1981. In 1971 I received the Department of the Interiorís Distinguished Service Award.

Melody Webb's A Woman in the Great OutdoorsSince 1980 I have been married to Melody Webb, also a National Park Service veteran and also a historian. She is presently working on a history of the 1970 riots in Yosemite National Park, which had significant consequences for the park and the National Park Service. She has conducted extensive interviews with most of the participants as well as researched all the relevant archives. Her books are also available through Amazon.com.

For Robert M. Utley's honors and awards, see CV.  Related file: Publications.

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Historians, Writers & Artists          Organizations & Institutions          Research Sites & Tools

Closeup of heliograph in use

Historians, Writers & Artists


Bob Boze Bell - Bobís a good friend whose magazine
(True West Magazine) is widely read and has featured me a few times.  Bob writes and blogs for the magazine, plus he's a noted western artist.  Read an article about my early inspiration in the True West Magazine archives (other archive links).

Dave Clary - Dave was a brilliant and valued member of my National Park Service staff in the 1970s. He has since risen to high rank as a historian, publishing well-received books about rocket-man
Robert Goddard, George Washington and Lafayette, and most recently the Mexican-American War. He lives in Roswell, New Mexico.

Peter Dana - Peter is a geographer, not a historian, but heís learning a lot of history. Heís a GPS consultant based in my earlier residence of Georgetown, Texas.  He took an interest in my quest for topographical maps for my book
A Life Wild and Perilous.  The result, shaded relief maps in color, made a stunning addition to that book.  Peter has prepared the maps for all my books since and is working on maps for my biography of Geronimo.

Mark Gardner - Mark is a Denver-based historian and musician. He is an expert on the Bent brothers, Indian traders, as well as author of a recent book on
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  He is a noted musician who performs publicly often.

Jerome Greene - Jerry is a longtime friend and veteran historian of the National Park Service.  He has written extensively about the Indian wars with the Sioux and Cheyenne, about the
Nez Perce, and currently a widely admired administrative history of the Custer Battlefield.  The last traces the long evolution of this park from a site set aside by the War Department after the battle, and it addresses more than just administration.  Jerry lives just outside of Denver and possesses a wide array of frontier army memorabilia.

Paul Andrew Hutton - Paul and I go back to the 1970s and have been closely associated ever since. His book on General Phil Sheridan and the frontier army is still selling well after 25 years. He did a great job as longtime executive director of the Western History Association and currently plays the same part with the Western Writers of America. He is well known today as a producer of documentary historical films and holds many prizes for both his publications and his films. He is a distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico.

Edwin R. Sweeney - Here is an amazing guy.  A CPA by profession, resident of a St. Louis suburb, he has proved himself a master researcher and historian.  His biographies of Mangas Coloradas and Cochise, followed in fall 2010 by a history of Apache relations from Cochise to Geronimo, draw on sources untapped by previous historians, both in Mexico and the United States.  In my current project, a biography of the Apache Geronimo, Edís generous help has been indispensable.

Eric von Schmidt - A painter whose portrayal of Custerís death on Custer Hill is widely admired and is the banner for the Friends of the Little Bighorn web page ("Here Fell Custer").  His father also painted the scene on Custer Hill at the last.  He was working on the Hill when I, as a ranger-historian, stood near the monument telling the story to visitors.



US Army trooper passing a message to another mountain top relay team.

Organizations & Institutions


Friends of the Little Bighorn - This cooperating association funds many projects at the Little Bighorn Battlefield that the government wonít pay for.  I have been a member of the Board of Directors since its inception.  Read an interview I had with them in 2008 and a presentation from 2001.

Little Big Horn Associates - I was one of the first members of this organization when founded in the late 1960s. It brings together in publications and annual meetings people who are fascinated by General Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum - The official museum, Hall of Fame and repository of the Texas Rangers in Waco, Texas.  Their help was invaluable in the writing of my Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers and Lone Star Lawmen: The Second Century of the Texas Rangers.  Read my article in Ranger Dispatch, Issue No. 1.

Weider History Group
- They publish thirteen historical magazines, including Wild West and MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. The latter began publication in 1988. The first issue contained an article by me, and subsequent issues have included six or more of my articles on western and military history. I have also published in Wild West.  Read one of my MHQ articles.

Western History Association - This is the national professional association for historians of the West. It publishes a quarterly and a magazine and meets annually. I was one of the six founders of the association at a meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1961 and served in various leadership capacities, including president in 1967-8. I have not missed an annual meeting since 1961, one of only three members who can make that claim.

Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries - This institution is the foremost center for research into the history of the American West. As of 2008 it contained an Utley Collection, consisting of my professional and personal papers and other items. The balance of my papers will be donated after my death.

Western Writers of America - I have been a member for twenty years. It consists of both fiction and nonfiction writers of western history. Its prestigious Spur Award honors the best western books of a given year. I have two Spurs (The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull and Lone Star Lawmen: The Second Century of the Texas Rangers) as well as a bronze bison awarded for lifetime achievement in 1993, long before my lifetime ended.



US Army heliograph in 1898

Research Sites & Tools


Google Books - Many books whose copyright has expired can be viewed online in their entirety.

Library of Congress - Digital Collections and Services home page.

National Archives and Records Administration - The nation's record keeper.  They preserve historically significant documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government.

New York Times Article Archive - The New York Times can be searched from 1981 to the present and text only articles back to 1987 can be downloaded free. It can be further researched from 1851 to 1981 and articles downloaded for a price.

U.S. Army Military History Center - This institution contains rich archival sources for anyone researching the army in the West, but in addition the army anywhere. It has proved valuable in my Geronimo biography now in progress. The staff is extremely helpful.



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