Harry W. Lawton, 77, an author and a historian whose book about a deadly manhunt for an American Indian fugitive wanted for murder nearly 100 years ago was the basis for the 1969 movie "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here," died Nov. 20 at an assisted-care facility in Dana Point, Calif. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Lawton was a reporter for the Riverside Press-Enterprise in California in the 1950s when he first heard accounts of what has been called the "last great manhunt" of the Old West from Indians on the Morongo reservation.
In 1909, Willie Boy, a 28-year-old Paiute-Chemehuevi Indian, fell in love with Carlota Boniface, his 16-year-old distant cousin. Her father, William, a shaman known as Old Mike, forbade the marriage. Willie Boy shot Old Mike to death on a ranch in Banning, then fled with the girl. The couple stayed ahead of a posse for a dozen days as they circled and backtracked over nearly 600 miles of desert in 100-degree heat.
In the end -- the circumstances are disputed -- the girl was shot and killed, and Willie Boy killed himself.
"Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt," Mr. Lawton's 1960 book, was based on three years of research that included interviews with posse members.
Mr. Lawton later served as technical and historical consultant for the movie, which starred Robert Redford as the deputy sheriff in charge of the posse, Robert Blake as Willie Boy and Katharine Ross as the girl.
James A. Sandos and Larry E. Burgess, the authors of the 1994 book "The Hunt for Willie Boy," accused Mr. Lawton of being careless with the facts, including changing the name of the girl from Carlota to Lolita to capitalize on the popularity of Vladimir Nabokov's notorious novel about a sexually precocious girl.
In their book, Sandos and Burgess wrote that by "accepting the views of an Indian-hater in [his interpretation] of Willie Boy," Mr. Lawton became an "unconscious" one himself.
Mr. Lawton filed a libel suit, seeking $25,000 in damages. The suit, according to a Los Angeles Times account, was settled without money changing hands. Sandos and Burgess were ordered to write a correction in any undistributed copies and future editions retracting the Indian-hater charge and other points of contention.
Mr. Lawton had long ties with the local American Indian community. He was instrumental in founding the Malki Museum on the Morongo Indian Reservation, the first American Indian museum established at a California reservation. He also helped start the nonprofit Malki Museum Press, which publishes books and pamphlets about California Indians.
From 1965 until his retirement in 1991, he worked at the University of California at Riverside, where he was a writer, editor, administrative analyst and management services officer in the College of Natural and Agricultural Services.
At the university, where he received his bachelor's degree, he founded and chaired the creative writing program, taught a course in the short story and served as adviser to the student literary magazine and newspaper.
Survivors include his wife, Georgeann; five children; a sister; and six grandchildren.