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Willie Boy Lecture

Historian to Talk about Willie Boy

UC Riverside’s Clifford Trafzer will discuss the century-old controversy about the Banning-area manhunt in the Dragonfly Lecture on April 20.

(April 9, 2009)

Clifford TrafzerEnlarge

Clifford Trafzer

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – As the saga of Willie Boy – who was the object of the West’s last famous manhunt – approaches its 100th anniversary, the controversy over the shooting at Gilman Ranch in Banning continues. Clifford E. Trafzer, UC Riverside professor of history and Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs, will discuss his research about the incident on Monday, April 20, at 6 p.m. at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, 17 W. Hays St., Banning.

His talk, “Tell Them Willie Boy Was (Still) Here,” is part of the center’s Dragonfly Lecture series. Trafzer’s lecture is co-sponsored by the Learning Center, the Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs at UCR, and the UCR Center for California Native Nations.

According to the legend, William Mike, a Chemehuevi Indian shaman, would not allow Willie Boy, a Chemehuevi or Southern Paiute Indian, to marry his daughter. Willie Boy then killed Mike during the apricot harvest at Gilman Ranch in October 1909 and took off with the daughter, Carlota. The posse pursuit made national headlines, hyping a possible Indian uprising and warning of assassination dangers to President William Taft, who at the time was visiting Inland Southern California, many miles from the scene.

The posse chased him for more than a dozen days over 600 miles of desert, finally reporting that Willie Boy killed the girl and then himself. Authorities at the time claimed that Willie Boy killed Carlota because she was slowing his escape. The posse reported that Willie Boy killed himself to avoid capture, and posse members later burned his body. A plaque commemorates that site on Ruby Mountain, near Landers.

Trafzer disagrees, supporting a belief held by many Indian people – that Willie Boy escaped and lived for many years after. The UCR historian contradicts the tales famously told by Harry Lawton in the 1960 book “Willie Boy” and made more famous in the 1969 Robert Redford film “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here,” and revived in 1994 by James Sandos and Larry Burgess in “The Hunt for Willie Boy.”

The posse accidentally killed Carlota, mistaking her for Willie Boy, Trafzer said his research shows. Willie Boy then set a trap for the posse, shooting one member and watching the rest run away. Many Indians have said for years that Willie Boy escaped and died of tuberculosis in Nevada many years later. Trafzer agrees.

The case illustrates how the power of oral narrative often is disregarded as part of the historical record, according to Trafzer, whose teaching and research emphasize how oral narratives hold the history of Southern California Indian nations.

For more information about the Dragonfly Lecture, call (951) 849-4676. Donations at the door will support Dorothy Ramon Learning Center’s nonprofit work of saving and sharing Southern California’s Native American cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts, organizers said.

For information call (951) 849-4676 or e-mail

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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