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Western Historian David Lavender Dies

April 27, 2003

OJAI, Calif. (AP) _ Author David S. Lavender, who worked his family’s Colorado ranch and panned for gold before beginning a career as a historian of the West, has died. He was 93.

Lavender died Saturday morning at his home in Ojai of natural causes, said his wife, Muriel Sharkey.

He had been in ill health for some time and about a year ago had to stop writing a book for youngsters about wildfires because he no longer could use a typewriter, his wife said Sunday.

Although he lacked an academic degree in history, Lavender’s contributions to the field were well-noted. He was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize and was honored in 1997 by the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado’s with its Wallace Stegner Award for sustained contribution to the cultural identity of the American West.

``If one person can be said to serve as keeper of a region’s heritage, David Lavender is clearly the West’s own memory,″ a spokesman for the center said.

Lavender grew up on a ranch outside Telluride, Colo. He attended Stanford University and Princeton, and took over the family ranch when his stepfather died, but ``the last thing that he wanted to do was be a rancher,″ his wife said.

He became a copywriter for an advertising agency in Denver, later moving to California, where he provided plots for Westerns to a screenwriter. He branched out into fiction, selling ``shoot-’em-ups″ to Western pulp magazines, and eventually began writing historical books about Western themes, such as fur trappers and railroad barons.

Lavender shunned the romanticism of many Western writers, instead describing cowboys as ``slaves to a particularly stupid and unattractive animal.″

``He was always fascinated with the Western expansion and this manifest destiny idea that the West had to be conquered, and his conviction that the West couldn’t be conquered,″ his wife said.

His first book was a 1943 collection of essays called ``One Man’s West″ that chronicled his own experiences on the ranch and panning for gold.

Lavender gained renewed attention last years after the late historian Stephen Ambrose was accused of plagiarizing passages from his book ``The Great Persuader,″ about railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington.

Although he held a 1931 law degree from Princeton, Lavender didn’t put on airs, his wife said.

``He wore Levis. That was his uniform along with the plaid flannel shirt. There was nothing pretentious about him,″ she said. ``He much preferred to think of himself as a Colorado cowboy.″

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