Robert J. Conley
December 29, 1940 – February 16, 2014

He drank his Wild Turkey “unmolested” (no ice or additives) and preferred his cigarettes the same way – smoking the chemical and additive free American Spirit brand. He always had a pack tucked into the pocket of his snap up plaid western shirt that he wore neatly tucked in to his Wrangler jeans. A pair of worn cowboy boots peeped out from the hems of those neatly pressed jeans - jeans that were kept in place by a set of ever present suspenders. A cowboy hat was usually set upon his brow, shading his lined and bespectacled face.

He was Robert J. Conley, Cherokee author, when we first met. He soon became “uncle Robert” and one of my favorite people after I married his nephew. At our wedding reception we left a small bottle of Wild Turkey next to Robert’s seat, much to his wife Evelyn’s dismay. It was a little joke on her and one that delighted Robert. Robert was always up for a drink, a joke and a laugh – even if the joke and laugh was at his expense.

His orneriness often elicited exasperated sighs from Evelyn and much laughter around the dinner table as he and my husband would tell stories on each other.

Robert walked on this morning, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. There won’t be any new tales to tell or jokes to be made. We are left with the happy memories in our hearts and a shelf full of books with “By Robert J. Conley” or merely “CONLEY” printed along the spines. My favorite however, is “Cherokee Thoughts: Honest and Uncensored.” It’s a collection of essays that take on politics, life, culture, history and what it means to be a Cherokee. His wit is evident throughout and when you finish reading, you are left knowing who Robert was. What made him laugh, what made him angry, and what inspired him.

His first novel, “Back to Malachi,” was published in 1986. Since then, he had more than 70 books published, a collection of short stories, several reprints, and many books on tape. Robert also wrote the novelization of a screenplay, “Geronimo: An American Legend.”

Robert was a member of the Western Writers of America and won two Spur awards for his novels “Nickajack” and “The Dark Island. ” He won another Spur award for his short story “Yellow Bird: An Imaginary Autobiography,” published in “The Witch of Goingsnake.” In 1997, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame.

Do na da' go hv i, uncle Robert. We will see each other again. I’ll bring the Wild Turkey.


Robert J. Conley is pictured in his home with the 2014 Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature.