Oliver La Farge

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Oliver La Farge
Born Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge
December 19, 1901
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died August 2, 1963(1963-08-02) (aged 61)
Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, anthropologist
Nationality American

Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge (December 19, 1901 – August 2, 1963) was an American writer and anthropologist. In 1925 he explored early Olmec sites in Mexico, and later studied additional sites in Central America and the American Southwest. In addition to more than 15 scholarly works, mostly on Native Americans, he wrote several novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Laughing Boy (1929). In addition, La Farge's short stories were published in The New Yorker and Esquire magazines. His more notable works, both fiction and non-fiction, focus on Native American culture. He spent much of his adult life championing American Indian rights. He was president of the Association on American Indian Affairs for several years[citation needed].

Early life and education[edit]

Oliver La Farge was born in New York City but grew up in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the son of Christopher Grant La Farge, a noted Beaux-Arts architect, and Florence Bayard Lockwood. He and his paternal uncle, architect Oliver H.P. La Farge, were both named for a great-great-grandfather, Oliver Hazard Perry.

Oliver was the grandson of John La Farge, an artist and stained-glass artisan of French descent, and his wife Margaret Mason Perry. Her father was Christopher Grant Perry, the son of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and Elizabeth Champlin Mason. He was also a descendant of Gov. Thomas Prence (1599 - March 29, 1673) a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth (1634, 1638, and 1657–1673); and Elder William Brewster (pilgrim), (c. 1567 - April 10, 1644), the Pilgrim leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony and a passenger on the Mayflower.

Another great-grandmother was Frances Sergeant, the daughter of Chief Justice Thomas Sergeant and Sarah Bache. She was the daughter of Sarah (Franklin) and Richard Bache. Frances Sergeant was a great-granddaughter of Deborah Read and Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.

La Farge received both his Bachelor of Arts degree (1924) and his Master's degree (1929) from Harvard University.


La Farge worked as a writer and an anthropologist. In 1925, he traveled with the Danish archeologist Frans Blom, who taught at Tulane University, to what is now known as the Olmec heartland. He (re)discovered San Martin Pajapan Monument 1 and, more importantly, the ruins of La Venta, one of the major Olmec centers.[citation needed]. While on scientific expeditions to Central America and the American Southwest, La Farge discovered two previously unknown languages: .[citation needed]

During World War II, he served with the U.S. Air Transport Command and left the service at the rank of major. He participated in the Battle for Greenland, to dislodge a German outpost. The action was commanded by Colonel Bernt Balchen, a native of Norway with dual US citizenship, and experience in survival and fighting in the North. Balcher, together with Ford and La Farge, wrote War Below Zero: The Battle for Greenland (1944) about the actions to defend Greenland.

He devoted considerable study to Native American peoples and issues, especially after moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1933. He became a champion for American Indian rights. He was president of the Association on American Indian Affairs for several years[citation needed].

Marriage and family[edit]

La Farge married heiress Wanden Matthews and had two children with her: a son, Oliver Albee La Farge (b. 1931), and a daughter, Povy. They moved from xxxx to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1933, but Wanden disliked the area. They divorced in 1937. She eventually lived in Colorado with her second husband.

Years later, their son Oliver Albee La Farge became estranged from his father, changing his given name to Peter La Farge. He had moved to New York City, where he became a folksinger in Greenwich Village, performing in the 1950s and 1960s. He was signed to the new company, Folkways Records, and released five albums with them. He was also becoming known as a painter at the time of his death in 1965, apparently from an overdose of Thorazine.

La Farge married a second time, to Consuelo Otile Baca, with whom he had a son, John Pendaries "Pen" La Farge. La Farge's non-fiction book, Behind the Mountains (1956), is based on his memories of Consuelo's family, who were ranchers in northern New Mexico. He wrote a regular column for the Santa Fe newspaper, The New Mexican. Some of his columns were collected and published as a book, entitled The Man With the Calabash Pipe (1966).

La Farge died in Santa Fe in 1963.

Legacy and honors[edit]



  • Tribes and Temples (with Frans Blom) 1926-27
  • The Year Bearer's People (with Douglas Byers) 1931
  • Introduction to American Indian Art (with John Sloan) 1931
  • Long Pennant, 1933
  • An Alphabet for Writing the Navajo Language, 1940
  • The Changing Indian (editor) 1942
  • The Copper Pot, 1942
  • War Below Zero: The Battle for Greenland (Colonel Bernt Balchen, with Major Corey Ford), 1944
  • Santa Eulalia: The Religion of a Cuchumatan Indian Town (1947)
  • The Eagle in the Egg, 1949
  • Cochise of Arizona, 1953
  • The Mother Ditch, 1954
  • A Pictorial History of the American Indian (1956)
  • Behind the Mountains (1956)
  • Santa Fe: The Autobiography of a Southwestern Town (with Arthur N. Morgan) 1959
  • The Door in the Wall, 1965

Fiction and personal[edit]

  • Laughing Boy (1929), novel; it was adapted for the 1934 motion picture of the same name.
  • Sparks Fly Upward (1931), novel.
  • All the Young Men (1935), collection of short stories.
  • The Enemy Gods (1937), novel.
  • Raw Material (1945), a memoir.
  • A Pause in the Desert (1957), collection of short stories.
  • The Man With the Calabash Pipe (collected columns, edited by Winfield Townley Scott), 1966

External links[edit]