Bob and Beatrice Wolterson

Lillian Wilhelm Robertson and her husband, Westbrook Robertson- the inspirations for the Wolterson's in The Vanishing American.

While matching characters in a novel with real people who may have inspired them can be difficult, this is not the case with The Vanishing American's Mr. and Mrs. Beatrice Wolterson.  The novel is full of identifying references, but one doesn't have to read them all to reach a conclusion.  Consider the following quotes from The Vanishing American and remember the words in bold:


The Vanishing American:

"Wolterson had come to the desert in search of health. He was a cattleman and received an appointment from the government to be inspector of Indian stock on the ranges adjacent to Mesa. Being a young man of fine southern family and highly recommended, he at once incurred the dislike of the superintendent. When he asked Blucher what his duties would be that individual succinctly replied: "Ride around," and that comprised all the directions he ever received. Morgan solicited the good offices of Wolterson through Miss Herron's overtures to Mrs. Wolterson. As soon, however, as the Woltersons discovered conditions patent to all old residents of Mesa, those overtures fell flat. Then began the insidious underhand undermining work against Wolterson." (Chapter VIII)


One afternoon a number of the government employees were in Blucher's office, the door of which stood open. News had arrived in the mail of various angles of the war, mostly favorable to Germany. The talk of the men was general, though forceful enough, until all at once Wolterson spoke out:

"Shore, somebody ought to shoot that Kaiser."

Blucher started up as if he had been struck; and if ever a man's face was charged with concentrated passion his was then. He actually addressed Wolterson in German—and then, seeing how all the men stared, he grew red and blurted it out in English.

"Would you shoot the Emperor?"

"Well, wouldn't you?" drawled Wolterson.

"I certainly would not," snapped Blucher.

The Texan's reply rang out minus the drawl:

"Shore, I'd like to." (Chapter XIV)


 Dear Marian,

We were transferred here, as you already know, and left Mesa without regret, except for our few true friends there. We are fortunate to be retained in the service at all. The wrong done my husband by Blucher and Morgan was not undone and never will be…King Point is not at all like Mesa. I loved Mesa, despite what I suffered there. 

Blucher, you will be glad to hear, had a sudden check to his open pro- Germanism. He will get the 'steam-roller.'

Beatrice Wolterson (Chapter XVIII)


Now let's look at an excerpt from a letter sent by Westbook Robertson to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  (We are fortunate that Society member, Harvey Leake obtained  Westbrook's Bureau of  Indian Affairs Personnel File from the National Archives including this letter.)


Westbrook Personnel File:

I arrived at the Reservation July 30th, 1916, to assume my duties as Stockman.  Before taking up my work I consulted with Mr. Runke, the Superintendent, and asked him the specific nature of these duties.  He replied that I was to “ride around”, then turned away from me and walked away. In December of last year I heard the blacksmith on the Reservation, Mr. H.C. Steckel, make some remarks that I considered treasonable ... Mr. Runke refused to take any action, and I told him that I was going to report the matter to the Indian Department and the United States Attorney.  Mr. Runke said that if I did he would protect Steckel and also in the conversation accused me of being an I.W.W. because I said I would kill the Kaiser if I had a chance.  I asked Mr. Runke whether he would kill the Kaiser if he had a chance.  He replied that he certainly would not.  I reported Steckel to the United States Attorney and the Indian Department, and he was indicted by the Federal Grand Jury at Prescott, Arizona. Since this clash, Mr. Runke has very evidently harbored ill will toward me…


Due to the conflict. Robertson was transferred from Tuba City, Arizona (Mesa) to the BIA agency at Crown Point, New Mexico (King Point).  How do we know? Consider these posts from Donna Ashworth's Arizona Triptych, a work that includes a detailed history of Lillian Wilhelm Robertson (Beatrice Wolterson) for the five years she was married to Westbrook Robertson:

Zane Grey wrote a letter to Dolly mentioning correspondence he had received about the Robertsons, “Lil’s husband has been transferred to some little desert station in New Mexico, all because he was patriotic, and the agent is pro-German.  All her nice comfortable home, the garden she toiled in, the chickens, she had to leave."


"In September he wrote from northern Arizona, 'Lil is here today.  She looks fine and happy.' He didn’t mention Robertson.  The Flagstaff newspaper, reporting her passage through town, said she had arrived from Crown Point, New Mexico, a small town northeast of Gallop in barren country just off the Navajo Reservation.



So let’s compare The Vanishing American’s treatment of Wolterson with real life information regarding Westbrook Robertson:

Wolterson: Wolterson was appointed to work with Indian stock at Mesa. The BIA Superintendent, Blucher, refused to give him a job description telling him to simply, “Ride around.” He incurred the wrath of Blutcher by stating that he would shoot the Kaiser if he had a chance after which an effort to undermine Wolterson began with him eventually being transferred to “King Point”.

Robertson: Robertson was appointed to work as “stockman” at Tuba City. The BIA Superintendent, Runke, refused to give him a job description telling him to simply, “Ride around.” He incurred the wrath of Runke by stating that he would shoot the Kaiser if he had a chance after which the Superintendent “very evidently harbored ill will” toward him with him eventually being transferred to Crown Point.

There are many other similarities between the Woltersons and the Robertsons.  However, without going into unnecessary additional detail, it is clear that Lillian and Westbrook inspired the couple in The Vanishing American.