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Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is a fictional character created by American mystery writer Tony Hillerman, one of two officers of the Navajo Tribal Police that feature in a number of novels. The other officer is Jim Chee.


Leaphorn, the older of the two policemen, is a realist who was educated in boarding schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a result of this non-Indian education, Leaphorn is not as well-versed in Navajo tradition as the younger officer Chee. Leaphorn's approach to his cases is informed by some Navajo, or Dine, tradition, but is also influenced by Anglo-European logic. Leaphorn is somewhat untutored in his own culture and is resistant to some Navajo taboos. But at the same time, he realizes that many traditional Navajo still hold such beliefs and often act on them in a violent manner. Leaphorn is called the "Legendary Lieutenant" by many members of his staff, and some of the younger policemen (especially Chee) hold him in awe.

Leaphorn lives in the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizonamarker. In his career he worked in a number of locations, including a brief stint training at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.marker His longest assignment appears to have been in Tuba City, Arizonamarker.

Leaphorn is also featured in television dramatizations of some Hillerman novels, played on the American television network PBS by actor Wes Studi, a member of the Cherokee Nation.

In his autobiography Seldom Disappointed (2002), Hillerman reveals that he named Leaphorn after the ancient Minoan practice of bull-jumping, as he was reading a book on Minoan culture while writing his first novel.

The most notable feature of Leaphorn's method of police work is his large, color-coded map. It is an enlargement of an old auto club road map of the Four Corners area. On this map he marks different kinds of crimes with different-colored pins - red-headed pins stand for alcohol-related crimes, for example. This process then allows him to notice patterns that link various crimes together, and helps him solve them. Leaphorn eventually retires, and promptly begins working as a private investigator; he frequently gives Jim Chee advice (though never unsolicited). Leaphorn does not enjoy retirement. His contacts throughout the Southwest, and his renown, lead him into a number of cases, even after his active police career is over.

In earlier books, Lieutenant Leaphorn is married to the love of his life, Emma. However, she dies between Skinwalkers and A Thief of Time. Later, Leaphorn becomes attracted to an anthropologist named Louisa Bourbonette, who he meets while working on a case in Coyote Waits. In Listening Woman, his mother is Anna Gorman and his maternal grandfather is Klee-Thlumie.

The Lieutenant's nickname among Hillerman fans is "Lovely Leaphorn."

Appearances in other media

Three of the Hillerman novels (A Thief of Time, Skinwalkers, and Coyote Waits) were adapted for television as part of the PBS series Mystery!, as part of its American Mystery! specials. In these adaptations, Leaphorn was playd by actor Wes Studi.

In the 1991 theatrical film adapation of The Dark Wind, Leaphorn was played by Fred Ward.


Joe Leaphorn appears in the following novels:

In each of the following he is joined by Jim Chee:

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