Is 'Dark Winds' a True Story?

Is 'Dark Winds' a True Story?
Image credit: Legion-Media

'Dark Winds' evolved into one of the most innovative and original new dramas of 2022. The story, set against the gritty backdrop of 1970s American Southwest, was the perfect opportunity to tell a story from the perspective of Native Americans.

Set in 1971 near Monument Valley, 'Dark Winds ' primarily revolves around the characters that represent the Navajo Tribal Police. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, a wise and stoic man, leads the department that also includes Deputies Bernadette Manuelito and Jim Chee. Once season one introduces audiences to the characters, Officer Bernadette is already a hardened professional while Chee has just joined the force.

'Dark Winds follows Lieutenant Leaphorn as he is conflicted by a series of crimes that at first appear unrelated. He's still grieving the loss of his only son, Joe Jr., who died under mysterious circumstances. Then, there is the recent murder of Joe Jr.'s girlfriend, Anna. Moreover, the FBI is putting pressure on the Tribal Police to arrest the indigenous people they believe are responsible for an armored truck heist gone wrong.

Meanwhile, the new AMC series also confronts the issues that impact indigenous people like the Navajo Nation. During the first season, we find Leaphorn, Chee, and Bernadette wrestling with their own demons and spirituality. Chee, in particular, has something to prove and settle from his shameful past on the reservation. It appears evil follows the Tribal Police in all directions.

The story was so compelling that many fans began to consider whether 'Dark Winds' is based on a true story?

'Dark Winds' – despite its outstanding plot – is not based on real events. Rather, 'Dark Winds' is inspired by several novels that were penned by Tony Hillerman from the 1970s to 1990s. Anne Hillerman, his daughter, has gone on to write several more chapters including the introduction of Bernadette (who appears in the TV version). Season one borrows heavily from Listening Woman, the third book in the franchise. Meanwhile, readers of the book series will also notice influences from People of Darkness (the fourth book).

The Leaphorn and Chee novels were created by Tony Hillerman, who is not Native American. However, Hillerman was raised in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma where he often associated with Potawatomie children. Later, after returning from World War II, Hillerman attended college and started working as a journalist. He relocated to New Mexico where the inspiration for 'Dark Winds' began to unfold.

Hillerman became acquainted with the sheriff of Hutchinson County, New Mexico, who would later serve as the inspiration for Joe Leaphorn. The Lieutenant is the primary character in the first few books before Hillerman opted to introduce Jim Chee. It's said that the younger deputy is partly drawn from the author's own sensibilities and personality.

Tony Hillerman would eventually publish more than 30 books, including 18 noteworthy Leaphorn and Chee novels. He eventually settled on the Navajo Nation as the principal setting for the book after falling in love with the Southwest. He had previously been associated with the Navajo working as a truck driver. Moreover, Hillerman also drew influence from a series of Arthur W. Upfield mystery novels revolving around the Australian Aborigines.

He passed away in 2008 yet the Leaphorn and Chee franchise continues under his daughter, Anne Hillerman. She recently published the latest edition, The Sacred Bridge, in 2022. Consequently, the producers of the 'Dark Winds' TV series will have even more inspiration to draw from in the future.