Small town Waukomis, Oklahoma, is surrounded by Garfield County’s prairie farmlands, and it’s also home to historian and author John J. Dwyer. With seven books and a few study guides under his belt – including part of our state’s first comprehensive history in many years – he’s working on more.
Dwyer’s The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People – Volume I: Ancient-Statehood, launched in 2016. The book vied against hefty competition to earn the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Literary Content for Nonfiction. Its pages, filled with paintings and photographs, breathed some deserved richness into the state’s heritage.
His other novels incorporate Oklahoma and its many colorful characters. In Shortgrass – which nabbed the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Inspirational Fiction – Mennonite farm boy and University of Oklahoma football star Lance Roark faces the Dust Bowl, and brushes against such personalities as Wiley Post and Bing Crosby. Mustang takes Roark into World War II’s European Theater as a fighter pilot. His nonfiction The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War includes hundreds of illustrations and biographical sketches, and he’s also crafted novels about Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
A quintessential storyteller, even with nonfiction, Dwyer sees life through a dramatic and judicious lens. He explains why people did what they did as they thundered through time, and he’s unafraid to tackle humanity’s dark side. Dwyer also brings Christian ministers and social pioneers back into history’s narrative without piety. Reading Dwyer’s books is like talking to and being around him; he finds meaning in seemingly mundane details and is willing to embrace and acknowledge life’s fragility as part of the human condition.
The older of two sons, Dwyer spent his childhood in Duncan. When he was two years old, his 35-year-old father died, primarily due to World War II injuries. In fourth grade, Dwyer began writing and fabricated alternate realities that became more intricate as he grew older.
“The house I grew up in sat on the Old Chisholm Trail,” says Dwyer. “Out my window at night, I could see the neon, longhorn steer horns glowing with the words ‘Chisholm Trail Motel.’ Home was permeated with history, reading and learning.
“Cowboys were the cultural icons that superheroes are now. My mom let the John Waynes and the Mickey Mantles serve as surrogate male influencers for us. The culture was immersed in pride for our country, flag, history and heroes, going back to the pilgrims. I had an internal generator to share what I learned in a way that inspired and taught and helped people.”
Dwyer holds degrees from the University of Oklahoma and Dallas Theological Seminary, and he teaches history and ethics at Southern Nazarene University. An active blogger, he maintains an active social media presence. Lately, he spends a lot of time “pulling up old barbed wire fence, clearing brush, cutting down trees and readying things for our new horse,” he says. “My driving force with horses, chickens, barns, hay and such is for my grandson to care for animals and learn daily responsibilities.”
Dwyer’s eighth book, The Oklahomans – Volume II, is planned for a release at the Oklahoma History Center on Statehood Day in November 2021.