Dan Thrapp; Religion Editor, Biographer of the Old West

Dan L. Thrapp, a biographer of the Old West whose novels and anthologies brought him as many accolades as his work as religion editor of the Los Angeles Times, died Friday. He was 80.

His daughter, Linda Nicholl, said he died at his Tucson home of a cerebral hemorrhage. He had retired to Arizona from Los Angeles in 1975.

For two decades he covered religion for this newspaper; his Sermon of the Week became one of its more popular features.

From the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, he sat in pews in Southern California cathedrals, synagogues and storefront churches, working without notes to report the messages of Buddhist and Catholic priests, Presbyterian pastors, rabbis and Muslim ministers


In that period, he was singled out for praise by clergymen and institutions ranging from Rabbi Edgar Magnin of Wilshire Boulevard Temple to Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy to the National Religious Public Relations Council and Chapman College, which awarded him an honorary doctorate.

During that time and well past his retirement, he pursued a love of the West, writing novels under pseudonyms, and biographies and histories under his own name.

Robert Kirsch, the late Times book critic, called Thrapp “one of the most promising young historians of the West” for Thrapp’s life of Al Sieber, soldier and Indian fighter. His account, “The Conquest of Apacheria (Apache Land),” was called by another critic the definitive work of that 19th-Century U.S.-American Indian war.

His daughter said his most scholarly work, and the one for which he will best be remembered, was his four-volume Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, in which he researched the lives of more than 5,000 men and women who had an impact on the settling of the West.


For the past several years, he was editor of the journal of the Council on America’s Military Past.

Besides his daughter, Thrapp is survived by a son, Col. Richard Platte of the Army Medical Corps.