Dan Murphy

St. Louis Cremation Dan MurphyDan Murphy was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1940 to Lillian and Ivan Murphy. After receiving his degree in history and archeology from the State University of New York, Murphy moved to his adopted New Mexico. Murphy was an opera singer in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera in his younger years and continued to sing for various congregations and occasions throughout his life. He worked at the UN, and was a US Coast Guardsman, carpenter, and teacher, and an Elder Hostel guide. He learned to fly small planes before he learned to drive, and was a pilot for much of his life.

Dan joined the National Park Service in 1969 and worked in Arches National Park, Grand Canyon, Tetons, Salinas Pueblo, the Gateway Arch and the Sante Fe regional office in a variety of assignments including archeologist, park ranger, writer/editor and historian. As an archeologist at Salinas Pueblo National Park he founded the Gran Quivira Conference on Spanish Colonial History. He wrote several books, including, “New Mexico, The Distant Land”, and the award winning “Lewis and Clark, Voyage of Discovery.” He contributed to the design and creation of the Museum of Westward Expansion at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, travelled to Ghana and Sierra Leone to assist in the development of a national park service there, and wrote and edited a wide number of interpretive and educational publications for the park service. But maybe his strongest legacy was as a mentor, trainer, coach and instructor for permanent and seasonal rangers who had the good fortune to find themselves in the same classroom or around the same campfire. Always intellectually curious, a powerful public speaker, Dan had a wonderful sense of humor and sense of adventure.

Dan was instrumental in the founding of Canyonlands Field Institute, an organization promoting understanding and conservation of the Colorado plateau. He was also a river runner and guide, spending many of his most memorable days in the canyons of the the Colorado and San Juan rivers.

After retirement he was the caretaker for Cunningham Ranch, a Nature Conservancy property in Cisco, Utah. In his later years he lived in Bluff, Utah, Salt Lake City with nephew John, Santa Fe, and St Louis.

Dan Murphy passed away Sunday morning, June 14, 2015 in St Louis, MO of congestive heart failure. He is survived by brother and sister–in-law Dale and Barbara Murphy, sister Mary Ellen Wheeler, children Russell Murphy, Laurie Murphy, Susan Reynolds, and Kathleen Murphy, grandchildren Ian, Ethan, Alex, Ciaran, Max, nephews, and Patricia Hoyer.

In memory of Dan donations can be made to: Canyonlands Field Institute The bottom of the donation page has a place for memorial contributions. Thank you!

For information regarding the memorial please email Kathleen at katjanmurph@gmail.com


  1. Nancy Dahl on June 17, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Such a loss. What a difference he made to all who knew him. The obit and picture are perfect capturing his spirit and essence.

    Nancy Dahl

  2. Laurie Lerfald Gray on June 19, 2015 at 12:09 am

    He was my first supervisor in the NPS and taught and inspired me to be a great interpreter. His role as a mentor and teacher was powerful and I cherish the memory of receiving from him the “Golden Buffalo Chip” award. He was a one-of-a-kind!

    Laurie Lerfald Gray

  3. shonto Begay on June 19, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Dan, I regret not speaking with you these past few years but you will be missed by all that knew you on the Navajo country. We love and cherish the moments we shared in words and laughters. The angels will laugh and listen intently to the Murphy stream of thoughts. Love you Brother.

  4. Jennifer Davila (of the DeLormes) on June 19, 2015 at 9:15 am

    What sad news to hear!! Dan made for many lively and entertaining days in the Commissary at Wild Rivers and made the camp fires on the river a more memorable place for many people. I am glad that I was able to know him and have fond memories of him to share at my own camp fires these days. My love to you Kathleen and all the family.

  5. Jean Dugan on June 19, 2015 at 9:17 am

    I’ll never forget when he shared a few stories at the Webster Groves Elementary Computer School for Alex and her friends. He led a full and interesting life.

  6. Jean Rodeck on June 19, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    You will be missed by so many. Thanks for spreading yourself so widely when you were here. It was a joy to know you.

  7. David Grant Noble on June 21, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    To all and especially Dan’s family:
    Dan and I met each other around 1973 while gazing into the depths of Grand Canyon from an overlook. You might guess who initially struck up our conversation. We were friends from then on and sometimes worked together on projects. Dan came over to our house more than once to watch our night-blooming cereus open into full bloom, and we sang to it. We arranged for the final disposal of Adolf F. Bandelier’s remains at the monument after I arranged for repatriation of his bones from Spain. It was a long genuine friendship, sometimes working on projects, sometimes just hanging out. Dan’s life was something of a roller coaster. When he was “up” he could talk–oh my, could he talk, colorful, anecdotal, narrative talk, borderline verbosity? Yes, not even borderline. It was a compulsive, and compelling manifestation of his irresistible vitality. I send my condolences, and that of my wife, Ruth, to all who loved this man.

  8. Bruce Hucko on June 29, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Oh Daniel! Remember pulling ticks off each other while photographing the Santa Fe Trail book? I have visit memories of our book experiences,but mostly I will recall and practice as best I can, history-tellling in the Murphy manner. You have the incredible ability to bring life to the western history. Like Shonto, I’ve missed seeing you these past few years, but know we will visit again in the next life……I just wonder which of the many road kill hats you own you’ll be wearing? You made a difference in my life and I love the time we spent together working for KC. Adios my friend!

  9. KC DenDooven on June 29, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    So sorry to hear this. I’m the guy who Published Dan’s book -actually the beginning of the Voyage of Discovery Series –the one on Lewis and Clark. It was a pleasure to know Dan and to work with him. He led a remarkable life. –KC

  10. Joe Bilello on July 2, 2015 at 7:48 am

    This is sad news indeed about Dan, who, for a time, was a great
    friend and for my lifetime, has been an important inspiration. He combined a child¹s twinkle in his eye and sage wisdom that emerged from his love of history and storytelling. The friendship and playful banter that came from his office next to mine at the Arch made the challenges of that work lighter. Years later
    (early 1990s), people to whom I introduced him in my conferences at St John¹s College, were inspired/moved by his tales of the southwest. In those years, his flame blazed brightly for those of us who came into contact with him as I did. Rarely, does someone¹s presence in storytelling exceed expectations; Dan¹s always did.

    We lost touch of one another once he moved from Santa Fe. I was not a good friend to him then and I regret it. Still, his passing reminds me of this dear friend and kindred spirit of long ago. In his passing, memories of him spring to life, and I miss him.

  11. Chris Judson on August 31, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Dan had a big place in his interests for Adolph Bandelier, and for those of us who were working here at Bandelier National Monument when Dan was around, he greatly enriched our understanding of that remarkable man.

  12. Bill Gwaltney on September 2, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Dan Murphy was one of a kind in so many ways.

    A person might challenge the idea that one man could have done so many things and that he could still be one cohesive person. But Dan was more than a sum of his parts.

    He lived in places far, far away and oh, so close all at the same time.

    It was an honor to be a colleague of Dan Murphy in the NPS and to be part of the team that followed him and Bill Brown in the Division of Interpretation in the old Southwest Regional Office in Santa Fe.

    No one who ever met him could say that they did not become an immediate and life-long friend.

    “There will never come an end to the good he has done.”

  13. David Reynolds on December 29, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    My condolences to Dan’s family and friends. I came to know Dan when I arranged for him to travel to Sierra Leone with Dave Ates on a project at Bunce Island. Dan and Dave did an excellent job in developing a concept plan to create a Bunce Island historic site at this 250 year old former holding area for slaves before they were sent to the Americas. Dan’s communication and writing skills were instrumental in the success of the project and the quality of the report. He had many skills and made friends everywhere he went. He’ll be sorely missed and affectionately remembered.

  14. Arlene Hunter on October 11, 2018 at 10:51 pm

    I was one of the most lucky ones to have Dan Murphy as a sixth grade teacher in Waddington, NY a very long time ago. Was lucky enough to attend his wedding to Patricia – whom I continue to deeply admire. Lucky enough, too, to know his children a bit -especially Kathleen – who he loved so very much. So glad i got to know Nancy! He did surround himself with folks that were as wonderful as he was, didn’t he? He had that knack and many others.
    Tomorrow is Dan’s birthday – Miss him still. This man changed my life and i cannot imagine where i would be without his presence, teaching, mentoring, and guidance beginning in 6th grade and continuing still. Dan was a one in a million.

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