The historian and former journalist died Nov. 20 in an assisted care facility after a long illness, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
Lawton was a reporter for the Riverside Press-Enterprise in the 1950s when he became interested in the tragic story of Willie Boy, a young Paiute-Chemehuevi Indian who fell in love with a distant cousin in 1909.
After his love's father refused to allow the marriage, Willie shot him and the couple fled. A posse followed the pair through nearly 600 miles of oppressive desert for 12 days. In the end, the lovers both died.
Lawton interviewed members of the posse and conducted three years of research for his nonfiction novel, "Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt." The book won a James D. Phelan Award and Southwest Literature award for a historical work.
Lawton is survived by his wife, Georgeann; four sons, a daughter, a sister and six grandchildren.