John J. “Jack” Koblas died on March 8, 2013 in Minneapolis at age 70. He was a native of Minnesota and spent most of his life in that state. He is survived by children Stacy, Stephanie, John and Sarah; six grandchildren; one great-grandchild and close friend, Janet Goodman. Jack suffered for some years from Parkinson’s Disease. His death followed a recent stroke and a heart attack.
Jack was one of the most dynamic and prolific writers of our time. He was a noted authority on the James-Younger Gang and the Northfield, Minnesota Bank Robbery and had written eight books on those subjects. In addition to the James-Younger Gang, he also wrote about a several other outlaws, including the train robbing Sontag Brothers, Ma Barker and her boys, John Dillinger, and lifelong criminal Pat Crowe. These books have all been received with high acclaim and earned Jack several awards. He won three Perry awards, an award given annually by the national James-Younger Gang organization for excellence in research and writing. He also received the John Newman Edwards award and the Charlie Pitts award.
In addition to outlaw-lawman history Jack was very well versed in Minnesota, Civil War and Indian War history. He had written six books on the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis. His book, F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: Toward the Summit, was a Minnesota Book award nominee in 1966. His credits for Civil War and Indian War history include, J. J. Dickison: Swamp Fox of the Confederacy and a trilogy about the Sioux Uprising during the Civil War, Let Them Eat Grass. Titles of those volumes are: Smoke, Fire, and Ashes. Among his other works there is a series of historical mysteries for young adults. These books featured Doc & Tweed, two fourteen-year-olds who solve mysteries and in the process learn a lot about history.
Jack was the author of 70 books, several screenplays, and over 500 short stories, articles and a vast amount of poetry. He was well-known for his tireless research. He often said that history is full of myths and only by doing in-depth research can you get to the heart of the matter. His philosophy about research on historical topics was to throw out everything you have been taught and look for yourself.
In addition to his writing skills Jack was also an accomplished musician and lecturer. He trained for years as a concert pianist before converting to Rock and Roll. He played in a band in high school and later performed with a professional band, “The Magpies”. This band was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Jack was an outstanding lecturer and appeared, usually in period costume, before outlaw-lawman groups, civic clubs, libraries, etc. all over the country. He conducted bus and walking tours for various groups about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Jesse James, Ma Barker and other famous or infamous people. He appeared on national television programs such as “Good Morning America” and “CBS Sunday Morning”. He served as a consultant and scriptwriter for a number of television documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, PBS American Experience and independent film companies.
Jack was active in a number of historical and outlaw-lawman organizations. He was president of the national James-Younger Gang for four years and served as a board member and co-editor for that organization for a number of years. He was also a longtime member of the National Outlaw-Lawman History Association (NOLA).
Jack was a highly respected and well-liked author and historian. His contributions will be appreciated by the historical and literary community for many years to come.
A memorial was held on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm in the Washburn-McReavy Hillside Chapel in Minneapolis. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Jack Koblas Memorial Fund. These should be sent to Janet Goodman, 5320 47th Ave. S, Minneapolis MN 55417-2314