Andrew Summers Rowan

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Andrew Summers Rowan, circa 1904

Andrew Summers Rowan (23 April 1857, Gap Mills – 10 January 1943) was an American Army officer who served as the liaison between the United States and Cuban rebels led by General Calixto García during the Spanish American War.

Rowan was born in Gap Mills, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1857. He was the son of John M. Rowan and Virginia Summers. He enrolled at West Point at the age of twenty and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1881. In the years before the Spanish American War, Rowan served several frontier posts and with military intelligence in Latin America. He was interested in Cuba in particular and co-wrote a book about the island (see writings listed below).

With tensions between the United States and the Spanish (who then ruled Cuba) growing, President William McKinley saw value in establishing contact with the Cuban rebels who could prove a valuable ally in case of war with Spain. McKinley asked Colonel Arthur L. Wagner to suggest an officer to make contact with Garcia's rebels. Wagner suggested Rowan, by now Captain, who then traveled to Cuba via Jamaica. Rowan met Garcia in the Oriente Mountains and established a rapport. Rowan garnered information from Garcia who was eager to cooperate with Americans in fighting the Spanish. Rowan returned to the US and was given command of a force of "Immunes", African-American troops assumed to be immune to tropical diseases found in Cuba. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.[1]

In 1899 artist and publisher Elbert Hubbard wrote a passage entitled A Message to Garcia extolling the virtues of Rowan, lauding his reliability and competence. Finding appeal in this message, industrial and military leaders ordered millions of copies of the text to distribute to their workers and soldiers making it a best-seller. It was translated into several languages and sold internationally.

In 1908, while Rowan was at Fort Douglas, Utah, his wife, Josephine, established a reading room for the blind at the Salt Lake City Public Library. This may be the longest, uninterrupted, service project in the city's history.[2]

Rowan retired after thirty years of service, in 1909, and died in the Presidio of San Francisco in 1943. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Portrayals in film[edit]

Rowan's Cuban mission was portrayed twice in films. A 1916 silent film A Message to Garcia where Rowan was played by Robert Conness and a 1936 film A Message to Garcia in which he was played by John Boles. Both films significantly romanticized the events of his mission.

Literature[edit]

Writings[edit]

  • The island of Cuba; a descriptive and historical account of the "Great Antilla" (written with Marathon Montrose Ramsey) (New York: H. Holt & Co., 1896; 2nd ed 1897).
  • How I carried the message to Garcia (San Francisco: W. D. Harney, 1922).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Andrew Summers Rowan Arlington National Cemetery Website
  2. ^ Rolly, Paul (2008-09-17). "Paul Rolly: Teacher saves a life in Delta". The Salt Lake Tribune.