Charles Fletcher Lummis

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Charles Fletcher Lummis (1 March 1859, in Lynn, Massachusetts – 24 November 1928, in Los Angeles, California) was a United States journalist and Indian rights and historic preservation activist; he is also known as a historian, photographer, ethnographer, archaeologist, poet and librarian.[1][2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Lummis lost his mother at age 2 and was homeschooled by his father, who was a schoolmaster. Lummis enrolled in Harvard and was a classmate of Theodore Roosevelt, but dropped out during his senior year. While at Harvard he worked during the summer as a printer and published his first work, Birch Bark Poems, a small volume of his works printed on paper thin sheets of birch bark, winning him acclaim from Life magazine and recognition from some of the day's leading poets. He sold the books by subscription and used the money to pay for school. His best poem from the work, "My Cigarette", highlighted one of his life's obsessions, tobacco. His other obsession was with women. Lummis married Dorothea Rhodes of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1880.

Transcontinental walk[edit]

In 1884, Lummis was working for a newspaper in Cincinnati when he was offered a job with the Los Angeles Times. At that time, Los Angeles had a population of only 12,000. Lummis decided to make the 2,200-mile journey from Cincinnati to Los Angeles on foot, taking 143 days, all the while sending weekly dispatches to the paper chronicling his trip. One of his dispatches chronicled his meeting and interview with famed outlaw Frank James.[4] The trip began in September and lasted through the winter. He suffered a broken arm and the heavy snows of New Mexico, yet the trip left him enamored with the Southwest and its Spanish and Native American inhabitants. In 1892, his writings during the trip were published as a book, A Tramp Across the Continent.

Editor at the Los Angeles Times[edit]

Upon his arrival, Lummis was offered the job of the first City Editor. There was no lack of work as he covered a multitude of interesting stories from the new and growing community. Work was hard and demanding under the hard-driving pace set by publisher Harrison Otis. However, Lummis was happy until he suffered from a mild stroke that left his left side paralyzed.[5]

New Mexico[edit]

In 1888, Lummis moved to San Mateo, New Mexico to recuperate from his paralysis. He rode about the plains holding a rifle in one good hand while shooting wild jack rabbits. Here he began a new career as a prolific freelance writer, writing on everything that was particularly special about the Southwest and Indian cultures. However, some of his remarks written about corrupt bosses committing murders in San Mateo drew threats on his life, so he moved to a new location in the Pueblo Indian village of Isleta, New Mexico on the Rio Grande.

Indians of Isleta[edit]

Somewhat recovered from his paralysis, Lummis was able to win over the confidence of the Pueblo Indians by his outgoing and generous nature. But a hit man from San Mateo was sent up to Isleta to hunt him down, shooting him with a load of buckshot, but failing to kill him. In Isleta, Lummis divorced his first wife and married Eva Douglas, the sister-in-law of an English trader, who lived in the village. Somehow he convinced Eva to stay with Dorothea in Los Angeles until the divorce went through. In the meantime, Lummis entangled himself in fights with the U.S. government agents in charge of Indian education, who would remove Native American children from their homes and sequester them for years at a time, not even allowing them to go home during holidays or vacation periods. He persuaded the government to allow 36 children from the Albuquerque Indian School to leave.

While he was in Isleta, he met his long term friends Father Anton Docher,[6] the Padre of Isleta [7] and Adolph Bandelier.When he lived in Isleta, he lived in Pablo Abeita's house.[8]

Magazine editor[edit]

Charles Fletcher Lummis, 1897

In 1892, Lummis released another book, Some Strange Corners of Our Country. Between 1893 and 1894, Lummis spent 10 months in Peru with Adolph Bandelier before returning to Los Angeles with his wife, Eva, and their year old daughter, Turbese. Unemployed and out of money, he finally landed the position of editor of a regional magazine, Land of Sunshine. The magazine was renamed Out West[9] in 1901, and published works by famous authors such as John Muir and Jack London. Over his 11 years as editor, Lummis wrote more than 500 pieces for the magazine himself, as well as a popular monthly commentary called "In the Lion's Den". He also built a remarkable home out of stone which he named El Alisal for the sycamore tree that grew just outside. As president of the "Landmarks Club of Southern California" (an all-volunteer, privately funded group dedicated the preservation of California's deteriorating Spanish missions), Lummis noted that the historic structures "...were falling to ruin with frightful rapidity, their roofs being breached or gone, the adobe walls melting under the winter rains." [10] Lummis wrote in 1895 "In ten years from now—unless our intelligence shall awaken at once—"there will remain of these noble piles nothing but a few indeterminable heaps of adobe. We shall deserve and shall have the contempt of all thoughtful people if we suffer our noble missions to fall." [11] At about the same time, Lummis also established a new Indian rights group called the "Sequoya League."

Indian rights activist[edit]

Lummis continued his fight against the U.S. Indian policy bureau and called on his classmate President Teddy Roosevelt to help change their manner of operating. He found a home for a small group of Indians who had been evicted from their property in the Palm Springs, California area. The Sequoya League began a battle against Indian Agent Charles Burton, accusing him of imposing a "reign of terror" on the Hopi pueblo in Oraibi by implementing the forcible cutting of the long hair of the Indian men. Lummis was accused of overstating the case and lost his welcome at the White House. (However, subsequent social pressure on Burton did cause him to reverse the haircutting policy.)

El Alisal[edit]

El Alisal in 2007

In 1905, Lummis took the position as City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library.[12] At El Alisal, also known as Lummis House, he held up a constant pace of entertaining with parties he called "noises" for various writers, local artists and other important dignitaries. The parties usually included a lavish Spanish dinner with dancing and music performed by his own private troubadour. The extravaganzas also wore out a number of female assistants or "secretaries" conscripted into working on them. Lummis also married his third wife, Gertrude, at El Alisal.[13] In 1907, Lummis established the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, California, continued to fund raise and saw the Southwest Museum building open in August 1914.

Later life and death[edit]

Between his drinking and his womanizing, Lummis faced a series of personal setbacks and tribulations. He lost his job at the library for insisting on doing most of the work at home. Eva divorced him over his womanizing. He went blind from a "jungle fever" he claimed he contracted while in Guatemala, eventually regaining his sight after more than a year of blindness.[14] Also, his book writing came to a complete stop. By 1918, he was destitute. The Southwest Museum Board named him founder emeritus in 1923 and gave him a small stipend. Lummis also decided to enlarge, revise and republish Some Strange Corners of Our Country as Mesa, Canyon and Pueblo in 1925. He also once again engaged in a civil rights crusade on behalf of the Pueblo Indians. Lummis died in 1928, leaving a legacy of Indian lore and photography, and his home El Alisal was preserved as the home for the Historical Society of Southern California. He was cremated and his ashes were placed in a vault in a wall at El Alisal.[15]

The Southwest Museum operated independently until 2002 when it was merged into the Autry National Center. The Autry has launched a multi-year conservation project to preserve the enormous collection amassed by Lummis and his successors but the Southwest Museum is only open to the public on Saturdays due to this work.[16]

Lummis Day Festival[edit]

Beginning in 2006, Lummis' legacy as an early advocate of multi-culturalism has been celebrated with the annual Lummis Day Festival. The festival takes place on the first Sunday in June and draws people to El Alisal and Heritage Square Museum for poetry readings, art exhibits, music and dance performances and family activities. The festival is presented by the Lummis Day Community Foundation, a non-profit organization of community activists and arts organization leaders.


  • A New Mexico David and Other Stories & Sketches of The Southwest. Scribner's. 1891
  • Some strange corners of our country: the wonderland of the Southwest. 1892
  • My Friend Will. 1894
  • The Gold Fish of Gran Chimu: A Novel. Lamson, Wolffe. 1896
  • The Enchanted Burro: Stories of New Mexico & South America. 1897
  • The awakening of a nation: Mexico of to-day. 1898
  • The King Of The Broncos and Other Stories of New Mexico. Scribner's. 1915
  • The Spanish Pioneers And The California Missions (1936) Full book online at The Internet Archive. 1920
  • The Prose of It (poem on Geronimo). c. 1926
  • A Bronco Pegasus: Poems. Houghton Mifflin. 1928
  • Flowers Of Our Lost Romance (1909) Full book online at The Internet Archive Houghton Mifflin. 1929
  • New Mexican Folk Songs. UNM Press. 1952
  • General Crook and the Apache Wars. 1966
  • Bullying The Moqui. 1968
  • Dateline Fort Bowie: Charles Fletcher Lummis Reports on an Apache War. 1979
  • A Tramp Across the Continent. University of Nebraska Press. 1982. ISBN 0-8032-7908-6
  • Letters From The Southwest: September 20, 1884 to March 14, 1885. 1989
  • Mesa, Cañon and Pueblo. University Press of the Pacific. 2004. ISBN 1-4102-1543-1
  • Pueblo Indian Folk-Stories. Forgotten Books. 2008. ISBN 978-0-8032-7938-4
  • The Land of Poco Tiempo. BiblioBazaar. 2009. ISBN 978-1-103-73190-9
  • The Man Who Married the Moon and Other Pueblo Indian Folk Tales. (1891)


  1. ^ Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University: Chalres Fletcher Lummis
  2. ^ Guide to the Charles F. Lummis Papers. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.
  3. ^ "LUMMIS, Charles Fletcher". The International Who's Who in the World: p. 720. 1912. 
  4. ^ "A Newspaper Tramp". Los Angeles Times. November 16, 1884. p. 3. 
  5. ^ Pool, Bob, (November 11, 2014) "Historic Lummis House faces an uncertain future" Los Angeles Times
  6. ^ Samuel Gance. Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père. L'Harmattan, 2013, pp. 155–159.
  7. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, pp. 22, 37, 88.
  8. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, pp. 88–93.
  9. ^ OCLC 3687761 and OCLC 702604648
  10. ^ Thompson, pp. 185–186
  11. ^ Past Campaigns
  12. ^ "Corduroys In Library". Los Angeles Times. June 28, 1905. p. I7. 
  13. ^ "Historic Tree Nuptial Bower". Los Angeles Times. May 10, 1915. p. II1. 
  14. ^ "The Curious Blindness of Charles F. Lummis." Archives of Ophthalmology. May 2011. vol. 129 [1]
  15. ^ "Lummis Rights Tomorrrow". Los Angeles Times. November 27, 1928. p. A1. 
  16. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help);


  • Thompson, Mark (2001). American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Rediscovery of the Southwest. Arcade Publishing, New York. ISBN 1-55970-550-7. 
  • Simmons, Marc. Charles F. Lummis: author and adventurer : a gathering. Sunstone Books. 2008. (ISBN 9780865346390)
  • Bingham, Edwin R. Charles F. Lummis: Editor of the Southwest. Huntington Library, 2006. ISBN 978-0-87328-221-5
  • California Missions Foundation (2005). "Past Campaigns". Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
  • Deverell, William (2004). Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. ISBN 0-520-21869-8. 
  • Fleming, Robert E. (2001). "Charles F. Lummis". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
  • Keleher, Julia M.; Chant, Elsie Ruth (2009). The Padre of Isleta: The Story of Father Anton Docher. Sunstone press Publishing. ISBN 978-0-86534-714-4. 
  • Samuel Gance, Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2013, 208 p.(devotes chapter XIV "Chas" to Lummis) ISBN 978-2336290164

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Archival collections[edit]