The Legacy of Charles F. Lummis : Pioneer Newsman Who Helped Lay L.A. Groundwork

Grace Ellen Stiles is a retired professor of education at the University of Maine. Don Scott Thompson is a playwright and free-lance writer

Charles Fletcher Lummis started down from Cajon Pass following the trickle of a little stream. He was glad to have left the unforgiving desert. Behind him also were the prairies of Indiana and Illinois, the hills of Missouri, the expanse of Kansas' plains, December's snows with piercing winds in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico, and the delights and travail of Arizona, especially the Mojave.

He had walked every step of the way, almost 3,500 miles now, except when he loped along the railroad tracks, hitting only every other tie. It was 100 years ago. His date with destiny--destiny in the person of Col. Harrison Gray Otis, crusty owner-editor of the Los Angeles Times, was due Feb. 1, 1885.

Delirious With Pain He had made side trips, even after receiving Otis' telegram requiring his presence by Feb. 1. Sometimes he left the trail to hunt for food or for sport. On such an excursion in Arizona he fell and broke his left arm. He set it himself by tying his wrist to a tree and lunging backward. He fainted. Recovering consciousness, he walked 60 miles, delirious with pain, to Holbrook, where he rested in the unaccustomed comfort of a warm bed before he plunged on. The arm, it turned out, set perfectly.

In spite of the discomfort of his arm and the heat, he viewed the Grand Canyon, crossed the Mojave of Arizona and entered California at Needles only a few days before his date with Otis.

Advice Ignored At Daggett, he left the security of the railroad to set off south on a direct compass-bearing for the Cajon Pass--against the advice of natives. Albert Munier, a miner at Calico who was broke and sick (an unscrupulous employer had fleeced him) joined Lummis to walk to Los Angeles. Taking care of his companion and the heat of the desert slowed Lummis' usual pace of 30 to 40 miles a day.

Lummis was equal to the hazards of his walk from Ohio to California and to the mental discipline of writing weekly dispatches back to Chillicothe, Ohio, and ahead to The Times. His physique was toughened by workouts in the Harvard gym and by tramping the New England wildernesses. He knew woodsmanship and survival techniques. He undertook the walk for "joy and information" and not from necessity.

Before entering Harvard, his minister father had taught him Greek, Latin and Hebrew, preparing him for the rigorous classical education. His sharp observation, intellectual strength, honesty and determination made it possible to write his dispatches from settlers' kitchen tables or by flickering campfires. He frequently signed these vivid and dramatic accounts "Lum."

Lummis followed the trickle from the Cajon Pass until it became a brook. He detoured to watch Chinese laborers building the Santa Fe Railroad north up toward the Pass. Irrigated valleys where flowers blossomed and oranges ripened on the trees seemed a veritable heaven. He sped through Cucamonga, Ontario and Pomona with a light heart.

Under the landmark giant grape vine in San Gabriel (which is still growing at San Gabriel Mission), Col. Otis spotted a young man with his left arm in a sling, wearing low shoes, short trousers, a battered felt hat with a rattlesnake skin band and a duck jacket with many bulging pockets. Thus he met "Lum" of the dispatches.

Otis' Dreams They ate a good dinner while discussing Otis' dreams for the rapidly growing Los Angeles. He wanted to develop a free port at San Pedro and counter the lock held by the Southern Pacific Railroad on the port at Santa Monica.

"I'll walk. I don't want to spoil my record," Lummis explained when he refused to ride into Los Angeles. So the portly colonel walked with him the last 10 miles of the 3,507-mile tramp.

"It's only 11 o'clock on the 1st," Lummis announced gazing on the electric lights of the city, then boasting 12,000 inhabitants. "I've met my first deadline," he wrote in his account of his arrival.

"So you have," Otis agreed. "I like punctual men." These two would get along well together.

Lummis had a few hours with his wife, Dorothea, a medical doctor already practicing in Los Angeles, before appearing at his desk as city editor of The Times.

With characteristic energy and dedication, Lummis threw himself into his work. The Times was only 3 years old. Although it was financially shaky, Otis had already taken strong stands for the future of Los Angeles, frequently unpopular ones.

According to the account in the biography, "Charles Fletcher Lummis" by two of his children, Turbese Lummis Fiske and Keith Lummis, Otis had been supporting the chief of police, whom Lummis discovered to be crooked. When he reported that fact to Otis the brusque colonel said, "It's the policy of The Times to support the chief."

"I'm understanding it is the policy of The Times to tell the truth and be in the right," Lummis said. "If it isn't, take it and go to hell!" Bystanders quaked, expecting fireworks. Otis looked steadily at his fearless editor. He backed down. The colonel respected men who could stand up to him.

For almost three years, Lummis habitually put The Times to bed at a late hour and rose at 7 to begin the next day's issue. His wife was fully aware of the demands he was making upon his health. In spite of her weeping protests, he continued.

On Dec. 5, 1887, at age 28, Charles Lummis suffered a stroke. His left side was paralyzed.

He chafed while enduring 14 months of bed rest, dreaming of the relaxed, friendly life style he had encountered among Mexicans and Indians on his walk. He returned to the hospitable Chaves ranch at San Mateo in New Mexico. In his book "My Friend Will," Lummis set down how by sheer determination he recovered. He crawled like a dog to help with the chores. He learned to roll a cigarette with one hand. Then, regaining partial use of the left leg, he was able to ride a horse, even, he said, to tame and ride wild ones.

His years in New Mexico helped prepare him for greater achievements in California. He met Adolph Bandelier, which sparked his life-long involvement in archeology. After a divorce from Dorothea, he wed Eva Douglas of Isleta and fathered a daughter, Turbese, and three sons.

In 1893, Lummis began to turn The Land of Sunshine, a Chamber of Commerce promotional sheet, into a sterling literary magazine. In it and its successor, Out West, he voiced his strong opinions on art, philosophy, politics and current events. He wrote prodigiously. He published established writers and encouraged new ones: Jack London, Joaquin Miller, Edwin Markham among them.

Upgraded L.A. Library Lummis' boldness and talent for innovation flourished while for five years he was librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. He upgraded the staff, encouraged research as well as wider popular use of the library, beginning the practice of sending books to the loungers in Pershing Square. He shocked the staid Easterner librarians by appearing at conferences of the American Library Assn. in green corduroy suits with red Indian-motif cummerbunds.

The chain of Spanish missions, separated by the Mexican government from the church, were falling into sad disrepair. Two were even used as stables. Lummis organized the Landmarks Club and restored San Fernando, San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, and Pala, preserving a vital part of California's heritage.

Lummis became an ardent advocate of the rights of Indians and was called to Washington by President Theodore Roosevelt (a college friend) to advise on Indian affairs and water problems. He founded the Sequoyah League with a purpose "to make better Indians by treating them better." A man of direct action, he traveled hundreds of miles by wagon over Southern California with his young daughter, Turbese, seeking a proper home for the Indians expelled from Warner Springs. With Roosevelt's help, a larger and better site was found at Pala.

Founded Museum Lummis founded The Southwest Society of the Archeological Institute of America. To preserve and study the prehistoric artifacts of the region, he dreamed of a grand structure to house them. In 1907, he founded the Southwest Museum. Almost blind then, Lummis leaned heavily upon his young son, Quimu, in drawing the plans and supervising construction on the hilltop edifice with its dramatic tower.

Below it, in the Arroyo Seco, he built his stone mansion, El Alisal, of native stone and hand-hewn timbers. Over 14 years, with the help of an Indian boy or two--and of visitors, many prominent, who came to see him--he built a house "to outlast the ages." Now in public hands, El Alisal may be visited by turning off the Pasadena Freeway at Avenue 43.

El Alisal became the cultural center of the young city. Its guest book bears the names of the great and the near great. Naturalists, musicians, poets, artists, writers--they are all there. Although always on the edge of poverty, he occasionally entertained after the manner of the Spanish dons.

His last years, before his death in 1928, were not happy. Eve left, taking with her three of their four children, leaving Quimu. Alone except for a few close friends, blind and ill, he was nonetheless driven by the creative fires within him. The end was near and he had so much yet to do. He drove two secretaries at a time to distraction dictating the completion of the last two of his 20 books.

Charles Fletcher Lummis, though beset by all-too-human frailties, had a legacy to leave. And it endures today.

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