Charles Lummis

Charles Lummis books and biography


Charles Fletcher Lummis

Charles Fletcher Lummis (b. March 1, 1859 in Lynn, Massachusetts; d. November 24, 1928, in Los Angeles, California) was a United States journalist and Indian activist; he is also acclaimed as a historian, photographer, poet and librarian.


Early life and career

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.

He worked summers 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. His best poem from the work, "My Cigarette," highlighted one of his life’s obsessions, tobacco, the other being women. Lummis married Dorothea Rhodes of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1880.

His Transcontinental Walk

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 but a 12,000 population. Lummis decided to make the 3,500 mile journey from Cincinnati to Los Angeles on foot, taking 143 days, all the while sending weekly dispatches to the paper chronicling his trip. The trip took from September and on into 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.

Reporter for the Los Angeles Times

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.

In New Mexico

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.

With the Indians of Isleta

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 convinces 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 the children from their homes and parents, sequestered 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.

Magazine Editor

In 1892, Lummis released another book, Some Strange Corners of Our Country. Between 1893 and 1894, Lummis spent 10 months in Peru 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 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. Lummis worked to restore California's deteriorating Spanish missions and established a new Indian rights group called the Sequoya League.

Indian Rights Activist

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. See Talk page for additional remarks.)

His home El Alisal

In 1904, Lummis left Out West and took up a position as head librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. At El Alisal, 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 plethora of female assistants and "secretaries" who were conscripted into the manual labor for these parties. In 1914, Lummis established the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, California.

A bittersweet end

Between his drinking and his womanizing, Lummis began to face a series of personal setbacks and tribulations. For one, he lost his job at the library for insisting on doing most of the work at home. Then Eva divorced him over his womanizing. He went blind from a "jungle fever" he claimed he contracted while in Guatemala. And his book writing came to a complete stop. By 1918, he was destitute. To combat this, he enlarged, revised and republished Some Strange Corners of Our Country as Mesa, Canyon and Pueblo in 1925, and became engaged once again in a civil rights crusade on behalf of the Pueblo Indians. Lummis passed away 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.


  • Southwest Museum
  • Robert E. Fleming, University of New Mexico. "Charles F. Lummis." The Literary Encyclopedia. 8 January 2001.
  • Mark Thompson. "American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Rediscovery of the Southwest." Arcade Publishing. 2001.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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