Charles Lummis

Charles Fletcher Lummis was a self-made man of action whose life was shaped by a combination of an acute wanderlust and a deep belief in the power of his own two hands. Lummis' passion for Southwestern culture gave voice and identity to the region at a time when the rest of the nation cared little for it. In 1884, he famously walked from Ohio to Los Angeles to take an editorship at the Los Angeles Times. During his journey he wired in a column for the paper, documenting his adventures and encounters. These writings were later collected in the book A Tramp Across the Continent. Lummis forged lifelong bonds with many Native Americans and Mexicans met along the route. He was infused with a critical new appreciation of the Southwest and its cultures, as well as a spirit of activism that would mark all of his later work.

In spite of his many accomplishments, Lummis never accumulated much in the way of personal wealth during his life. He did, however, have a knack for building insitutions; his eccentric charm and skill for fundraising led city officials and wealthy investors to support projects ranging from the Sequoia League, to the Landmarks Club, to the Southwest Museum.

Charles Lummis

As is sometimes the case with charismatic figures, Lummis' personal life often waned as his public life waxed. He would wrestle with health issues and alcohol abuse, and also suffered from what could be politely termed an excessive appetite for women. (Lummis married three times and carried on several well-documented affairs.) Lummis proudly lived an openly bohemian life, and with shifts in cultural mores and values his legacy would be at times misunderstood and even actively undermined as result. While often portrayed as a man who fell prey to vanity and vice, Lummis was perhaps more threatening because of his politics. He was of the one of the first to understand, write and advocate for a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Los Angeles, and his life's work provides a blueprint for understanding the region that remains relevant to this day.

Above, granddaughter, Suzanne Lummis, with Director of the Braun Research Institute, Kim Walters, talk about the life, complexities, and contributions of Charles Fletcher Lummis. Below, a slideshow of historical images.

The Self Made Man
Suzanne Lummis describes how her grandfather Charles re-created himself from a small sickly youth into an iconic figure of the West.
Culture of Land of Sunshine
Suzanne Lummis on how Charles Lummis's direct interactions and appreciation for Native American and Spanish cultures of the Southwest leads him to write and distribute "The Land of Sunshine."
Easterner Influence
Kim Walters on how Charles Lummis and the Chamber of Commerce promoted Los Angeles to Easterners through the magazine "The Land of Sunshine."
The Conservationist
Suzanne Lummis portrays Lummis as one of the first advocates for the preservation of the cultural and material history of Southern California.
Romantic Tendencies
Kim Walters explains how Lummis' progressive perspective saw the Native Americans as a people of the present, contrary to the prevalent romanticized view of the Spanish California past.
Work Before Family
Suzanne Lummis on how Charles Lummis' public charisma and success contrasted with his weaknesses and failures in his family life.
Father and Son
Suzanna Lummis describes Charles Lummis' relationship with his son Keith, initially distant due to the separation with his first wife, changed and evolved through the years.
A Preservationist's History Forgotten
Kim Walters describes the complex and varied legacy of Charles Lummis, which defies categorization within California history.
Explore the related interactive mural

Previous

El Alisal

Next

Southwest Museum of the American Indian