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.
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. See also a slideshow of historical images.