Charles Lummis: Larger Than Life, A Self-Made Man

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.


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
Suzanne 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.


Charles Lummis famously walked across the continent from Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles, California, chronicling his travels in a column for the Los Angeles Times, later collected in the book "A Tramp Across the Continent." | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. Here he visits Newton, MA with her daughter in 1905. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis had a lifelong fascination with the Southwest. Here he rides with Alazan, his trusty sidekick during his time in New Mexico recuperating from a stroke, 1890. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
With Alazan in Isleta, New Mexico, 1891.
Isleta women grincing corn, New Mexico 1892. | Photo by Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis began photographing his travels in 1886. While in New Mexico, he documented the lives and rituals of the Native Americans. | Photo by Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the Autry National Center
Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, 1894. | Photo by Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis traveled to San Francisco in 1898, taking photographs of lanscapes and bulidings in the area. | Photo by Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis led a group on a tour around Rito De Los Frijoles, New Mexico, 1901. | Photo by Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis at Grand Canyon, which he urged everyone to "Go see it for yourself!"One half of a stereograph image, ca. 1909. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
In between his travels he always came home to El Alisal in Highland Park, ca. 1910. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis at the San Fernando Mission on Candle Day, August 6, 1916. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis often visited Rancho Camulos, home to his friends the Del Valle family and, some people believe, to the real "Ramona." ca. 1919. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis back in new Mexico, during one his last visits to the state in 1926. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis, singer Tsianina, and Governor Santiago Naranjo at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 1926. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis back at Grand Canyon, 1927. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis with Charlie M. Russell, Nancy Russell, and Harold Lloyd, ca. 1928. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center
Lummis founded the Landmarks Club in 1896 for the purpose of preserving California's crumbling missions. Here he observes the progress of the restoration of Mission San Juan Capistrano, 1928. | Image courtesy of the Autry National Center