In 1884, Charles Fletcher Lummis, a 25-year-old Harvard dropout, set out on a trek from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in a pair of knickerbockers and street shoes to take a job as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He began to shed the prejudices born of his upbringing as a New England Yankee along the way, and developed a deep and abiding affection for the natural beauty and cultural diversity of the Southwest, where he remained until his death in 1928.
Lummis first gained a national following with widely reprinted, weekly letters that he wrote on his “tramp across the continent.” He went on to become one of the most flamboyant and influential personalities of his day as a book author, magazine editor, preserver of Spanish missions, advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt and a crusader for civil rights for minority groups. Lummis was especially passionate about the mistreatment of American Indians, with whom he lived for several years. He was one of the first white Americans to assail unjust policies towards the original settlers of the region he loved, and his decades of relentless advocacy on that issue ultimately turned the tide.
American Character, by Mark Thompson, tells Lummis’s story. Western Writers of America gave the book a Spur Award in 2002 for best biography of the year. Publisher’s Weekly called it “a compulsively engaging and spirited biography of a man as colorful as he was influential.” Here are other reviews of the book. Click here to order copies. Or, follow the links to learn more about a fascinating and remarkably prescient American character.