A character portrait of a remarkable human being
Charles Fletcher Lummis was called a patriotic and complicated American but he was so much more. He is best known as the "Apostle of the Great Southwest." He was born in Lynn, Mass., in 1859, just before the Civil War. Lummis developed a deep appreciation and love for both the natural beauty and cultural diversity of the Southwest, the land where he spent the greater part of his life. Charles F. Lummis, an emotion-driven man whose mother died when he was two years old, possessed an immoderate sensitivity to his environment.
One summer, Charles, working as a printer in New Hampshire, published Birch Bark Poems, a small volume printed on wafer-thin sheets of birch bark, which won acclaim from Life Magazine. One of the best poems in the book," My Cigarette,” touched on two of his lifelong obsessions - tobacco and doting women. He indulged in both with relentless abandon. Over an adventure-filled and restless life, Charles Lummis became a poet, prolific letter writer, journalist, photographer, archaeologist, editor, champion of Spanish heritage in the Americas, and an Indian Rights Advocate.
In 1884, at age twenty-five, Lummis, working at his wife's hometown newspaper in Ohio, was offered a reporter's job on a new paper out West, the Los Angeles Times. He decided it would be a fun and inspiring experience to walk all the way to California, writing about his adventures in a series of weekly dispatches. For his “journey” Lummis chose an unusual outfit featuring knickerbockers and a duck coat. He set out from Cincinnati in September and reached Los Angeles, 3,507 miles and 143 days later. He nearly perished in deep snows in New Mexico. Nonetheless, he fell in love with the Southwest and its Spanish-American and Native-American inhabitants. It was his TRAMP ACROSS THE CONTINENT which he serialized weekly in newspaper articles that catapulted him into the public's eye.
Marie Norris, a member of Australian royalty, provides an amazing and profound description of Lummis. “My encounter with this divine being occurred several years ago in Arizona. I was vacationing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We were hiking the Rim Trail from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit's Rest. After a 1.4-mile walk along the wide, paved path, we reached Maricopa Point. From there on, the trail is unpaved, narrow, and sometimes perilously close to the edge. Beckoned by the scenic Pinion-juniper woodland and lack of crowds, we decided to continue along the meandering dirt trail before turning around and heading back to the Village. My father and uncle, walking ahead, lost their footing and both slipped over the edge. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a man appeared on the path whistling some nameless tune. With his graying hair sticking out from beneath a white fishing cap and knobby knees visible below a pair of Bermuda shorts, he looked like an eccentric, aging college professor. It took him only a second to assess the situation, and without saying a word and barely breaking stride, he reached into the abyss with a long, sinewy arm and plucked my dad and uncle from the brink of death as if they weighed no more than a feather. Still whistling, he continued on his way, leaving us astounded as well as profoundly relieved and grateful. We all knew something miraculous had just happened. What that mysterious stranger had done didn't seem humanly possible. Was he truly an angel? Maybe, or maybe not. Regardless, he was truly heaven-sent.
Lummis was a spiritual man. Growing up, he developed a strong sense of faith in the small voice within his heart that he addressed by the name of “Harold” - a voice guiding him through life. He never doubted that “Harold” would continue to guide him through dangerous times and conditions. Lummis was educated at home by his schoolmaster father, a Methodist minister and a significant contributor to the character of the son. Charles Lummis was a brilliant achiever in academic pursuits, excelling in subjects such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, philosophy, reason and rhetoric. He enrolled at Harvard where he had a restless career and ultimately dropped out during the last semester of his senior year. Charles was too impatient to get on with “life” to finish his studies.
Charles Lummis’ journey was more than a tramp across the continent. It was a spiritual journey within himself to get free from the trap of “intellect”. One’s “journey” through life is marked by road signs. It is the same for all of us. Visible or concealed, all are important. The real journey is to move from Chaos to Cosmos - to go from the world of fundamental darkness – ignorance - to the world of enlightenment - COMMON SENSE AND wisdom.
The ‘journey within’ depends on our being able to manifest the behaviors of a focused traveler. Some of which every one of us aspiring to be the best person we can be should seriously consider:
—Keep your head when the people around you go berserk and blame you for their madness.
—Trust your heart when others doubt you; forgive them for their pigheadedness.
—Create value for family, community and good feelings about yourself.
—Have compassion for others who you do not know personally – and those you do know - equally,
—Realize and accept that all of the power of the Universe exists within your own being.
—Be a sensitive person - a Sentient - someone capable of feeling and perception; capable of responding emotionally rather than intellectually.
—Learn to utilize the qualities of a high life condition– having compassion, being creative, striving for harmony and peace
Lummis died in 1928. He discovered his mission, lived his dreams and contributed to peace on earth through his journeys of spirit, mind, and body. Let us all strive to do the same!
L. Michael Black