Skip to main content

Papers of Charles F. Lummis

Identifier: MCFL

Scope and Contents

The Papers of Charles F. Lummis consists of documents dated 1880 to 1982, with the bulk falling from 1880 to 1928. The collection documents Lummis' life and activities in the Southwest and contains manuscripts, photographs, newspaper clippings, and letters. The bulk of the collection consists of approximately 1000 cyanotype photographs of the Southwest, family, friends, and his home El Alisal, and 250 letters from friends and family. A detailed index entitled "The Guide to the Charles F. Lummis Papers" was created for the photographs and letters and a copy is located in Box 1, folder 1.

Lummis' published books were moved to Special Collections. Many of the books also included original photographs later reproduced as illustrations; these have been removed from the book and placed in folders in the collection with a note regarding their original location. A few poems and short stories, and newspaper clippings regarding Lummis, his life, and El Alisal are also included in the collection.


  • Creation: 1880-1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1880-1928


Restrictions on Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Restrictions on Use

Not all of the material in the collection is in the public domain. Researchers are responsible for addressing copyright issues.


Charles Lummis was an author, photographer, ethnographer, archaeologist, and librarian. Gaining fame for walking from Ohio to California, Lummis was at times controversial, often outspoken, and always highly driven. He spent much of his life documenting and protecting the lives and activities of the people of the Southwest United States.

Charles Fletcher Lummis was born March 1, 1859, in Lynn, Massachusetts, to Harriett Waterman Fowler Lummis and Henry Lummis. He enrolled at Harvard in 1877 and left just shy of graduating in 1880 after failing trigonometry and analytical geometry. During his time at Harvard, Lummis made the acquaintance of future United States President Teddy Roosevelt. While working for a small publishing firm in New Hampshire over the summer of 1878, Lummis published his first book, Birch Bark Poems, which was printed on birch bark he collected from the woods.

He married medical student Dorothea Rhodes in 1880. While Dorothea finished her studies to earn her M.D. from the Boston University School of Medicine, Lummis moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, to help manage his father-in-law's farm. Having no experience or interest in farming, Lummis soon accepted the position as city editor of the weekly Scioto Gazette.

In 1884, Lummis was offered the city editorial job for the Los Angeles Times by Harrison Gray Otis. Lummis decided he would walk from Ohio to Los Angeles and negotiated with Otis to have his weekly report of the adventure published in the paper. In September 1884 Lummis embarked on the 2,200 mile journey from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, taking 143 days. His trip reports were published by papers across the county and Lummis became an instant celebrity. Lummis reported for work at the Times on February 2, 1885.

During his walk through what was then known as Spanish America, Lummis became enamored with the people, places, and culture. He spent the rest of his life in California, Arizona, and New Mexico photographing and writing about his experiences in the Southwest. Over his lifetime he published twenty books, numerous articles, poetry, and short stories, most covering the life and times of people residing in the Southwest United States. Lummis' narrative about his journey to California on foot was published as A Tramp Across the Continent in 1892.

In early 1888, Lummis was left paralyzed on his left side from a possible stroke. Leaving his position at the Times, he moved to San Mateo, New Mexico to recuperate. While not seeking professional medical help, Lummis self-prescribed strenuous activities to help him recover, including breaking broncos, long hikes in the desert, and learning to shoot a rifle with one hand. It was also during this time that Lummis began to write extensively on the Southwest and the people who inhabited this region of the country. He also became prolific photographer, one of the first to document on film the rites and activities of native populations.

Continuing with his recuperation, Lummis left San Mateo, and moved on to Isleta, New Mexico. There he was introduced to long-term friends Father Anton Docher, the Padre of Isleta, and Adolph Bandelier, with whom Lummis would travel on archaeological expeditions in the Southwest U.S. and Peru. During his time in Isleta, Lummis gained the trust of the Pueblo Tribe and became aware of U.S. government policies towards native populations. Lummis became a life-long advocate of Native American rights and used his personal relationship with President Teddy Roosevelt to advocate and advance his cause.

In 1891, Lummis and his first wife Dorothea divorced, and he married Eve Douglas. After his marriage, Lummis unexpectedly regained full use of his left arm. He and his family moved back to Los Angeles permanently in 1894 and Lummis accepted the position as editor of the regional magazine, Land of Sunshine, later renamed Out West. He spent 11 years as editor, writing over 500 pieces for the magazine and publishing works by such notable figures as John Muir and Jack London.

In 1889, Lummis began construction of his home, El Alisal. Built on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco in northeast Los Angeles, the home was built using stones from the arroyo bed, concrete, and wood. The design of the home was influenced by mission architecture and the dwellings of the Pueblo Indians. Completed in 1910, the home features exposed beams, concrete floors, and a fireplace carved by Mount Rushmore creator Gutzon Borglum. At his home, Lummis hosted extravagant parties for theatrical, political, and artistic elite.

In 1905, Lummis took the position as city librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. In 1907, Lummis established the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, the first museum in the city, and while his relationship with the rest of the Museum board soured, he continued to fund-raise and saw the Southwest Museum building open in August 1914. The Southwest Museum was an independent institution until it merged with the Autry National Center in 2003. In addition to his work with the Southwest Museum, Lummis was active in the Landmarks Club of Southern California, an all-volunteer, privately funded group dedicated to the preservation of California's deteriorating Spanish missions. He also was instrumental in the establishment of the Sequoya League, a Native American rights group.

A notorious womanizer, Lummis and his second wife Eve divorced in 1910. Lummis married Gertrude Redit in 1915, and they were divorced in the 1920s. Lummis had five children, four with his second wife Eve: Bertha Bell Page (born 1879), Dorothea Turbese (1892-1968), Amado Bandelier (1894-1900), Jordan, aka Quimu (1900-1991), and Keith (1904-2002).

In early 1911, Lummis was asked to oversee an archaeological dig of Mayan ruins in Guatemala. Lummis returned to the U.S. in May, and soon after began to lose his sight, claiming he was experiencing a side effect of "jungle fever." His eyesight did not return for over a year and a half. Both the loss of his sight and his paralysis in 1888 could not be traced to any known physical ailments, and his family and others have claimed they may have been psychosomatic. Charles Lummis died from brain cancer on November 25, 1928.


11.5 linear feet (6 clamshell boxes, 5 document cases, 1 flat box)

Language of Materials



Charles Lummis (1859-1928) was an author, photographer, ethnographer, archaeologist, and librarian. Gaining fame for walking from Ohio to California in the 1880s, Lummis spent much of his life documenting and protecting the lives and activities of the people of the Southwest United States. The collection contains letters, photographs, publications, music, and newspaper clippings.


The collection consists of 4 series in 6 clamshell boxes, 5 document cases, and 1 flat box:

Series 1: Letters, 1898-1939 and undated

Series 2: Photographs, 1880s-1920s and undated

Series 3: Books and writings, 1892-1929, 1952, 1982 and undated

Series 4: Miscellany, 1886-1979


The Papers of Charles F. Lummis was purchased in 1976 through the Holmes Book Company, Oakland, California, which represented Carlita Yates Hawthorne, daughter of Alice Wulzen Yates. Alice Wulzen Yates was a friend of the Lummis family, and served as secretary to Lummis for a time.

Online Materials

Some materials have been scanned and are available through the Colorado State University Libraries website. In the electronic version of this document, direct links appear in context.

Related Collections

The Autry National Center/Southwest Museum holds the majority of Charles Lummis' literary and personal papers, as well as his collection of Native American artifacts. The University of Arizona holds two separate collections of Lummis' papers.

Separated Collections

Copies of most of Charles Lummis' books as well as a run of the magazine Land of Sunshine/Out West are cataloged and held by the Colorado State University Libraries Special Collections.


The collection was processed in March 2015. Materials were rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes. Photographs were placed in mylar sleeves and metal fasteners were removed.

Guide to the Papers of Charles F. Lummis
Edited Full Draft
Prepared by Karen Spilman
Copyright 2015
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the CSU Libraries Archives & Special Collections Repository

Fort Collins Colorado 80523-1019 USA