By Ginger Hoiland
from the Fall 2006 edition of the California HISTORIAN
Charles Lummis’ and Theodore Roosevelt’s first meeting, which began their
friendship, was unconventional, to say the least. James W. Byrkit, editor of
Letters From the Southwest, recounts the story.
At age eighteen he entered Harvard University, where, during the first weeks
of school, upper classmen warned him that if he did not cut his hair
shorter, they would. Charles Lummis, the well-conditioned athlete, replied
that they were quite welcome to try. A Harvard sophomore, Theodore
Roosevelt, congratulated Lummis for his courage and spunk. The two remained
Thus began a special friendship and correspondence interspersed with
disagreements and conflict and memorable discussions known only to those in
attendance and later revealed to the world through the astute foresight of
family, friends and archivists who understood how to preserve this knowledge
throughout the years during this historical period.
What prompted Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to Riverside? I found the answer in
Joan H. Hall’s book, Through the Doors of the Mission Inn, Volume One.
On January 2, 1903, Riverside’s Chamber of Commerce sent a formal invitation
to the President of the United States inviting him to stop in Riverside
during his proposed political campaign through Southern California.2
Anticipating President Roosevelt’s arrival, Lummis wrote:
We hear you are coming West in a few months and even so far as God’s
Country...First, I want you to come or go by the Santa Fe Route. It is the
most interesting, as it is the most historic. Let me meet you in New Mexico
and give you in two days what you will not forget as long as you live.
...Only knowing what time you can give, I’ll fix you an itinerary you won’t
dislike me for. But For The Love, do give at least two full 24-hour days to
the Southwestern Wonderland; and as much more as you possibly can. If you
don’t confess that, you Never spent time better, you may Sentence me to live
Charles Lummis subsequently received a letter from the White House,
communicated by William Loeb, Jr., Secretary to the President. He related to
The President has received your letter of the 18th instant, and requests me
to say in reply that he has found it a physical impossibility to undertake
anything more on his western trip. He looks forward to seeing you and will
be glad to have you join him at the Grand Canyon.4
The presidential train reached the Southern California area. Mark Thompson
stated in his biography of Charles Lummis that:
As the president’s train entered the populated coastal region, large crowds
were waiting at each stop. Stages decorated with red, white, and blue
bunting had been built beside the depots at Palm Springs, San Bernardino,
Riverside, Pomona, and Pasadena. At each stop Roosevelt alighted from the
train, greeted the local dignitaries, shook hands with many in the crowd,
and while Lummis stood nearby exhorted his audience about all of the
wondrous things he had seen out west and the glorious future that he could
envision for the region.5
Theodore Roosevelt’s month, day and date of arrival in Riverside was
mentioned in Tom Patterson’s book, A Colony For California.
Teddy reached Riverside on May 7, 1903, accompanied by a large party of
major political figures including Gov. George Pardee. They detrained at
Theodore Roosevelt’s tour of the city of Riverside, his stay at the Mission
Inn and speech are described in vivid detail by the Riverside Daily Press
The party went out to the Rumsey place through to the Irving place and
around Hawarden Drive back to Victoria Avenue.
At the head of Victoria Avenue a magnificent palm had been put in position
and the President formally christened it in memory of the beloved Queen
From this point the drive was made rapidly to the corner of Lime and
Fourteenth Street where the formal procession was formed. The parade started
about 7 o’clock...
...At the speaker’s platform the President stepped forward and said:...but I
had formed no idea of the fertility of your soil, the beauty of your
Here I am in the beautiful community of
irrigated fruit growing in California...Not only has it been most useful,
but it is astonishing to see how in its use you have combined beauty, and
you have made in this city and its surroundings a veritable little paradise
...[F]undamentally, we must remember that much though climate and soil can
do, it is man himself who does most. I congratulate you upon your astounding
material prosperity. I congratulate you upon your fruit farms, your
orchards, your ranches — upon your cities, upon your industrial and
agricultural development. But, above all, I congratulate you upon the
quality of your citizenship.7
After the gala celebration and dinner, Theodore Roosevelt retired to his
room at the Mission Inn.
While the President was housed in the most deluxe suite in the Inn, Lummis
and other reporters were given rooms scattered throughout the building, each
containing fresh flowers and baskets of fruit. This was the writer’s first
visit to the new Mission Inn.8
Communication between Roosevelt and Lummis continued at infrequent
intervals. Mark Thompson indicated that:
Over the years, Lummis and Roosevelt had occasionally exchanged letters.
Roosevelt had given a copy of Birch Bark Poems to his sister, and he had
read Lummis’ books on the Pueblos, considering him an expert on the Indians
of New Mexico on a par with Frank Cushing.9
Later, Roosevelt invited Lummis to Washington in order to hear what his
ideas and thoughts were in regards to the West and Indian policy. He needed
Lummis’ input as to what to say in his first annual presidential message to
...Lummis had been summoned to Washington to confer with President Theodore
Roosevelt, who had been sworn in less than three months earlier following
the assassination of William McKinley. Preparing his first annual
presidential message to Congress, which would help set the tone for his
presidency, Roosevelt wanted to hear what Charles Lummis thought he should
say about the West, and about Indians, a group Lummis knew intimately from
having lived in their midst for four years.10
A “Cowboy Cabinet” was formed, as Mark Thompson refers to in his book,
While he loathed “sentimentalists,” Roosevelt was highly amenable to the
entreaties of a tougher breed of Indian rights advocate, men who could speak
from hard experience in the West. He often heeded the advice of men like
Lummis, Garland, and George Bird Grinnell, an authority on the Plains
Indians and editor of Forest and Stream magazine, who were part of a group
of informal advisors on Western affairs known as the “Cowboy Cabinet.”11
On one of Lummis’ visits to Roosevelt he recorded in his diary verbatim a
memorable episode that happened on this occasion. Roosevelt said that:
You must know I always read the Land of Sunshine, though it’s the only
magazine I have time to read now. I read even the anti-Imperialist
editorials. And I am tremendously in sympathy with so many of the things it
is working for.
With the president’s permission Lummis printed that endorsement on Out West
stationery just below the name of the magazine. A White House aide later
tried to get Lummis to remove the quote, but Roosevelt interceded and let
him continue to use it.12
A culminating event occurred when:
...Roosevelt...later visited Lummis’ Southwest Museum and his rock castle El
Alisal, to lend support to his efforts to make the history of the West
better known. Winning national appreciation for the culture of his adopted
region was especially dear to Roosevelt’s heart.13
Mark Thompson, in his book American Character, narrates another meeting that
Roosevelt and Lummis had participated in, again, in Washington.
Lummis, in another meeting, came to Washington to ask Roosevelt to help
protect the land of the Southwest Indians.
In general, he planned to urge Roosevelt to help forge a new policy toward
Indians, a policy that would treat the tribes as allies, not enemies. But he
also wanted the president’s help in a specific situation that was coming to
the forefront in Southern California. A group of so-called Mission Indians
were threatened with eviction from their homeland on a ranch in the barren
mountains southeast of Los Angeles. They had recently lost the final round
in a long court battle to keep the property, called Warner’s Ranch. Lummis
wanted Roosevelt to appoint him to a commission to find the tribe a new
In his book, Mark Thompson additionally reveals Lummis’ recollections of
Roosevelt’s reaction to the organization of the Sequoya League.
In his memoir Lummis recalled his conversation with Roosevelt about the new
organization and its big plans to transform Indian policy, and about how
difficult that task would be. “Mr. President, it is absolutely hopeless to
attempt any of these things unless there is someone in the White House in
sympathy,” Lummis said he told the president. “This has been burning in me
for more than a dozen years, but I knew it was hopeless to start anything.
But you understand
the West. We would not bother you with
trivialities, nor with old-wives’ complaints; but if the ideas I have
outlined appeal to you as right, I will start the ball rolling, if I could
be sure that in a pinch, you would stand behind us.”
“‘ To the last gun!’ he half-shouted, clicking his teeth and bringing his
fist down on the table; and that he meant it was to be proved several times
in the next few years — and sometimes very dramatically,” Lummis wrote.15
Another viewpoint of the Sequoya League’s success and operation were
discussed in Edwin R. Bingham’s book, Charles F. Lummis: Editor of the
The Sequoya League’s chances for success were greatly enhanced by the fact
that Lummis had discussed its plans and objectives with President Roosevelt,
Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock, and Indian Commissioner Jones,
and had received their promise of assistance and support.
Once formed, the Sequoya League turned immediately to the plight of the
Mission Indians. In the Den, in the League’s department, and in personal
correspondence Lummis put steady pressure on the government either to
prevent the imminent eviction of the Warner’s Ranch Indians or to provide
accommodations for them once eviction had occurred. Persistent publicity in
Out West, the influence of Senator Bard, and the personal interest of
President Roosevelt contributed to the decision to appoint the special
investigating commission advocated by the Sequoya League. Lummis announced
this as the first victory.16
The initial establishment of the Sequoya League is reported in William T.
Hagen’s book, Theodore Roosevelt and Six Friends of the Indian.
In the February 1902 issue of Out West, Charles Lummis launched the Sequoya
League on its first campaign. It was to assist more than two hundred Cupeno
Indians about to be evicted from Warner’s Ranch in Southern California.17
How Lummis and Roosevelt’s friendship endured is succinctly and comically
related in Charles Lummis: The Man and His West by Turbesé Lummis Fiske and
The Lion supported Theodore Roosevelt on some things and criticized him
bitterly on others. He looked dimly on the Panama Canal project, offering to
pull out all of his teeth on the nearest doorknob if the project was
completed in twenty years. He never had to — time took care of them for him.
In spite of all this, however, their mutually valuable friendship remained
This “Renaissance Man” who was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times
newspaper, a librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library, presidential
advisor, photojournalist, editor of Land of Sunshine/Out West magazine,
author of 16 books, poet, avid traveler, founder of the Southwest Museum,
Indian rights advocate and unrelenting crusader for preserving the cultural
and ethnic heritage and geographical terrain of the Southwest left a legacy
and inspiration to the world-at-large. Truly a pioneer and frontiersman who
sought justice and the truth all his life. Let us remember.
Why is Theodore Roosevelt’s face chiseled
into the side of Mount Rushmore? And the buildings and style of architecture
still standing that Charles Lummis constructed? And the Indian policy
rights, Roosevelt and Lummis adopted, that remain for the “First Americans”
as Lummis chose to call them?
Their legacy influenced future generations. Let us remember. And build upon
1. Charles Lummis, edited by James W. Byrkit, Letters from the Southwest
(Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1989), p. xxvii.
2. Joan H. Hall, Through the Doors of the Mission Inn (Riverside, Highgrove
Press, 1996), p. 34.
3. Letter from Lummis to President Roosevelt, January 1, 1903, Braun
Research Library/Institute of the Southwest Museum MS 1.1.3805 c.
4. Letter from William Loeb, Jr., Secretary to the President to Charles F.
Lummis, March 26, 1903, Braun Research Library/Institute of the Southwest
Museum MS 1.1.3805 c.
5. Mark Thompson, American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher
Lummis (New York, Arcade Publishing, 2001), p. 238.
6. Tom Patterson, A Colony for California: Riverside’s First Hundred Years
(Riverside, The Museum Press of the Riverside Museum Associates, Second
Edition, 1996), p. 242.
7. “Riverside Welcomes Nation’s Executive — Midst Orange Groves and Fragrant
Flowers,” Riverside Daily Press, May 7, 1903, Vol. XVIII, No. 108, p. 1-2.
8. Hall, Through the Doors of the Mission Inn, p. 34.
9. Thompson, op cit., p. 203.
10. Ibid., p. 1-2.
11. Ibid., p. 215.
12. Ibid., p. 210.
13. Kathleen Dalton, Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life (New York, Alfred
A. Knopf, 2002), p. 315.
14. Thompson, op cit., p. 206.
15. Ibid., p. 211.
16. Edwin R. Bingham, Charles F. Lummis: Editor of the Southwest (San
Marino, California, The Huntington Library, 1955), p. 5.
17. William T. Hagen, Theodore Roosevelt and Six Friends of the Indian
(Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), p. 120.