Charles Lummis and the Peoples of the Southwest

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Mark Thompson, author of the award-winning American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Rediscovery of the Southwest, captivated our group with his lecture.  An eloquent journalist and photographer, Lummis kept a diary for 42 years. He walked across the country from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in 1884. As a writer for the Los Angeles Times, he wrote a weekly newspaper column on his travels.   He relied on the kindness of strangers to take him in to sleep at night. Mark explained that Lummis fell in love with the Southwest, saying that the “Mexicans were the most kindly and generous people you could meet; they would share their last tortilla with you.”

When Lummis came into contact with Geronimo and the Apache Indians, he completely changed his views on Indians, and came to respect them.  He became a lifelong advocate of Native American rights, and he published the first cookbook with an emphasis on Southwestern cuisine called the Landmarks Club Cook Book. Lummis declared that “It is a stupid traveler who mocks the ancient wisdom of the country as to what in that country should be eaten.”  From the sales of the book, he was able to raise funds to restore Spanish missions. Through his efforts, the Mission at San Juan Capistrano was saved from destruction. He was also the founder of the Southwest Museum and the Sequoia League, an organization that battled the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the rights of Native Americans.

Eccentric and flamboyantly dressed, Lummis had a history of psychosomatic illnesses. He was married three times to some remarkable women, but was also an infamous philanderer. In his biography, Mark had to balance Lummis’s darker side along with his remarkable achievements.

After the lecture, we were served a delicious lunch on tables beautifully decorated by Jeanne Anderson and Marian Powers with charming vintage tablecloths, cacti, and mini cowboy boots. Besides the biography on Lummis, Mark Thompson wrote a book on early California cuisine called Vintage California Cuisine: 300 Recipes from the First Cookbooks Published in the Golden State, which was also available for purchase.

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