Like many of his peers who came of age during the second half of the nineteenth century, Charles Lummis (1859-1928) chafed against the constraints of what he and other antimodernists viewed as the overly civilized Eastern United States. However, in Lummis’ own estimation, one of the many qualities that distinguished him from his peers was his willingness to take the necessary action to combat the devitalizing impact of city life by heading west to experience unfamiliar lands and cultures. As he states in the opening pages of his 1892 travel narrative, A Tramp Across the Continent, “I am an American and felt ashamed to know so little of my own country as I did, and as most Americans do” (1-2). In 1884, having spent too much time “chasing the alphabet across the white page” (19) as editor of Chillicothe, Ohio’s Scioto Gazette, he decided to embark on a great outdoor adventure by walking 3,507 miles from Cincinnati to Los Angeles (where he had accepted a job as editor of the Los Angeles Times). Lummis rejected the notion that he was motivated by money, despite his periodic mailing of letters to the Chillicothe Leader for publication—letters he later edited and compiled in Tramp. Rather than economic gain, Lummis claims he sought “the exhilarant joy of living outside the sorry fences of society, living with a perfect body and a wakened mind, a life where brain and brawn and leg and lung all rejoice and grow alert together” (1-2). This quotation sums up key themes that would define Lummis’ life: an antimodern sensibility, an exceptional sense of self, and a commitment to promoting the American West as a site for spiritual and physical regeneration. He also allows room for discovery, room that largely was filled by the American Indian and Mexican American peoples and cultures he would encounter in the Southwest.
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