07/16/1912 American Chautauqua, Guerrilla Edtion

What was the Chautauqua? Theodore Roosevelt called it "the most American thing in America," Woodrow Wilson described it during World War I as an "integral part of the national defense," and William Jennings Bryan deemed it a "potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation." Conversely, Sinclair Lewis derided it as "nothing but wind and chaff and...the laughter of yokels," William James found it "depressing from its mediocrity," and critic Gregory Mason dismissed it as "infinitely easier than trying to think." However Chautauqua was characterized, by effete, snobbish intellectuals or ordinary people, it elicited strong reactions and emotions. (1)

The original Chautauqua occurred during 1874 in western New York state on Lake Chautauqua. The program initially focused on training Sunday school teachers but quickly expanded its range, including a summer camp for families that promised "education and uplift," as well as offering the first correspondence degree program in the United States.

Within a decade independent Chautauquas, often called assemblies, sprang up across the country. As with the early lyceum movements and Chautauqua assemblies, the stated goal of the Circuit Chautauqua's was "to offer challenging, informational, and inspirational stimulation to rural and small-town America." (2).

Soon a spirited competition among the most popular performers arose so that  many of the Chautauquas turned to the Lyceum Bureaus for help in booking their talent. Keith Vawter, a Redpath Lyceum Bureau manager and later manager of one of the Chautauqua circuits, organized a series of touring Chautauquas, where each performer or group was assigned to a definite day on the program throughout the touring season. The Circuit Chautauquas began in 1904 and by the 1910s could be found almost everywhere. At its peak in the mid-1920s, circuit Chautauqua performers and lecturers appeared in more than 10,000 communities in 45 states to audiences totaling 45 million people.

Lecturers were the backbone of the Chautauqua. Every topic from current events to travel to human interest to comic storytelling could be heard on the Circuits. Music was also a staple on the circuits, and bands were particularly popular. Readers, elocutionists, and plays could be found as part of the program, although "theater" (a performance of plays by actors in make-up and costume) did not enter the repertoire until 1913.

William Jennings Bryan was far and away the most popular of all Chautauqua attractions. Bryan was the dominant force in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, having stood as its candidate for president of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908.

A unique Chautauqua which took place on July 16, 1912, titled the "Quantrill Chautauqua." As documented in "Convict Life at the Minnesota State Prison," there was a Chautauqua-Circle in the prison. During his time in that prison, Thomas Coleman (Cole) Younger was first introduced to the Chautauqua.

According to a brochure, "The Great Cole Younger & Frank James Historical Wild West Show” and a 1909 catalog entitled "Lyceumite & Talent," Cole joined the Chautauqua lecture circuit in 1909. (3)

This image published for the first time indicates Cole was still part of the circuit as late as July 1912. In this image taken on July 16, 1912, to record the 1st annual meeting of the Independence Missouri Chautauqua Association, William Jennings Bryan is seated in the first row center, he is wearing a dark suit with a white hat, and a little girl dressed in white sailor suit sits upon his knee. The second person to his right is Cole Younger, wearing a white hat and a black neck tie.

According to Homer Croy in "Cole Younger: Last of the Great Outlaws," during a William Jennings Bryan Chautauqua speech on August 1, 1912, Cole had his wallet containing $95.00 stolen, causing the former Missouri outlaw to utter oratory expressing his desire to get his hands on the worthless cur responsible.

Remarkably, the story doesn't end there; closer examination revels numerous other former "Missouri Minute Men" attended the soiree. Some of the other identified Quantrill veterans include "Windy" Jim Cummins," who is sitting next to Cole on his left.; in front of Cummins is George Noland and Warren Welch is standing behind Cummin's left shoulder and is wearing a Quantrill photo button.  Sitting in front of  of "Windy" Jim Cummins," is George Noland, the man to Cummins right with the beard and glasses is J. A Workman,  the next man to his right with the long beard is Ben Morrow, standing in between and behind Workman and Morrow is Perry Samuel.

Additional Quantrill veterans in this image will be revealed at a later date.

However, without  a doubt, the most famous person in this image was not a Quantrill man, although he was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Sitting on the ground to the left of Bryan and the girl sits a young Missouri lad who had recently left the Missouri state guard to return to the family farm and to start courting his sweetheart Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, better known as Bess. In 1944 this self- proclaimed "Missouri Mule" became the 33rd president of the United States--Harry S Truman. Solomon & Harriette (Gregg) Young were his grandparents, William Young their son served under Upton Hayes and Quantrill. Harry S was also related to James J. "Jim Crow" Chiles and William Gregg and various other guerrilla members via marriage.

This image is very special to me. For years it hung in my Father's place of employment. Later it was featured in the antique store/museum owned where I held my first job. However when I got into High school, my priorities changed, Mr. Blake passed away, and I was told his estate was in probate. I moved to the West Coast figuring I'd never see the image again.

Decades passed until fate decided to intervene.  A Long story made short, I stumbled upon the image in an on-line auction; the seller was aware that Bryan was in the image but had no idea about Younger or the other Quantrill veterans. Somehow I was fortunate enough to prevail. I was soon contacted by one of the other bidders who unbeknownst to either party was someone who had worked with my Father. Our discussion lead me to realize for the first time that one of my relatives Robert McBride is located in the back row behind and slightly to the left of future President Truman. He the only man facing sideways and is wearing a light colored suit and hat, sporting glasses, and a mustache.

As a collector who has champagne tastes yet who is forced to live on a beer budget, I learned long ago you cant' always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes fate intervenes, and get what you need.

(1). What was Chautauqua? Charlotte Canning The University of Iowa Libraries©2004.

(2). Ibid

(3). 1909 catalog entitled "Lyceumite & Talent," New York, New York

Patrick R. Marquis© Quantrillsguerrillas.com. " Written permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and or image."  

                                          MEMBERS ONLY SECTION

Text Size