(From private collection, Harvard, IL)


The Pony Express News

Placerville, CA

April 1949

Americas greatest Indian painter has passed from our midst. At the sign of the vernal equinox, celebrated by some American tribes, when the sun passes the ecliptic, was a good time for E. A. Burbank to be called to his reward. March 21st, when day and night are equal, is the first herald of Spring. What better time could one select to leave this terrestrial sphere? The 90-year old Burbank loved Springtime, when he could again breathe the spirit of youth. During years through his 70s and 80s, when the writer saw him often, it was his usual comment as winter approached:

Well if I can see it through till Spring, I'll have another birthday in the Summer."

August 10th was his natal day when a box of cigars was his special desire.

His comment last Fall would have come true, had it not been for a Powell Street cable car which knocked him down on hard, cobble stones about 2:30 in the afternoon of January 27th. With both hips broken, but the old fighting spirit still intact, he ate a chicken dinner that night brought to him by his friend, Mrs. Seth Dixon, of Fort Klamath, Oregon, who was a guest at the Manx Hotel, where the old Indian artist lived for nearly a score of years. Nellie Huff, another sympathizing friend, who looked after him for several years helped to nurse Mr. Burbank for a couple of days, till it was decided to move him to the San Francisco Hospital, much against his will. Here he got good attention, in a room semi-private, where George Colcomb did his level best to make him comfortable, as well as did attending nurses. They had heard about the famous Indian painter, but little knew that he was the artist who made one of the world's best drawings of Abraham Lincoln. When they saw it, they couldnt help but take an added interest in the 9O-year old veteran who was doomed to die in less than two months time.

E. A. Burbank Timeline Image - General MacArthurE. A. Burbank Timeline Image - General MacArthur

MacArthur Sends Message To Burbank

Nothing seemed to please the old warrior of the plains more than when he received a message from General Douglas MacArthur, together with his autographed photo. Mr. Burbank had made a drawing of the famous General in 1947 for Therese F. Parrott, on her 90th birthday. This drawing was reproduced in June 1948 issue of the Pony Express, which pleased the General and his staff in Tokyo, and was responsible for the General sending his autographed pictures to Mr. Burbank and Mrs. Parrott. The General will doubtless be sorry to learn that the old Indian artist has passed on, but pleased to know he helped to make his last moments happy, even though while severely suffering.

For several years, prior to his death, Mr. Burbank realized he was getting closer to his final goal, and should save money for a rainy day. But alas, the money he made was not much more than to keep him with necessities of life. He had several small fortunes in days when the world knew him better, and he operated studios in large eastern cities. But an artist's money is not a lasting commodity, especially when time exacts its toll, and the brush is not as steady as in former years.

Burbank's Estate No Fable

However, Mr. Burbank was solvent, did have an estate, and owed no money, not even a hotel bill from what he told the writer, unless he was charged for it while he was in the hospital. He was certainly no pauper as erroneously advertised in San Francisco's unscrupulous paper which he contributed to freely for many years, and which failed to appreciate it. He had money in his room, from what he told the writer in the hospital and wanted us to get it for him. But no one had a right to get it without a written order, and he was unable to sign his name to such a document. Also, Mr. Burbank had money in one bank, and probably in two banks, according to his closest, confidential friend, Nellie Huff. In addition to this Mr. Burbank had a little black book in which he kept track of moneys due him from delinquent customers who asked for credit, and many there were who owed him and should have paid. One fellow, according to Nellie Huff, lives in Burlingame, California, with no phone number, or address except a box number. He owed him about two hundred dollars far paintings, drawings, and prints. And a thoughtless hotel clerk let this same person in Mr. Burbank's room while the artist was in the hospital. He got several more paintings hanging on the wall, and scores of Lincoln prints, "with the understanding he was to sell them and bring back the money." Maybe the Public administrator has a record of all the above, and Mr. Burbank's records of who, owed him. If so we have not seen it. Mr. Burbank's paints, brushes, easel arm, palette, and other possessions were thrown out, and scattered to the four winds.

Worthless Stuff says Administrator. Room Full of Junk Says Holder of Will

According to San Francisco's prime news hawk, the Administrator was quoted as saying:

You can clear all this stuff out, it is Worthless.

Our space is to valuable to take up discussing this kind of administrators. Our only comment is if any man is so brainless that he doesn't know priceless gems of historic value from rubbish and trash, its high time the City of San Francisco, that Burbank helped to make famous, got a new man on the job. The writer spent a week gathering up what fragments he could of the precious "rubbish and trash that was thrown out."

Harold Holmes, savior of many valuable journals and diaries, once came upon a shallow-minded woman who had just burned her father's Memoirs of crossing the plains. Speechless as he was, Holmes asked: "My dear lady, will you give me those precious ashes to carry away?" Upon leaving her home, with the contents in a box, she thought he was crazy. Maybe the administrator thinks we are crazy, but we'd like to get one into office who doesn't.

Money that Burbank had in his room, in the bank, and in his little black book should have been plenty to bury the old Indian artist if it could have been gathered together by some responsible person. And by all means Mr. Burbank intended, and wanted to pay his own way through life, as well as to the grave. He was an independent person, independent as a government mule, even though it was hard to be so at times when his cash in bank was low. Never in all the years I knew him did he ask to borrow money. Always he tried to sell a painting when in need. As a result the Pony Express Museum has literally hundreds of his paintings, pencil and "red drawings," the latter of his own unique invention.

No Loafers WPAing For Burbank

When artists by the scores were going on Roosevelt's WPA relief, Burbank refused to have anything to do with it. "The New Deal relief programs were for loafers," said Burbank. "I want to earn my own money and my own way," he added. How can one help but admire such fortitude in an Old Timer Who refused government handouts?

Norris and Jackling Contributed To Burbank's Happiness

The Pony Express salutes such men as Burbank. His determination to make good into old age should be an inspiration to other artists who think their useful days are over. Men like Tom Norris of Carmel, and Col. D. C. Jackling of Woodside, knew that Burbank would accept no money except for his paintings. The writer recalls several years ago, when Colonel Jackling gave him a roll of bills for Mr. Burbank, big enough to choke a horse. At least it looked that big to the old Indian artist when he received it. But he only received it with the understanding that he would give the Copper King Indian paintings in exchange.

Receiving Jackling's money reminded the old Chief of the Plains of the time when his paintings commanded bigger figures, and it lent encouragement far more than one would realize. He dug into his work for months after like he did in the days when Toby Rosenthal sent him back from Munich as a real scholar of the brush. The famous Jewish blonde, and genius from San Francisco, told Mr. Burbank when the latter was his student at Munich, back in the early 1880s that he would live to be a famous portrait painter. And as such he did. No man lived who could paint the Indians, like Burbank, at close range.

Burbank A Product of Rosenthal

Burbank's old friend, Frederic Remington, painted his Indians at a distance, as did J. H. Smith, the one who taught Charlie Russell how to paint, and likewise H. W. Hansen, Augusta Metcalf and Maynard Dixon. But it took Burbank to bring 'em up close, make 'em actually alive. Rosenthal, rated by some critics as America's greatest painter, taught Burbank how to blend the purples and grays into the shadows of an Indian Chief's face. That he really did the job is evidenced by the fact that America's largest museums went after his work, and several of the Indian Chiefs, including the famous Chief Joseph, and Geronimo, would allow no other artist to paint them except Burbank. One of Burbank's paintings of Geronimo brought fifteen thousand dollars. His reward, however, was but three hundred. One hundred and twenty seven Indian Chiefs he painted, in addition to hundreds of other Indians, papooses and squaws.

In many former millionaires' homes through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois are Burbanks Indians still hanging on the same walls. In years to come they will command top prices the same as does Remington's and Russell's work today. One big difference between Burbanks Indians and Remingtons is that the latter painted much of his material from photographs. Many times Burbank ran across such men on the plains, photographing Indians, especially on horseback, for Remington who was then living in high toned hotels in New York, and traveling around with Richard Harding Davis, Spanish American war writer.

The Great Jo Mora and W. R. Leigh

The great Jo Mora of Monterey was another contemporary of Burbank's. They lived together in New Mexico and Arizona, after the turn of the Century, when Jo did his greatest work. Mora's contribution to the western art world, especially in murals, is second to none. It was Mr. Burbank's desire that the Pony Express give his friend Jo a real send off in the Pony Express, which we expect to do. Also, his old Pal of Munich days, W. R. Leigh, is another whose genius has not escaped attention of those who know and appreciate the West. Horses, and men, in action by Leigh are priceless gems to own. Some of them are in possession of wealthy oil and cattle men in Oklahoma. Leigh's work of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, depicting Indians, horses, and soldiers in action, is a masterpiece. Such work equals J. H. Smith's, the man who gave Charley Russell his finishing touches, and whose work is often sold as Russell's. Burbank admired the above men to no small degree, and was always happy to see them written up. When Mora got fifty thousand dollars for mural work at the World's Fair it made Burbank pleased, even though he got a measly hundred dollars for his masterpiece of the bridges, which sold into countless numbers, and countless dollars made by a certain stationery store out of it.

Stationery Store Sold Thousands

There were times in Mr. Burbank's later years when his paintings were really equal to work done earlier in life. During the World's Fair of 1939 he made a panorama of San Francisco Bay and the bridges that has never been paralleled. A stationery store on Market Street sold them, with sundry other drawings and paintings by Burbank. Prints of them sold by the thousands, and thousands of dollars were made from work for which he received a mere pittance. When old age crept up on him, and he ceased to turn out this work, the stationery store closed its doors.

The writer never heard Burbank pass unfavorable criticism upon the work of any other artist. He possessed no jealous, no enviable disposition, which is not only unusual, but very commendable. It showed the mettle of a real man, as well as a genius. When he heard that Sutter Street, California, art dealers were selling "Thad" Welsh paintings for fabulous prices between three and five thousand dollars, his comment was "I'm glad to know it. Maybe it will help make my old friend "'Thad" famous. I hope so. He didn't register at Munich. I never heard about him all the time I was there. But after he came to California he did better work. I guess he improved as anyone should do." When advised by art critic Lorenz Noll that Welsh's Marin County wife helped him with his paintings, Burbank's comment was: "Well, I guess someone did. I knew he married an artist. He worked hard and is entitled to recognition, even if on Sutter Street."

Approximately Two Million Words

In 1942 the writer made a trip across Idaho from Raft River's California Trail to Caldwell, to try to get the Caxton Press to speed along an Indian book of Burbank's and publish it before the old gentleman passed on. Though the book is small and contains some of his subjects, it is good, and well worth while. However, royalties from its sale were meager and netted him little after dividing it with Mr. Royce who wrote down his dictation while Mr. Burbank was at the hospital in Napa. Whereas, the book contains but a few thousand words and is un-indexed, the writer some day hopes to publish the complete 90 years history of Burbank's colorful life, including his days with the Indians since he was a youth at St. Paul in the middle 1870s. There are approximately two million words of testimony the writer has taken in the past decade and a half, together with at least a thousand letters received from Mr. Burbank. This voluminous data should make the greatest Indian book ever given to the American people. We only trust that good health and longevity will allow us the opportunity to get the data, with paintings, drawings, and photos together for publication.

We are not going to write in detail here about Mr. Burbank and his Indians. Our columns for the past ten years have contained articles about him. However, we want this issue to be published in his memory, and show a very few of the many items from his immortal brush and pencil, in the Pony Express Museum.

Laurels To Nellie Huff

To Nellie Huff goes just about full measure of credit for taking care of Mr. Burbank, during his sick spells the past four years. Her reward for all this kindness may have to come from Saint Peter in heaven, as she did it from her heart and not material gain. Often when she was sick herself she took care of him and brought food to him, till he recovered and could continue on painting which he most wanted to do. Mr. Burbank would have died years ago if he had been forced to retire and delegated to an old folks home. Nellie has tact and knew how to handle the old tribal Chief, where other women could not. To her go the laurels for "knowing how." And she didn't run out on him when she knew he had nothing.

After Mr. Burbank passed away, his relatives, and a San Francisco physician who held his will, were contacted. They were the proper ones to decide as to where they would want him buried. However, when the public Administrator went to work investigating, and found little, or no money which he had left, dust flew behind the relatives, and holder of the will. Human nature doesnt change much, but it often ferrets out fair-weather friends, and would be pals from the genuine product. The Pony Express had no more right to interfere with arrangements, or go into his room to claim items belonging to us, than would a stranger. However, when we observed our old friend was being forsaken we did not hesitate to step into the picture. As a result he lies at rest, in an honored spot, near America's great Richard Jose, where his name will be chiseled in granite to last thru the ages. Richard Jose was one of Luther Burbank's most cherished friends and it is a fitting place for the famous cousin of the noted naturalist to lie.

And our old reliable advertiser, Halsted & Company of San Francisco, placed him there. Emma Hammersmith, President of Halsted Company, has several of Burbank's paintings, including one of Jack London, and Sitting Bull. She has always been an admirer of the artist, and his work. Others of this noted mortuary institution who gladly helped to give the old Chief a most beautiful funeral, were Walter Leonetti, Eminel Halsted, Si Henwood, Oscar Peterson, "Al Magner, and Mrs. Vivian Sheehy, comely Colleen, who was his attendant nurse at the Sutter Street parlors and dressed the old warrior like he was the Sioux Indians' big White Father, in Paleface garments, going to the happy hunting ground.

Reverend Collins Leads Services

The Rev. John Collins, from St. Peters Episcopal Church conducted the services at the Halsted Parlors, and at Mt. Olivet Memorial Park, where the ashes of the old Chief were laid to rest in accordance with his request.

Reverend Collins' funeral services at both places were indeed inspiring, reminding one of the transitory phase of life how short is our stay upon earth in which to render service to our fellowmen.

Many Friends Remember Him

Mr. Burbank had many friends. Some of them came to the writer offering kind donations which were courteously declined. Flowers heaped high around his bier, including a personal wreath from Podesta's Flower Shop on Grant Avenue. Friends who sent charming wreaths and bouquets were:

Mr. and Mrs. Seth Dixon of Fort Klamath, Oregon.

Dr. Lester W. Schneider, San Francisco.

Dr. Neil M. Rosenblatt, San Francisco.

Gladys Magee Who penned a most endearing remembrance "Kind thoughts in our hearts for our beloved artist, Mr. E. A. Burbank will remain always.

From Ethel Traphagen, and her famous husband, W. R. Leigh, of New York, came orchids by airplane. Leigh is the noted western artist, about the same age as Mr. Burbank, who was with him at Munich many years ago.

R. S. Burbank and family of Antioch.

Arthur Thomas Senasac, San Francisco.

Hazel Mansfield, Oakland.

Nellie Huff, San Francisco.

Elizabeth Burbank, Santa Rosa.

Emil Hargens, Ross, California.

Mary Helen Power, Nut Tree, Vacaville, California.

Sally Mulvaney, San Francisco.

Mr. and Mrs. Leonard de Geus, Santa Rosa.

James Dowling, Santa Rosa, who penned: In memory of one who contributed so much to American youth."

Lorenz Noll, San Francisco art critic.

A most beautiful standing piece was sent by the following employees of the Manx Hotel:

Mark Kline.

Mr. and Mrs. Withberg.

Leonard Norton.

Vera Anderson

Mary Beck.

Henry Arago.

A. Kennedy

H. Kelly.

R. Whiteside.

A. Calarco.

M. Pauch.

Tom Brown, and Bob Wheatly.

Penned to the Manx Hotel card was the endearing sentiment:

To a very Dear Soul from us all.

Many came to the funeral who failed to register. Those who did were Nell Huff, Lillian Blake, Dr. Reuben L. Blake, Muriel Keane, Mrs. E. Roller, Richard Lauck, Arthur T. Senasac, Elizabeth Burbank, Elizabeth de Geus, Leonard de Geus, Hazel H. Mansfield, George F. Kilroy, Vera Anderson, Lorenz Noll, Florence Mitchell, Ed C. Joslyn, Napa County, Charles Rollet, and Adam Fisko.

Virginia E. Alexander (nee Watts) wrote the following above her name:

A friend to everyone, and everyone loved him.

He will always be remembered,

And his spirit will be ever with us.

While Alfred Silva inscribed above his name:

The many trips we had to Childs Mill, Mt. St. Helena, Old Man Rock, Mission San Jose, Bale Mill, Whiskey Bridge, the old State House, Benicia, and others. So now no more. Good Bye now. A. S.

What better honors could man wish for upon departing from this old world?