Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"He Was Perfectly Without Soul:"Jennison's Lecture Tour and the True Story of the Famous Photograph

In a statement to Kansas historian William E. Connelley, Eugene F. Ware left a priceless description of Charles Jennison's grand lecture tour and the true origins of the famous photograph. The statement was probably written in the early 1900s.

"In reply to your request that I furnish you [a] statement concerning Jennison's lecture tour [I] will say: I knew Jennison in the army. He was not a large man but very compactly built and quicker than a cat. His fighting power in hand to hand matters was astonishing because he was so immensely quick as well as strong. He was quick at everything both mental and physical. He liked quick things. He played cards fast and furiously. He was at every horse race that you could hear of. He liked speed of all kinds. He was perfectly without soul [and] had no moral ballast that I ever heard of or ever observed. Brave enough, but somehow or other he never got into danger. That is, he was not a fighter of battles. He was a scouter, going quick, robbing somebody and getting away. If he ever was in a battle or fought one I never heard of it. He was a most inveterate gambler in everything. Always wanted to bet on something. In matters of that kind he had unusually good judgment. He made betting a science and always had plenty of money. Somehow he managed to get it. He was notorious but was not the idol of anybody. His soldiers never idolized him and his superiors never cared anything for him and never gave him any chance. In fact[,] he was wanting always to be on the go, was as a military man erratic, irrational, insubordinate, always doing something he ought not to do and as a military man was of no account on earth. That was the judgement of his superior officers. I had excellent chance to know that for I was an aide de camp with several different generals all of whom well knew Jennison and they used to constantly bemoan the fact that Jennison dishonored his uniform by his senseless, irrational gambling and other propensities. And they were all glad to get him out of the service. He had no following of any kind except of the very lowest. When he got out of the service he ran a large gambling outfit in Leavenworth. It was a very extensive concern. I have heard different theories about it; some say that he had it going while he was an officer of the army but did not connect his name with it for fear of court martial. Others say that he organized it the moment he came out. At any rate, he was scarcely out of the army before he was giving a series of general invitations to army officers to visit what he called his "gambling ranch." I went up there once with a bevy of officers to see what sort of a place it was and he seemed to have pretty nearly all of the upper story of a block in Leavenworth. We were there but a few minutes but long enough to see a great amount of mirrors and cut glass and plate glass and darkies in flunkey costume, and a free lunch, a free bar, liquors and champagne galore, and all kinds of gambling devices apparently in running order with a swarm of tough looking western frontiersmen all spending their money lavishly for at that time there were no railroads west of the Missouri River and the river was the camping ground of vast trains coming and going from New Mexico, Denver and Salt Lake and the great west. It was some time during cold weather in 1866 - if I had to guess it would be somewhere in January or February, that I met Jennison at the corner of the Planters House carrying a large picture in a frame. The picture frame was about three feet high and two feet wide. It was a beautiful bright sunny winter day. He stopped me to show me the picture. It was labeled "Jennison the Great Kansas Jayhawker." It represented Jennison in a fringed buckskin hunters costume with a Sharps rifle, standing at the order arms with a big dog curled up on the ground in front of him. It was a very artistic photographic job of work touched up with color and Jennison asked me what I thought about it and I told him that I thought it was not the thing that ought to be got up. That his make up ought to be of a military cast and then he told me that that would not do because he had a special reason for getting this up. He said that his name had become synonymous with slavery and anti-slavery fights in Kansas and his notoriety was so great that many people wanted to see him and that it had been suggested to him that he should take the lecture platform and he concluded to go onto the platform and satisfy the great popular demand by giving some lectures about slavery and anti-slavery. He said that he did not propose to have these bureau people running him around wherever they wanted to; he was only going to go where he pleased and that he was going to organize his own literary bureau and arrange his own lecture course so that he could go flying and make a lecture every night in the week until he got through, and he said that there was a mint of money in it and that he had a whole lot of these pictures struck off and had started out his advance agent. He told me what the man's name was and that before he went east (because he thought New England would be a great sphere of work) he was going to work off his lecture and try it on the western people until he got it in good shape and then go down and give it to the people of New England. He said that he was having a whole lot of advertising done in the east in regard to his lecture project and that he already had his man out and that he was first going to Quincy, that would be his first date. Then he would be able to give the two next lectures in Chicago and then one in St. Louis to see how it took, and that he had had a large number of these pictures of Jennison the Kansas jayhawker struck off for advertising purposes, a great quantity of them and the man had gone on, and he Jennison, was about ready to go and meet his dates. He said he made his pictures to correspond with his lecture course and hence he wanted the picture to show him in frontier costume although he did not know that he had ever worn such a costume but it was the regular traditional pioneer costume and kind of a one that the people would expect from a Kansas man. I was shortly afterwards sent off on some military orders and it must have been about two months later that I got into Leavenworth by steamboat from Omaha about two or three o'clock in the morning. And I went to a hotel called the Brevoort so as to see Gen. Mitchell in the morning who was stopping there with his family. I was quite chilled and drew up before the fire and a man came in about that time and began taking with the night clerk some funny story about Jennison and I asked this man what his business was and he said that he dealt faro for Jennison down at the ranch and I asked him if Jennison had got back yet from his lecture tour and what success he had and then the man broke out into an immoderate fit of laughter and asked me if I had not heard about Jennison's lecture trip, and I told him no. He then proceeded to tell the story which was in this wise: He said that Jennison started out and first went to Quincy, that he took along about $5,000 in cash with him to pay the expenses of his trip, that when he got to Quincy he found things out of gear and at the lecture room only about half a dozen persons present. He said that it was explained to him that matters had not been well advertised. He then told the audience that it was to small for him to deliver a lecture to and that they could have their money back and as much more for having done him the courtesy to be present, and that he immediately struck out and hunted up a faro bank and won a lot of money before morning and started for Chicago. When he got to Chicago he found that his lecture had been poorly advertised and he had no audience but as he had been billed for two nights he thought he would wait over so he started in with a Chicago faro bank and lost all but $1600 that he had. That he concluded to rest up and skip his second appointment and go to St. Louis. He got down to St. Louis and ran across a friend of his by the name of McClintock who was running a faro bank in St. Louis. He went up with McClintock just to look at his outfit and concluded that he would try a bet or two. The result was that he did not go near the lecture room, lost every dollar he had, got fearfully drunk and McClintock gave him money enough to get home on and put him on board of the train which at that time ran as far as Kansas City from St. Louis and Jennison came home, gave up his lecture tour and wired his traveling manager to get home. Jennison never took the lecture field again."

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