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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
April 2001

Sir Harry Lauder

harry_lauder_april01Harry MacLennan Lauder was five feet three inches tall and weighted 170 pounds. He had sparkling eyes, a husky voice and his trademark was a Scottish costume and a walking stick. His first tour of the United States was made in 1906. He would make at least 40 tours in America over a period of some twenty years. (Since Buffalo Bill toured Scotland in 1904 it makes one ask if there was a connection.) Sir Winston Churchill called him "the greatest minstrel the world has ever seen." During his 1915 tour he crossed the States preaching a gospel of preparedness for war.

In San Francisco he spoke to a crowd of twenty thousand. Along the way he met Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson both of whom have a Scottish heritage.

Harry Lauder was born 4 August 1870 in Portobello, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. In the summer of 1890, he was a coal miner in a Hamilton pit singing to help conquer his fear of such dangerous work. By 1900 he was performing the popular songs of his day in London. Along the way he married 17 year old Nancy Vallance who often accompanied him to the United States. He began to write and publish his own music and his first hit was I Love a Lassie (My Scotch Bluebell). It was his most successful song, although 13 of his records were in the top 10. He became a millionaire but never demanded a certain fee, taking only what was offered.

His only son died on the battlefield of Flanders in France. John was a Captain in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Harry and Nancy were notified of his death on January 1, 1917. Harry continued his work of entertaining the troops and established a fund to aid Scottish veterans. In 1919, he received a knighthood from King George V for his service to the troops during the war. He was the first entertainer so honored. During World War II he became the first person to entertain troops on the battlefield. With a small custom built piano tied to the grill of jeep, he sang and joked his way across France.

His popularity never diminished, and when he visited America during the 1920's, he dined with Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. During one of his trips to Chicago in the 1920's he also visited the Scottish Home. Elizabeth Ross, a one hundred year old resident of the Scottish Home, fondly remembers his performances in Chicago. Harry Lauder was also a proud and active Rotarian.   

After World War I, Scottish intellectuals began to attack Harry Lauder and his "Stage Scot." They scorned his affected accent, his mannerisms, and his humor, complaining that Lauder had "made the Scot a figure of fun throughout the world." But, they missed the genuine appeal that Lauder had for thousand of emigrant Scots around the world.

The Doig family of Montana remember that their Scottish-born grandmother would nap after dinner with an alarm clock by her bedside so that she could listen to Harry Lauder on a Canadian radio station. The extent of his appeal can be seen in the inclusion of his voice in a Great Voices of the Twentieth Century record series. The Scottish American Museum at the Scottish Home is fortunate to have a complete album of his songs, some sheet music, and one wonderful picture. 

Harry Lauder used his Scottish theme to strike a universal, romantic chord about Scotland.  From a base in Highland mythology, Harry Lauder approached the universal. As historian Harold Orel put it, Lauder "may have been responsible for making permanent in the popular imagination more images of Scottish life than the work of an entire tourist board."

Lauder's American contemporary was William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill. As the popularity of Lauder and Cody illustrated, the legends of Scotland and the American West had an appeal far beyond their own regions.

 The Scottish Drovers

 It might not occur to most people that Scotland was once the center of a great cattle industry. Thievery along the Borders gradually gave way to legitimate cattle droving. London and the large urban centers simply could not get enough beef. Gradually, drovers swam their herds over sea lochs, or drove them down well-established roads to the great fairs at Smithfield in London or Falkirk in Scotland. In 1880 fifteen thousand cattle and twenty thousand sheep were sold at Falkirk.herdingapril01

The Drovers led a demanding life and it is said that one man and his dogs could drive up to 400 cattle. When herding them from the Highlands and Islands, a drover often had to swim the beasts across rivers or sea lochs. They often tied the tail of a cow to the horns of another as they crossed the Kyle of Rhea. On the road, armed drovers and their dogs lived on oatmeal, onions, ewe's milk, cheese, bannock, and a ram's horn filled with whiskey. When night fell, the drover simply wrapped his plaid around him and slept by his charges.

Gradually each region of Scotland began to specialize in certain types of cattle. Some were the Highland cattle, the Galloway, or polled (hornless), the Ayrshire, the Fifeshire, and the Shetland and Orkney cattle. William McCombie of Aberdeenshire, helped produce the Aberdeen Angus, perhaps the most famous of all the Scottish breeds. Thus, the Scots' history of cattle raising prepared them to feel comfortable with investment in cattle ranches in the American Great Plains. This confidence stemmed in part from the fact that while American cattle breeding might be haphazard, the Scottish cattle breeding had developed into a science.

Western Land Investments

Historian Paul M. Edwards has estimated that the total capital invested by Scots in the West approached almost 6.5 million pounds. Much of this capital went to New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

The first large scale effort was the Prairie Cattle Company formed in Edinburgh in 1880. In 1883 it paid its shareholders almost 28 percent. Corporations such as the Texas Land and Cattle Co., Ltd, the Swan Land and Cattle Company and the most famous Matador Land and Cattle, Co., Ltd. began to advertise and sell.

Scots not only invested in land, but in such things as Arizona copper mining, Pacific Northwest lumber corporations, numerous railroad and petroleum ventures, irrigation projects and cattle companies. The range of their investments was prodigious. Not all adventures were successful, however, The City of Glasgow Bank was placed into receivership in 1881, because it had invested heavily into American railroads.

William F. Cody
Someone You Should Know

The American contemporary of Harry Lauder was William F. Cody better known as Buffalo Bill. There is no evidence that Cody was Scottish, though he was born in Scott County, Iowa in 1846. In 1887, Cody brought his Buffalo Bill's Wild West show to the British Isles and gave a command performance for Queen Victoria. He visited Scotland twice, in 1891 and again in 1904. He was received with great enthusiasm by the Scots and a legend still exists that several Indian performers were so charmed by the area that they married local women and remained in the northeast of Scotland, where their descendants still live today. Why he chose to tour Scotland is somewhat unclear but it may have been the extensive involvement of Scots in the development of the West.

On July 20, 1904, the show played to overflow crowds in Glasgow and from August 8 to 13 about 140,000 watched the Edinburgh performance near Gorgie Station. When his troupe marched down the west end of Princess Street, one reporter noted that Edinburgh had never witnessed a stranger cavalcade.

Beginning in Montrose on August 15, Cody took the show to Aberdeen for three days and one day each in Peterhead, Fraserburgh, and Huntly. It took almost three-quarters of a mile of railroad cars. Nineteen coaches of the first
train provided living quarters for the staff which numbered more than eight hundred people. The remaining cars carried the gigantic canvas tent, stagecoaches, and about 500 horses. Refrigerated cars filled with eggs, milk, and meat were regularly replenished and one emergency wagon was filled with tinned foods, soups, and milk in case the supply line failed.
The performances in Aberdeen's Central Park drew more than 23,000 people the first day in spite of rain. Five thousand were turned away. It was a record first day attendance. The Great North of Scotland Railway Company put on special excursion trains to bring in the country people. Statistically, more than half of Aberdeen's residents were thrilled and stirred by the performances. The audience thrilled to see Custer's last stand, a holdup of the famed Deadwood stagecoach, a pony express demonstration, and war dances performed by more that 100 American Indian performers.

In many ways this 1904 tour was eminently symbolic. The appeal of the American West proved universal. Newly purchased British automobiles brushed up against ancient horse-drawn buggies. Scots whose complexions betoken a healthy country life rubbed shoulders with city bankers and elegant ladies who lived in country homes. One reporter commented that many of the young men with wives and bairns in tow had been raised with Buffalo Bull stories in their youth. Scotland suddenly had a new set of heroes. Reporters noted that the Rough Riders, the trick shooters, and Buffalo Bill would give the boys on the street a good deal to talk about over the winter. Scots spectators had thoroughly enjoyed their glimpse, however brief, of America's 'Wild West'.

Without romance, the story of the American West is simply that of American history set in a western locale. Similarly, without romance, the story of Scotland is largely that of North Britons living in a very demanding climate. But with romance, these two histories rank among the most fascinating of the modern world. To paraphrase Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday, Scotland and the American West each must be seen to be believed. And each must be believed to be seen.

Fort Connah

Fort Connah is located in the Flathead or Mission Valley of Western Montana. The most famous person connected to the fort was Angus McDonald who came from Scotland. He was given charge of Fort Connah in 1847 and named the Post Connen, after a river valley in Scotland. An Indian named Francois Finlay has such trouble pronouncing this that Angus later contracted the name to Connah.

Angus married a Nez Perce Indian woman named Catherine. Both are buried in a cemetery located near the Fort.

Duncan McDonald, a son of Angus was the last factor at the old Fort. He was a capable businessman who spoke twelve different Indian Languages. One original building still stands and the entire Fort is presently being restored.

Jesse Chisholm

Half Scot and half Cherokee Indian, he founded the famous trail in his name which ran from Kansas to Oklahoma and was extended into Texas. He was a representative of several Indian tribes in their dealings with the government and spoke six Indian languages.


From the Editor

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Boston and seeing the great public library there. It is called the McKim Library and in our next issue we will write about Charles F. McKim, the Scottish architect who designed that beautiful building. Trying to find my way around the library, I met a Scottish lady by the name of Linda MacIver. Not only is she Scottish, but she is also very involved in Scottish activities.

The Library has a great assortment of Scottish books but I only had a few hours to research. The stories you read in this issue are taken from Scots in the North American West, 1790-1917. It was written by Ferenc Morton Szasz and is published by the University of Oklahoma Press in Norman. This book again shows how easily the culture flows from Scotland to America and back again.  Buffalo Bill goes to Scotland and Harry Lauder comes to America and both are successful. 

Many of you have sent in your subscriptions for this year and that is much appreciated. We also receive "post it" notes and sometimes letters from people as far as Half Moon Bay, California. My thanks to each of you. You might also be interested to know that we now have some of the Keiller's pots and they will all be placed in our museum. We will give each of you credit in our next issue. 


Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546