The Quest for the Provenance

Category: What on Earth!?

Until I began closely examining some of the items in this topsy-turvy house, I had no idea what a provenance was. Now, I do. The essence is this...it is the story of something...its lineage. Who owned this object? This artwork? This book? And why?

We all have our own provenance, I suppose. And our belongings do. An article with an interesting "provenance" almost ALWAYS attracts the attention of the folks on shows like "The Antique Road Show." So tracking down something's provenance is not only outrageously interesting to people like me, it can value an item.

How do you track down a provenance? Let's start with this seemingly innocuous book by John C. Wright called The Great Myth.

It has a history that weaves together: American Indians, FDR, Woodrow Wilson, a collection of rare Indian artifacts, a few cities in Michigan, a few historians, some Chicago history "firsts", Hollywood, the Chicago Field Museum...the trail is long and winding if you follow it.

Every once in awhile, I will go back to something from the first days in the house. Something that was put aside. It is usually late when I do this and the house is asleep.

This book is one of those things that was pulling me back. I couldn't find out much about it. But it had two names and two towns...John C. Wright from Lansing, Michigan and Albert Green Heath from Michigan.

I spun the wheel of chance, signed on to RootsWeb.com and left a note in the ether for an ancestor of John C. Wright. It is like calling down a canyon. You never know if you will get an echo or a surprised greeting that meets the enthusiasm of your own.

For the research buffs out there, I will share a bit of how the provenance of this book has unfolded over last month.
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From: jm
Date: April 10, 2004

I am looking for the family of John Couchois Wright, the author who's books include "The Crooked Tree" and "The Great Myth". He lived in Michigan in October 1922. Also, trying to research the name of Albert G. Heath, which is linked with Mr. Wright's.

Thank you.
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From: Dave
Date: April 11, 2004

John Couchois Wright had no children. His brother Robert Wright has descendants. Information about two generations of them can be found on my Bailly "family tree"
I have more information than what is posted there, but do not know any living descendants. Lowell has a wealth of information about John C. Wright, and is constantly researching more. He lives in Petoskey, Michigan - not far from Wright's home. His e-mail address is: Lkxxxxxxxxx@northlink.net
According to my computer genealogy program, I am a second cousin three times removed.

Dave
Billings, Montana
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From: Dave

Date: April 11, 2004

Good Morning!

I posted a response to your inquiry on the Rootsweb geneology forum regarding family of author John Couchois Wright. I am a distant relative, and self-appointed genealogist of the Bailly family.

As you undoubtedly know, it is very difficult to find published information about Wright. For a start, I am enclosing a rare photograph copied from a 1915 newspaper; discovered by Lowell, a retired building official in Petoskey, Michigan who began researching Wright several years ago at the suggestion of the curator of the Odawa Cultural Center. They, too, were frustrated that so little was known about the tribe’s most prominent storyteller. I have advised him of your inquiry, and given him your e-mail address.

I have spent some time checking stories told by Wright for factual content, and have found them to be amazingly true with only incidental errors. His “Indian grandmother” Sophia Bailly Graveraet lived a long life, and was known for her uncanny memory. John was as good a listener as he was a storyteller.

Sophia’s mother, Angelique McGulpin was the daughter of Makatoquet, or Black Cloud, a chief of the Grand River Band of Ottawa, who signed the treaty of Greenville in 1795. The claim that Maketoquit’s wife was a niece of Chief Pontiac is most likely true. It is backed by independent stories, but not yet fully verified.

Angelique’s older brother Francis Bailey remained with Maketoquit’s village, running a trading post at the site of present Maple Rapids, Michigan and dispensing a mixture of traditional Algonkian healing and white pharmacology. He was widely known as a “medicine man”.

Perhaps the Wright tale that is hardest to believe is “1000 Miles In A Canoe” from “A Crooked Tree”. It accurately recounts the 1814 journey of seven year old Sophia Bailly from the LaFramboise trading post at present Lowell, Michigan to L’Arbre Croche (present Middle Village near Petoskey, Michigan) to Mackinac Island just ahead of the recapture of the territory by US forces; then her detour to join her brother (by adoption) Joseph LaFramboise (Jr.) in Prairie di Chien, Wisconsin and fleeing with him to St Peters (near the present Minneapolis airport) Minnesota. She stayed there until early 1817, when she joined her adopted mother Madelaine LaFramboise, who was building her retirement home on Mackinac Island.

I will be happy to share any information that I have, and am sure Lowell will also.

Dave
Billings, Montana

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From: jm
Date: April 12, 2004

Dear Dave--

Thank you for your wonderful note and for the photograph. Let me tell you my story.

Almost a year ago, my husband and I purchased a bungalow in Chicago, Illinois. We had expected to move into an empty house that needed about a decade worth of work. (This house had been in the same family for 3 generations--70 years--and was with one other family for 20 years prior to that. It was built in 1914.)

Unfortunately, the house was not left empty. It is a long story, but the previous owner abandoned the property when she sold it and--after taking what she wanted and having an auctioneer try to walk through--left it as it was for us to clean. This has proved to be a Herculean task...this family "hoarded" things--tinfoil to rocks --and nothing was sorted or categorized. Because I used to be an ethnographer and a researcher, I convinced my husband and our friends to sort through the items in the house (versus throw them in a huge dumpster) and I chose items to research. My intent is to try to determine WHICH pieces of the house or the lives that passed through here belong WITH the house as part of its history. Since this is a natural extension of my previous career, it is something I like to do, though I usually only get the time to do it late at night!

I've especially enjoyed the books. That is the one thing I do have a weakness for.

I reselected a volume from the bookcase a few nights ago that I found during one of the first days here. It is "The Great Myth" by John C. Wright. It probably would be unremarkable, except the book has a provenance--a written history of its ownership.

The book is inscribed as follows:

Sincerely, your friend,
John C. Wright
Lansing, Michigan
October 3, 1922


Underneath this handwritten information is a note in a different hand that says:

Olga Mae Schiemann bought this book from Wright Howes, Chicago, Illinois 1953

On the facing page is a bookplate with the name "Albert Green Heath--Ex Libris"

Inside is a postcard written by Mr. Wright. One side is as follows:

Lansing, Mich
Oct. 3--
Dear Friend:
Yours rec'd. Will write you soon. Am sending book with my compliments by this mail. There is no charge for this. As ever, yours
John
426 W. Mich. Ave
.

The other side is addressed:

Albert G. Heath
Harbor Springs, Mich


The postmark is: Lansing, 1 PM, Oct 3, 1922, MICH.

As interested as I am in the history of John C Wright and his book, I am also curious about his correspondence with Albert Heath and the mysterious notation "Yours rec'd." Wright Howes was a bookseller in Chicago...I do not know how Olga Mae fits into the story of the house as of yet.

If any of this information it helpful to you, I'm glad of it. If you have any information as to who Albert Heath is, that would be interesting to me as well.

Thanks so much.

Jeannie
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From: Dave

What a nice story! I suppose the only thing that might top it would be if your house is at 428 Blackhawk Street.

Several members of the Bailly family were prominent in their time, but were quickly forgotten as the upper midwest rapidly matured. Ms. Schiemann was a very thorough historian and scholar, who researched at her own expense and preserved the family history with very little help from anyone actually in the family. The original of her paper is in the Duneland Historical Society Library at Chesterton, Indiana. By 1922, J.C. Wright was fairly well known, and a good representative of the "family", and I'm tickled to learn that he was able to show his appreciation to Ms. Schiemann.

The attachment is a copy of the cover page for Olga Mae Schiemann's 1955 paper (it is actually a book) on the Bailly family.

Joseph Bailly (J.C. Wright's great-grandfather) was a French-Canadian fur trader on the Great Lakes who married twice, both times to Indian women. His last home, and the family cemetery are preserved within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, east of Chicago. The suburb of Monee, Illinois is named for his second wife. The family includes John H. Whistler, the first child born in Chicago; Joel H. Wicker, who with his brother Charles originated the Wicker Park neighborhood; and Francis Howe, one of the organizers of Chicago's first railroad company.

Your interest in the history of the house has netted you a genuine artifact of Chicago history!

Dave

P.S. The name Albert Heath is not familiar to me, but Lowell may know who he was. J.C. Wright was not good with money and often forced to depend on friends. He often set up a stand in the resorts of Bay City, selling and autographing his books. When the tourist trade was down, he was known to visit friends for extended periods of time, essentially saving his own expenses by their hospitality. It might be easier to just come out a say he was a notorious sponge, and it would not have been out-of-character for him to send Mr. Heath's copy to Ms. Schiemann.

P.S.S. As an incidental bonus to the historical implications of the book, I am a 4th great-grandson of Capt. John Whistler, the "founder" of Chicago.

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Dear Dave--

How incredibly interesting!

From the notes in the book and on the postcard, I am convinced the book was originally sent to Albert Heath. There is a notation in the back from Wright Howes (the gentleman who ended up with the book and sold it to Olga) that is very clearly from his shop...it "grades" the condition of the book and sets the price in 1955. So Olga may have purchased it to compliment her research.

And John C. may have sent the book to Albert Heath as a friend or a potential person to "sponge" from :) We may never know.

How the book ended up from Olga to this house is what is interesting to me. The previous owners were Rxxxxx's, Hxxxxxxx's and Hxxxxxxxx's. They did collect a great deal of things, including books and one of the previous owners was an avid Boy Scout Troop Leader (for 20 years) with an interest in Indian folklore, rocks/minerals, survival literature, science, astronomy and so on. This may have been bought as part of that interest. Is Olga still alive? Was her estate liquidated? Her address on Blackhawk Street isn't near anything associated with the house...it's present address, the previous owners' old addresses, the University of Chicago, their places of employment, etc.

Very odd.

Thank you for the information!
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Well, here is a clue! Albert Green Heath

And another...the gentleman who wrote about the Heath Collection is Daniel Eck from the Field Museum in Chicago.

hmmmm....

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From: Dave
Date: April 12, 2004

I think you are correct. In the bio that you found of Albert Green Heath, it said he spent many summers at Petoskey, building his collection. He would most certainly have been John C. Wright's friend!

I think Ms. Schiemann was born 11 Jun 1894 and died in Chicago in September 1976. In her book, there is a "family tree" dated February 1952 which lists "John C. (Couchois) Wright". She obviously knew quite a bit about him. His mother, a widow with one child by Robert Wright; married the widower of her sister named John Baptiste Couchois. He had three grown children and two at home by his first wife, and two daughters by the second wife. Thus, the aunt became the stepmother of her two nieces.

He lived only long enough to get her pregnant with John; and died before he was born. The two girls died, and Rosine (John's mother) sent her other step-daughters to live with the oldest grown sister. Rosine resumed using her first married name of Wright, and John chose to follow. Later, he legally changed it. The parentheses seem like an ideal way to say it.

The article on Heath's collection said they sold duplicate items in 1956-57 to pay the balance of costs for acquisition.

In college in the late sixties, I hung around used bookstores. One which was located on the tourist road to Estes Park, Colorado frequently bought "remnant lots" from museums in the exact same manner as one might imagine the Chicago bookseller having done.

A good percentage of John C. Wright's work was great inspiration for Boy Scouts.

Dave

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From: Dave
Date: April 12, 2004

In case you didn't know.........

Petoskey, where Heath was reported to work on his collection, is a working community on the south shore of Little Traverse Bay which had a significant Indian population at the turn of the twentieth century.

Harbor Springs, where Heath received the book, is a resort town on the north shore (four miles by water, nine miles by land from Petoskey).

John C. Wright was a resident of Harbor Springs, probably in Lansing for the first printing of "The Great Myth" by the Michigan Education Company (now Michigan State University Press). The book that he sent to Heath was undoubtedly a "first edition".

Dave
________________________________________________________

From: Dave
Date:

The attachment is the forward to a handwritten issue of Wright's "Chicago-jig.......The Indian Tradition of the Happy Hunting Ground" that he presented to the Governor of Michigan in 1934. The print version was published in 1935. I thought you might find want to compare it to yours.

Wright died in 1939 in the Gratiot County Infirmary at Alma, Michigan and was originally interred in the indigent section of Riverside Cemetery. Friends collected donations to rebury him in Lakeview Cemetery of Harbor Springs, Michigan with a nice monument. In 1940, he was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal by Franklin D. Roosevelt on behalf of Indians and conservation.

Have a good day.

Dave

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From: Dave

The "yours rec'd" may have been the money from this sale:

On 20 Nov 1922 a deed was recorded at the Emmet County Courthouse (Book 74, Page 372) which read:

John C. Wright of the City of Lansing, Ingham co., Michigan (said John C. Wright, a single man) to Frank J. Gilbault of Good Hart, Emmet Co., Michigan, $200. Lot 30, Middle Village on Section 36, T 37 N, R 7 W.

It was a lot he had inherited from his mother. The final deed to him was recorded 17 Mar 1920 (Book 68 Page 511). It read:

Robert H. Wright & Annie Wright of Munising, Michigan to John C. Wright of Good Hart, Michigan. $50.00. Lot 30 of the Village of Middle Village, Section 36, T 37 N, R 7 W. (It is understood and agreed that Robert H. Wright, one of the parties of the first part and John C. Wright the said party of the second part are sons & only heirs at law of Rosine Wright, deceased)

His mother had died 6 Feb 1920.

Wright kept on writing letters to local newspapers, and showed his sense of humor while in the county hospital.
Articles printed after his death inferred that he had lots of visitors, and enjoyed himself to the very end.

Dave
________________________________________________________

From: Dave
Date: April 14, 2004

How fascinating !!!!!

Albert Green Heath and his wife are buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Harbor Springs, Michigan:

Heath, Albert Green, d. Dec 23, 1953, Sec J Lot-32
Heath, Edith, d. Mar 12, 1947, Sec J Lot-32

How close is Section J, Lot 32 to John Couchois Wright's grave in Section I, Lot 48? Was Albert Heath one of the friends who paid for the Wright re-burial?

Also, this shoots holes right through the probability that Heath's estate may have sold the copy of "The Great Myth" to Chicago bookseller Wright Howes, who resold it to Olga Mae Schiemann in 1953. Not too many business days were left in 1953 after Dec. 23rd.

Dave
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From: Lowell

Dave,

I’ve been puzzling over what connection an Albert G. Heath could have to John C. Wright. Now I know, thanks to you. John seems to have been a bit of a promoter. I found several letters at the Clarke Historical Library that appear to have been his efforts to promote his works by writing to prominent people such as the governor and sending them hand-made copies of his books.

What I have on his places of residence so far is as follows:

1874-1920 – Lived with mother, first in Harbor Springs and later in Middle Village.

1922 – 320 W. Genesee, Lansing.

20 Nov 1922 – Lansing – when he sold property in Middle Village, Lot 30, where he had lived.

1923 – no entry in city directory, but "The Great Myth" was published by the company he worked for – Michigan Education Co.-Lansing.

1924 – 320 W. Ottawa St., Lansing

1925 – no entry in city directory

15 Apr 1926 – Lansing, when he bought lots in Middle Village from the State Conservation Dept.

1927 – Roosevelt Hotel, 220 Seymour St., Lansing.

July 1927 – sold two lots, bought another in Middle Village – residence, Lansing.

1928-1931 – No city directories available.

19 Nov 1929 – Living in Los Angeles when he sold his remaining properties in Middle Village.

30 Jan 1930 – News item that he had recently been in Washington DC, visited Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and others to promote "an American club" for people who could claim at least ¼ Indian blood.

1934-1935 – editions of "Chicago-jig" published in Alma, Gratiot Co. Henry Babcock, his old friend and former employer who formerly published a newspaper in Harbor Springs owned "The Alma Record" at this time.

17 Oct 1937 – enters the Gratiot Co. Infirmary.

17 Mar 1939 – Leaves Infirmary.

15 May 1939 – returns to Infirmary.

23 May 1939 – dies at Infirmary.

All of the Lansing addresses, including the 426 W. Michigan one on the postcard, are in the same general area just north and west of the State Capitol building. For 3 ½ years in the late 60’s, I lived at 1101 Seymour, nine blocks north of the old Roosevelt Hotel. If I get to Lansing this spring, I want to see if any of the old rooming houses where he lived are still there.

What he was doing in Los Angeles is still a mystery. He does not appear in any 1930 census index. Since the enumeration started on 1 April, he may well have been traveling at the time. The two witnesses to the deed of sale in Los Angeles were an attorney and his secretary. I found both of them and there seems to be nothing that suggests anything other than the fact that he had the attorney handle the transaction. I tracked the attorney through a couple of census years looking for a family or geographic relationship of some kind and found nothing.

Right now I have started the long slow process of reading through the 1930-1940 microfilms of The Emmet County Graphic" scanning for news items about Wright. Only 8 ½ years to go!
________________________________________________________

From: Lowell
Date: April 14, 2004

Dave,

Here is what I’ve found on Albert Heath.

He and wife Edith were listed as residents of West Traverse Twp., household 63, page 3-A, in the 1930 Census.

A brief notice in the Petoskey News-Review, Monday, 21 Dec 1953, states that he died Sunday in Chicago (DoD 20 Dec 1953)

An obituary published on 22 Dec 1953, says that the body will arrive Wednesday for a committal service and he will be buried next to his wife. Came to Harbor Springs as a summer visitor with his parents. Owner and proprietor of one of the largest collections of Indian relics and regalia in this country and he furnished the eagle feathers for the cinema ‘Whoop-ee’. (Eddie Cantor – 1930)

The obituary for Edith, 13 Mar 1947 noted among others, that she had a brother, Dr. William S. Beyers, of Los Angeles. Also that she came to Harbor Springs "about 25 years ago." Among her pall-bearers was Fred Ettawageshik, a leading Indian of the area. His son is an artist and the present head of the Little Traverse Bay Band.

Albert’s father, Charles A. Heath was the head of the Albert Dickinson Seed Co. of Chicago and a poet. He also seems to have been interested in history. I found the following citation in an article on T. Roosevelt; Charles A. Heath, A Trial of Trail: From Cody to the Yellowstone. (Chicago: Franklin Press, 1905)

Pure speculation so far but we have the following;

Albert Heath, visitor and later resident in the Harbor Springs area, collector of Indian "relics", father interested in American history and an amateur poet. Wife Edith has doctor brother in Los "Angeles. Albert supplies some feather props for 1930 movie.

I’m wondering if John didn’t go to Los Angeles with the idea of promoting his works to the movie-makers or in hopes of writing for them or possibly working as a consultant. I have seen mention of him coming up from Lansing or Alma during the tourist season to hawk his books. As I mentioned before, he does seem to have worked promoting his books. It wouldn’t be out of character for him to try to use his connections with the Heaths.

This obviously needs more thought but I think I now have a lead on his trip to Los Angeles.

Lowell
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From: Dave

Wow! You work fast! I agree with your hunch about Wright's 1930 trip to Los Angeles. Self-promotion is an absolute requirement for most writers. There is an old line that purportedly quotes a publisher as saying "If I wanted to promote it myself I would steal your story. Royalties are paid on the work you have yet to do."

Hollywood was booming as a bungalow resort community when the first motion picture company (Nestor Pictures) arrived in 1911. All through the "silent" era good writers found refuge among the rich and not-famous that owned the bungalows, and a few like Zane Grey broke through the barrier into big movie royalties.

It was, however, a very fickle environment. Old Butch Cassidy himself had a friend pitch his "property" (story line manuscript) to the studios in early 1935..........but got told it was not credible enough for the highly popular "oaters". Yet the biggest "B" movie of 1934 was a Kansas City telegraph office clerk named Gene Autry who did a movie about an invasion of space aliens being driven away by cowboys who liked to stop every so often and sing corny songs in close harmony. Go figure!

Dave

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From: Lowell
Date: April 14, 2004

Hi Jeanne,

I’ve been corresponding with Dave Fredrick for some time now regarding some of the ancestors of John C. Wright. Dave alerted me to your posting on the Rootsweb site and has forwarded an image of the inscription in your copy of "The Great Myth".

If you are interested, I can send you a PDF file copy of some of the information I have on John. I also have a few scans of photos of him that appeared in some of his books and in newspapers.

Dave’s web site has information On John and his ancestors. I provided some of the material on John and we have been sharing information on the ancestors.

Briefly, John was born in Harbor Springs in 1874 and lived and worked there until some time in 1922, about two years after his mother’s death. He moved to Lansing and lived there through most of the 1920’s. In the late fall of 1930 he was in Los Angeles when he sold the last of the lots he owned in Middle Village, Emmet Co., Michigan. In the early 1930’s he worked for the publisher of ‘The Alma Record", who had previously published "The Emmet County Graphic" in Harbor Springs.

As his health deteriorated, John eventually entered the Gratiot County Infirmary, where he remained from late 1937 until March 1939. He left the infirmary only to return in May 1939 where he died a week later. He was buried in what some called a pauper’s grave. A year later, friends raised the funds to have a vault built, one of only two, in Lakeview Cemetery in Harbor Springs and he was reburied with full ceremonies in his home town. A plaque on the vault reads " John C. Wright, 1874-1939, Michigan’s Indian Poet."

My work on John and his family is in a "work-in-progress" stage, but I would be glad to share information if you are interested.

Lowell
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p.s. We haven't been able to work on this for awhile since the second floor project is going gangbusters, but Lowell has put us in touch with a historical museum in Michigan who we would like to donate the book to. It is an important piece of history to them and therefore, to us. More on that later. We may even be able to get out from under this work schedule and visit up there later in the summer. Which would be incredible.

This has truly been one of the side benefits of the house. Getting to know these wonderful people.


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Comments

A bit of trivia. Ernest Hemingway as a boy lived in Chicago and spent a lot of time up in Petoskey with the Indians there.

AMAZING!!! POPS"30"

Hemingway's Nick Adams stories talk a lot about his time up north as a kid.

 

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