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Charles D. Mahaffie, Sr. at the Grand Canyon – “Bring Out Jumbo!”

In 1916, Charles D. Mahaffie became, at age 32, the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior. He moved from Portland, Oregon, where he had been in law practice, to Washington DC to take up his new duties. [For more on this moment in his life, see: “Charles D. Mahaffie Goes to Washington, 100 Years Ago”]

Charles’ news photo from when he arrived to become Solicitor of the Interior

His joining the Interior Department came at a time of growth and change there. That same year, an Act of Congress established the National Park Service.

Stephen T. Mather conceived of the Service and with its inception, became the first Director. Mather was the originator of “20 Mule Team Borax.” He made millions with borax, and used that money to support and build things in the newly established National Parks during the 1910s and 20s. It’s common now to visit a National Park and see things named for him. We have Mather Gorge, at Great Falls. And there’s Mather Point, at the Grand Canyon.

Mather and Charles then, or perhaps earlier, became good friends. Their work in the leadership of the Department cemented a strong friendship and colleagueship.

Charles D. Mahaffie, Jr. remembers his father telling him how just prior to the April 1920 dedication ceremony for Grand Canyon National Park, the Secretary of the Interior, John Barton Payne, summoned Mahaffie to his office and ordered him to give a speech on the Payne’s behalf at the ceremony. Mahaffie was to join Stephen Mather and other dignitaries at the Grand Canyon for the ceremony.

Mahaffie reported that he said to the Secretary, “Well, where’s the speech I’m to give?”

“You can write it on the way out,” Secretary Payne answered.

Heading to Arizona

The way west was by train, a distance of 2,300 miles. It was likely a several-day series of trains. The final link was the Grand Canyon line of the Santa Fe Railway, from Williams, Arizona, north to the south rim of the Canyon.

Other dignitaries from Washington, including Stephen Mather and his wife, were likely on the same journey. We can assume the men enjoyed each other’s company, cigars and liquor along the way, but that Mahaffie found snatches of time in his cabin to draft his speech.

A special tourist train of the well-healed

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a Brooklyn, New York newspaper, had arranged its yearly rail tour of the national parks so that the participants could join in the dedication festivities. Their annual tours, with regular news items reported from along the way, were great promotions for the new National Parks. The Daily Eagle retinue were welcomed to not just observe, but to be part of the Park’s dedication festivities.

Charles is in a picture with J.J. Byrne, Dr. G. W. James, and Stephen Mather from the day of the dedication ceremony.

Left to right; Charles D. Mahaffie, Stephen T. Mather, Byrne, of the Santa Fe Railway, and Dr. G. W. James, April 30, 1920 . Photo by Santa Fe Railway

J. J. Byrne was General Assistant Passenger Traffic Manager for the Santa Fe Railway, based in Los Angeles. The Santa Fe had a line to the Grand Canyon.

Dr. James was George Wharton James, who authored a book, “The Grand Canyon of Arizona: How to See it.” [rev. Edition 1912] He was a lecturer, photographer, journalist and editor. He wrote books and articles on the American Southwest. James also spoke at the dedication ceremony, giving one of the ‘informal talks’.

The dedication ceremony also included members of the Hopi tribe of the area. They provided entertainment and color for the festivities. During the speeches, a report from the event said, “The group of Hopi Indians, in brave array of serapes, buckskin chintz, and battle feathers, were interested auditors.” Perhaps interested because the establishment of the Park and growing tourism would change their lives forever.

The Hopis were part of the spectacle, and a subject of curiousity and topic for Arizona State Historian James M. McClintock, who “advised the visitors of the racial differences of the Southwestern Indians and something of their ethnological progress.”

A Hopi Chief was invited to participate as well. “Sacahuku, a leading Hopi chief in his native tongue, with interpretation, followed by Hopi dances in front of El Tovar. Sacahuku formally welcomed the pale-face to his domain, and directed a number of Indian campfire dances of peace and good will in a special ceremonial to mark the dedication of the park. The invitation was accepted on behalf of the paleface population of the country by Gov. Campbell and Stephen T. Mather.” [ From: The Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. 14, June 1920.]

That evening, Mahaffie attended a dinner party aboard the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s special train, with the Governor of Arizona and his wife, Stephen Mather and Mrs. Mather, the Arizona State historian and his wife, and a “Miss Carroll,” who likely was brought in as a dinner companion for Mahaffie, who was single then. [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 2, 1920]

C D Mahaffie (2nd from top) with others descending into the Canyon, May 1, 1920

“Bring out Jumbo!”

At times in his life, Mahaffie was a stout man. He shared a story in later years, told to me by his wife, Isabel, and also remembered by his son and daughter in law. As part of the dedication festivities, the dignitaries were taken on Grand Canyon mules down the Bright Angel Trail into the Canyon.

When the muleteers caught sight of the Mahaffie, they called out, “Bring out Jumbo.”

Unfortunately, there’s no record of this story, nor of a mule named Jumbo. Jumbo is a recurring name for mules. Surely in a corral full of mules, there could have been a Jumbo. But the picture from the dedication shows Mahaffie no stouter than the other men. But a consensus from those in the family that know the story is that we believe every word of it.

Mahaffie’s older grandchildren remember him as a gruff old man, not given to (a word he often used) “non-sense”. We were all under age twelve when we knew him and he us. He died in 1969. But this and other stories give a feel for his sense of humor. To savor the Jumbo story, true or made up, adds a dimension to our memories and sense of this man who had a fascinating and accomplished life.

I later put a question to Mahaffie’s son, Charles Jr. “Was your Dad funny? Was he the sort to make up funny stories?” 

He went silent for a time, and pondered this. After a while he said, “I can’t say that he was. No, he wasn’t especially given to making jokes like that.” 

So we are left wondering where this story of Jumbo, well known in the family, came from. 

For more on Charles, see the posts below.

A young Charles is named a Rhodes Scholar in March 1905. – “Word of a Rhodes Scholarship and a Letter Home

Charles arrives in Washington to go to work for the Department of the Interior, September 1916. – “Charles D. Mahaffie Goes to Washington, 100 Years Ago

Charles travels to see the woman whom he would marry, their meeting arranged by mutual friends. December 1924. – “Mr. Mahaffie comes on from Washington Tues. midnight

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