The Letters of Carl Eytel

The early desert painter's correspondence with travel writer and teacher Edmund C. Jaeger. Only Online.

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Early desert painter Carl Eytel and travel writer/teacher Edmund C. Jaeger shared a love of the natural landscape. While Jaeger taught school in Palm Springs during 1915-1916, he and Eytel were akin to next-door neighbors in rugged cabins at the base of the San Jacinto mountain range. Even after Jaeger had moved on, the two men maintained a close relationship through correspondence, shared travels, and occasional visits. The following letters by Eytel to Jaeger reveal much about the way the artist lived and his philosophies on life.
—Janice Kleinschmidt

Letters from Carl Eytel to Edmund C. Jaeger
From the Collection of the Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs
December 13, 1916

My dear Edmund,

It’s shame on me for being so slow with my answer and thanks for the painting you sent to me and which you had fixed so nicely on board. It’s a pity that it is spoiled, for I hardly see a way to restore it. However, it is all right that I have it back, for I must confess it does not give me any credit, and I could do it over — a good deal better.

In the meantime I had the pleasure to see Mr. and Mrs. Cree in my neighborhood, but they were very active and had to break camp unexpectedly so that I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye to them. Very likely you met them since they returned to Riverside. I wonder if your plan to spend a week in Palm Springs will be realized. I hope you can manage to come. The weather is very fine. Sometimes we have cold days and alas! cold nights, which I hear have damaged the Indians’ grapefruit trees.

The Crees may have told you how the Pueblo is growing bigger, I am sorry to say. The mountain house is now owned by Chase, who is having it renovated by Mr. Basil, who has his hands full with house painting.

The houses in town, at the Desert Inn, White’s, etc., are occupied, and a good many people are in town, but I haven’t noticed any more prosperity in the warchests of a certain Desert Painter whose reputation grows daily while his purse has seemingly the wasting disease of consumption. However, I do not mind it but am hoping for better times “next year.”

Other news are that our friend Sass is in Chino Cañon, but I do not know if he froze stiff or if he manages to find out that there are plenty wood piles in the cañon which can be used for fire to keep one warm. Perhaps he may have learned it from you while in the San Bernardino Mountains. Pester is back in his cabin in Palm Cañon, but I haven’t seen this cabin nor have I been in the Cañons since I returned from Arizona.

Somehow I never get “around” to go to Andreas, Chino, Palm or even Ta-quitch Cañon.

I hear Mr. Gordon’s men are at work blazing the trail up to the Ta-quitch valley. They are at work somewhere near Andreas Cañon, if I am not mistaken.

You know that the Maxwells left Palm Springs and are in Nixon, Nevada, where they are likewise in the Government employ. Last summer there was quite a fight over the Springs, which was to be leased to parties for ten years, taken out of the hands of the Indians into the care of white people, with the understanding to have them use and improve and make piles of money under the war cry of Progress and Efficiency. But the Indians would not have it that way and hang on to your rights. Now Pedro Chino’s family takes care of the Springs and keeps the grounds and the bathhouse in good condition.

Mr. Saunders is back now is Pasadena, and I hope that you will have seen him in the meantime or will see him soon, for you will no doubt like him, as everybody does.

I hear Dr. Newkirk is slowly recovering. Mrs. Newkirk didn’t write to me how she is getting on herself.

I am not bale to get away from Palm Springs this year, so I have to visit you next month.

I enclose 10 cts for postage which you spent on me and the painting. I have to get even on you for the fixing up of the painting in some other way.

In the hope of seeing you soon, I say Auf Wiedersehen and Weihnachten!

Always affectionately yours,

Palm Springs
April 16, 1917

Dear Edmund,

Thank you for your welcome letter with the sentiments expressed within it. Surely hatred and insanity is rampant through the world, and it is simply astounding how the reign of terror has unbalanced even minds which professed religion and the love of the Lord. But their eyes seem to be blinded to the punishment which is meted out to them openly before their very eyes: famine and the revenge of the poor who are starving right now. To us there is nothing left but to retire into the solitude — a hard matter for you whose work has to be done in the open and before the public.

Just a few minutes ago when I was at the Post Office 7 o’clock in the morning, I met Pester, who shocked me with the news that the Palm hut in Chino Cañon burned to the ground and Prof. Sass barely escaped being burned. All his belongings were destroyed. Contrary to Pester’s warning, he kept a fire in the stove inside of the cabin, and the wind did the rest. Poor man! A few days ago he wrote to me that he intended to travel by burro wagon to Arizona and New Mexico, and he asked me about road and distances. This will tear his plans to pieces.

Also this morning I received a letter from Mr. Hallett stating that he and the painting are safely home and adding: I hope it will find some one that admires it as much as I do and who will purchase it. According to this, the sale is doubtful, and perhaps the very reason is that I put too cheap a prize on it. You are perfectly right. I ought to have asked 100 or 200 or 300. Otherwise, rich people think it isn’t worth it.

Do you know I had hoped Mr. H. wouldn’t ask me the prize [six] but negotiate through you or at least ask me under 4 eyes. I could have then asked him a few straightforward questions about the financial value of my canvases and about the view points of the artist and the picture-buyer commission man or millionaire.

Secondly, I really can not blame anybody for not buying the picture in question because it must be understood, and while Mr. Hallett understands it, I hardly believe the lady does nor her husband. However, I would be very glad to hear from you that I am mistaken in regard to this opinion. It surely would help me if she would buy it, but fortunately things have developed very nicely lately, and I have enough money to start on my trip to the Painted Desert next month. I have been kept very busy lately making pen and ink cards and selling several dozens of them at 3 dollars a dozen. You see this brought me some money. I should say about 25 dollars. I sold my favorite painting: the snowcapped San Bernardino Mtn. with the blue sky and the sunny foreground for 25 dollars instead of 50. Also the “Painted Hills of the Mecca” for 25 dollars, both to a very nice gentleman of Kansas City, more in order to please him than anything else.

I am glad I am a failure when it comes to the point of commercialism, and I suppose this is one of the reasons I was not permitted to get married. In that case the wife makes the prices. If I ever get married, however, I choose a woman who will not interfere with my work nor with my sales. Surely it won’t be an American woman with modern tendencies and high flyerism.

Tomorrow Mr. Chase is to be married in Pasadena. Mr. Saunders acting as “best man.” Mr. Chase don’t need to worry anymore about the filthy lucre. He will be worth about 50000 Dollars. Owner of several houses in Palm Springs, and part owner of 17 collie dogs. Well, I am not going to steal his bride.

We are having rain today, which started this morning about break of day. Occasionally the sun peeps through the clouds in regular desert rain fashion, and towards afternoon it may clear up again. Which will please me just as well, for I do not like cloudy weather. It is fine for the flowers. I must say even they make me sad, and I don’t enjoy them any more. I intended to paint every day flowers and get a collection of painted flowers, but somehow I don’t feel like painting them. Everything looks at you with different eyes from former times.

I intend to go away next month to Flagstaff and from there to the northern part of the Hopi Reservation, Tuba and Moencopi, which are very little known since they are still farther away from the main highway. But they must be very beautifully located in a spot well watered by a river and near the entrance of a deep cañon. Thus I have been told by Carl Oscar Borg, the painter. I believe from this place, Tuba, to the Grand Cañon is a distance of 60 miles, and this is called the Hopi trail to the Grand Cañon where there is the legendary Opening in the Earth out of which the Hopi people enter the upper world. I do not know if through the same hole they go back again or if this second opening called “Shipapu” is on a difference place.

My plan in the rough is to see Tuba and perhaps go to the edge of the Grand Cañon, then back again into the Hopi land and to the Navajos. Then to the pueblos of New Mexico, a journey to be made during the latter part of the summer and fall, perhaps very late fall, when I shall come back to Palm Springs to take up my work again in the old, familiar place. If I should feel happier and freer of care in the Indian land, I shall stay there. This is only my plan. I never forget: “The best-laid plans of men and mice gang aft aglee.” If I do not succeed, then I know that the Allfather had it planned differently; if I succeed, then I know that it was meant to be so. At any rate, it is good for you, for I will be a first-class guide by the time you are ready to come to the Painted Desert. I have a faint idea that you will like it even better than the Colorado Desert, for the color is so wonderful that one is simply overwhelmed; also the human element is so fascinating that there is no question which Desert to choose when one is called upon to choose. Give me the peace and tranquility of the Indian land in preference to an “up to date, wide awake hustler’s country.”

Well, I won’t take your time away any longer. I believe I shall start on my journey from Pasadena, not from San Bernardino, and so I hope to see you at Saunders. I wish to avoid Los Angeles. You acted wisely when you went home instead of going to Santa Barbara, and you are perfectly right to keep away from the wealthy people as much as possible. After all, they are in a different class and have different – ideas(!)

Good Bye. Always affectionately yours,

Palm Springs
Sunday [April 1922?]

My dear Edmundus:

Now a letter to you. Time passes quickly, and it seems a year since we saw each other, and even still it is not so very long ago. But in the mean time we both have had new experiences, and even I can tell you about a trip which I made. It was a compulsory trip in a way, for Good Thursday night a bunch of female Russian Bolschenko took possession of friend Smith’s cabin and made themselves “to home.” I suddenly remembered an invitation from a young man in Palm Cañon who wanted me to come and see him. Therefore, I packed up on Friday morning, asked Mr. O’Sullivan to drive me to Palm Cañon, where I stayed overnight. On Saturday we, Mr. Maloney and Mr. Stevens from Glendora, drove in the latter’s Ford — a glass case affair — to Painted Cañon, where we camped. Next day to Box Cañon and Shaver’s Well and from there to Hidden Springs Cañon, where we came. I do not know if you were at Hidden Sp. Cañon. If not, then you must make it a duty to your own self to see it. Monday evening we returned to Palm Springs.

I started several paintings, two of the Salton Sea, one of the Hills of Mecca, one of the palms in Hidden Springs Cañon — and I expect to make good paintings of them. The trip was a gem, even if we had to drive through plenty sand to Indio. But from that point on, it was fine.

The days clear as crystal, the nights cool with fine stars. I feel the freedom of the Desert far more in the neighbourhood of Mecca and on than in our part, and the air seems to be more clear and transparent. Especially wonderful is the way those two great snowcapped sentinels appear to your eye almost suddenly out of the heavenly blue, themselves aetherial blue phantoms rather than massive mountains, and the immense desert in the foreground more cruel and forbidding than in the neighbourhood of Palm Springs. Indio, Coachella, makes it a wonderful unforgettable experience. Of course you saw it that way also, even under more favorable circumstances, i.e., more snow.

Well that brings me to my painting of “Snow, Sand and Palms,” now owned and highly appreciated by Mrs. Ludd, who had it very fittingly framed, even under glass, and now it hangs in the house of Mr. Powers and is admired right and left by all the ladies of the land. But let a rude male art critic come, and he would say it is all rot and lady painters’ handiwork. So you see, I am not to be spoiled by praise, but I will go this summer where no ladies are, and I will paint real desert pictures.

Would you mind to tell our mutual friend Bob (Shea) that I made a good copy of the painting “Last House in Walpi,” which will go to his mother? I always hoped to meet somebody from Riverside who would bring it to Mrs. Shea’s house, but I have not found anybody. Now it is possible that I go to Los Angeles resp. El Monte on Wednesday in one of Mr. Power’s cars. I will stay a number of days in and around El Monte, L.A., and Pas., and on my return trip stop in Riverside and see you and bring the painting to Mrs. Shea or to Robert.

On Good Friday a terrible accident happened in Palm S. Two of those wild riding girls went to Ta-quitch Cañon. On their way home, while on the run they tried to pull each other from the horse — a gentle game of the cowboys! The stirrup broke on the saddle of one of the most dangerous horses ridden by the girl named Steward, who wanted to ride the horse against the warning of the owner of the stable. The horse dashed into a cactus bush, and the girl was thrown and stepped on by the horse. Brought to Palm Springs, she died under the Doctor’s K. roof a few minutes later. Now the street seems very quiet, for this death put a damper on the girls’ wild riding (at least for a while).

The days are getting pretty warm, close to 90°, and soon there will be an exodus out of Palm Springs, and only the regular resident town tarantulas and centipedes will be left.

I have not succeeded in making my trip to brother Keyes yet, but I have not yet given up the idea to go there at least for a sort time, if I can not go longer.

Chase also had a very close call, one might even call it a visit from Death. He was closer to Death’s door than any time before. All the outward signs were on his face, and it was really miraculous that he came out of the Valley again to recover and get better gradually. I believe he will return to Pasadena within 10 days as soon as he is able to travel safely. Strange that a man has to suffer so terribly between life and death.

G. Wharton James passed through P.S. yesterday, and I saw him and was glad to meet him. He has no end of troubles with all kinds of worldly sorrows. Several books of his are now out of print, “The Wonders of the Colorado Desert” amongst them. It did not pay to print them. This is the fate of authors.

Perhaps Mrs. Spencer wrote to you about our successful and charming trip to Snow Creek Cañon? She said she would and now she goes to Barstow.

Well, Edmund, good luck to you, and let me know something about you.

With best wishes always your
Sincere friend, Carl

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Author Peter Wild delves into the Spartan lives of Palm Springs’ early desert rats. Read more.

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