"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Caroline Weldon


Sitting Bull's companion


Back in April 2014 I posted an article on Sitting Bull. It was largely based on the fine biography by Robert Utley, The Lance and the Shield: the Life and Times of Sitting Bull (Henry Holt & Company, 1993).
 

In my post, I talked about a certain Catherine Weldon, certainly the model for the character Amanda Teasdale in Thomas Berger’s 1999 sequel The Return of Little Big Man.

I said of her:

Born Susanna Carolina Faesch in 1844 in Kleinhüningen, Switzerland, she arrived in Brooklyn at the age of eight. In 1866 Susanna married Dr. Bernhard Claudius Schlatter, a physician and fellow Swiss, but divorced two years later. She then met and married Richard Weldon who would eventually abandon her. She became an activist with the National Indian Defense Association and especially interested in the outrageous treatment of the Lakota.
 
I also posted a photograph of her, this one:


Catherine Weldon, but it turns out she was no relation to Caroline and not Sitting Bull's companion
 
Recently, however, I have been in touch with Daniel Guggisberg, an American of Swiss origins and something of an expert on Weldon. In fact he wrote the Wikipedia article on her (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Weldon). Daniel’s comments were fascinating and I felt the need to post some corrections on this interesting woman.

First off, she wasn’t Catherine at all but Caroline. Many have called her Catherine but she never was anything but Caroline. The photograph I posted is of another person, a Canadian named Catherine Weldon, no relation. Thanks to Daniel we do have a photograph of the real Caroline Weldon, and he has given me permission to publish it. Here she is, below, taken while she was staying at the home in Mount Vernon, NY of a friend, Aline Estoppey (on the left) on April 4, 1915.

The real Caroline Weldon (right)

Daniel says that Caroline Weldon was something of a bohemian, highly intelligent and well-educated, and that she felt out of place among her female peers.

She was not an artist, so much as an amateur painter and, Daniel adds, “not a particularly good one, judging from the painting of Sitting Bull by her that is at the North Dakota Historical Society. The half portrait she made of him [see below] is much better but still amateurish.”

Sitting Bull by Caroline Weldon

Born Susanna Caroline Faesch in Basel, Switzerland in 1844, she came to America with her family in 1852, settling in Brooklyn. In 1866 she wed Dr. Bernhard Claudius Schlatter, a physician and fellow Swiss but it was an unhappy and childless marriage. In 1876 she ran away with a certain Christopher Stevenson, a married man, and they had a son, Christie. Stevenson went back to his wife, and her husband, Schlatter, divorced her in 1883. She changed her name to Caroline Weldon.

She joined the National Indian Defense Association (NIDA) and became passionate in defense of the Lakota after the notorious Dawes Act of 1887. She  managed to befriend Sitting Bull, acting as his secretary, interpreter and advocate, moving with her young son Christie to live at Sitting Bull’s compound on the Grand River at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. She clashed with Indian Agent James McLaughlin (she wasn't the only one) and he initiated an effective smear campaign against her so that she was reviled in the press.

She was opposed to the Ghost Dance movement of 1890 and this seems to have led to an estrangement with Sitting Bull. In November of '90 she left for Kansas City, MO, to stay with her nephew but her son died en route. She eventually returned to Brooklyn and died there in 1921. She was buried in the borough's Green Wood Cemetery.

It is truly a remarkable story.

A movie with the title Woman Walks Ahead about Ms. Weldon was released on June 29th of this year, but Daniel says it was a flop and was pulled after a week. In any case it was far from accurate. For example, they have "a perfectly and eloquently English speaking Sitting Bull walking about in his Indian garb". This provoked an article in The New York Post which obviously used the wikipedia article liberally but still managed to make several errors - that's journalism for you.

It’s great to have interested parties who have deeper knowledge contact me. I really appreciate it and am more than happy to publish better and more recent information on characters of the old West.

I still recommend Utley’s book, mind, a splendid read!

Caroline's grave


 

9 comments:

  1. I love the way Jeff's very fine blog veers off from the Westerns that we all
    love and turns into a history lesson.
    As I started reading I thought...WOW! what a fabulous movie all this would make
    but then I see there was one; and by all accounts they blew it.
    Having said that the 2017 film does have it's admirers on imdb.
    I have long been hoping someone,somewhere, would make a movie about the
    iconic photographer Kate Cory..in fact with all the women calling the shots now
    in Hollywood..why isn't there one..after all what a fabulous movie Kate's story
    would make.
    I'm still holding out for a Cory movie and hope that the box office failure of
    WOMAN WALKS AHEAD won't deter film makers,.

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  2. Jeff, I really enjoyed this "Real West" article about Caroline Weldon. Your willingness to update previous write-ups is another reason that I enjoy your writings.

    I vaguely remember, in a fleeting moment, of reading , or hearing something about the movie WOMAN WALKS AHEAD(2017). I haven't seen it. so I can't comment. I wish that I could be pleasantly surprised.

    John K, It would be nice if someone would make a good movie about the life of Kate Cory, artist and photographer. She as quite a story in her living with the Hopi. Her art was very personal and it came through in her work. I'm not going to hold my breath on a movie being made of her life.

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    Replies
    1. Howdy John and Walter
      The depiction of the woman in the West has certainly undergone a transformation in recent years, and pictures such as The Missing or The Homesman (both in fact with Tommy Lee Jones) give us a new slant on frontier females (who used to be saintly schoolma'ams, stout farmer's wives or saloon whores with nothing much in between).
      Still, there is very much left to do, and yes, there are some fascinating women who could be the center of new stories. We should start with a proper film on Calamity Jane, one with a central character the polar opposite of Doris Day…
      Jeff

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  3. Cindy Sauer
    January 16, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    @Daniel G
    The woman in the photo posted on this site is Catherine Weldon from Canada, originally Ireland She was a telegrapher in the west of Canada and her husband the lineman and they were instrumental in helping to open up Canada’s west. I have seen her photo on other sites to represent the wrong Weldon lady as well. I know because that is my photo and she was my great grandmother.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your interesting comment. Good to have the woman so often taken for Caroline Weldon positively identified. Daniel Guggisberg will be interested, I think.
      Jeff

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    2. Perhaps he would be. My relative survived trememdous hardship with her husband in basically the wilderness of Canada to help the railways and communication go through.

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  4. I would love to find and read a autobiography of her amazing life.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think she wrote one.
      But you could write her biography, why not?
      Jeff

      Delete
  5. Just watched the movie..a horrible American tragedy...good for her, whatever her name!! Nice to know the real story.

    ReplyDelete