Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Dr. Livingston, I presume?" - Henry M. Stanley and the Role Indian Territory Played in the Discovery of Dr. Livingstone

"When I contrast what I have achieved in my measurably brief life with what Henry M. Stanley has achieved in his possibly briefer one, the effect is to sweep utterly away the ten-story edifice of my own self-appreciation and leave nothing behind but the cellar" Mark Twain

The statement Mark Twain makes of of Henry M. Stanley is rather remarkable, considering most Americans know little or nothing about the man Twain praises. Henry Morton Stanley is most famous for uttering the words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"  He had been dispatched to Africa by the New York Herald in 1871 to find the famous and missing missionary and explorer Dr. David Livingstone. Livingstone had not been heard from for nearly four years, and all of England feared he was either lost or dead somewhere in the interior of Africa.  Stanley led an expedition that found Livingstone alive,  and upon seeing the only white man within thousands of miles, Stanley uttered his humorous and iconic query. What you may not know is that Stanley was chosen for the Livingstone expedition because of what he accomplished four years earlier in the heart of Indian Territory. In October of 1867, Henry Morton Stanley made a treacherous and dangerous journey with two hundred U.S. cavalry troops to Medicine Lodge, a Plainsmen Indian tribal site that sits directly northwest of where I live in Enid, Oklahoma. The Plainsmen Indians were at war with the United States, and it was at Medicine Lodge, in October of 1867, that negotiations for peace began. Henry M. Stanley served as the newspaper correspondent for the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat. He reported on the negotiations that led to the first treaties between the United States government and the Plainsmen Indian tribes (Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapahoe) roaming America's southern plains.  His letters detailing the Indian expedition and subsequent Peace Treaties were reprinted in many major metropolitan cities of America's east cost. Stanley's colorful and accurate reporting caught the eye of James Gordon Bennett, Jr, editor of the New York Herald, and Gordon hired Stanley as a reporter in 1869.

Henry M. Stanley was born John Rowlands on January 28, 1841 in Wales. He was an illegimitate child, born to a woman some alleged to be a prostitute. John's mother would abandon him, and John grew up as an impoverished and orphaned child in Wales. When he was seventeen years old, John caught a cargo ship to America, arriving in New Orleans in the summer of 1859. In that city John met a  wealthy trader named Henry Hope Stanley. John saw Stanley sitting on a chair outside his store and asked him if he had any job openings. He asked his question in the British style of the day, "Do you want a boy, sir?" It so happened, Henry Stanley was childless and had been wishing he had a boy of his own. John's inquiry led not only to a job, but to a close relationship that culminated in John Rowlands taking Henry Stanley's name as his own. The young Henry M. Stanley assumed the local accent and began to deny that he was a foreigner.

Stanley in 1890
Stanley, needing work,  so he joined the Confederate Army and participated in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 He was taken prisoner and it was while confined in Illinois that Union Colonel James A. Mulligan convinced the Stanley to become a Galvanized Yankee and join the Union Army. So it was, the Welsh-born John Rowlands a.k.a. Henry Stanley left the Confederates and joined the Union army on June 4, 1862. However, he was medically discharged less than a month later because he became very ill. Two years later in the summer of 1864, after his complete recovery, Stanley joined the US Navy. His job was that of a record keeper, a task that helped him in his future journalism career. He left the employement of the Union Navy shortly before the end of the war. It is thought that Henry Morton Stanley is the only man to have served in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy during the Civil War. It was after the Civil War that Stanley began his career as a journalist, including the task of reporting on the Peace Commission's efforts to make peace with the Plainsmen Indians. As a direct result of the the October 1867 expedition to Indian Territory and Stanley's colorful reporting of the events for the St. Louis Dispatch , the editor of the New York Herald hired the twenty-eight-year-old reporter to work for his newspaper, the largest newspaper in the United States in terms of circulation at the time.

The Smithsonian Magazine records what happened after Stanley was hired by the New York Herald. "James Gordon Bennett, the hard-drinking 28-year-old editor of the New York Herald, saw a means to boost the paper’s already astronomical circulation of 60,000 copies a day. He hoped to exploit the fame and mystery surrounding British explorer Dr. David Livingstone, who had been missing in Africa for four years. Although Livingstone’s achievements charting the unknown African continent had galvanized Britain, his government had been apathetic about rescuing him. Bennett decided Americans would do what the British would not. From a hotel room in Paris, he ordered Henry Morton Stanley, the newcomer to the Herald, to lead an expedition into the African wilderness to find the explorer, or “bring back all possible proofs of his being dead.”

Of course,  less than two years later, on November 10, 1871 Stanley found Livingstone alive! Eighteen months later Livingstone died (May 1, 1873). Henry Stanley's fame continued to grow world-wide! He left journalism and became the premier explorer of the continent of Africa, surpassing the accomplishments of Livingstone himself. In 2008 author Tim Jeal and Yale University Press published the definitive biography of Henry M. Stanley entitled Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer.

I like to tell people that Indian Territory has some of the most colorful and fascinating history in the United States. This history is often made by people known world-wide for other reasons. For example, President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase and to search for the rumored Mountain of Salt. The salt mountain, which was actually a salt plain, was eventually discovered in northwestern Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the nephew of theologian Jonathan Edwards.  The first Protestant mission west of the Mississippi River, called Union Mission, was established in 1820 in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) at the location President Jefferson called Three Rivers in his 1806 speech to Congress. The missionary work among the Osage Indians at Union Mission by Epaphras Chapman excels that of David Brainard in both courage and drama. Likewise, one of the greatest missionaries in the history of Christianity, David Livingstone, was rescued by a Henry Morton Stanley, a man who became known for his courage and colorful writing while witnessing the  historic Medicine Lodge Peace Treaties of 1867.

Next time you hear the phrase, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" remember the part Indian Territory played in Stanley's discovery of Livingstone.


Rex Ray said...

The story behind the story…I like that.

How did so much happen in Oklahoma? In 1899, my grandfather died from a barbwire scratch in Indian Territory. My father was two, next to the youngest of eight children.

I believe if you’ been my history teacher, I’d been better at history. I went the way of math and worked mostly with things. My twin went with history and worked with kids.

Even at 80, he’s a substitute teacher. One day the objective was to teach a mentally challenged first grader to cut a straight line on paper.
Being a long winded talker my brother gave a demonstration but didn’t notice the boy was quite busy because when he stood up half his shirt sleeve fell off.

My brother should have cut the other sleeve to match because before the day was over, he had to explain to the principal. His only excuse was he didn’t know the boy had scissors.

Wade Burleson said...


You make me laugh! :)

Paul Burleson said...


Your grasp of history AND your ability to communicate it in simple, colorful and understandable language is second to no historian I've heard or read.

This is not from a prejudiced reader because of family ties, but from a history major and a connoisseur of over fifty years hearing speakers and reading writers who are, themselves, excellent at the task.

Besides all that...I'm just correct in what I think about this. LOL

Wade Burleson said...


You be biased!