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Letter from William S. Hart to Amelia Earhart.
Regarding Gift of Buffalo Coat.


AMELIA EARHART

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1934

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Letter Re: Buffalo Coat 10/8/1936

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Letter Re: Flight 2/24/1937

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Autobiography Inscribed 1936

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Hart, Ione Reed, Putnam 1938

Two-page letter from William S. Hart to aviatrix Amelia Earhart, October 8, 1936, telling her he's sending her a buffalo coat (which he did) to keep her warm when she "climbs far up into the sky."

Original letter in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University, where Earhart had been on faculty. George Putnam, the publisher, was her husband and widower.

Letter reads:

Oct 8th 36

Dear Amelia


Earhart's buffalo coat from Bill Hart, now (2018) in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Click to enlarge.

Some sixty years ago, the U.S. Govt chose to fight the plains Indians during the winter months, when it was the custom of our red brothers to hole up.

To do this the U.S. Govt was obliged to furnish our soldiers with 40 degrees below zero apparel.

Under such circumstances the war was quickly won, and the hundreds and hundreds of huge buffalo overcoats that had been especially made were as useless as old Fort Abraham Lincoln and the soldiers who occupied it. Their occupation was gone.

For forty years these coats rested in cold storage; they were then taken out and disposed of. I was so fortunate as to get hold of a few.

In a few days, the first lady of the air will receive one, so that when she climbs far up into the sky, this old buffalo coat of the Indian wars and prairie (?) will hold her tight and keep her warm.

Adios

Your friend

Bill Hart

(Typewritten): Acknowledged and told John Drew to hold out there. / GPP

 

"GPP" is George Palmer Putnam. We don't know who John Drew is, although he may have been affiliated with Earhart's business partner, Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz, whom she met through her husband. Putnam met Mantz when the latter worked on 1927's "Wings;" Putnam had pitched the story to Paramount.

It's unknown whether Earhart ever wore the coat. Earhart and Putnam had been staying on a friend's ranch in Wyoming; prior to her ill-fated transatlantic flight in 1937, Earhart gave some of her possessions, including the coat, to the rancher for safekeeping. Thirty years later, the rancher donated the coat to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (now Buffalo Bill Center of the West) in Cody, Wyoming, where it remains today (2018).


Hart and Earhart.

Legend has it that Amelia Earhart used to land at the Newhall Intermediate Field, aka Saugus Airport, in the 1930s. Everybody did; it was a popular landing strip for light aircraft in the 1930s and '40s.

At least we know one of her planes landed there. It's how she ended up meeting William S. Hart.

"Paul Mantz [Earhart's business partner and mechanic] had borrowed AE's Lockheed Vega one day," Earhart's widower wrote in 1939, "and in the course of a landing at the Newhall field had flown lower than he should over Bill's home."

The writer, George Palmer Putnam, continues:

"Damn near shook the bricks out of the chimney," Bill sputtered later. He roared out of the house and got the number of the plane — NC965Y — which he promptly communicated to the sheriff. In due time the complaint caught up, via the local Department of Commerce inspectors, with the plane and pilot.

"Before the trouble was straightened out," AE used to tell the story, "the plane's owner, being myself, went with the offending pilot to call on Bill. Paul to square himself, I because I wished to meet a man who liked to live on a hilltop and didn't want to be disturbed — both admirable ambitions."[1]

Hart was "among [the] friends in California whom AE liked most," Putnam writes, and the sentiment was clearly mutual. Columinst Hedda Hopper wrote in 1941 that Hart counted a photograph of himself with Earhart, and a small American flag she gave him, as his most prized possessions.[2]

"We'd sit on the porch while the evening shadows lengthened and little rabbits stole out of the brush romping noiselessly across the green lawn," Putnam writes. One of Hart's Great Danes "persisted in giving fruitless chase to the moon-struck bunnies."

Describing Hart's Horseshoe Ranch as a "treasure-house of relics of its owner's bright yesterdays," Putnam remembers: "One of the last evenings AE and I spent there, Bill ran off for us a couple of his silent pictures — 'Tumbleweed' [sic] and one other. ... 'Amelia,' he said when the lights went up, 'I never made a bad picture.' She said she was sure of that."[3]

In October 1936, Hart mailed Earhart a letter in which he said he was sending her a buffalo coat that had been used by the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the 1870s. She hadn't acknowledged the gift by February 1937 when Hart mailed her another letter, asking whether it fit. It's unlikely she ever acknowledged it. The following month, March 1937, she made her first aborted attempt at a circumnavigational flight of the globe; in June she took off for her second and last attempt.


Earhart's buffalo coat from Bill Hart, now (2018) in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Click to enlarge.

We know she received the coat, because in early 1937 she gave it to a friend for safekeeping. At the time, Earhart and Putnam were staying on a friend's dude ranch in the foothills of Wyoming's Absaroka Mountains. The friend, Carl M. Dunrud (1891-1976), was building them a small log cabin near his Double Dee Ranch in Meeteetse. They had commissioned the cabin while vacationing with Dunrud in 1934.[4] In 1937, Earhart gave Dunrud a number of items she evidently intended to use later. Among them were the buffalo coat Bill Hart gave her and the leather jacket she wore on several of her historic flights. But there was no "later." When he got the news July 3, 1937, Dunrud stopped work on the cabin.

Dial up the clock 30 years. One day, Dunrud walked into the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (now the Buffalo Bill Center of the West) in Cody, Wyoming, and handed over the items Earhart had given him to a close friend, Harold McCracken, the museum director. Among them were the flight jacket and the buffalo jacket from Bill Hart[5] — who, coincidentally, had been invited to the opening of the museum back in 1927. (Hart was in Montana at the time, but it's unknown, for now, if he got there.)

More years passed, and somehow or another, the buffalo jacket was misidentified as having belonged to Buffalo Bill. John Rumm, the museum's curator from about 2008-2015, previously with the Smithsonian Institution, corrected the error.[6]

There is at least one other item Bill Hart gave to the famous aviatrix. It is a copy of his 1929 autobiography, "My Life East and West," which he inscribed to "a great American, Miss Amelia Erhart," her surname misspelled. The inscription is dated 1936. We don't know, but it's possible he sent it with the coat.

We do know she received it, because it's got her bookplate in it: "From the Library of Amelia Earhart." At some point fairly early after her disappearance, it ended up in the library of Miles Standish Slocum, a prominent Pasadena book collector who focused on the literature and history of the American West. After Slocum's death in 1956, it passed down eventually to his granddaughter.[7]

In August 2018, by way of the granddaughter's nephew, Bryan Woodhall of Custer, South Dakota, the book came home to Newhall where it started.


1. Putnam, George Palmer. "Soaring Wings: A Biography of Amelia Earhart." New York: Harcourt Brace, 1939; Manor Books 1972 edition, pp. 234-236.

2. As published in The Newhall Signal and Saugus Enterprise, April 4, 1941.

3. Putnam, ibid.

4. Lovell, Mary S. "The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart." New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1989, pp. 204-205.

5. Rumm, John. "Her Plane Vanished. Her Flight Jacket Didn't." Blog post, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, March 17, 2014.

6. Baskas, Harriet. "The Surprising Home of Amelia Earhart's Flight Jacket." Blog post, Stuck at the Airport, September 30, 2013.

7. Bryan Woodhall, personal communication, August 2018.


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HART IN RETIREMENT

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Honored by Sioux 1926

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Little Bighorn Anniversary 1926 x2

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Dam Disaster 1928

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With Charlie Mack in Newhall 1930s

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With Wallace Beery, Moran & Mack in Newhall 1930s

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With Lina Basquette 1932

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Real Estate Instructions 1932

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Watson Photo
1920s-1930s

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At Saugus Rodeo 1933

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Letter to M. Perkins 1933

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With Freddie Bartholomew 1935

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Letter to Amelia Earhart re: Buffalo Coat 1936

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Brown Derby 1938

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Hart, Ione Reed, George Putnam 1938

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With Andy Jauregui 1938

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Guns on Radio 1941

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Robert Taylor Photo Shoot 1941: BTK Gun, Fritz's Grave (Mult.)

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With Dan White ~1945

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With Horses 1940s

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At Home 1-7-1946

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