Letter from William S. Hart to Amelia Earhart dated February 24, 1937, just prior to her first attempted circumnavigational flight of the globe in March — which attempt was
aborted in Hawaii when her plane was damanged on takeoff. It was her second attempt in June-July when she went missing.
In the letter, Hart invites the aviatrix and her husband, publisher George Putnam, to his ranch, and he asks whether she liked the
buffalo coat he sent her in 1936.
Original letter in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University, where Earhart had been on faculty.
Feb 24th 37
I've just returned from the big city — While there I read and heard much of your proposed big trip. I know that both you and your good man George will be mighty busy getting all things set for the long trail that you are going to chart for others to follow. But dear lady if you ever feel like a bit of relaxation please do run out here. No one in this wide world is more welcome.
I've often wondered if the buffalo coat fit. Did it?
Tell George if he's lonesome while you're away this is a veritable Zeigfeld [sic: Ziegfled] Follies for levity :)
So not to be backward [sic: awkward?] in coming.
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).
We do know George Putnam eventually made good on Hart's invitation to visit him.
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."
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.
"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."
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. 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 — 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.
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.
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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