Rattlesnake Jim is mentioned in the book Hidden History of Tacoma, by Karla Wakefield Stover. In a section about “lesser-known visitors” we find the following:
Jumbo was a catalo, a cross between a buffalo and a cow. He and his human companion, L.C. “Buffalo Bill” Wilson of Colville, Washington, traveled more than 4,000 miles throughout the South and Northwest selling postcards to support themselves. However, Jumbo’s trip was small potatoes compared to Rattlesnake Jim’s 124,000-mile, around-the-world trek. Jim, whose real name was James Lauhno Lonefeather, was half Italian-Swiss and half Sioux. He didn’t so much appear in Tacoma as he was found there, reading a Spanish dictionary and Latin grammar in the library’s reference room.
What it doesn’t mention is that he did the trek barefoot.
However, it also doesn’t mention that the mileage is probably highly exaggerated.
We can follow at least a bit of his saga by following a bunch of newspaper articles from cities and towns that he passed through on his barefoot walk in the early 1900s. We can also see how the story of his accomplishments “evolve”.
By the way, I’ve put the full text of all the newspaper articles at the end of this entry, and links to the appropriate article along the way.
We first hear of Rattlesnake Jim in Indianapolis. At this point he has walked from Buffalo, New York to Indy. Rattlesnake Jim’s real name is James Lonefeather, and we find out that his goal is to go to the Panama Canal and back.
He next surfaces (in the newspaper accounts I could find) in Alamogordo, New Mexico, four months later, which means that he is averaging around 13 miles a day. That’s not too bad. Here is where we learn that he is attracting a fair bit of attention and that he is supposedly half Sioux and half Irish. It’s just a small blurb, and I’ve had enough experience with reporters to know that they simply may have gotten the half-Irish part wrong.
By El Paso the news stories start giving a bit more detail. Rattlesnake Jim has never worn shoes in his life. And he makes demonstrations of Sioux dances to pick up money along his trip. It also says that he’s come about 3,500 miles, which is about right for leaving from Buffalo.
For some odd reason, by the time he gets to Phoenix, his name has changed. It is now Jacques Lauhno Le-Plume Seule, which still means James Lonefeather, but in French. Clearly, he really is walking barefoot, since they note he followed the railroad tracks, barefoot, coming into town. But I think this name change shows that in addition to a really good barefoot walker, he also has a bit of “showman” in him, which we will see next.
The Oakland article starts to go whole hog. By now the story is that he has covered 122,000 miles barefoot. (By the way, there has not been enough time for him to have got to the Panama Canal and back; no more mention of that.) His Sioux dance is now the “Hoopa Indian Tango”, which he does on bits of glass (hey, we all know that’s a piece of cake). He is also now half-Swiss.
He continues north along the Pacific coast, and the next article is from Centralia, Washington. Now he is up to 124,530 miles, and he’s been walking barefoot from his home in Luzerne, Switzerland. Oh, and now he also earns money at manual labor, as needed. It also appears that he has added Swiss yodeling to his repertoire. I just wonder: maybe he learned to yodel, and that changed his story about his parentage.
Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest here turned around, because our next newspaper article is from Portland, Oregon. The story is really starting to get filled out, here. His mother and father met while performing at a circus in London.
Despite the Portland story saying he is headed up to Canada, we hear from him next in Bandon, Oregon, which is farther south down the coast. And this story is a laundry list of all the places Rattlesnake Jim has been to. By now, he’s been everywhere barefoot, and is on his way to Hawaii and Australia. (Note, in checking historical Australian newspapers I found no sign of him.) We also find out that he talks with a decided East End of London dialect, though who knows if that is real, or affected. Funny, though, that nobody has mentioned that British accent from an Indian in any of the previous stories, and it only appears after he starts claiming that his parents met in a circus in London.
You know, I suspect Rattlesnake Jim’s story is a pretty good, well-evolved exaggeration. It looks to me like what really happened is that he really did walk barefoot from Buffalo to the west coast, and then up (any maybe back down) the coast, entertaining folks along the way. The story was part of the showmanship.
The thing is, the barefoot accomplishment is really cool and impressive. Wouldn’t a lot of us like to have the resources to be able to do something like that?
Regardless, I think we can all agree that Barefoot Rattlesnake Jim really was a colorful character.
Following are all of the full newspaper articles:
Indian Here on Long “Hike”
J. T. Lonefeather Walking from Buffalo to Buenos Aires Barefoot.
James T. Lonefeather of Fresno, Cal., a half-breed Sioux Indian who is walking barefoot from Buffalo, N. Y. to Buenos Aires, South America, arrived in Indianapolis last night. He will spend a week here. Lonefeather says he is under the management of the American Indian Atheletic Association and is bound not to receive gifts, beg or ride on wagons, boats or trains. He expects to cross the Gatun locks of the Panama Canal on July 4, 1914, and must reach his destination by Dec. 25, 1915, if he wins the purse of $25,000 put up by a Mexican walking enthusiast. Lonefeather says his object is to demonstrate that the Indian methods of life are more conducive to good health than modern ways.
Alamogordo, N. M.
A character who has attracted considerable attention, came in here yesterday from the north. He goes under the name of “Rattlesnake Jim,” his true name being James Baughno Lonefeather. He claims to be half Sioux indian and half Irish, wears no shoes and is clad only in a robe and blanket, indian fashion. He spent the afternoon here and left today in the direction of El Paso, expecting to reach there in about three days.
Indian, Barefooted, in Long Walk
Demonstrating that the indian method is more conducive to happiness, longevity and freedom, James L. Lonefeather, a half breed Sioux indian, is walking from Buffalo, N. Y., to Colon, Panama, barefooted. Over his head is a bandana handkerchief. In addition to a pair of trousers and a shirt, a blanket is thrown across his shoulders. Saturday night he was allowed to sleep in the city jail.
Lonefeather started on his journey last July 4. He has walked 112 days, during which time he has negotiated 3500 miles. Lonefeather says he never wore a pair of shoes in his life. He does the Sioux “death dance” and the Sioux war dance, to make expenses on his trip. From here he will walk to Yuma, Ariz., and San Francisco, Calif. The pedestrian’s home is in Fresno, Calif.
On Barefoot Hike
Jacques Lauhno Le-Plume Seule, whose name translated into English is James Bauhno Lone Feather, know by his friends as Rattlesnake Jim, arrived in Phoenix over the tracks of the Arizona Eastern railroad, on his wa from Florence to Phoenix. Jim is on a barefoot hike of 15,500 miles, starting from Buffalo, New York, to Colon, Panama, the objective point, returning thence to Buffalo. He left Buffalo last July 4th and is scheduled to return to Buffalo April 16, 1916.
Rattlesnake Jim Covers 122,000 Miles Barefooted
“Rattlesnake Jim” could walk the floor with an offspring and never whimper at stepping on a tack, a la the comic supplement.
“Rattlesnake” does not care a rap about the high cost of sole leather.
He does not care about paved streets and he does the “Hoopah Indian Tango” over stones, bits of glass or any other possible obstruction to ornamental ambulation.
It’s all because the soles of his feet have reached the hardness of flint, through years of tramping barefooted over deserts and civilized roads, which he says are even more dangerous to pedal extremities.
“Rattlesnake Jim,” whose real name is Lauhno Lonefeather, is one of the latest health culture advocates to arrive on the educational horizon. In seventeen years he has covered 122,000 miles, barefooted, and now announces to the world that he has discovered the only road to health. He arrived in Oakland, where he will be a visitor for several weeks, yesterday, afoot and barefotoed.
“My father was a Sioux Indian,” declares the new health culture educator, “and my mother was Swiss. I have never worn a shoe since I was 12 years old, and have never even had a toothache in all my life.”
“Rattlesnake” will tour Seattle, Honolulu, Australia, and South American in his bare feet before returning home. He can walk over hot coals or ice floes, and his feet will stand anything that a heavy pair of shoes will stand.
Goes Through on Long Hike
James Lauhno Lonefeather, “Universal Rattlesnake Jim,” Round-the-World Barefoot Traveler, Passed Through Centralia Tuesday on Way North.
While in the city he secured signatures, postmarks and seals in the record book of his travels, which book acts as a document to show the places he has visited. No one book, however, would begin to hold all the seals and signatures that “Rattlesnake” has obtained, for he has been in every country in Europe, Asia and Africa before coming to the United States, and expects to visit every other country on the globe before returning to his starting point.
“Rattlesnake” left Lucerne, Switzerland, on April 6, 1897, when he was 12 years of age. He will return to Lucerne, April 6, 1920, at 35 years of age. His tour of the world will have been made in 23 years. The trip is made with three objects in view—first, to obtain a health and physique that is immune to any disease; second, to obtain an education better than any university can furnish; and third, to find adventures that it is impossible to find in any other way.
Travels on Foot
Lonefeather travels on foot whenever possible, stopping in each town he comes to long enough to secure a postmark and a signature or two to show that he has been there. In the 17 years that he has been traveling he has covered 124,530 miles when he reached here. When his money runs low “Rattlesnake” earns a few dollars at manual labor, which has no terror for him; at Swiss yodeling, or with imitations of a Sioux Indian pow-wow in theatres or on the streets.
“Rattlesnake’s” father was a full-blooded Oglalla Sioux Indian and lived near Bismarck, N. D. His mother was German-Italian-Swiss. Jim has never worn shoes and says he never expects to. The soles of his feet are tough enough to withstand all the ordinary wears and tears of walking. From Centralia Jim started for Tacoma, and will visit Seattle, Vancouver, B. C.; Honolulu, Australia, then back to South America, the West Indies and then home to Lucerne.
Around World Barefooted
Rattlesnake Jim Expects to Complete Journey in 23 Years.
From the Portland Oregonian.
“Universal Rattlesnake Jim,” who says he is on a barefoot tour of the world, was a Portland visitor recently. He walked in from Eugene, where he was entertained recently by the students of the University of Oregon.
“Rattlesnake Jim’s” real name is James Lauchno Lonefeather, and he was born in Luzerne, Switzerland. His father was an Ogallala Sioux and his mother a Swiss. The couple met in London while appearing in a circus.
Jim left Luzerne April 6, 1897, and is due back April 6, 1920. In the last seventeen years he says he has traveled more than 123,450 miles barefoot. From Portland he will walk northward into Canada. He makes his living by working at manual labor and by giving Indian dances and Swiss yodeling exhibitions.
“What’s the idea of this trip,” he was asked after he had picked out an easy chair and rested his feet on a convenient desk.
“Three things,” he replied. “A body immune to disease, adventures that could be gained in no other way, and an education that is not to be had at the best university in the world.”
Jim says he has never had a shoe on his foot in his life.
BAREFOOT TRAVELS IN MANY LANDS AND CLIMES
Sightseeing With Rattlesnake Jim. Yodeling And Dancing Through Modern Europe And Oriental Asia. Adventures On Southern Seas.
When a man has traveled around the world on bare feet it stands to reason that in whatever condition his spiritual soul may be, the soles of his feet are good and tough.
Universal Rattlesnake Jim otherwise known as James Lauhno Lonefeather has walked barefoot on the mountains of Switzerland, the streets of Paris, London and Berlin, the moors Scotland and Iceland, the sands of Palestine and Arabia and many other sections of the globe. No wonder then the soles of his feet are calloused and he is able to scratch a match thereon as the ordinary person scratches a match on the sole of his shoe. Rattlesnake Jim leaves here this week on his way south, going to Eureka and San Francisco. He will stay in San Francisco until February when he proposes to take a boat for San Juan Escuintla, Guatemalla and thence down the west coast of South America to Patagonia up to Buenos Ayres on the east. From there up the La Platte to Paraguay and Bolivia. Jim talks Spanish having learned the lingo in Barcelona in 1902. Continuing north to Columbia he will cross eastward to Venezuela and the Guinas and down the coast to Rio de Janiero, back to the West Indies; to the Panama canal to the Hawaian, Samoan, Society islands to the Fiji islnnds, New Zealand, Australia, thence from Sydney to Cape Town and along the western shore of Africa, the Guinea coast to Morocco and from there to Switzerland, if the war is over? Ha! Ha!
In infancy Jim fell from his cradle and contracted ailments from which he was paralyzed for many years. He recovered the use of his limbs by physical culture and resolved on the nature stunt of seeing the world not only a-foot but bare-foot. The son of a Swiss mother and Sioux father he had the hardihood, the endurance and the taste for an adventure of this sort and he set out from his home at Luzern, Switzerland, April 6th, 1897, going first to Lyons, France. From there he went to Paris, to Brussells, Belgium, to Rotterdam and to Delfjisizl, Holland. From there his trail led to Maestrich, Belg., to Metz in Luxemborg, thence to Cologne and Frankfort. From there to Freiberg in the Black Forest, to Augsburg, Munich and Berlin. All the while Jim was entertaining the people where he traveled with yodeling and with Indian dances. His parents had been in the show business and the dances of the American redman were potent to attract small coin from the people he met.
But he found Berlin a strict and highly organized city and was not allowed to stay there very long and he passed on to Dresden a town of beautiful setting but most impressive to the visitor when viewed from the “Dampfschiff Landungplatz”.
Back to Berlin he passed on to Dantzig and Koenigsburg to Rossiena and Russia.
Jim classifies the Russian immigration office as “ne dobra” because of their habit of searching a person very thoroughly and taxing every thing he has on him. He passed on to Riga where he learned to dance the Russian Kukuska dance. Thence he traveled to Tukum and Gatchina to St. Petersburg.
Gets Czar’s Signature
Jim has been represented as having met the crowned heads of Europe but this is not true. But at St. Petersburg he obtained the signature of the Czar of all the Russias to his book of autographs. The book was taken by the prefect of police possibly for signs of Nihilism but when the book came back it had the added signature of “yours truly, Alexander Nicholovitch”.
Passing over to Stockholm, Sweden he went by way of Skurnbru to Gothenburg to Christiana, the last lap by boat. At Stavanger he saw sardines put up for the first time. By boat he went to Copenhagen, Den. and hence to Wilhelmshofen, Germany. Here he had views given him of the Braun wireless station on Heligoland, one of the best equipped stations in the world where visitors are only admitted on special permission.
Returning by way of Hamburg he went to London.
Learning English In London
In London Jim set about learning English, and his English for this reason has the accent of the London East Ender. He talks with a marked Dialect. He arrived in London at the Tilbury dock for a visit that was destined to last nine months. He traveld on the underground railroad, visited the Alexandria palace at Woodgree, Woolwich arsenal, Greenwich observatory, the Chrytal palace at Sundenhall, Bruce Castle park where Robert the Bruce stayed while in London.
From London he went to Canterbury and Eastry. Here two monuments erected to two sisters which when erected were on the sea shore and now are seven miles from the east coast of Kent. On the way there Jim visited one of the oldest churches in England the roof in ruins and only the walls standing. This is known as Chingford church in Essex, built in 1066. From St. Albans he went to Liecester, Derby and Liverpool and thence to Dencaster in Yorkshire. He passed over the border into Scotland and went by train from Edinburgh to Dundee across the famous Firth of Forth bridge of a double arch construction, the only one of the kind in the world. Then he went on north until he reached John o’Groat’s house the most northerly place in Scotland; interesting because the house has no back door and the sun shines in at every window.
From John O’Groats Jim took a trip on a fishing schooner to Reykjavik, Iceland. This although within the Arctis circle did not seem colder to him than the state of Washington because of its dry air. He was in Iceland four or five days and returned past the Hebrides to Dublin, Ireland.
Here he visited Phoenix Park connected in memory with Chas. Stewart Parnell. After Dublin he visited Down Patrick and Cork from where he took Boat for Liverpool aind thence to Lizbon, Portugal.
Longs for Royal Foot Bath
Passing from Portugal into Spain Jim reached Madrid, capital of that ancient power where he visited the far famed Escurial, noted because here Philip II and other monarchs were accustomed to wash the feet of the poor as a token of humility. After roaming the not over clean streets of the capital city Jim found his feet in need of a bath and was heard to express sorrow that the good old custom had not persevered to the time of his visit that he might have had his feet washed by royalty.
Jim’s Face Resembles Dante’s
Onward to Barcelona he took boat for Genoa in Italy where he saw cheese not like Limburger but with an odor which one who scented would never forget. Visiting Florence Jim saw the places made famous through association with that immortal writer Dante Alighieri. Classical students insist that Jim has a countenance very like Dante and he considers the Italian poet as his patron saint.
In Rome he visited the historical ruins of the forum and tho Flavian ampithenter known as the coliseum. Also the world famous cathedral of St Peters.
Visits Ancient Ruins
Arriving at Naples he saw smoke issuing from Vesuvious to the south east of the city and visited the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, some of which is excavated to such an extent that the Italian visitor could almost imagine hiniself walking the streets of a city of the Roman empire.
From Naples he went by boat to Trieste in Austria and thence to Vienna and Buda-Pest. Passing through Bulgaria and Servia he reached Constantinople where he visited the mosq of St. Sophia said to have been originally a Christian cathedral because on a pedestal, under the interior dome there is a veiled statue of the Christ.
Barefoot in Palestine
To Salonica in Asia Minor the adventurer farel and on to Capernaum, a place of ruins foretold by Christ. He visited Jerusalem where two thirds of thes population is aflicted with leprosy. For this reason Jim did not stay there long. Souvenirs there are largely sold and judging from the quantity of pieces of the original cross offered for sale the original article must have been a huge affair. Jerusalem is cosmopolitan but a large majority of its inhabitants are Mohamedans. Its largest building is the mosque of Omar occupying the original site of Soloman’s Temple. Its most beautiful building is the Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene, a Greek-Catholic edifice adjoining the Garden of Gethsmane.
Leaving Jerusalem he journeyed partly by foot and partly by caraban to Beyroot and the border of Syria and traveled through Arabia to Medina in the province of Alhejaz. The journey to Mecca is forbiddon in infidels.
A Mohammedan always welcomes a traveler of the same faith, invites him to his house and asks him to accept a piece of bread dipped in salt. This is a religious token which infidels are not supposed to accept and which marks the line between the faithful and the unclean outside world.
In Unromantic Bagdad
Traveling in this country and was only able to do it by gaining favor with caravans who passed him from to another towards his destination. Onward he traveled to Aden and the Sea of Oman and to Bagdad, famous through the Arabian nights but which today is the exact opposite to what the traveler might expect. Dirty and tumble down and shabby. It is a rag-muffin town.
He traveled to Teheran in Persia, seeing side lights on many harems of the country. Mohammedans have one wife and the rest are mainly slaves and dancing girls.
He passed over the desert highlands of Afghanistan and Beloochistan where no oasis exists but where there are water towers every one hundred miles. He traveled from Karachi to Madras and by boat to Calcutta. He visited Cawnpore and saw the fountain with a cross overhead where a woman stands in a pleading attitude, a monument to the victims of the Sepoy mutiny.
Visits India and Taj Mahal
Thence to Agra where he saw the world renown Taj Mahal, the most costly and beautiful palace in the world. Of pure white marble the interior dome is elaborately ornamented and carries nearly every kind of precious stone to be found in the world.
He passed into Farther India stopping at Bangkok where he saw a fine padoga of Oriental architecture that reached 200 feet or more in the air.
He crossed the sea to Yun-Nan, China, thence to Canton where most American fire crackers are made and where there is a large factory for canning bamboo shoots. Thence to Shang Hai and on to Seoul, Korea and to Vladivostock, Siberia where ho saw Siberian prisoners chained together when not working, even at meal times.
In Tokyo and Yokohama he heard many stories relative to the sacred mountain, Sati-suma.
He passed down into the waters of the equator, past the Philippines to Borneo where for the first time he saw a town where the houses were built on posts over the water without ordinary door ways but were entered from beneath.
In Ceylon he saw the famous plantation of Sir Thomns Lipton. Thence he went by water to Cape Town where he passed on to Pietermaritzburg to the Transvaal and Congo country by the Victoria Nyanza falls to Egyptian Soudan. He followed the course of the Nile to Cairo, passing Karnak and Luxor to the pyramids and accross Sahara by caravan to Soffi to Tangier, to Barcelona whence he took ship for New York city. He visited a course as follows: New England, Connecticut, Boston, Montpelier, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Cairo, Poplar Bluff, Mo., St. Louis, Kansas City, Council Grove, Dodge City, Bucklin, Liberal, Kansas, Guymon, Texhoma Ok., Tucumcari, N.M. to El Paso to Tucson, Douglas, Arizona, Tucson, Phoenix and by way of Agua Caliente to Yuma, and Los Angeles, by way of the Saltan Sea.
San Francisco, Sacramento, Red Bluff to Ashland, Salem, Eugene, Huntington, B. C. to Tacoma, to Olympia to Portland, and Astoria and finally to Bandon by way of Tillamook.