The end of the mystery of Dr Thomas Sanderson Bulmer
Dr. Thos. S. Bulmer looms large in history of Chinook Jargon, if we’re to be impressed with his voluminous entries in the landmark Bibliography of the Chinookan languages that James Constantine Pilling published through the Smithsonian in 1893. (Download that must-have from that link!)
He had a colorful life, I’ve found by doing a bit of research. Unfortunately nobody’s tracked down his Chinook Jargon papers, but I can share some clues to his trail on this earth…can you build on these clues?
Here is one sample of his Chinook Jargon work, as published in shorthand in 1893 by Father Le Jeune’s Kamloops Wawa newspaper (thanks to USask Special Collections and Dr. Keith Carlson). Click to see if you can read it:
A bit earlier, aged right about 30, he was practicing and publishing in Eastern Canadian medical circles:
A public record exists of his allegedly being robbed by his housemaid, who accused him of drugging and seducing her, in England, 1871.
In a sort of creepy irony, Bulmer was elected a fellow of the Obstetrical Society of London, 1872.
You can read his professional advertisement on arriving in New Zealand, 1877.
By 1881, TSB was in Australia, where among many activities he published books on big questions of the day:
- “Notes on Darwinism” (1881)
- “Memo for thinking men” (1883, also about evolution)
- “Small-pox: its origin, signs, and symptoms; also, the germ and contagion theories, pt.1” (1884)
Bulmer’s professional judgment as quarantine inspector was seemingly openly questioned in a public controversy in Australia, 1882.
Bulmer is on record corresponding with the British Medical Journal, 1888.
Bulmer arrives in Utah, where he is touted as a bit of a celebrity, 1895.
Bulmer’s suicide in Texas is reported, October 17, 1898, in the El Paso Daily Herald. Thereabouts, he’s been viewed as at best a local crank–apparently a recently arrived homeless pauper. This is just about the only mention I’ve found outside of the Chinook Jargon literature of his working on a “grammar of the Kanuck [sic] language“. (And that’s the only time I’ve seen our many-epithetted CJ called that!)
KILLED HIMSELF Dr. Bulmer's Remains Found. As was feared Dr. T. S. Bulmer in a fit of despondency committed suicide. Tbe first news received in El Paso of his death came yesterday about 1:30 when Judge Harper received a mes- sage from Sierra Blanca saying that the searching party had found the re- mains of the missing man and wanted instructions as to what to do with them. The message did not get here in time to send a coffin there for the remains to be brought here. so the judge wired back to bury the body at the county's expense. The details of the doctor's actions prior to his death are very meager. All that could be learned was from a passenger conductor of the G.H. who told the HERALD reporter that Dr. Bulmer came to one of the conductors and asked him to give him a free ride to San Elizario, and the conductor told him that he couldn't do it. as it was against the rules to carry anybody free; and this refusal seemed to distress the doctor very much. A number there at the eatlng house immediately made up a purse to buy the ticket for the old man, but he would not accept the money, and said afterwards that he would walk over into Mexico. Before be started out on this walk, however, be gave away everything he had, supposedly, and started out. It was noticed that he had neither water nor anything to eat when he left the station. and some thought maybe be was going out fur a short walk, but others feared that he had some inten- tion of doing away with himself, for he had told one or two different things which led them to be- lieve that he would commit suicide. Before he left the house he gave about everything he had to one person or an- other and upon giving his valise to a woman be told her that be wanted her to keep the valise as it contained all his papers and might come into use sometime soon for purposes of identi- fication. When his body was found yesterday it was in a very decomposed state. He has killed himself by cutting his throat with a razor, the only thing which he had kept. Undertaker J.C. Ross of this city tola a reporter of the HERALD that on the 9th day of last month he had re- ceived a letter from the doctor, asking the undertaker to take care of his re- mains should he die suddenly, although he disclaimed any intention of commit- ting suicide. In the letter he said that he was a 33d degree mason and as re- ferences he gave the name of Collector Bauche of Juarez and Jesus Medina of Mexico City, who knew him as being of the fraternity. Mr Ross said that be had wired Mexico City for instructions as to the disposition of the remains of the doctor, but as yet has received no an- swer. The doctor's professional card is an interesting one, it reads: T.S. Bulmer, M.D., C.M., L.S.A. L., M.R.C.S. England. Registered in United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. Formerly Superinten- dent of Quarantine of New Zealand and Australia. Honorary correspondent of Smithsonian Institute of Washington, D.C. Member of Roise Society, Angl., and various societies of Egypt, Mexico and Great Britain. Office and resi- dence, San Elizarlo, Texas. The doctor was a well known writer and he has added many specimens to the collections in the Smithsonian Institute. His writings concerning the early inhabitants of this section of the country are standard. Perhaps his best known contribution to know- ledge is the dictionary of certain elemental Indian tongues, made after long residence among certain tribes of Mexican Indlans. ----- Visitors to Casas Grandes, at the terminus of the Sierra Madre railroad. will easily recall Dr. Bulmer as the short, stocky, nervous, unsteady little man, who seemed to be ready to meet every visitor and pour into his ears. however unwilling, a resume of all he knew. It is true, the doctor was a great bore, particularly if one was in a hurry, but it was none the less interesting at times to sit down and listen to the o!d man as he rambled on, telling of his early life, his many and varied experiences. and of what he had accomplished for science. The first impression one would gain was that the man was not sincere. but after a number of these encounters it became clear that the doctor had once been all, or nearly all, that he claimed to have been, but that be had dissipated to such an ex- tent that be had lost his hold on the better things of life. When the new railroad approached Casas Grandes, and the engineers were casting about for a route, if possible, through the mountains toward the south, the doctor approached the build- ers of the road and offered for a good consideration to reveal the location of a way through the mountains toward the south, to San Miguel, which would be perfectly suitable for the railroad extension. He declared that the loca- tion of this route bad been revealed to him by an Indian. and that while be had subsequently verified the truthful- ness of the report, the trail was so sit- uated that no person not already fami- liar with it could possiblv find it. His proposition was not accepted. Dr. Bulmer claimed to be thorough- ly informed upon the mineral and oth- er resources of the district around Casas Grandes. Much of his informa- tion was undoubtedly correct, and of value, but the old man's habit of talk- ing for effect often led him into indi- scretions of speech, and the consequence was to discredit in the eves of most people much of what he asserted to be true. It was always difficult to get the old doctor to confine himself to the subject under discussion. He would wander often and far from his story, and this made it difficult to gain any connected information from him. In Casas Grandes Dr. Bul- mer lived in a room attached to a stable. The room was perfectly bare, containing nothing but an old hair trunk or two, a broken chair of un- known age. and a few rock specimens and ancient utensils picked up in the vicinity. One day he showed us all he had that remained of his treasures of earlier times. He took from the trunk a roll of parchment and showed diplomas from numerous colleges, medical schools, and scientific societies, as well as certificates of ap- pointment to various positions under the British and Canadian governments. He showed us a bundle of letters and pressed us to read them, for "Here," he said, "is positive proof of what I have told you." There were letters from a number of more or 1ess noted scientists, which showed that he had really made some notable con- tributions to the sciences of ethnology and anthropology. One of the doctor's pet theories in re- gard to this country was that the In- dian tribes of the southwestern United States and western Mexico come ori- ginally from what is now British North America. He was recently engaged upon a dictionary of the Kanuck lan- guage, in which be traced many points of similarity with tne Indian languages of this section. A certain ancient round tower in Casas Grandes was asserted by the doctor to be built after tbe peculiar style of the Cana- dian tribes, found nowhere else. About a year ago Dr. Bulmer told the writer that he was "tired of living like a beast among the dirty Mex- icans," and that he proposed to move to the States. Early this Spring he came to this city, and was here for some time. In March the HERALD received the following letter from him: "SAN ELIZARIO. Tex., March 7, 1898 EDITOR OF THE HERALD: "Dear Sir. Please find some official information from Smithsonian Institu- tion, Washington, which may be inter- esting to Indian lorists. "I am now investigating the Indian traditions. I may say that the Indians sent to the Philadelphla Centenary as Montezuma's remnants were only the Piros and Tiwa Indians residing near Ysleta. Yours &c, "T.S. BULMER, M.D." From time to time he sent short com- munications to this paper. The last one received from him follows: TO LOVERS OF INDIAN LORE. The Indians at Ysleta in Texas, are a remnant of the Indians of the Tiwa or Tigua branch of the Tanoan stock who with some Piros left their villages (principally Ysleta, Socorro and Sen- ecu) on the upper Rio Grande in New Mexico and fled with Governor Otermin at the time of the Pueblo rebellion against the Spaniards in 1680. San Antonio is the patron saint of the villages In New Mexico and of the Pueblos now there resident and the saint's name is also applied to the Tiwas of Ysleta in Texas. The remnant of the Piros tribes still live at Senecu, opposite Ysleta. The change of the river bed (Rio Grande) has placed Senecu on the old Mexican side of the river.
The above was murder to transcribe from a badly OCR’ed scan.
Bulmer’s legacy wasn’t helped any by the fact that the poor devil was still endorsing what may have been snake oil (made from celery, coca and viburnum, and probably alcohol) years after his death, 1902.
All in all, a colorful and troubled life.
Maybe the Chinook Jargon elements of it that have remained a tantalizing mystery to us — troves of unpublished materials — are to this day waiting to be found somewhere down on the border of Texas and “old” Mexico.