Monday, August 01, 2011


(Updated 8/3/11)
A while back I was browsing Shorpy's and came across this posting of a nice looking brass era automobile sitting outside a theater:
1905 Locomobile Model E Touring, with side-entrance tonneau. From Shorpy post "Keiths New Theatre: 1907"
I identified the auto as a 1905 Locomobile Model E Touring, with side-entrance tonneau. It had a 4-cylinder engine that could produce 15/20-hp and had a 92" wheelbase. 1905 was the year that Locomobile discontinued all of their rear-entrance tonneaus in favor of "Double Side-Entrance Bodies."

While poking around the intertubes for more pictures of Locomobiles, I came across the famous photo of the smaller and less popular Locomobile Model C with Geronimo at the wheel:
Geronimo and his associates at the 101 Ranch taking a drive in a 1904 Locomobile Model C. From Bill Bottorff's post "Geronimo's Cadillac?"
This photo has been around for a long time, but the car has always been identified as a Cadillac. It wasn't until the picture appeared on the last page of the April, 2004 issue of American History magazine that reader Ivan L. Pfalser provided the information that the picture was "...taken on June 11, 1905, at the Miller brothers' 101 Ranch, located southwest of Ponca City, Oklahoma." He further noted that "...the Indian in full headdress to Geronimo's left is Edward Le Clair Sr., a Ponca Indian." He correctly identified the car as a Locomobile, rather than a Cadillac as it had previously been misidentified (you can read the whole letter at the link above). In fact, so widespread was the incorrectly tagged picture, that Michael Martin Murphey (he of the 1975 hit song Wildfire fame), named his 1972 debut album and title track Geronimo’s Cadillac after the picture and its erroneous caption. The song supposedly later became an unofficial anthem for the 1970s American Indian Movement.

But even as the correct car was identified, an incorrect year has been attached to it ever since. The Model C was only produced between 1902 (as a model-year 1903) and 1904. Also, as noted above, the rear-entrance tonneau (which the car in the Geronimo picture is) was not available after 1904.

According to the Locomobile Society, the first gas powered Locomobile ever built was a model-year 1903 Model C, which was delivered on November 2, 1902 to a customer in New York City. It had a 12-hp, four-cylinder gasoline engine and was said to have cost $4,000 at the time. 27 1903 and 49 1904 Model Cs were built for a total of 76. Compare that to the 199 Model Ds that were produced over the same period.

So where did the incorrect identification come from? It was Bill Bottorff's excellent website. Mr. Bottorff is a animation software salesman in Austin, Texas who maintains a huge online archive on the history of Winfield, Kansas and Cowley County. He posted the Geronimo/Locomobile picture with the caption "Geronimo and his associates at the 101 Ranch taking a drive in a 1905 Locomobile Model C." On the same page he posted pictures of a 1904 Model C from the now defunct Chandler Vintage Museum of Transportation and Wildlife in Oxnard, California.

In correspondence from Mr. Bottorff, he noted that he had gone on the assumption that it was a new car, and since the picture was dated June, 1905 the new car would be a 1905 as well. He stated that "It may make more sense that they loaned the new driver a car from last year to make his debut drive." Since Mr. Bottorff made his original post calling it a 1905, many, many other websites, including Wikipedia, that have copied his version of the picture and caption (nearly all without attribution, I might add). He has since corrected his website, now let's see how fast the others correct theirs. While we wait, go take a long look at Bottorff's great history site.

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