Myrtle Catherine Tallman
The Author Who Lived in Her Wheelchair
by John Nichols
Santa Paula - 2021
Myrtle Catherine Tallman made herself famous during her lifetime by selling a book she wrote titled “The Traveling Trio” that documented her travels in 1905 all over the western United States in her wheelchair. She moved to Fillmore, California in 1910 to be with her family but later moved to Long Beach and died in 1918 and was buried with family members in Bardsdale Cemetery near Fillmore.
Here is the Obituary of Myrtle Catherine Tallman From Fillmore Herald
Death of Myrtle Tallman, August 26, 1918
With peaceful resignation to the fates, Miss Myrtle Catherine Tallman, a life-long invalid, sank into the great sleep that knows no waking last Monday at Long Beach. Deceased was born at Tilden, Nebraska, May 17, 1878, and at the age of 8 years she was stricken with infantile paralysis, which left her a helpless invalid for 32 years, all of which time she has been confined to a rolling chair, needing an attendant at all times. Notwithstanding her affliction, Miss Tallman was cheerful through her life of suffering. She devoted herself to study and was a writer of more than ordinary ability. Accompanied by her sister, Edythe, she came to Fillmore about nine years ago, shortly after the death of her mother, but found she could not stand the climate of this valley and took up her residence in Long Beach.
The funeral was held Tuesday morning from the family residence on Santa Clara Street, the private services being conducted by Rev. Harry Shepherd. The interment was held at Bardsdale Cemetery.
Deceased is survived by her father, W. W. Tallman, and sisters, Miss Edythe Tallman of Fillmore, Mrs. Francis D. Buck and Mrs. Von Harmonson of Sespe, Mrs. Maud Richards of Rockford, Illinois, and two brothers, Ward Tallman of Fillmore, now in the Navy, and R. W. Tallman of Lincoln, Nebraska.
But the story for me started about 3 years ago when I found a copy of a strange looking book. It had a bright red cloth cover and the illustration on the cover showed a young woman in a wheel chair being lifted into the baggage car of the Union Pacific Railway train by three porters. They were possibly African American. She was being loaded onto the train car in her wheelchair and would travel with the baggage. Two other women looked on.
It was published in Lincoln, Neb. in 1908 by Myrtle Catherine Tallman and facing the title page was a portrait of her in her wheel chair with a cat sleeping on a pillow at her feet. Another member of the Traveling Trio pictured below in the book was her sister Ruth Jane Tallman (1891-1971).
I took it home not knowing how it came to be for sale in Santa Paula. My first act when I buy an interesting new vintage book is to look it up on www.abebooks.com. The strange thing was that there was not another vintage copy for sale anywhere in the world. There were several reprints for sale so there must be some interest in the topic or the writings.
I continued my research.
Lately I’m finding a huge number of books that can be downloaded free for reading on my iPad. One source is Open Library where The Traveling Trio can downloaded as a PDF, ePUB, FB2, MOBI and TXT. Do a Google search and download your own free copy. Or buy a physical copy.
My next dip into research was to search Find A Grave to see where she ended up. To my shock and surprise I found that she was buried about 10 miles from my home in Santa Paula at the Bardsdale Cemetery. The family plot contains a tombstone for her father William Warren Tallman, a Ventura County pioneer, who died at age 79 at his daughter’s home in Santa Paula. She was Mrs. Edythe Moisling. It is possible that my copy of the book came from the Moisling estate. She and her husband George are also shown living in Piru on Howe Road in the 1940 census. She died in Fillmore in 1973.
Photo of the gravestone for William Tallman at the Bardsdale Cemetery. A grave marker for Myrtle Tallman could not be found when I visited recently. An older photo showing it can be found on Find A Grave. (Gophers must have dug up dirt that covered her gravestone.)
I searched the Fillmore Newspaper on line at the CDND, which is the California Digital Newspaper Collection and found the obituary for Myrtle Tallman that appears at the beginning of this story. The CDND is a great research tool. cdnc.ucr.edu
I searched digital copies of the Santa Paula Chronicle that I have on an external hard drive and found Myrtle's father's brief obituary.
County Pioneer Called By Death
William W. Tallman, 79, of Fillmore answered the call of death recently at the at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Edythe Moisling in Santa Paula. He had been a resident of Fillmore for the past twenty years, except for the last six months when he has been confined to bed in his daughter's home here.
The deceased is survived by four daughters: Mrs. Mamie Harmonson, of Fillmore; Mrs. Edythe Moisling, of Santa Paula; Mrs. Ruth Buck, of Fillmore; Mrs. Alta Hampton, of Ventura and one son, Ward Tallman of Long Beach.
Private funeral services were held yesterday afternoon in Fillmore, Rev. Gammon of the Fillmore Presbyterian church officiating and music was furnished by Mrs. Leo Harmonson and Mrs. Frank Howard of FilImore. Pall bearers were Ross Buckman, Leo Harmonson, Howard Williams, Arthur Taylor, J. M. Horton and A. James. Internment was in Bardsdale Cemetery.
Now that I was getting to know the Tallman family better I went to RootsWeb.com for more information.
It showed Myrtle being born in Scranton, Iowa in 1878 even though her obituary lists Tilden, Nebraska. She and her family moved to Nebraska and appear on their census of 1900. She next appears on the census of 1910 living in Fillmore. She had moved to Fillmore after the death of her mother Nellie Ward Tallman in 1909.
Her occupation in 1910 is listed as “Selling own books”.
Had Rheumatoid Arthritis from childhood. Confined to a wheelchair.
(Myrtle's obituary only mentions "infantile paralysis" from age 8 but as an adult it was properly described as rheumatoid arthritis.)
If you read her book you will find out many more fascinating things about her life and travels. Another source lists her book in the category of Description and Travel and the price is $1. How much is that in today’s money? Look it up on the Consumer Price Index. It is $28.43 . I learned from her book that she originally priced her book at 35 cents ($9.95 today) but she was advised to raise the price “because everything is more expensive in the West”.
Before she wrote The Traveling Trio she wrote some poetry and song lyrics. We sometimes think that everything is on the internet. That is not at all true. In her book she says, “In the Spring of 1905 I was composing my last booklet of poems, 20 pages, titled “Crumbs of Thought”. Her other book of poems was titled “Myrtle Leaves”.
Her name pops up in a search of music and lyrics. In 1906 she published “My Mountain Fern”, listed as being composed by Myrtle C. Tallman for The Geo. Jaberg Co of Cincinnati. Does “compose” mean she wrote the music as well as the lyrics? I don’t think so. In 1907 we have “When The Stars Fall”, words by Myrtle C. Tallman and music by Madden Music Co. She was living in Genoa, Nebraska at the time of that publication
Since there are none of her poems or songs available anywhere on the web I will include a scan of two pages from her book that includes a poem. This Conclusion mentions her hired traveling companion and attendant, Miss Dera who got married after the trip and her sister Ruth who was 12 years younger and also a member of the trio.
The Fillmore Historical Museum found a snapshot album with photos of some of the family and friends playing in the yard in Fillmore in 1909 just before Myrtle moved back home.
In 1912 more photos were added to the album taken with a different camera. Names were written in white ink on the black pages under the portraits. William Tallman aka "Papa". and his son "Ward with Our Dog Jack". Myrtle was living in Fillmore in 1912.
Mayme Tallman Harmonson, Myrtle's sister, married Von Harmonson of Sespe.
After Myrtle settled in Fillmore she continued to travel but more locally. In 1912 her poetry and some of her music was performed at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in San Bernardino for "An Evening of Music and Poetry".
The San Bernardino Sun of May 19, 1912 reported on this event.
The announcement of "A Myrtle Catherine Tallman Evening" will hold the attention of the many who have made the acquaintance directly or indirectly or through friends of Miss Tallman whose personality has made an impression on all. Under the auspices of the Philanthropy Committee of the Woman's club a beautiful program has been arranged for Friday evening of this week and will be given in the club house. Prominent features will be the reading of Miss Tallman's verse, and "A Necklace of Smiles." which has been set to music by Mrs. Jerome.
In 1912 she seems to have been well known enough to have been invited to that special event in San Bernardino. Women there knew her "directly or indirectly" What was she doing to make friends that far away from Fillmore? Was she making friends through the WCTU?
But what if she wasn't invited? What if she created this event of an Evening with Music and Poetry and booked herself into the WCTU club? It is possible that when she moved to Fillmore she decided to create or expand her public performances. The first California performance was May 19 in San Bernardino and the second we know of was two months later on July 15 at the Empire Theater in Fillmore. That was called Myrtle Catherine Tallman Evening.
The Fillmore Historical Museum just happened to have a copy of the one page program for that performance. San Bernardino featured Myrtle's verse set to music and so did Fillmore. The Fillmore Concert Orchestra opened the evening of music and poetry and then Mrs. Bates recited "Alone with Him", "Rainy Day Thoughts" and "Tell Me Now", composed by Miss Tallman.
After songs by Charley Lloyd there was what was called a "Reading" of "Unfairly Won". It is possible that that was not a poem but another form of creative writing. More music followed until another "Reading" of "Miss Delay's Black Diamond". Then there was more music until there was a reading of the poem mentioned in the San Bernardino article, "A Necklace of Smiles". Mrs. Bates also read that aloud. That leads me to believe that Myrtle Tallman was able enough to somehow create poetry from her wheelchair and cause it to become written onto paper and available to be read aloud with musical accompaniment by Mrs. Frank Howard. It is my opinion that Myrtle developed a system of reciting her words to an assistant to be transcribed and then turned into printed poetry and a printed and published book.
The "Evening" at the Empire Theater concluded with a vocal solo by Mrs. Laura Paine, a "Reading" selected by Mrs. Bates and finally a "Selection" by the Fillmore Concert Orchestra.
What we do not have access to and what might be lost to history is the program of the San Bernardino event and any mention in a newspaper of the era of any additional public performances by Myrtle Catherine Tallman.
What is also currently not found is any of her published poetry or song lyrics. Only three of her poems were included in the pages of The Traveling Trio, "My Flower Friend", "Tell Me Know", and "Is It Wrong".
From what we know so far Myrtle only performed twice in Southern California
The one page program to the music and poetry Evening from the archives of the FillmoreHIstoricalMuseum.org.
How long did Myrtle live in Fillmore before she couldn't take the "climate" any more? I assume it was the heat that initiated her move. She moved to Long Beach at some point. It is unknown where she lived during that time of her life. Her brother Ward L. Tallman, who had served in the US Navy, lived there after WWI so there might have been some family connection with Long Beach.
VENTURA (1912-13) COUNTY DIRECTORY
We can look at one page of the Ventura County Directory with information on Fillmore. In 1912 there is a listing for both "Tallman Myrtle C" and "Tallman Wm W janitor Grammar School". Was that the only occupation William Tallman had at that time? How did he support his family and afford such a large gravestone? He must have engaged in farming also.
All the evidence we have seems to indicate that Myrtle left Fillmore for Long Beach around 1913 and then spent the final 5 years of her life by the seashore.
A few weeks ago on a Facebook page I follow on Victorian Photography someone posted what is called a Cabinet Card of a woman in a wheelchair and asked for information. I was the only person in the world who was able to identify the woman in the photograph as Myrtle Catherine Tallman.
The cabinet card was a style of photograph which was widely used for photographic portraiture after 1870. It consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a thick card typically measuring 4 1⁄4 by 6 1⁄2 inches. This particular cabinet card was made by Stoltz in Calumet, Michigan. Myrtle mentions in her book that part of her trip that started in the spring of 1905 would include Iowa and Michigan. I assume that this cabinet card portrait was taken during that side trip. Myrtle was dressed in what looks like a turn of the century dress and because she was born in 1878 and would have been 27 years old in 1905.
She appears to be in much better physical condition than in the photo in the book taken for the 1908 publication. It appears that her hands were unusable so that brings up the question of how did she do any writing? Was it dictated to the attendant? The wheelchair in the cabinet card portrait is a different style than the book photo.
What was she doing in Michigan in 1905? How did she get there and back? So many questions.
Cabinet Card portrait of Myrtle taken in Calumet, Mich.
by John I. Stolt, c. 1905.
So, how famous is Myrtle today? Had you ever heard of her? You can find a small listing of her on the web site for Nebraska Authors. nebraskaauthors.org
The author lived in her wheelchair.
Travel--Narratives; Travel--Nebraska; Handicapped Travel
The Traveling Trio. 1908.
I could go on and on with researching this topic. I could dig up information on the history of wheelchairs. Back in 1900 some people called them rolling chairs. That is a quaint term but when you search today all that leads to is who invented the office chair with wheels.
If you want to see more vintage wheel chairs then just go to eBay and there are lots for sale and all different prices. You can also Google Cabinet Cards of Wheelchairs to see more examples.
You might also be interested in the general topic of The History of Traveling With Disabilities. Just imagine the difficulties Myrtle went through before there was any notion of handicap accessibility among the general population.
Her disability was caused by rheumatoid arthritis. That is a chronic inflammatory disorder that I know little about but am now aware of. One thing leads to another, and another...
My challenge to all historians locally and globally is...
Let's Make Myrtle Catherine Tallman Famous!