A Message To Garcia
Written in 1889
Andrew Summers Rowan, the inspiration for this small masterpiece,carried his famous message to Cuban insurgent leader Calixco Garcia yIgnigues during the America’s war with Spain — and received thedistinguished service cross for his effort.
Born in 1857 in Monroe County, Virginia (now West Virginia), Rowangraduated from West Point in 1881 and spent a number of years with theU.S. Army Information Bureau in Central America. He was still alieutenant when he was called upon to render service in Cuba.
Afterwards, he continued to serve during the Philippine insurrection, heldposts at several military bases in the U.S. and taught military science andtactics at Kansas State Agriculture College.
Colonel Rowan retired in 1909 and spent the remainder of his years in SanFrancisco, where he died in 1943. The service that he offered his countrywas beyond reproach and a grateful nation offered its recognition. Hisgreatest contribution, however, was almost certainly the inspiration that heunknowingly provided to Elbert Hubbard who immortalized the story ofhis daring mission to Cuba in A Message to Garcia, for it is through thismodest essay that Colonel Rowan has influenced the lives of countlessmillions.
A Message To Garcia
In all this Cuban Business there is one man stands out on the horizon ofmy memory like Mars at Perihelion.
When war broke out between Spain and the United states it was verynecessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garciawas somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba — no one knew where.No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President must securehis cooperation, and quickly. What to do!
Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowanwill find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”
Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “thefellow by the name Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skinpouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coastof Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weekscame out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile countryon foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia — are things I have no specialdesire to now tell in detail. The point that I wish to make is this: McKinleygave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter anddid not ask, “Where is he at?”
By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathlessbronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men needed, not instruction about this and that, but astiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, toact promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing — “Carry a messageto Garcia!”
General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcia’s. No man who hasendeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, buthas been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man –the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.
Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-heartedwork seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threathe forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God on His goodnessperforms a miracle, and send him an Angel of Light for an assistant.
You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office — sixclerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please lookin the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning thelife of Correggio.” Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?
On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask oneor more of the following questions:
Who was he?
Where is the encyclopedia?
Was I hired for that?
Don’t you mean Bismarck?
What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?
Is he dead?
Is there any hurry?
Sha’n’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?
What do you want to know for?
And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the question,and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerkwill go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia –and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I maylose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.
Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” thatCorreggio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s, but you will smile verysweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself. And thisincapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of thiswill, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift–these are thethings that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act forthemselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all.
A first-mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting”the bounce” Saturday night hold many a worker to his place. Advertise fora stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply can neither spell norpunctuate–and do not think it necessary to.
Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?
“You see that bookkeeper,” said the foreman to me in a large factory.
“Yes, what about him?”
“Well he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him up town on an errand, hemight accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop atfour saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street would forgetwhat he had been sent for.”
Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?
We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the”downtrodden denizens of the sweat-shop” and the “homeless wanderersearching for honest employment,” and with it all often go many hardwords for the men in power.
Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vainattempt to get frowsy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long,patient striving after “help” that does nothing but loaf when his back isturned.
In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process goingon. The employer is constantly sending away “help” that have shown theirincapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are beingtaken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues: only, iftimes are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer — but out andforever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is the survival of thefittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep it the best — thosewho can carry a message to Garcia.
I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage abusiness of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else,because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that hisemployer is oppressing, or intending to oppress, him. He cannot giveorders; and he will not receive them. Should a message to Garcia, hisanswer would probably be, “Take it yourself!”
Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistlingthrough his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, forhis is a regular firebrand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and theonly thing that can impress him is the tow of a thick-soled Number Nineboot.
Of course, I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pities thana physical cripple; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for the menwho are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working-hours arenot limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through thestruggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility, and theheartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungryand homeless.
Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the worldhas gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man whosucceeds–the man who, against great odds, has directed the efforts ofothers, and having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bareboard and clothes. I have carried a dinner pail and worked for day’s wages,and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is somethingto be said on both sides.
There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation;and all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than allpoor men are virtuous. My heart goes out to the man who does his workwhen the “boss” is away, as well as when his is at home. And the man who,when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking anyidiotic questions, and with no luring intention of chucking it into thenearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off” norhas to go on a strike for higher wages.
Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Nothingsuch a man asks shall not be granted. He is wanted in every city, town andvillage — in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out forsuch: he is needed and needed badly — the man who can
“Carry a Message to Garcia.”
About Elbert Hubbard
Elbert Hubbard was born in 1859 in Bloomington, Illinois, And neverreceived more than a grade-school education. A self-made man in manyrespects, Hubbard filled in the gaps in his knowledge through voraciousreading, a passion which became manifest in the founding of the RoycroftShop, a publishing house specializing in deluxe binding. He wrote a seriesof 182 biographies under the series title Little Journeys to Hones of the Greatand also published two magazines, The Philistine and The Fra, producingmuch of the content himself.
Elbert Hubbard and his wife, Alice, were traveling to England on theLusitania and went down with the ship when it was stuck by a Germantorpedo on May 7th, 1915.
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