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John McCutcheon encounters lifetime of adventure after Purdue years

The June 11, 1949, Chicago Tribune, in an editorial lamenting the death of

John Tinney McCutcheon, said:

"It's a great pity that men like John McCutcheon can't go on living and working forever, for the world never has had enough of them."

Purdue President James Smart may have had different thoughts during McCutcheon's years at Purdue.

McCutcheon, an 1889 Purdue graduate, was considered something of a "problem" student by Smart. He and George Ade (Purdue, 1887) were at different times reprimanded for visiting the Ladies Literary Society without permission, and McCutcheon was kicked off the staff of The Purdue, the pre-Exponent student newspaper, for publishing an unapproved issue.

McCutcheon's work and play in his post-Purdue years, though, brought him high praise across the Midwest and the country - and back home in Tippecanoe County.

John McCutcheon is perhaps best known now for the buildings named after him - McCutcheon Residence Hall at Purdue and McCutcheon High School, named for his entire family, located south of Lafayette.

In first half of the 20th century, however, McCutcheon was known as the "dean of American cartoonists."

He worked for the Chicago Tribune for more than 40 years and before that for 14 years for the Chicago News and Record-Herald. McCutcheon, many times with his good friend and colleague Ade, traveled the city, the country and the world chronicling life and war in pictures and in words.

He was considered an understanding man by the many who knew him and his work. His cartoons were known for being earnest, sincere and lighthearted.

A colleague at the Tribune, on McCutcheon's 40th anniversary at the paper, wrote that his qualities were "simplicity, kindliness, a sense of humor, and ability to see through his fellow humans without rancor."

It was in his early years in Tippecanoe County that McCutcheon formed many of his ideas about life. In his autobiography, "Drawn From Memory," McCutcheon recalls the happiness of his home with his family and the fun times of his youth.

John Tinney McCutcheon was born on a farm near South Raub in Tippecanoe County. His father was John Barr McCutcheon, a popular man who held a number of jobs over the years. He was sheriff of Tippecanoe County for a time and the family lived next to the jail. For a year, he and his wife, Clara, were in charge of food services at Purdue, and the family lived in Ladies Hall.

During his youth, McCutcheon went to various schools and took on several hobbies. He and a pal delivered papers, put on plays, ran a detective service, painted barns, and put out a newspaper, the Elston News, with circulation limited mainly to the McCutcheon clan.

He began classes at Purdue at the age of 15. When it became clear to him that mathematics and engineering were not his strong points, he switched gears and began taking art classes. McCut-cheon once said that if agriculture had contained the fewest math requirements, he might have ended up a farmer and not a newspaperman.

While in college, he met George Ade, who invited McCutcheon to become a member of Sigma Chi fraternity.

From that time on, according to Ade's biography, the two were inseparable. During McCutcheon's senior year, he helped put out the first Debris, doing much of the writing and illustrations.

It was McCutcheon who named the yearbook. He said he had an idea that "debris" meant something like "a mess of stuff" in French.

McCutcheon was one of the commencement speakers in the spring of 1889. His address was called "Caricature in Art," although at the time, he said, he had no intention of becoming a cartoonist for a living. He thought he would be a writer of some sort.

After graduation, on a trip to Chicago in search of employment, he was encouraged to practice more on his drawings. He spent the summer compiling samples. In the fall of 1889, he headed back to Chicago, where he was offered a two-week tryout at the Chicago Morning News. That test turned into a 14-year association with the News, the Record and the Record-Herald.

McCutcheon convinced his good friend Ade to join him in Chicago in 1890. The two worked together at the Record, and lived in one bedroom in a rooming house on South Michigan Avenue.

On Nov. 20, 1893, McCutcheon and Ade began a successful collaboration with "Stories of the Streets and of the Town," a feature in the Chicago Record. Ade wrote the stories; McCutcheon drew the pictures. The two spent many hours out and about in Chicago together, meeting people and telling their stories.

In 1895, the two expanded their horizons, traveling to Europe. While there, they continued to send back stories and illustrations for publication in Chicago.

After spending the first 19 years of his life in Tippecanoe County, McCutcheon caught the travel bug and spent much of the rest of his life exploring the world.

Ade once said McCutcheon's greatest enjoyment was "playing hooky." But it was drawings and writings of his hooky-playing that gained him much acclaim.

McCutcheon was on hand and a correspondent for many battles, including the Spanish-American War, the Boer War in South Africa in 1900 and World War I. He made trips to the Philippines in 1901, Japan in 1904, central Asia in 1906 and met up with Theodore Roosevelt while on a hunting expedition in Africa in 1909.

He wrote and illustrated many stories from his travels - among them, "Stories of Filipino Warfare," "In Africa" and "T.R. in Cartoons."

In 1907, McCutcheon penned what was, and probably still is, his most popular cartoon, "Injun Summer." The drawing has been described as a cartoon that catches perfectly the nostalgia of the city man for the country and of the adult for his childhood.

Later, in 1914 at the outbreak of the first world war, he drew "Colors," showing a farm field at peace, at war and filled with tombstones. Like "Injun Summer," "Colors" was often repeated in the pages of the Tribune.

Marriage in 1917 did not end his wanderlust. McCutcheon and his wife, Evelyn Shaw, continued traveling, flying into jungles, boating on the Amazon and cruising the skies in a zeppelin.

In addition to writing and drawing for the Tribune, McCutcheon contributed to some of Ade's writings and to other publications and periodicals such as Cosmopolitan and Saturday Evening Post.

He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for the cartoon "A Wise Economist Asks a Question," published in the Tribune in 1931. The cartoon, which followed the banking collapse, featured a man with his head in his hands being asked why he hadn't saved money for the hard times. The man answers, "I did."

With all his travels, McCutcheon didn't return to Purdue often. He was on hand, though, for his 30th reunion in 1919, when he and his wife arrived by plane in a farm field just across the river. He returned, too, for his 50th in 1939, when he and Ade were honored with Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Stories by Julie Rosa

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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