Friday, September 08, 2006

First American in Tibet; First Tibetans in America

Albert Leroy Shelton of Indiana (1875-1922)

Most people believe the first Americans in Tibet were Brooke Dolan II (1908-1945) and Ilya Tolstoy (1903-1970), in the OSS Expedition of 1942-1943. I do not believe this is true. One could argue that Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884-1962) was the first man, crossing over the border from Yunnan (Harvard Expedition, 1924-1927). Rock was in fact an Austrian, who arrived in the United States in 1905 and was naturalized in 1913. Other early explorers were the botanists Frank Nicholas Meyer (1875-1918), who visited in 1913, and Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930), who wandered in 1906-1909. Yet, although both traveled on behalf of the United States, Meyer was a Dutchman and Wilson an Englishman. Among the first American women was Janet Elliot Wulsin, in 1921-1923. On balance, I do believe the first American in Tibet (Kham) was the Indiana-born Albert Leroy Shelton (1875-1922), who was in fact shot to death in a mountain pass whilst traveling to Lhasa at the invitation of the XIIIth Dalai Lama. According to the XIVth Dalai Lama, Shelton first entered Tibet in 1904. We note that he later took his wife and two daughters. Fifty-five years later, in a quirk of fate, some of the first Tibetans to be resettled in the United States--inclusive of the Dalai Lama's own brother--were sent to Shelton's home state of Indiana.

The Tibetan Trade Delegation, headed by Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa, at New Delhi to meet with U.S. Embassy officials, headed by George Merrell. Photograph at U.S. Embassy, 1946. Most believe the first Tibetans in America were the members of this delegation, which arrived in San Francisco, in July 1948. I have more photographs of all these events and will post them when technical protocols permit. This "blog" isn't working properly today.

Tolstoy, Dolan, and a group of unidentified lamas.

Dr. Joseph Rock

Gifts from President Roosevelt presented to Dalai Lama XIV by OSS Mission.

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