|Mounted Studio Portrait
9 ½ Inches by 7 1/8 Inches (on a larger card stock mount)
(24.2cm x 18cm)
Martin Van Bergen was “discovered” by Kansas cattleman and theater impresario Col. Zach (or Zack) Mulhall who first heard Van Bergin singing with Dockstader’s Minstrels in a St.
Louis, Missouri theater. Van Bergen was roped into Col. Mulhall’s Wild West theme vaudeville show in 1905 not as a yodeling cowpuncher as one might first expect but as the cowboy
version of an operatic baritone - something that took the public aback at first, but soon became wildly popular. Col. Mulhall would also discover the likes of Will Rogers, Tom Mix and
Van Bergen starred on in in Col. Mulhall’s “horse operas” alongside Mulhall’s already famous daughter Lucy who was known across the county as American First Cowgirl. Roping
cattle on her father’s ranch at the age of eight, Lucy would be lauded for her expertise on horseback, roping cattle and the like that she was lauded by none other than “Buffalo Bill’
Cody and President Theodore Roosevelt.
Not long after taking the stage together Martin and Lucy fell in love and were quietly married in Brooklyn, New York in a 1907 civil ceremony. The couple kept the marriage a secret
for over a year because Lucy and Martin had not asked Col. Mulhall for his permission before hand. There was one further complication – and a telltale sign of the times – in that the
Muhall’s were Catholic and Van Bergen was a Protestant. To “set things aright” a second Catholic marriage ceremony was held in Kansas City in March 1909 but not before Martin
Van Bergen had converted to Catholicism.
Martin and Lucy continued to tour to popular reviews and a son – Logan Van Bergen - was born to the couple about 1910. The marriage became strained since it appears that Martin
wanted to settled down and raise a family in the wake of Logan’s birth but Lucy, suffering from case of cowboy’s (or Cowgirls as the case may be) wanderlust refused to do so. Martin
Van Bergen filed for divorce in March 1914 citing Lucy’s abandonment of her husband and son as the reason. Martin also named Lucy’s manager Homer Wilson as a culprit in the
matter. Martin was granted custody of Logan and continued to perform on his own account leaving Logan with his grandmother in Santa Monica, California while on the road.
Martin’s star began to fade not long after while Lucy remained as popular as ever until her retirement from show business 1931. Lucy partnered in second failed marriage and died in a
car accident not far from the Mulhall ranch in 1940. The last mention I have been able to find regarding Martin Van Bergen in 1920 after which the record goes inexplicably blank. Even
after exhaustive searches this remarkable portrait is the very few photographic representations of America’s first singing cowboy I can find.
The photograph itself dates from around 1910 is was taken by an unidentified but very talented professional photographer. It is autographed by Martin Van Bergen to an un-named
manager of the Roosevelt Theater.