Dawson County NEGenWeb Project

Reveal True Story of John J. Cozad

Submitted by Kelly Hueftle with permission from The Robert Henri Museum & Historic Walkway and the Cozad Chamber of Commerce, Cozad, Nebraska, 69130   http://www.cozadnebraska.net/  - November 2007

John J. Cozad

“Reveal True Story of John J. Cozad”
From The Cozad Local, Tuesday, November 27, 1956.

About This Story..
By Harry B. Allen
    For seventy-four years the people of this community have been plagued by the fact that no one knew what became of the man who founded our town which bears his name.  After a harrowing incident which occurred on a day late in the fall of 1882, John J. Cozad secretly slipped away.  His wife Theresa Gatewood Cozad with their two sons John and Robert also disappeared shortly after.  Although Mr. Cozad returned for a day in the early nineties he did not reveal his secret and ever since the blackout has been complete.  There has been a persistent rumor that one of the Cozad boys became famous as a writer but the mystery was never cleared.
    On September 28th, of last year, 1955, our search began to track down a few leads in an attempt to solve this riddle.  It led from Beaver City and McCook, Nebraska to Kansas, Iowa, Massachusetts and New York.  We have gone direct to authoritative sources for our information.  No fiction or fantasy have been employed. 
    Briefly, John J. Cozad, after his departure lived in Atlantic City and New York as Richard Lee.
    His older son, John A. Cozad became a physician in Philadelphia, marrying a daughter of the Clarks, of Clark thread.
    Robert Henry Cozad was the world famous artist Robert Henri.

John J. Cozad

    The above oil portrait of John J. Cozad was done by Robert Henri and completed January 17, 1903.  It is considered to be one of Henri’s finest portraits since it has the quality of “great personal feeling.”  It is presently hanging in a gallery in New York City.

“Reveal True Story of John J. Cozad”
From The Cozad Local, Tuesday, November 27, 1956.

Portrait of John J. Cozad

    What kind of a man was John J. Cozad?  What did he look like?  Ever since their sudden departure seventy four years ago Cozad and his family were the subject of rumor and hearsay but nothing definite had ever been revealed, not even an old photograph to remind us of the man who founded our town.  When it was learned that the celebrated artist Robert Henri was actually Robert Cozad it was deemed possible that Henri might at some time have painted a portrait of his father and a search was made for the Henri paintings.  In Time magazine, May 1955, it was announced that an exhibition of Henri paintings had been held in April of last year.  On inquiry at the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey, where the exhibition had been held, the custodian of the Henri paintings was found to be Miss Violet Organ of New York City.  On December 5, 1955 Miss Organ wrote as follows:
    “ Robert Henri did paint John J. Cozad, his father, who died in New York in 1906.  The portrait was painted in 1903 and is signed and dated.  At present the portrait, size 32 x 26 is in the hands of Hirschl and Adler, 270 Park Avenue, New York.”
    Mr. Norman Hirschl forthwith wrote:
    “I am very happy to advise you that in the collection of paintings of the estate of Robert Henri there is a marvelous portrait of John J. Cozad by Henri signed and dated January 17, 1903.  I would say that it is one of his finest portraits, since it has the specific quality of a portrait painted with great personal feeling.  The portrait is presently in our gallery.  A photograph is being send to you under separate cover.
    It is also thought possible that Miss Organ who was heir to the Henri estate might actually have in her possession a photograph of John J. Cozad.  This proved to be true and on February 15, 1956, she graciously mailed not only a photograph of Robert Henri but also a number of photographs of his paintings together with two rare old family photographs of Mr. Cozad, the only two that are known to exist.  They were not only rare but priceless.  Negatives have been made of the original photographs of Mr. Cozad.
    Miss Organ has given permission for the publication of these photographs in the Local as well as the portrait of John J. Cozad, on the back cover of the Cozad Telephone Directory.  This picture which appears on the cover of the directory was evidently taken in his early years, a handsome likeness of a young man in his prime and might even have been his wedding picture.  The coat appears to be of smooth texture like “broad cloth” evidentially with velvet collar.  The other photograph was a “Brady” picture taken by the celebrated Civil War Photographer M. B. Brady at No. 352 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.  It shows Mr. Cozad in middle age, taken possibly in the 1870’s.
    The portrait painted by Robert Henri (Robert Cozad) shows Mr. Cozad at the age of seventy-two, just three years before his death.  It has a distinguished air, a gentle reserve, revealing little of the turbulent years that were past.  He was then known as Mr. Richard Lee, the retired gentleman and not even his closest associates guessed his real identity.

“Reveal True Story of John J. Cozad”
From The Cozad Local, Tuesday, November 27, 1956.

Famed Artist Robert Henri Was Really Robert Henry Cozad Who Grew Up Here


    Robert Henry Cozad was seventeen years old in 1882 when he left here in that secret and hectic departure from which he never returned.  To conceal his identity he dropped the name, Cozad, and altered the Henry to the French spelling and was henceforth known as Robert Henri (Pronounced Hen-rye).
    We now know that the famous painter Robert Henri was indeed our own Robert Cozad who lived and worked here.  His distinguished career adds luster to the name Cozad.
    Robert Henri won distinction not only as an artist but as a teacher of art.  He has been called the founder of the American school of art and led in the revolt against the stilted and hidebound tradition of American painting which predominated at that time.  He brought into being a new American art, free and spontaneous.  The eminent painter George Bellows beside a score of other prominent artists were his pupils.
    John Sloan, who called him “My Father In Art” and added “Henri could make anyone want to be an artist.”  Like his father Robert Henri possessed a certain reserve which set him apart.  Forbes Watson called him “an inspired teacher… with the personality and prophetic fire that transformed pupils into idolators… to Henri the man and teacher, the debt that America owes is inestimable… no other American painter drew unto himself such a large ardently personal group of followers as Robert Henri whose death July 12, 1929, brought to an end a life of uncontaminated devotion to art.”

“Reveal True Story of John J. Cozad”
From The Cozad Local, Tuesday, November 27, 1956.

Excerpts From Literary Digest At Time of Henri’s Death in 1929


    “The artist wants to paint the baby as he has seen it in the naturalness of its usual clothes.  The mother wants it painted in its new dress and cap.  There is nothing left of the baby but a four-inch circle of a fractional face, all the rest is new clothes.”  There is a great deal in this that expresses the real Henri, and it may be a commentary on much of his own work, such as we show here; only he has had his way with his sitters, with no doting relative to interfere.  We quote from his own book of art precepts, “The Art Spirit” (J. B. Lippencott Co.).
    Everybody called him Henri; and it waspronounced in English, not French.  Foremost among the painters of his generation, he was also a leader in all causes making for freedom.  He once had a school, and even after it was closed, the school of Henri seemed to go on.  “His Successes can not be limited to his own achievements in art,” says the New York Times, “They must include the impulse given to younger men who profited by his unfailing interest and confidence as surely as by the practical instruction they had from him.  His death occurred on July 12, 1929, in New York City at the age of 64.  He was typically American, continues The Times, “of French, Irish, and English ancestry, and in this international mingling of three rich strains of influence it is tempting to seek the source of his ardor for opening hospitable doors and for spending himself on causes that had for him no shred of personal advantage.”  We extract some passages from the New York Herald Tribune’s account of him:
    “He was a born insurgent, and he had not been a member of the National Academy more than a year before he was causing some long-settled dust to fly.  In May, 1907, he withdrew two out of three of his pictures accepted by the Academy for its annual display, criticizing what he termed the narrow and unfair attitude of the Academy toward young artists.”
    “Henri, already recognized not only as a strong painter but as a man of decided personal force and character, drew to his side six or seven of the notable young men, among whom was John Sloan, who later became the head of the Society of Independent Artists, with the principle, ‘No jury; no prizes.’  Henri remained in the Academy, and twelve years later he and the late George Bellows still were agitating for the discontinuance of the jury system.”
    “His tenure of an instructorship at the New York School of Art ended in 1909, when he started a school of his own which drew many of his old pupils.  His conception of a teacher’s duties then was in line with the most modern ideas.”
    “There is an element of science in painting,’ he said, ‘and something of this can be taught.  But it ought to be understood that the teacher is not imposing his own ideas on the student; he is simply helping the student to find his way to do the thing he himself wants to do.’”
    “ ‘The artist is always ahead of the action of the crowd,’ he said on another occasion.”
    “Henri became the foremost and best-known representative of the radical movement in America.  His art is highly individual, and its chief characteristics are sincerity of purpose and simplicity of means.  He had a flair for brilliant manipulation of pigments, and it was said of him that ‘he paints at the top of his voice.’”
    “His brushwork is considered by critics as broad and vigorous, his color subdued yet luminous, and his tonal effects good.  His landscapes are daring and original interpretations of nature, and a strong psychological insight marks his portraits.”
    Much of Henri’s work is portraiture, but it is far afield from the conventional portraiture of the fashionable painter.  What the individual’s name is scarcely matters; the picture is named for the character of the sitter it portrays.  In a privately printed volume on “Robert Henri, His Life and Works” (1921), the editors, William Yarrow and Louis Bouche, present this summary”
    “One finds in American painting no human documents more convincing than those portraits, notably, ‘The Young Woman in Black,’ ‘The Young Woman in White,’ and the studies of Spanish peasants.  He seems to have developed less vigorously at this stage, and some of the canvases of  his youth have a finality about then, which his later works lack.  They mark a complete summary of that period of his artistic evolution, whereas his more recent paintings bear evidence of a mature intelligence and a continual and successful search for his own way of seeing nature.  His work, then, like the work of all younger men, could more readily be cataloged as the product of a specific tendency while the pictures he is producing today could only be the work of Robert Henri.  His growth has been a logical one.  He is, first of all, tensely alive to the character of people, and perhaps no painter has ever portrayed that  character more convincingly.  Taken feature for feature, his portraits do not give the minute accuracy of statement demanded of the popular portrait painter, but they are far more alive than such stereotyped delineations.  One receives from them the impression that they are the truth about the persons while Henri was observing them.  Perhaps another day they would appear totally different, but the actual conformation, texture and color of their features would remain the same.  One feels, despite Henri’s past experience, the entire absence of a set formula and an astonishing capacity to note his sitter’s appearance at a given moment.  It may be the grin on a child’s face, the surly side glance of a Mexican, or the stolid stare of a Chinese girl, but it always convinces.  The grin is slashed across the face, seemingly with carelessness, actually with remarkable accuracy; the surly face of the Mexican is heavy and sodden in treatment, and the Chinese girl is broadly and suavely painted, the resultant effect of which is a technical handling perfectly adapted to the character of his subject.”

“Reveal True Story of John J. Cozad”
From The Cozad Local, Tuesday, November 27, 1956.

More Publicity Is Scheduled . . . .

John J. Cozad as Young Man

    This photographic portrait was taken of John J. Cozad when he was a young man. - probably in his early thirties.  Some speculation exists that this was his weddingportrait.
    Now that the true story of John J. Cozad has been revealed there will be additional publicity given to the City of Cozad and the John J. Cozad story.
    Although the Local’s Editor cannot disclose the names involved, he can tell the readers that one of America’s most famous authors is already hard at work on a book that will use the information of today’s Local as its theme.  One of the country’s largest and best publishing company has already agreed to publish the book that will give this community a great deal of credit and publicity.  The author has already visited Cozad on more than one occasion.
    In addition, it was also revealed in New York City only a few days ago that one of the most successfully and talented producers in Hollywood has expressed “great” interest in doing a motion picture based on the Cozad story.  If this materializes, it is remotely possible that a World Premiere of the picture would take place in Cozad.

See more information on Robert Henri from the Robert Henri Collection on the
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden web site:

Robert Henri's Portrait of John Cozad
Robert Henri's Portrait of Mrs. R. H. Lee (Theresa Gatewood Cozad) - Mother of Robert Henri
Portrait of Frank L. Southrn, M.D. - (John Cozad) brother of Robert Henri.
Essay about Robert Henri's life.


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