The Real Message to Garcia

A Message to Garcia

I was about to send our grandchildren a copy of the brief essay by Elbert Hubbard titled A Message to Garcia but decided to do a little more research before I mailed it off.  Having spent several hours reading what I could find I was thankful that I did the research, but even more resolved to send them a copy.  The copy will, of course, include some thoughts from grandparents about the literary work and the topics covered.

It should come as no surprise to us these days that any message imparting the values of hard work, determination, initiative, risk taking, personal accomplishment, and self-sacrifice is under attack.  My first landing spot was Wikipedia where I learned that Hubbard did indeed write the work, and it was published in 1899.  They further explained that Rowan was a real person (inset picture above) and a West Point graduate who served in the Spanish-American War.  First Lieutenant Andres S. Rowan did indeed take a message to General Calixto Garcia (the older gentleman in the picture above is Garcia but, featured with U.S. General William Ludlow not Rowan). Garcia, the leader of the Cuban insurgents was operating somewhere in the Cuban mountains.  That took all of one brief paragraph.

Then the article went on to attack the publication numbers, historical accuracy, Rowan’s integrity, and exaggerated claims.  It closed with a mild but sarcastic conversation about the uses of the work in popular culture.  By attacking the specifics of the events, the writers on Wikipedia seemed to want to water down the meaning of the word.  For uninformed readers this might kill the message before it is delivered, but this is completely irrelevant.  Hubbard could have written a fictional story about a different time with similar challenges and characters.  The use of Rowan, Garcia, President McKinley, and the Spanish-American War is a plausible backdrop for the story, not the message.  In 1899 the time the story resonated with many because of the message and plausibility given the juxtaposition to the Spanish-American War.

A more accurate analysis of Hubbard’s work can be found at MARKGORMAN.COM in an article simply titled Message to Garcia.  Here Mr. Gorman draws the correct parallels between the lessons to be learned from Hubbard’s story and the real world.  This is what was intended by Hubbard and the message we want our next generation to hear, understand, and execute.  Given the narcissistic time in which we live there are few who can or will carry the “Message to Garcia”, and for that reason the Message to Garcia is even more important than it was over 100 years ago.

In his article Mark Gorman summarizes all the essential points Hubbard was communicating.  Whether it is 1899, 1999, or 2099, throughout history the differentiating factor between success and failure is often initiative and determination.  A Message to Garcia was an outgrowth of a casual discussion about the war and Hubbard’s son’s observation that the hero of the war was not General Garcia but Lieutenant Rowan who defeated the odds and got the letter of support to Garcia.

The need for Rowan to carry the letter to General Garcia arose from the uprising of the Cuban people again Spanish rule and subsequent support by America.  Our positioning of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor and its sinking drew us into the war.  Other great heroic stories that passed into almost mystical legend grew from the events such as Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.  President McKinley’s need or desire to communicate with the Cuban rebel general is plausible given the times and circumstances.  The lack of specifics of General Garcia’s location is also very plausible.

We know from history that in times like this heroic actions, individual commitment, and initiative often turn the tide of battles, wars, and even nations.  To quote Hubbard’s work:

“Colonel Wagner did not hesitate in his answer to the President.  ‘I have a man – a young officer, Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan.  If anybody can get a message to Garcia, Rowan can.’

An hour later, Col. Wagner stood before Lieutenant Rowan.  ‘Young man,’ said the superior officer, ‘you must carry a message to General Garcia, who will be found somewhere in the eastern part of Cuba.  You must plan and act for yourself.  The task is yours and yours only.’

Col. Wagner then shook Rowan’s hand and repeated, ‘Get that message to Garcia.’  Without asking one question, Rowan left to find Garcia.

Rowan delivered the message to Garcia and the response got back to McKinley without Rowan ever asking,  ‘Where is he?  What does he look like?  Who are his contacts?  How do I get there?’  He simply took the orders and did what he was asked to do.  Is there a Rowan among us?”

These four short paragraphs are the crux of the matter and the substance of the story.  And the actions by Rowan and the parallels down through time seem to always be there for all to see.  Many among us are satisfied with just “getting along” or “getting by” so long as they have the basic necessities.  Those in power in Washington know this and use it to their advantage by supplying those basic needs to harvest votes.  This is not a new phenomenon, but the percentage of our population willing to fall into the “just getting along” class is new and alarming.  The pandemic made this abundantly clear as more and more people received free money and became complacent. 

Fortunately, in a time when our nation desperately needs “Rowans”, they are starting to step forward and push back on much of the insanity of our time.  They do so at some peril to themselves now that violence is tolerated and prosecution often selective.  But that is the nature of “Rowans.”  These are the risk takers and individuals that see duty and great opportunity when others see barriers to success.

Let us all help our children and grandchildren become Rowans!

Additional Commentary

A Message to Garcia is only about ten pages long depending on the printing.  It has long since passed out of copyright since Hubbard essentially let anyone reprint the story.  There is some debate about the number of copies printed, with some claiming that the count could be only second to the Bible.  The number is unknowable and many versions are available from many different sources, often free.  Our version came from a 2017 printing by Vigeo Press and is available from Amazon at a nominal cost.  Their printing is only thirty pages and includes only related Hubbard articles that complement the primary story.

What makes the recommendations of the work difficult is that many publishers couple A Message to Garcia with other of Hubbard’s writings of their choosing.  The version we read and passed along is only fifteen pages including a lengthy introduction by Hubbard.  But the publisher added another thirty-seven pages of works, perhaps to make the purchaser feel like they were getting their money’s worth.

The conclusions to Mark Gorman’s article are worth reading and can be found here.  Take a few minutes to read them, it is worth the time.


Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan went on to a successful military career and fought in other wars.  After the Spanish-American war he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for delivering the message and securing other secret information.  His gallantry in the 1902 Philippine Insurrection earned him a Silver Star, and he was also decorated by the Cuban government.  His name has been affixed to plaques, streets, bridges, and various bias relief representations placed in other locations.  Several books about him have been written telling of the significance of his actions in the Spanish-American War and beyond.  He retired in 1909 and spent his final years in California.  He died in 1943 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Resources Used In This Article

A Message to Garcia, Elbert Hubbard, 1899.

A Message to Garcia,

Message to Garcia,, June 16, 2020.