Jane Honour McCreery (1910-1982)

by Felicia Tracy

Jane Honour McCreey (1933)

Jane Honour McCreery was an unusual person in many ways. She was a scholar, an artist, loved adventure stories and worked hard in whatever fields she pursued. It has been said that she lived her life with such intense passion it’s almost as if she knew it would be cut short by illness. Surrounded by dedicated friends, she was admired as a sportswoman, a budding archaeologist and a cultured lady. She became a devoted wife and mother, and willingly changed careers in mid-life.

Born in New York City on June 28, 1910, she was a member of a privileged early American family whose roots were in England, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Her father, Robert S. McCreery, was born in Paris, France, and had a family business in New York City, “McCreerys”, which required him to travel and be in Europe frequently. He was nearly 30 years senior to his bride, Madelon Matthews, of the Matthews Soda Water fortune. Honour’s childhood, along with her younger sister Betty, was spent with a nurse and a tutor at home. Summers and vacations were spent in Bermuda and in the Catskill Mountains where the family had a beautiful summer home. Memorable to Honour were her Saturday visits with her father to the National Museum of Natural History in New York City. In later years, on visits to Paris, he would take her to the Louvre, viewing just one room per excursion.

When Honour was 15 years old, the family traveled by car to the West Coast, camping most of the trip. Her love of the outdoors, and especially camping, remained with her throughout her life. In the fall of 1925, she sailed to England with a school friend to attend boarding school at Battle Abbey, site of the War of The Roses. Her favorite sports were field hockey and riding, at which she excelled, and she also rode to hounds. Returning to United States, she attended school in New Hope, Pennsylvania at Holmquist. There again she excelled academically, artistically, and in horsemanship, winning top honors. Her college career began at Sarah Lawrence, from which she graduated in 1930. The family moved west to Palos Verdes Estates, on the Southern California coast, where she attended the Chouinard School of Art for training in oil painting. Honour continued riding and competing top quality horses for various owners. Her father suddenly died, in 1932, leaving her mother without sufficient funds to live in the style in which she was accustomed.

Following a summer studying in Jemez, New Mexico, Honour entered Scripps College for Women in Claremont, California. Her academic direction leaned toward aesthetics and anthropology and later archeology. Dr. Hartley Burr Alexander was a key mentor for her while at Scripps. Author of many books, and specialist of the American Indian, he had a lasting effect on her ambition and philosophy. Her thesis, written in 1933, was titled, “A Survey of Southwestern Archeology, Incorporating, in Map Form, Culture, Pottery, and Tree-ring Chronologies, and the Location to Date of Important Sites…” She then returned to the Chaco Canyon in Jemez, New Mexico to work at the Field School of the University of New Mexico. The next year she enrolled in the Master of Arts program at the University of Southern California, and under Dr. Edgar Hewitt, director of the school of American Research, went on an archeological expedition to Guatemala. That was followed by attending the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque after receiving her MA with honors from USC.

During the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she met her future husband, Theodor “Ted” Schaps, who was chronicling equestrian events for a European Newspaper.

In 1935 she made her first trip to Peru with the School of American Research under Dr. Hewitt. Her sister, Betty McCreery, was also on this trip, during which they spent much of the time in the Cuzco area. She did her own photography, using a 120mm Zeiss Icon, which still is in working order. Her collection of contemporary textiles, belts, hats and sandals is in our home. While returning to the Field School in Jemez, she had the opportunity to join, (along with her friend and fellow student, Barbara Loomis), the Maranon Valley Peruvian expedition led by Dr. Julio Tello in 1937. There is correspondence indicating she was also invited to join the doctorate program in archeology at Yale during this period.

Honour and Barbara were the only two women, both Americans, to join Dr. Tello’s expedition. They traveled on a freighter through the Panama Canal en route to Lima, then spent several weeks studying Peruvian archeology with Dr. Tello in Lima before the expedition actually began. The field notes and reports tell in detail the work and sites visited, while her correspondence to her mother and to her fiancé, my father, tell the story.

As part of the research, she illustrated her field notes, in particular detailing burial sites and ceramics which were uncovered nearby. Later she did watercolors of those ceramics which are quite accomplished. Her admiration of Julio Tello and Mejia Xespe is obvious throughout, and her fond memories of them remained throughout her life. Her correspondence show a young woman dedicated to archaeology while also thinking about her life ahead and pending marriage, and all the complexities of that decision.

After returning from Peru in late 1937, undergoing back surgery, then entering into marriage in 1938, Honour continued her work in completing her reports to Dr. Tello. In fact at a later date while working on a ranch in Nevada, she writes him of the difficulty in completing her work in a timely manner due to lack of telephone, library, archaeologist colleagues to talk to, and a child (me) who was becoming “wild.”

World War II was on, and work as a horseman was difficult to find for my father …. In between finding jobs with good horses, he worked wherever he could, including on the railroad and in a lumber mill. He also was a member of the National Guard, and did guard duty on railroad bridges.

Eventually, in 1942, my parents purchased a 100-acre ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It had a modest house and a large barn. Some of the pastures were irrigated, and the main livestock included was a herd of Jersey dairy cattle. Neither had ever milked cows before, but they did so successfully for nearly 20 years. The farmed with a team of horses, cleared land, made improvements as they could, and began breeding thoroughbred horses and training them as hunter-jumpers. My mother was an absolute team-mate in all these enterprises, complimenting my father with her own talents of carpentry, mechanics, as well as horsemanship. We were, by necessity, quite self-sufficient, growing much of our own food, harvesting and putting up hay for the livestock, and cutting our own wood for household heat and cooking.

In spite of the physical work, Honour never stopped reading, subscribing to archeological periodicals, going to archeological meetings and expanding her interests. She became the president of the board of trustees for a local school, a countywide 4-H Club leader, and continued showing and jumping horses. At home, she preserved and canned home-grown produce, repaired just about anything, did all the home interior decorating and painting and was a wonderful cook.

Meanwhile she pursued her love of riding to hounds, foxhunting with the Los Altos Hounds well into her 60’s. Her expertise in driving horses also blossomed, and a special ladies’ reignsmanship class in county competition is named in her honor. Her interest in art also drew her to Charles Muskovitch’s class in art restoration at the University of California Davis. She put those skills to work cleaning and maintaining paintings in the family art collection.

In the 1950’s, while I was still in high school but planning to go to college, it was obvious the ranch income could not support my further education. Honour began seeking a teaching position in anthropology or archeology, but those subjects were not even taught in our area. She opened a summer art school, and decided to return to college to get a California Teaching credential so she would have more options for work. The position she accepted was being the first school teacher for the Placer County Juvenile Hall, working with minors who were incarcerated. She taught all subjects, developed an art and weaving program, and remained as the only teacher at the Juvenile Hall for over 20 years. The institution has since been named the “Honour Schaps School”. Following retirement, it was all too brief a time when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her wish was to publish her field notes and experience in Peru with Dr. Tello. She began that task, but sadly it never was completed. She died in 1982.

The donation of her archive of field notes, illustrations, correspondence, reports, and textile fragments to the PUCP, making the material available for research, would have been her dream comes true.

Felicia Tracy, June 2011

Emigrant Springs Ranch, Grass Valley, CA