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One Hundred Years Ago: January 1924


This is the 108th entry in my series of reviews of one-hundred-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “A Visit to Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico” and was written by Willis T. Lee.  It has the descriptive internal subtitle, “Recent Explorations of a Limestone Cave in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico Reveal a Natural Wonder of the First Magnitude.”  The article contains thirty-four black-and-white photographs of which fourteen are full-page in size.

Occasionally, a matter-of-fact statement of a geographic discovery sounded incredible.  Such was the case with Jim Bridger’s first accounts of the Yellowstone geysers.  The giant Redwoods of California would seem like a fairytale setting were a returning traveler to tell of their dimensions for the first time.  Only recently, a new phenomenon, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Alaska, taxed comprehension until National Geographic photographs authenticated its prankish natural wonders.  In 1923 came the announcement of a remarkable cavern among the eastern foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains, in southeastern New Mexico – the Carlsbad Cavern, so named for the little town about thirty miles to the northwest.  The less scenic part had been known locally for many years as a bat cave and a source of guano.  Recently, explorers traversed several miles of its hills and chambers, and some parts of it were found to have such startling magnificence that, on October 25, 1923. By proclamation of President Cooledge, it was set aside as the Carlsbad National Monument.  On the 30-mile ride from Carlsbad to the cave, interest never flagged.  There was a varied display of prickly pears and melon cactus, and the scraggly leafless stalks of ocotillo.  Spanish daggers, Spanish bayonets, and sotol plants were numerous.  Century plants of several varieties were abundant.  The cavern was reached over a road sadly in need of improvement.  It was kept passable by each vehicle following the tracks of the one that had gone before, until the ruts became too deep, when a new route was sought out.  Two hours of jolting into the ruts and out of them brought the author’s party to the foot of a steep, rocky slope of barren limestone.  Up that rocky slope they made their laborious way to a bench on the mountain side, about 1,000 feet above the valley.  Some of the party remained in the jolting machines; others preferred to walk.

At the entrance to the cave, they were surprised to find several dwellings, an engine-house, two hoist-shafts, and other evidence of activity.  It seemed that from prehistoric times the cave had been the home of countless numbers of bats.  For several years, quantities of guano had been shipped from it.  Although work was not in progress at the time of their visit, the hoist machine was in working order, and by means of it the descent was made.  The natural opening to the cave was not used in 1924, and much work needed to be done before access through it would be safe.  It consisted of a large hole, 100 feet or more across, from which the rocks had fallen into the cavern below, about 170 feet.  That opening widened downward, somewhat like an inverted funnel.  That natural opening was used by the bats.  At dusk, they began to leave the cave for their night of foraging.  For about three hours the winged stream resembled smoke pouring from a smokestack.  It was equally fascinating in the early morning to watch those same countless thousands returning home.  The guide started his engine and the elevator was ready for operation.  It consisted of a steel bucket at the end of a wire rope which passes over a pulley at the top of a derrick and was lowered through an artificial opening, or shaft, constructed for hoisting guano from the cave.  The bucket held two people, if they stood closely and held on to the wire rope.  Slowly they descended into the Stygian darkness.  On reaching the bottom they devoted some time to get their “cave eyes” and to preparing the torches which were to furnish light on their subterranean journey.  Gradually, as they became accustom to the gloom, they realized the enormity of underground cavity they had invaded.  The opening of the shaft above them was a mere speck of light.  Soon their eyes adjusted to the dim light, the rugged sides of the cavern took form and they found themselves in a passageway of unusual width, with arched roof so far above that their torches only dimly lit it.

The bats were found chiefly in the part of the cave east of the shaft.  The scenic portions, toward which they made their way, lied in the opposite direction.  For some distance the route was not difficult, but the pathway was rough, for the lower part of the cave was filled with angular locks of rock fallen from the walls and ceiling.  Very little accurate information relative to that cave was available.  Few measurements had been made.  The guide was the only source of such meager information as could be obtained.  Mostly he provided hair-raising yarns.  About a half a mile from the foot of the shaft, they entered the part of the cave reserved as a national monument and soon passed beneath the natural opening.  That opening, far above them, which seemed so awesome at the surface, appeared from the floor of the spacious cavern like a small and very inconspicuous aperture.  As they proceeded, they gradually made their way deeper into the earth.  For nearly a mile they traversed a passage of astonishing dimensions.  The walls were very irregular, approaching to within 100 feet of each other in a few places, then receding in lateral chambers many times that width.  At the side of the passageway were many alcoves opening into rooms.  In most places the walls were rough and jagged, where masses of rock had fallen.  But in a few places the walls were smooth, polished by water which flowed ages ago.  There was relatively little dripstone in that part of the cave.  And yet every now and again, as a beam of light was directed into the darkness, one was startled at the sight of a snow-white figure perched on some rock, like a ghost on a tombstone.  Those were stalagmites built up by the slow dripping of water charged with carbonate of calcium from the limestone roof.  A few of those stalagmites had been built up into ornately decorated columns.  In a few places the deposits of carbonate of lime had accumulated against the side walls, where water trickled from the rock.  To distinguish that material from that deposited by dripping water, it was called flowstone.

But those formations, both of flowstone and of dripstone, were so much more numerous, varied, and ornate farther on, that they hastened over that first part of the journey for the more spectacular scenes beyond.  Nearly a mile from the foot of the shaft, or a quarter of a mile from the natural opening, an obstacle was encountered, a pit 150 feet deep and extending entirely across the cavern suddenly yawned in their path.  It was called Yeitso’s Den.  The sides were so steep that footholds were cut, and a wire furnished a handhold.  Into that den they slid and lowered their weary bodies onto a shelf.  After a brief rest, they started the ascent out of the pit, but fortunately the rise on that side was only 90 feet.  They drew their weary feet up from shelf to shelf, securing a handhold here and a toehold there.  Their labors were by no means at an end when they reached the top, for almost immediately they started down another declivity, clambering over angular rocks and crawling through low, narrow passages.  Soon after leaving Yeitso’s Den, they entered the spectacular part of Carlsbad Cavern.  There they found chambers of unbelievable dimensions.  Their way led ever downward over enormous jagged blocks of limestone fallen from the roof.  The chambers in that part of the cave were several hundred feet wide and the vaulted ceiling so far above them that in some places they were not able to see it.  Their feeble lights only magnified the void.  At the foot of a great heap of rocks 700 feet below the surface entrance, they entered one of the spectacular parts of Carlsbad Caverns.  Three large chambers there opened off the main hall.  The largest was called Shinav’s Wigwam.  The smallest of the three rooms was semicircular in outline and was 160 feet long by 140 feet wide.  The middle room was about three times that size and the first one much larger.  No measurements were made of the larger rooms.

The chambers about the Wigwam were separated from the master room by curtains and partitions of gleaming onyx formed by the deposition of lime carbonate from water dripping from the roof.  The great dome was so high that it was only dimly illuminated by the torches.  Most of the ceiling was covered in dripstone.  Thousands of stalactites hung singly, in doublets, in triplets, and in groups.  They ranged from a few inches in length to the entire height of the room, and in diameter from that of a pencil to many feet thick.  In places they hung so thickly that they coalesced at the top, forming spiny masses weighing thousands of tons.  The stalagmites were not so numerous as the stalactites in that group of chambers.  There were some notable masses of onyx rising as mounds and monuments from the general level, but over surprisingly large areas, the floor was smooth and one could wander at will.  In places the stalactites had grown together laterally and formed curtains.  Some of those reached the floor, others seem partly raised to reveal a stage set with actors of fantastic aspect.  The unusual forms in the cavern had not yet been named.  One of the members of the party suggested they use Indian myths, which had already been drawn upon for some names.  In some places the dripstone of the curtains reached the floor and formed solid partitions between the rooms.  Some of the side chambers were entered through narrow opening in those partitions; other through wider passageways.  One small chamber off Shinav’s Wigwam had been called the “Crow’s Nest.”  It was 50 feet in diameter and so thick with slender stalactites that one could not pass through it without destroying scores of them.  The stalagmite growths rising from the floor were scarcely less varied and delicate.  The most spectacular part of the cavern was reserved as the final scene of an eventful trip.  Leaving the Wigwam, they retraced their steps for a short distance, climbed a steep hill, and made their way through a heap of rocks and over ledges.

After a half hour’s struggle, they entered the Big Room.  The author thought the name appropriate.  It was more than half a mile in length and averaged many hundred feet wide.  The sided receded in places to such great distances that their lights failed to illuminate the walls.  A few side trips revealed alcoves uninterrupted for hundreds of feet.  They repeatedly tried to estimate the height of the ceiling.  In places where it was dimly lit by their torches, they guessed it to be 200 feet above them.  In other places it was so high that even a strong electric torch could not illuminate it.  The Big Room had astonishing proportions.  The author was amazed that an open space of such dimensions was to be found underground.  The Big Room was probably as remarkable for ornate decorations as it was for size.  Dripstone decorations occurred in infinite variety of size and shape.  There were thousands of pendants, some so delicate and slender that they would have broken under the slightest pressure; some so massive that one marveled that the enormous weight was sustained.  The stalagmites, rising from the floor like monuments in a churchyard, were no less varied.  One group, in which the forms were unusually tall and graceful, had been called the Totem Poles.  Some, only a few feet in diameter, rose to an estimated height of 50 feet.  Many of the stalagmites in that part of the cave had blunt, rounded ends and were composed of material which seemed to differ from that of the surrounding forms.  In the dim light those rounded masses resembled ice.  Some stalagmites were of unusual dimensions.  The “Twin Domes” were more than 100 feet high and more than 200 feet across the base.  Some of the most interesting features in the floor of the Big Room were grouped about the basins of extinct springs.  Some of the basins were 10 feet or more deep and 50 feet across.  They were lined with an unknown thickness of onyx and their profuse decorations resembled some of the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.

The interior of each fountainlike basin was covered with delicate fretwork, and the rim appeared just as it was built out long ago by overflowing water, into a variety of forms.  A type of decoration frequently seen was called by some toadstools, and by others was likened to lily pads.  Each pad consisted of a thin sheet of onyx which grew from the center in concentric rings outward to a knife-edge.  Those sheets were a foot or two across and each rested on a strong pedestal.  The edge of the “lily pad” represented the formal level of the water.  Now [in1924], they stood like campstools.  The entire party entered one of those dry fountains.  Each member chose one of the stools upon which to sit; they took a few-minute break before resuming their journey.  In many places stalactites and stalagmites had joined to form columns of impressive dimensions.  Near the end of the Big Room was a small opening in the floor.  The party suggested naming it “Nalin’s Hogan, earth lodge of Night Girl (Goddess of Death).  One member was lowered down the “hogan” by rope to the bottom, about 200 feet.  There he found other chambers and hallways, through one of which flowed a stream of clear water.  At the extreme end of the Big Room the floor fell away abruptly to a depth of 100 feet in a great depression 200 feet across. Some had named that hollow “Dante’s Trail;” others called it “Shipapu’s Hole.”  At Shipapu’s Hole their pathway suddenly ended.  There, too, their journey ended, for the guide reminded them the difficulties of retracing their steps.  Reluctantly, they returned, snatching glimpses of scores of objects as fascinating as those already seen.  The surface was reached just at dusk, where they watched for a time the swarm of bats leaving the cavern.  The cavern alone was a noteworthy addition to the exceptional variety of geographic wonders of the U. S., each distinctive in its kind, but fortunately it was surrounded by features which enhanced its future scenic value.

In southeastern New Mexico were mountains, almost 10,000 feet high, carved, by erosion, into a remarkable series of sharp ridges and steep gorges.  The rocks of those mountains consisted of limestone of the late Paleozoic age, in thick, massive layers which sloped gentle to the east and passed under red sandy shale in the Pecos Valley.  The shale contained thick beds of gypsum and rock salt, which dissolved in the circulating underground water.  The limestone also was soluble, but less readily than salt and gypsum, and because of that fact, the cavern in it were formed slowly, but became enormously large, and endured through long ages.  Carlsbad Cavern was only one of more than a dozen known to exist in the Guadalupe Mountains.  The plants near Carlsbad Cavern were of great interest.  That part of New Mexico had a warm, semi-arid climate in which thrived a variety of plants of amazing shape.  They gave to the landscape a strange aspect that was the source of never-ending delight to visitors.  The predominating characteristic was thorniness.  There were thorn bushes and thorn trees; thorned shrubs with spike-like leaves; Spanish bayonets and Spanish daggers.  This was the country of prickly pears and cat’s claws; sagebrush and greasewood; thorny mesquite and screw beans, and many, less familiar forms of plant life.  The beauty of a cactus in bloom and of the great flower stalks of the century plant was well known.  Probably the most interesting plant near Carlsbad Cavern – certainly the most prolific one – was the sotol, of which there were many closely related species.  The one which grew luxuriantly near the cave was known as Dasylirion leiophyllum.  Occasionally a plant was seen with a fruit stalk emerging from the center of its leafy crown, but most of them were without fruit stalk, for the plant died after fruiting.  The sotol was used for food for cattle, and formerly, it was used as food by the natives.  When fermented, it also produced an intoxicating drink called “sotol.”



The second item listed on the cover is entitled “Fantastic Plants of Our Western Deserts” and has no byline.  It is not an article but a set of eight full-page duotones which seems to be a companion piece with the first article.  These duotones are sandwiched between the first and second articles.  Duotones, formerly called photogravures, are images produced by transferring a special ink to paper from an acid-etched metal plate.  The deeper the etch, the darker the transfer.

Here is a list of the caption titles from the eight duotones:

  • “A Flower Sentinel and Its Natural Pediment”
  • “This Plant is a Boon to Indians”
  • “A Specimen of the Cancer Cactus”
  • “A Sahara of Giant Cactus”
  • “The White Cholla”
  • “Two Lilies of the Desert”
  • “A Cactus that Provides Water”
  • “A Tree Lily (Yucca elata) in Full Bloom”



The second article (third item) listed on this month’s cover is entitled “Adventures Among the “Lost Tribes of Islam” in Eastern Darfur” and was written by Major Edward Keith-Roach.  It has the internal subtitle “A Personal Narrative of Exploring, Mapping, and Setting Up a Government in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Borderland.”  With the long article title, the individual page headings are simply “Adventures Among the “Lost Tribes of Islam”.”  The article also has an italicized editorial before the main article briefly describing the mid-Africa region and the author.  The article contains thirty-two black-and-white photographs, of which four are full-page in size.  It also contains a sketch map of Africa on page 46 which is reference by not only the second article but the third and fourth as well.  Note: this was one of the few sketch maps that the late Philip Riviere missed in his exhaustive effort to download photos of maps and covers.

When Lord Kitchner, in 1899, had marched his victorious army into Khartoum, the reconquest of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was practically completed, and the work of reconstruction and administration was quickly begun.  British officials were placed in charge of each province except for Darfur, the most western province, of about 170,000 square miles, which was left entirely under the jurisdiction of its own Sultan, Ali Dinar.  His only obligation was to pay a small tribute yearly to the Governor-General in Khartoum.  That was the reason why the author was in Darfur from 1916 to 1920.  When Turkey entered the World War, she called upon all devout Moslems to join her in “the holy struggle against the infidels and dogs of Christians.”  The Senussi tribe, on the western boundaries of Egypt, accepted the call and themselves attacked Egypt, necessitating the stationing of a fair number of Allied troops in the oases along the frontier.  The tribe succeeded in sending envoys to Sultan Ali Dinar and persuaded him to join them in the “fight for freedom.”  Ali Dinar sent a flag and three spearheads to the nearest British official as a polite warning of his intentions.  He then mobilized his slave army and sent skirmishing parties to molest the inhabitants of Kordofan.  Those raids became so frequent and menacing that it was decided to occupy the territory, and in 1916 a small expeditionary force, consisting of Egyptian troops, led by British officers, and accompanied by a handful of British machine gunners, marched 400 miles along an almost waterless track.  After two small battles, the country was under the British flag.  The biggest engagement occurred just outside El Fasher, the capital of Darfur, in May 1916, and the Sultan, who fled from the city as soon as the news of the reverse reached him, was killed in action in the hills six months afterward.  The author missed the action, being stationed in Port Sudan, on the Red Sea.  He was not ordered to Darfur until some months later to take over the administration of the eastern district.

From Port Said, the author railed to Khartoum, and after two days spent in getting provisions, he took the train to El Obeid, 350 miles southwest, where camels were purchased to carry him and his baggage 300 miles to his new home.  Um Kedada was the name of his headquarters, and after three weeks’ trekking, he was told early one morning that they were approaching the place.  On arriving, he found a few native soldiers and a well.  The journey was long and tiring.  They marched all night except for a couple of hours around midnight to rest the camels.  They tried to find shade to sleep during the day while the camels grazed.  The heat at midday varied between 110- and 120-degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, but was much more intense in the sun.  Marching at night had a fascination all its own.  The author’s camel, being lightly laden and speedier, outstripped the rest, and he was alone in the beauty of the African night.  Occasionally, he passed native caravans and the courtesies of the road were exchanged.  Um Kedada, which was a military base for the army on the march up to El Fasher earlier in the year, stood on high ground with a fair outlook.  Its chief claim to fame was a most excellent water supply – an invaluable asset.  It was difficult adequately to picture what a well meant until one has lived near the Sahara.  In his 300 miles, the author passed only two places where there were any, and on his arrival at Um Kedada, he had, for six days, been subsisting on only the water carried on his camels, and the camels had been without all that time.  Greetings were made to all assembled at the well, after the animals were watered and the men rested, the author looked for a place to build a temporary house.  They began building it at the roof and built downward. Native huts, or “tukls,” were made from dried millet stalks and were shaped like straw beehives, but were finished at the top with little tufts.  They looked for all the world like wooden whip tops upside down.

Eight long branches were placed with ends on the ground, tied together at the center, and laced round with smaller branches until the structure looked like an army bell tent.  That was the roof, which was then thatched with millet straw from the bottom upward and tied together tightly at the top into the little tuft.  That superstructure was then raised up on poles set in a circle with a V at the top, standing four feet off the ground.  The sides were then thatched and the palace was ready for occupancy.  A cavalcade of horse, infantry, and camel men, led by two British officers, filed slowly through Um Kedada on its long journey from El Fasher to Khartoum.  As the eye traveled from end to end of the long brown line, it was arrested by a wonderful blaze of color in the center of the column.  There were some twenty men mounted on camels, and their gorgeous dresses scintillated in the rays of the western sun.  Here a purple cloak, there a strawberry-colored one, a bright yellow one farther back, but at the head of all was an imposing figure in green and gold with a colored turban.  They were the legitimate sons of the late Sultan Ali Dinar, and the figure at the head was Zakariah, the eldest son, who but for his father’s misrule might have been sultan after him.  The army’s work in Eastern Darfur being completed, the small detachment of Sudanese soldiers left for other fields.  Martial law had ceased; civil administration reigned in its stead.  Their temporary dwelling finished, the work of creating a town started in earnest.  That was planned in lots of 197 by 197 feet, with roads running north to south and east to west, of 65 feet and 32 feet, alternately.  On each of those plots, nine tukls were allowed to be built, and a man was appointed head of the plot to see that it was kept in sanitary condition.  Natives gradually collected from the surrounding hamlets to be near the well, and a town of 500 to 600 people soon sprang up, including a few pilgrims from Nigeria.

Two native builders came up from Kordofan Province and, they opened a new industry – brick-making.  Meanwhile, foundations were dug for the offices, stores, a prison, and official houses.  A wanderer arrived with a knowledge of carpentry, and he produced presentable doors and windows from forest wood and old packing crates.  Timber for the roof had to be brought many miles on camel-back, as nothing long grew in the vicinity.  Old rifle barrels were used as bars for the prison windows and proved most serviceable.  With the buildings half up, a heavy tropical rainstorm, entirely out of season, did much damage, but eventually all was successfully accomplished.  One morning four camels arrived with the office fittings sent from Khartoum.  The first case produced four bentwood, cane-seated chairs, but they were in pieces.  A search though the case revealed eight nuts and bolts and sixteen screws, but no spanners or screwdrivers.  The bolts were driven home and the nuts tightened by hand, but the screws defied all attempts with pocketknife, coin, and piece of tin, when suddenly a helper had a bright idea and, rushing off to his donkey, cut off a charm hanging around its neck and produced the business end of a screwdriver, rusty but usable.  A handle was soon made and the tool was so good that the last chair was assembled in eleven minutes.  The official in charge of Easten Darfur had to be administrator, magistrate, collector of revenue, estimator of crops for tithes, commandant of police, veterinary surgeon, doctor, and all the other things that went to make up a well-ordered community.  Consequently, many months were spent in setting up the system of organization.  Sheiks were appointed in charge of villages, and Omdas placed in authority over groups of villages and given limited powers, sufficient to enforce their orders.  Police had to be trained.  Roads had to be cut through scrub or tracks widened.  All that entailed many weeks’ touring by camel from place to place.

Villages were few and far between, there being only about 300 in the whole district, containing about 30 to 200 people each.  The country was mostly bushy scrub and covered with a grass called haskaneet, the seeds of which had innumerable little spikes that got into everything – food, clothes, hair, and skin – setting up nasty irritations.  The natives all carried homemade tweezers to extract the spikes from their legs.  That grass sprang up during the rains, and a month afterward was burned brown, when the seed pods started flying about.  The sand on the tracks was very heavy and frequently, if walking, one sank in over the ankles.  Millet was the only species of grain that would grow in the district, owing to the poorness of the sand as soil.  The author usually traveled fifteen days a month, but one long tour took him over two months.  At harvest time he frequently rode enormous distances on his camel to pay surprise visits to estimators who were assessing the crops for revenue purposes.  He took a medicine chest with him and was called upon to prescribe for ever conceivable ailment.  His fame as a medicine man grew far and wide.  Serious crime was extremely uncommon, and the people had such a sense of justice that he could send a verbal order a hundred miles away, and find it obeyed when he later visited.  Practically the whole district was unmapped, so when he traveled by day a man pushed a cyclometer in front while the author took bearings with a prismatic compass, checking distance and direction, and plotting it on map paper.  Although the inhabitants called themselves Arabs and spoke that language, they were negroids [sic].   They were Mohammedans, but few could read or write, they were not strict followers of the Prophet, except in that they respect Ramadan, the month of fasting.

The children attracted attention.  The babies were carried on the mothers’ backs, tied by a piece of her raiment, with its arms inside.  Its hands being tied in, its poor little eyes often were covered with flies.  When the sun and flies became too much, it whimpered and the mother threw the other end of her raiment over its head and waggled it to sleep.  Both boys and girls had their tribal marks cut on their cheeks at an early age, salt being rubbed in to keep the slits open.  Little girls wore a short skirt of strings of leather hanging from a belt, which swung picturesquely as they walked.  If there was enough cotton, the boys had sack-like shirts with holes for their arms, otherwise, they went as God made them.  It was laid down in the Koran that all devout Muslims must make the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.  The wealthy Muslims of West Africa took ships from those ports and went by sea to Jidda; but that route was closed to the poorer class who, therefore, had to travel overland.  Selling all they had to buy cattle, the Hausa tribesmen of Nigeria set out, the children and old women being mounted on the patient beasts, upon which also were loaded cooking pots and other items.  The braves brandished their spears.  The journey to Mecca took about two years.  Much of the ground that was covered was practically waterless, and there were great hardships endured.  The pilgrims followed the main caravan routes across Nigeria, on through French Equatorial Africa, approaching Darfur Province through Abeshr.  In the time of the Sultan, the pilgrims paid a heavy toll to him – their fairest daughters were forcibly taken for his harem, and their cattle impounded.  The reoccupation of Darfur was of immense benefit to the pilgrims, as they were protected by the French, and then British, on their entire journey.  Even so, there were many difficulties to overcome.  At larger centers they stayed, sometimes for months, working to earn enough money to continue their pilgrimage.

For some time, the town’s market place consisted of a few hurdles, balanced on twisting poles, and the only vendors where a few women who did a trade in native beer.  Occasionally, some daring soul introduced eggs and watermelons.  Then, a merchant prince appeared.  He was about ten years old, the son of the sergeant major of police, and could read and write.  At first, red pepper constituted his stock and trade.  Soon after, matches made their appearance.  Then perfumes of crushed sandalwood and two other sorts of wooden twigs.  A few days later that amazing boy introduced red nail polish.  Finally, a blanket of his father gave shade during the day, and strings of beads were hung in front of the shop.  The whole stock was displayed on a grass mat adorned in each corner by a sugar-loaf wrapped in blue paper.  An Arab merchant from Khartoum arrived, and he traded European cotton cloth for cattle and gum.  The principal occupation of a native man of Darfur was killing time.  An early riser, he was up to send his women off to fetch water at the well.  He owned a fair number of animals.  He accompanied the women and assisted them.  He then saw the animals driven out to pasture by a small boy, who brought them back at night.  That finished, his day’s work was done.  His wife returned and, at once, busied herself preparing grain for the thick fermented beer, like pea soup, which was the principal means of sustenance.  She thus occupied practically her entire day.  Meanwhile, her lord and master slept until sunset, recuperating his strength.  As soon as the first rains came, the man went with his wife, or wives, and escorted each to her own patch, because each had her own seed supply, just as each had a separate house.  Using a branch, sometimes with a small iron hoe at the end, he ambled at a jog down the cultivated plot.  Each time the left foot came down, he poked a hole in the sand.  His wife, following, dropped a few millet seeds wrapped in dried watermelon rind, into each hole.

After three weeks of good rain and ample sunshine, the grain came up, and with it the haskaneet; so, he took his only other tool, a moon-shaped hoe, and hoes the weeds.  After a few more days, the crop rose to an appreciable height.  Then the one serious worry, fear of locusts, began.  Those pests sometimes came in myriads, eating every green thing before them.  When they were seen approaching, man, woman, and child hastened to the field and raised a din to try to prevent them from settling.  The crop suffered if they landed.  Sometimes it took an hour or two for a flight to cross the fields.  At the end of four months, if the crop survived, the millet was ripe, grown to a height of six feet.  The head, some ten inches long, was snipped off and taken to a hard piece of ground, where the grain was beaten out by hand.  The grain was then winnowed by being thrown in the air, after which it was stored in a small pit dug in the ground, to be removed as required.  The long stalks of the millet were used for making tukls, and the remaining, left standing in the fields, was burned later.  A few industrious natives had a source of wealth in gum trees, and made considerable money selling gum arabic.  The bushy evergreen grew wild over nearly the whole of Eastern Darfur.  Tapping of the gum tree started at the end of October and continued for about five months.  Using a small homemade ax, a cut was made in the bark and a foot-long tear was made upward.  The trees were left for about 15 days, at which time the gum was collected that had oozed out at the bottom of the barked portion.  Other parts of the trunk were then dealt with until the tree had exhausted itself.  The collected gum was taken to the village and buried in the ground until it could be taken to market, sometimes a hundred miles away.  The cotton crop was very poor; the pod was mostly seed, with the minimum of cotton.  It was ginned and spun, with little attempt to obtain an even thickness of the yarn.  An experienced man could weave a yard-wide sheet of twenty feet in two days.

Throughout Eastern Darfur there were few wells and no permanent water supply; therefore, the natives relied entirely on the rains of July, August, and September.  On average, 15 to 20 inches were expected during that period.  The problem of storage for the remaining nine months was solved in an interesting manner.  Dotted here and there, sometimes in tens, fifties, or even hundreds, there were trees formed of a soft, spongy wood with a natural hollow heart.  They grew fairly straight, sometimes 20 or 25 feet high, before branching off into large boughs.  Many of those trees were of great girth.  The natural hollow was scooped out and enlarged.  Their storage capacity was considerable.  Into those living reservoirs the people, using primitive leather buckets, poured the rain water collected from hollows among the roots.  The contents of the tree varied between 500 and 1,000 gallons.  In hot weather, the water got unpleasantly warm, but remained sweet.  Toward the end of the dry season, just before the rains broke, it was naturally very scarce, and travelers were charge up to a dollar for three gallons.  In areas where there were no tebeldi trees and reservoirs were unobtainable, the resources of Nature were not exhausted.  Batikhs, or watermelons, do not grow wild, but were sown in large areas of cleared ground.  When the fruits were ripe, they were stored away in low-thatched shanties.  Toward sunset the donkey was driven down to the field, and enough melons brought back for the next day’s use.  A woman brought an earthen vessel with perforated bottom and squatted beside it.  Taking a melon, she broke it with her fist, scooped out the insides, and squeezed the juice out of the fiber.  The rind was then broken and pounded in a vessel made from a tree trunk.  All possible water war removed.  The residue became feed for donkeys, goats, and fowl.  Once, when the author was touring to complete his map, he lived six weeks, using those melons as his sole source of water.

In a country where everything was of value, it was expected that some use would be found for the seeds of the watermelon.  In some countries, they were dried and strung together and formed the principal item of dress of the native.  In Darfur, they were used to combat skin disease, replacing coal tar and Sulphur.  A thick, black, soupy mixture was extracted from them. It was mixed with wood ash.   An animal suffering from skin disease was rubbed over with the mixture.  One morning, the author was requested to go see a who wanted to die.  He picked up his thermometer and medicines and set off for the tukl.  Upon arriving, he found a crowd gathered.  The man was in extremis, and there was little hope.  He had a fever that came on quickly.  Within a minute or two od the author’s arrival, the man was nearing his end.  As soon as the crowd saw that the man was near death, they place, and held him, on his right side.  His wife, sobbing, held his mouth shut.  The author turned away in horror, and, as he passed from the hut, all was over.  He died at 10:00 a. m. and the author was invited to his funeral, which took place at 4 p. m.  He rode out to join the funeral procession.  On arrival at the gravesite, the importance of the man’s dying on his right side was once evident.  A trench had been dug 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep.  In the middle, a second narrow trench, 1 foot wide and a foot and a half deep was dug.  The body was place in it on his right side with his head facing Mecca.  Short pieces of wood were placed across the trench, and wood splinters filled the gaps.  Water, brought in goatskins, was mixed with sand, and the mud plastered over the boards.  A fence of thorny bushes was placed around the grave, and then the mourners silently went their several ways.  There was much sameness about visits of ceremony.  The headman of the village received the author with great ceremony outside his tukl, conducted him in, and put him to sit on his bed, the only place to sit.  A watermelon was produced, cut, and eaten by the author with the headman watching at his feet.

The author server as judge in the province.  In one case, the bull of Ahmed had had a fight with the bull of Mohammed, and had knocked it down a well, breaking its neck.  Mohammed drew it to the surface and sold it to a butcher for $5.  Mohammed demanded the difference in value between a live and a dead bull.  Since it was 3 p. m., and the author had been at it since 8 a. m., he told them he pass judgement in the morning.  Reading the Bible that night, he found the solution in Exodus.  The next morning, bible in hand, he went to court.  Moslems held the old prophets in great reverence.  The author explained that a similar case had occurred about 3,400 years prior, and Moses had given a law which he proposed to follow.  He then read the verse: “And if one man’s ox hurt’s another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the living ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.”  It was decided that the living ox was valued at $25, and Mohammed had sold his dead ox for $5, so the author ordered Ahmed to pay Mohammed $10 and the matter was settled.  That judgement gave great satisfaction to all parties and they went away happy to their village.  Months afterward, the author was out on tour, and as he neared the village of those litigants at nightfall, he was met by Ahmed.  This time, his bull was the aggressor, and had quarrels with other animal that morning.  The author used the Exodus again: “Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in times past, and his owner hath not kept him in: he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.” Since the pushing ox was dead, the author ordered that no compensation be paid by the owner of the living ox to Ahmed.  His decision was greeted with shouts of applause.  Ahmed even joined in, and the people once more were convinced of the wisdom of their revered Prophet.

The Furowi may have had many failings, but lack of courage could not be counted among them.  One morning an old man walked into the author’s office and said that a lion and lioness were molesting his village, about 15 miles away.  He asked the author to come and destroy the beasts.  The author promised to come the next day, but was delayed.  The day after, the man returned with the head of the lioness dangling from a piece of rope.  He told a story which the author corroborated when he went to the village to dress the wounds of the chief actors.  Three boys, about 15 or 16, went out to their field, each carrying a throwing spear.  They saw the lion and lioness, and the first boy threw his spear and missed.  The lion bounded away as the second boy threw and missed.  The third boy’s spear hit the lioness who turned and leapt on the boy.  One of the boys took off the long garment he was wearing, bound it around his right arm, and grasped the animal’s left ear with his left hand.  He drove his right arm down her throat.  As her teeth closed on his arm, the third boy picked up a hatchet and rained blows on her head until she was dead.  The boys soon recovered from their wounds, and for weeks afterward all the girls of the village wore little pieces of lion meat in their hair as a tribute to the prowess of the young men.  When this article was written, the skin of the lioness adorned the author’s drawing-room on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.



The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “Timbuktu, in the Sands of the Sahara” and was written by Captain Cecil D. Priest.  It contains sixteen black-and-white photographs, none of which are full-page in size.  Two of these photos, each a half-page in size serves as the frontispiece to this article.  The article references the map in the first article as well as text from that article.

Many people had asked the author if Timbuktu was an island; others had said they thought it a myth.  The truth was that Timbuktu was a famous old city in French West Africa.  The town was situated about nine miles from the most northerly point of the river Niger.  In the rainy season it was reached by a canal from Kabara, the so-called port; in the dry season a canoe could go only as far as Koryiamo.  From there, a pony carried the traveler to that mysterious city.  The author would never forget the morning he arrived.  Here was his Mecca at last, haunted by dreams of the curious and imaginative the world over.  Eagerly, he scanned the horizon for a glimpse of what he had longed to see since his earliest childhood.  Nor was he disappointed.  He could see what appeared to be huge buildings in the far distance, enshrouded in haze.  It was only after passing through a thick wood of thorn trees and scrub that he realized how close the town was.  It was the Governor’s Palace that had attracted the most attention; but other well-built offices and houses of solid stone added to the view.  His purpose in coming to Timbuktu was not to study modern desert architecture, but to see the natives in the same type of houses which had been in use for a thousand years.  Early the first morning he went up to the flat roof of the Governor’s Palace to see the panorama.  The sun was not yet too high to make things uncomfortable.  The first thing to catch his eye was a mosque, a mud dome, some 50 feet high, at the far corner of the city.  From his vantage point, he could see a wonderful moving picture of Arabs, Moors, Tuaregs wandering along the narrow streets with camels and donkeys.  From the market place rose the shrill voices of women and boys calling out their wares.  It was getting warm, and at the invitation of a French officer, the author went to his house near the North Fort.  It was a charming place, built of mud in true Arabic style.  In the evening came a visit to the market and the famous old mosque.  He visited the old slave market and the settlement of the freed slaves.

Deep sand laid everywhere and roads or paths did not exist.  At 7 o’clock he dined on the roof of a house in the South Fort.  It was a still African night, with a bright moon.  He heard the chanting of Arab dancers in the distance.  The next day was very different in appearance.  A brisk wind had sprung up during the night.  It was impossible to see half a mile from his veranda.  Quantities of sand blew into the house.  The author visited the chief Marabout, or priest.  The Marabout was sitting on a mat outside his house.  He was a kindly old man of about 60, clothed in a long, flowing white gown and a turban.  He took the author into his hall, a sort of porch, and offered him some tea.  The author declined the tea, but smoked a cigarette, which the host’s boy brought.  When the author told him that he had often read about Timbuktu, he was pleased at the idea of his town being known throughout the world.  He told of how much larger Timbuktu was when he was a child, and how much larger still when his father was young.  In 1924, Timbuktu had scarcely more than 8,000 inhabitants, and many of those were nomads who passed through with cattle or engaged in the great salt trade from Central Sahara.  The author said his goodbyes when the conversation flagged.  The market place was now becoming congested and the strange-smelling atmosphere was annoying.  Meat covered with flies, and all sorts of food were being sold.  The noon sun was blazing hot, but a sun-umbrella afforded some relief.  The vendors sat on mats in little grass shanties.  All sorts of trades were represented.  There was a big trade in dried fish caught in the Niger.  Since the natives loved fish, it was no surprise that the “sun-dried-fish” merchant soon sold out.  The author bought some pretty, blue amulets and necklaces as curios.  In the market place there were three European commercial houses where the ordinary necessities of life could be bought for an exorbitant price.

After leaving the market place, the author came to a large hollow in the ground that was for many years the home of an old, tamed hippopotamus.  The streets were full of people, either going to or returning from the market, which was a sort of African news exchange.  The Tuareg women and girls did most of the work of the household as servants to the wealthy Arabs and Moors.  The girls were most attractive in appearance, but very dirty.  The never washed, as their home was in the heart of the desert, where water was limited to drinking.  The Tuareg was of a light coffee hue, while Arabs were often far lighter in color than a sunburned European.  Beggars were to be found in all African towns, but the author never saw a more pitiable collection than those of Timbuktu.  Some were blind, some were crippled, others old and feeble; but all chanted some song or prayer beseeching Allah and the passerby to give them alms.  As a rule, the native was kind to beggars, but cruel to his animals; donkeys and camels received rough treatment.  Little remained of the house of Barth, the great African explorer of last century.  How many changes had been wrought in Timbuktu during the 30 years since Marshall Joffre made his brilliant march to that city to the relief of the ambushed Bonnier column?  During the rains, Timbuktu had a large paddle-boat of some 200 tons; six tall masts for the wireless station could be seen from the city housetops; and the hum of airplane engines coming up from Dakar had been heard.  The telephone and telegraph were likewise in use, the later being employed by the merchants.  Before the advent of the French, money was little known, barter and exchange serving for all transactions.  In 1924, Cowrie shells were even used in the market, for silver was scarce and paper money was reluctantly accepted.  The European population of Timbuktu numbered about twenty, chiefly government officials, with three or four merchants.  A European baby was born in Timbuktu in 1920 – the first on in the history of that old town.

Social life was essential in a desert place like that, and the French did all they could to make themselves happy and comfortable.  There was a good hospital and a fine, hard tennis court.  Riding and shooting, as well as tennis, were the only forms of exercise.  The wind, which made things so uncomfortable in the morning of the author’s first day, became much worse toward sunset, developing finally into a veritable sandstorm.  The city was enveloped in sand.  Natives hurried to and fro; animals turned their tails to the wind; and everyone waited for rain.  After an hour of extreme discomfort, the rain came, accompanied by vivid flashes of lightning and terrific crashes of thunder.  Then, as if by magic, the sand ceased to blow.  It greedily absorbed the moisture, and in 20 minutes they were outdoors, inhaling the fragrances of the little garden in front of the Governor’s Palace.  The garden was most astonishing.  There in the desert was a miniature Kew Gardens, beautifully designed and laid out, and full of the most wonderful exotic plants, trees, and shrubs.  All the earth was carried up from the Niger banks on donkeys.  Every day at sunset, the plants were watered by prisoners.  A lamp on the top of the Palais de Justice was lit every evening at sunset by the police.  On a clear night it could be seen for miles and miles out on the desert, it served as a guide to men late in returning, or who were lost at night outside the city.  Th author saw a cigarette box cut out of a block of salt.  The Arabs sold the boxes for a mere song, usually bringing them to the city when the great salt caravan arrived annually from the heart of the desert, some 300 miles north of Timbuktu.  The French Government protected the salt caravan by sending out 200 camel corps men with Europeans in charge.  That strong escort defended the caravan from the attacks of the marauding Tuaregs and desert tribes.

When the caravan entered Timbuktu, a great welcome was given the travelers, and the whole town was en fete for several days.  The coming of the caravan was a marvelous sight – some 800 camels laden with salt and hundreds of others ridden by gorgeously robed chiefs, with bodyguards, either mounted or on foot.  The caravan returned north with rice and grain, brought up by canoe from the large agricultural districts of Gundam, El-Waleji, and Gao.  In many parts of Africa, after a rain the mosquito appeared.  Not so in Timbuktu; there it was a rarity.  Owing to the scarcity of mosquitoes, there was little or no malaria in Timbuktu.  Several residents of the city told the author that they never found it necessary to take quinine.  Natives suffered a good deal from pneumonia when the rains came and the weather was treacherous.  For exercise one morning, the author borrowed a pony for a ride.  They rode off to the south toward Kabara.  It was a pretty ride, but heavy going in the deep sand.  At that little village, the author was shown around the “harbor.”  He was interested in the native canoes and dugouts which were being prepared for the time when the river would rise.  That event made Kabara famous for six months in the year.  Some of the canoes were 50 feet long.  The oats were operated by four or five men with long bamboo poles.  Sails on those crafts were dangerous and were seldom used.  The fishing season was in full swing, owing to the low stage of the river.  Nets were drying, and the air was heavy with the odor of fish.  A detachment of the Senegalese regiment was stationed there.  On their way back they passed many flocks of sheep and herds of goats which were being driven down to the river to drink.  The author had lunch with the post physician in his delightfully cool house made of mud.  In the rooms and halls were many trophies of the chase, the best being a white oryx head with large antlers.  There was also a crocodile skin some 20 feet long, and a sun-bleached hippo skull outside his front door.

The natives took great pains with his “hold-all,” a kind of suitcase.  It was very elaborate and took from three to six months to make.  It had fringes of lace, and the opening was laced up like a boot.  The nomad’s clothes, food, and household goods were all jumbled together inside.  On the walls of the physician’s house were heavy iron spears, six feet long, with beaten brass and copper inlay.  The mounted Tuareg bore one of those spears and a shield made of ox hide and nicely carved.  More elaborate shields were made from oryx or giraffe hide.  Those were most serviceable and would resist with ease a sword cut or arrow.  Another article of local manufacture was a bit, a cruel device consisting of a sharp piece of iron projecting from a bar and designed to be placed under a horse’s tongue.  With the bit and spurs, the native was able to make his horse do what he wanted.  After lunch, the author tasted a new and most refreshing drink called citronelle, a kind of tea made from a grass which the French cultivated in their gardens.  Other wonderful things were also grown along the banks of the Niger at those French posts.  He saw melons, strawberries, pineapples, bananas, limes, egg-fruit, pomegranates, and vegetables of every kind.  When the time came for the author’s departure, he rode one cool evening to Koryiamo by moonlight, with an escort of four mounted soldiers.  Even in 1924, it was not safe for Europeans to wander about the desert alone, for the “Razuls,” or bandits, will still kill or capture if they got a chance.


At the bottom of the last page of the third article (page 85) is a notice with the heading “Index for July-December, 1923, Volume Ready”.  The one-line text of the notice states “Index for Volume XLIV (July-December, 1923) will be mailed to members upon request.”


The fourth article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Conquest of the Sahara by the Automobile” and has no byline.  This editorial contains nine black-and-white photographs, of which four are full-page in size.  One of these full-page photos serves as the frontispiece to the article.  As with the previous two article, this one references the sketch map of Africa appearing in the second article on page 46.  It also references the text from the previous article.

The camel no longer held his own on Sahara sands.  Five manmade, mechanical contraptions had defeated him on his own grounds, by reducing to a paltry 20 days the three months’ time it usually required for a 2,000-mile trip across the desert.  The Citroen caterpillar tractor expedition across the Sahara from southern Algeria to Timbuktu and the Niger, in December 1922, and January 1923, added a page to the history of French exploration in Africa, but also gave impetus to the desire of the French to create a political and commercial liaison between the northern and western colonies of their vast empire.  Since the political entry of the French into North Africa at Algiers, their control had been gradually extended farther into the desert by the establishment of posts in the principal oases.  The central plateau region, however, had been difficult to manage, and the success of the Citroen expedition was regarded as an important step in opening that key region to the great desert and in the control of the important north-to-south caravan routes.  A railroad would doubtlessly cross the Sahara in due time.  Meanwhile, its quick and trusty advanced courier, the automobile, went before to discover more of the secrets of the mighty unexplored spaces of the mysterious desert.  There was, to be sure, sand a-plenty in the northern stretch and toward Egypt to the east, but there was a vast region of varied surface and irregular relief, containing rocky plateaus, tracts of loose stone and pebbles, mountain ranges, gorges, and valleys, about which our knowledge was decidedly nebulous.  In some sections, the desert lied 100 feet below sea-level; in others, it rose from 5,00 to 8,000 feet.  Rolling, shifting sand dunes constituted only one-nineth or one-tenth of the Sahara’s entire area.  South of Algeria, they gave way to a rugged, rocky region, which was displaced in its turn by vast plateaus of massive black rocks, boulders, and pebbles.  Beyond, 900 miles from the coast, lied the lofty crags of the Hoggar Plateau, with peaks 8,000 feet or more in height.

The Citroen caterpillar tractors were especially designed to operate over that varied and difficult terrain.  They had to conquer slipping, clogging sand, and sharp, piercing stones.  The most interesting feature of their construction was in the rear, where wheels gave way to rollers.  Those were covered with a continuous band of rubber and canvas, which made a tough and supple rail on which the car travelled.  That increased the traction surface and eliminated the danger of the car’s sinking into the sand.  Before the start from southern Algeria, two auxiliary parties were sent out, one from Tuggurt and one from Timbuktu, to establish oil and supply depots within some 625 miles from each point.  Despite sand-drifts, boulders, gullies, waterless stretches, a sandstorm, broiling sun by day and icy temperatures at night, the expedition averaged 100 miles a day.  Tuggurt, the sand-locked terminus of the South Algeria Railway, in southern Algeria, was the starting point for the adventure.  The convoy covered the first 125 miles across the sands to Wargla without difficulty.  From that famous date-growing region it followed the big, dried-up waterway of the Wadi Mia Valley, amid dunes, to Fort Hassi Inifel, some 250 miles farther south.  That small station was lost in the sandy masses of the Great Eastern Erg (erg meaning sand hill), which stretched from Morocco on the west to Tripoli on the east.  After Inifel, the aspect of the desert began to change from sandy plains, with stretches of dunes, to a desolate, gloomy country strewn with sharp rocks and cut y deep crevasses.  That was the plateau of Tademait, characterized by the remarkable lack tint of its rocks.  The next 280 miles, through the sinister Ain El Gettara Pass and across the vast plain of Tidikelt, were strenuous going.  The ground was covered with boulders, difficult to clear, and a lookout had to be maintained against marauders at the same time.  Tidikelt was a region of mirages.

At In-Salah, the succeeding station, the convoy was met by the entire population, waving palm branches, and escorted by a camel corps and Arab horsemen firing salutes.  That oasis was the last one in North Africa and a center for caravans from the French Sudan, the Hoggar, and the Air.  After leaving In-Salah, the tractors continued over rocky ground, passing many carcasses of camels overcome by the sun and the desert.  The Christmas camp was made in the blue mountains of Muydir, on the edge of the Hoggar country, the real center of the Sahara.  Then the convoy entered the Hoggar through a mountain pass, and beyond it layed perhaps the most perilous part of the journey – the almost waterless, treacherous Tanesruft, a region of sandstorms, boulders, and rocky valleys.  New Year’s was spent at a well on the borderland between North Africa and French West Africa.  Then another stop at Kidal, a small post in the southern Adrar (mountain) of the Iforas, and on through the Saharan region of the Sudan itself to Burem and the Niger.  There, for the first time in history, the true liaison between French colonies in northern and western Africa became a reality on January 4.  The remaining stretch along the Niger west to Timbuktu [see preceding article] was easily made in 27 hours without a stop.  As the convoy swung into the sand-blown streets of the ancient capital amid cheers of the natives, a new chapter in the history of scientific exploration was concluded and civilization approached a bit nearer to the heart of Africa’s most mysterious domain.



The fifth and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “Reelfoot – An Earthquake Lake in Tennesee” and was written by Wilbur A. Nelson.  The internal title is the abbreviated “Reelfoot – An Earthquake Lake.”  The article contains twenty black-and-white photographs described as “Illustrations from Official Photographs, U. S. Army Air Service, Taken by Captain A. W. Stevens and Lieutenant George W. Polk, Engineering Division.”  Six of these photos are full-page in size, and one of those full-page photos serves as the frontispiece for this article.

Reelfoot, an earthquake lake of Tennessee, was born about the time that the first venturesome pioneers began to settle along the banks of the mighty Mississippi.  Perhaps De Soto, in his wanderings along the Mississippi River, saw that country as a vast unbroken wilderness.  He little dreamed that that placid wilderness would within three hundred years be torn and racked by Nature’s forces, and that during one of the greatest earthquakes of historical times lakes covering tens of thousands of acres would come into existence overnight.  At the beginning of the 19th century, that region was called Indian Country.  Legend said that a mighty chief ruled wisely, but was sad because his only son was born with a deformed foot.  When he grew up, he walked differently than the others, so they called him Reelfoot.  When the old chief died, Reelfoot became chief.  He traveled south in search of a bride.  He reached a village and beheld his dream princess.  She was the only daughter of the Chief, and when Reelfoot told her father the reason of his visit, the old chief got angry and said his daughter would only marry within their tribe.  That made Reelfoot sad, but he was determined to have her.  He offered the chief pearls and skins.  The old chief sent for the tribe’s medicine man, who called on the Great Spirit.  The Great Spirit spoke to Reelfoot, saying that an Indian must not steal his wife from another tribe; and if he disobeyed, the Great Spirit would cause the earth to rock and the waters to swallow up Reelfoot’s village.  Reelfoot was frightened, and returned home sad.  It was summer when he reached his village.  He tried to keep busy with the harvest, but could not get the princess out of his mind.  Reelfoot decided to kidnapped the girl, but when he brought her back to his village, the Great Spirit stomped his feet in anger.  The Father of Waters heard and rushed over Reelfoot’s country.  Where the Great Spirit stomped, the Mississippi formed a beautiful lake, in the bottom of which laid Reelfoot, his bride, and his people.  Such was the legend of Reelfoot Lake.

An account of the earthquake was given by one of the pioneers, Eliza Bryan, living in New Madrid.  She wrote to her pastor describing the events.  The earthquake occurred at 2 a. m. on December 16, 1811 sounding like distant thunder.  The air was full of sulphureous vapors; the inhabitants screamed, and trees fell.  The Mississippi flowed backwards for several minutes.  Aftershocks continued for weeks.  Then on February 7th, around 4:00 a. m., another large quake occurred.  The Mississippi receded from its banks and gathered up like a mountain.  Then the banks overflowed as the waters rose 15 to 20 feet.  The river fell immediately, as violently as it had risen.  It took with it whole groves of cottonwood trees, which hedged its borders.  The ground was covered with sand from fissures which had opened in great numbers all over the country.  The site of the town settled down at least 15 feet, but a half a mile down steam, there was no change to the banks of the river.  Back from the river, lakes were nearly dried up; their beds elevated several feet above their former banks.  A lake was formed on the opposite side of the river that Mrs. Bryan said was 100 miles long and 6 miles wide.  That size was an exaggeration.  The lake was 14 miles long and 4½ miles wide.  Reelfoot was not the only lake formed, for large areas of eastern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana were partly submerged and several small lakes formed.  The earthquake became known as the New Madrid earthquake.  The Spanish town from which it was named was party demolished during the event.  Although the region affected was a wilderness, it had lured many travelers, including Audubon.  In the middle of Tennessee lived Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett lived nearby.  Most of those noted men left accounts of what happened.  General Rogers, of Revolutionary fame, lived at Rock Island, on the Caney Fork River, at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains.  He saw great blocks of sandstone crash down 1,000 feet down the mountainside.

A great area throughout America was affected by that earthquake.  From Canada to Missouri and Arkansas, Indians reported the quake, as did settlers to the southwest.  Th quake was felt in New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, and even Boston, 1,100 miles away.  In the Reelfoot region there were no hard rocks; all the country was covered by rich loams and clays, and under that surface was layer upon layer of loose sand and clay, down to a depth of 2,000 feet.  The earth waves came up through those layers and, where breaks occurred on the surface, veritable sand geysers poured streams of quicksand.  Great forest trees moved; their trunks fell prostrate or reclined at grotesque angles to the ground.  The rhythmic motion of the earth was well shown by the parallel lines of cypress trees growing on the low crests of the many rolls in the Reelfoot Lake region.  An airplane view brought to life again the roll of the earth as it occurred more than a century prior.  New Madris was near the center of that earth movement, and it fared badly.  Sand geysers covered the ground up to 100 feet deep; and the river banks caved in and most of the old town was swallowed by the Mississippi.  A riverboat captain described the events.  He had cut cable and headed for the middle of the river.  A large fall, six feet deep formed perpendicular across the river.  The whirls and rippling of that rapid that he was sure of the boat’s destruction; the ripples in the river were 30 feet high.  He and his men constantly employed in pumping and bailing, and got safely through.  On his arrival at New Madrid, he found it had sunk 12 feet and entirely deserted.  A large barge, loaded with 500 barrels of flour, was split end to end and turned upside down at the bank.  Of the 30 loaded boats, only that and one other escaped destruction.  They were thrown far ashore, and several boatmen lost their lives.

Just to the south, the town of Caruthersville was entirely destroyed.  The inhabitants were fortunate in that they found safety in the hills and forests.  It was a settlement of 100 families located in a wide and very deep bottom.  After the quake, there were many fissures and the ground was buried in three feet of sand.  The surface was red with iron oxide, which was mixed with the sand.  Orchards and houses laid abandoned, while New Madrid was slowly being rebuilt.  During the past 100 years [from 1924], the Mississippi River had continued to ravage the areas along its course during flood seasons. The town of Tiptonville came in the path of its mighty currents in 1878.  Day after day, the river tore away its bluff banks, eating gradually up to the town; and then one by one, the houses were moved to the far edge of the community.  By 1880, much of the town had been move, and the waters began ti shift away from the town, leaving it far from the water.  While the Mississippi writhed back and forth across its mighty plain, the newly born Reelfoot Lake grew more beautiful, and Nature began to heal scars on the landscape.  Its clear, brownish water became home of many fish and its surface was dotted with lily pads.  Along its borders, dense growths of grasses soon appeared.  To that haven, teeming with fish, came ducks, geese, cormorants, coots, and white herons.  Rails, gallinules, bitterns, and teals nested among the saw grass and lily pads.  As wild fowl and game flocked in, so did the French trappers, and the American hunters and pioneers.  There one still [in 1924] found minks, weasels, and otters along with opossums and raccoons.  As the country was gradually developed, numbers of sportsmen settled along the lake.  Located along the most-used highway of migratory birds, Reelfoot Lake was visited in the spring and in the autumn by large numbers of waterfowl.  Besides the many birds and beasts, the flora was of interest.  The pecan tree was there, in all its productiveness.  There too was found the bald cypress.  Where the land was cleared, cotton was the staple crop.

Many southern birds marked Reelfoot Lake as their northernmost point of distribution, or nearly so.  In late summer, large flocks of Wood Ibis visited the lake after their breeding season was over in Louisiana.  While the migrations marked the high point of bird life on the lake, its summer residents were numerous.  There were at least 250 species of birds there during the course of a year.  Our national bird, the Bald Eagle, still held its own there [in 1925].  They live on rabbits, foxes, squirrels, and fish, the latter frequently secured by robbing Osprey in midair.  They built their huge nests on the tops of the largest bald cypress, at a height of 150 feet or more above the ground.  Two large colonies of Herons and Cormorants had been visited by Mr. A. F. Ganier, of Nashville, who had made a study of the animal life of the lake.  Each colony was found to contain about 400 nests.  About a third of the nests were those of Cormorants.  The nests were placed on the tops of the cypress trees at an average height of 110 feet above the water.  Several nests of each bird were frequently placed in the same tree.  By the last week of April, the nests of the Herons were occupied by hungry young, while the Cormorants were just settling down to incubate their four or five eggs.  Within the last few years [before 1924], a colony of American Egrets, which nested at the upper end of the lake, were “shot out” by plumers, and it was not known if any survived.  A small colony of Little Blue Herons existed at the south end of the lake.  The ever-present Green Heron completed the roll call for that family.  Ducks included the Hooded Merganser and the Wood Duck.  Reelfoot was not suited for the breeding of ducks, other than the tree-nesting variety, because there was little or no shallow marsh.  The Least Bittern was a summer resident in the saw grass, and the Coot bred there occasionally.  One of the most characteristic birds of the lake was the Golden Swamp Warbler, which nested abundantly all about the lake.

The hunter’s season at Reelfoot began October 15.  The first big rain was followed by a cold snap and an avalanche of ducks and geese.  The Mallards were always the most numerous, but there were about 20 varieties of ducks.  When ducks failed, the hunter turned to the Coot, which at times were numerous.  Many years prior, Swans were among the most abundant of the migrating waterfowl.  The Canada Goose was a regular winter visitor.  During the fall and early spring, immense flocks of Cormorants gathered on the lake and consumed considerable numbers of small fish.    The smaller mammals were as much at home in that primitive habitat as were the birds.  I the early settler days, the Elk was abundant in the surrounding country, but had bee extinct since roughly 1850.  During recent years [of 1925], the Black Bear had followed the Elk and the Virginia Deer had been almost wiped out.  Some few Beaver and Otter were to be found in the swamp areas, while the Raccoon, Opossum, Mink, Muskrat, Gray and Flying Squirrels were common.  The king of the lake fish was the Alligator Gar, growing to a length of eight feet.  There were also Spoonbill Catfish, Crappie, and Bass.  Snakes were much evident in summer.  The Commonest of the swimming snakes was the Water Moccasin.  The most primitive of the lake’s aquatic monsters was the Alligator Terrapin, or Loggerhead, a denizen of the dismal swamps.  The reptiles, batrachians, and insect forms had been studied only briefly, and there lied an opportunity for naturalists.  When the State of Tennessee realized the value of Reelfoot Lake, she made it a fish and game preserve.  The trappers and settlers resisted the State, and the night riders’ war of 1908 began.  It culminated in October of that year, on the banks of the lake, in an attack on two lawyers representing the landowners.  One was hung while the other, who was 70, swam to safety under a hail of bullets.  But once more, the Reelfoot region was peaceful.  There, in the heart of the U. S. was one of the few remaining primitive spots in the country.



I would like to point out that a plaque commemorating this issue is on display in the Big Room of Carlsbad Cavern.

I visited the cave with my wife and two oldest grandsons on August 29, 2017.  Here are a couple of views from the Big Room.


Tom Wilson

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A superb "flashback" review as always Tom!
I shared the link to your review above to a friend who is a retired geologist (eg, Carlsbad Caverns) along with being a NGS lover and dealer. He was thrilled with it : - )

- Scott



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