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100 Years Ago: August 1923


This is the 103rd entry in a series of abridgements of 100-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Our Heritage of the Fresh Water” and was written by Charles Haskins Townsend, Director of the New York Aquarium.  The article has the internal subtitle: “Biographies of the Most Widely Distributed of the Important Food and Game Fishes of the United States.”  It contains “41 Illustrations,” of which twenty-five are black-and-white photographs.  Eleven of these photos are full-page in size.  The remaining images in the article are the “Sixteen Illustrations of Fresh-Water Fishes in Full Color” headlining the cover.  These full-page color plates are from paintings by Hashime Murayama, and are numbered I through XVI in Roman numerals representing pages 133 through 148 in the issue.  The article is a hybrid, with the first half being an article while the second half a field guide.

Since the beginning of time mankind had been able to get some part of his food from the waters; among relics of the Stone Age were shell hooks and stone sinkers.  Ancient sculptures – Assyrian, Egyptian, and Aztec – portrayed the taking of fishes with spear, hook, and net.  In some of the far corners of the world amazingly primitive ways of getting fishes were still in use.  In New Guinea the natives used dip nets made from spider web.  The Aleut dragged up halibut with a huge hook of bent wood.  The Fuegian used a bone-pointed spear, while the Tonga Islander user poison from a plant to stun the fishes.  As populations increased and man improved his methods, he took more food from the waters. A surplus of fish supplies often glutted the market.  As fish-catching enterprises gradually became great fishery industries, there arose the problems of diminished supply.  In 1921, there were official boards in many countries concerned with the preservation of sea fisheries.  In considering the resources of our fresh waters, we found everywhere exhaustive methods of fishing and a diminished supply, in spite of restrictive measures and extensive fish propagation.  That diminishing was measured by the fishery statistics for the past half century.  It took more and more gear to make the same catch.  In the Great Lakes, our largest reservoirs of food fish, the investment in the fishing industry exceeded $10,000,000 in 1923.  The rivers and lakes of the U.S. had fishery resources that were unequaled elsewhere.  The Great Lakes were virtual inland seas and the navigable rivers were among the largest in the world.  Those waters had been enormously productive in food for our people.  In one year, commercial fishermen had taken from the Mississippi River and its tributaries more than 96,000,000 pounds of fish, while the Great Lakes yielded more than 113,000,000 pounds.  As large as those supplies were, they surely were vastly greater before the exploitation of their resources began.

While the food fish derived from our fresh waters was vast in quantity, it was also notable in variety.  There were many kinds of Trouts, Salmons, Whitefishes, Sturgeons, Pikes, Basses, Sunfishes, Perches, Catfishes, the Shad, and the Eel, as well as the less important, but abundant, Chubs and Suckers.  Although the Salmons, Sturgeons, the Shad, and other fishes ascending rivers for the purpose of spawning did not remain permanently in fresh water, it was there that they may be captured.  It was there that they may be preserved indefinitely or utterly destroyed.  None of the rivers of the Atlantic coast contained, in 1923, the great runs of Shad, Sturgeon, and Salmon for which they were noted half a century before.  Along the Pacific coast from California to Alaska the Salmon rivers had been subjected, for more than a generation, to commercial fishing so exhaustive that the prepared products were distributed by shipload throughout the civilized world.  When restrictions were proposed by conservationists, the extent of the “investment” was at once pointed out and greater propagation was urged instead.  The average citizen saw but little of the great fishing operations going on perpetually.  From early spring until late autumn nets were emptied daily and the heavy catch distributed to the markets of the whole country.  In winter the markets continued to be supplied great quantities of fish withdrawn from cold storage.  We thought little about where our fish supplies came from so long as we had them.  It was well to be reminded that the yield of the fisheries grew smaller- not larger.  In addition to the familiar food and game fishes, our waters were rich in Minnows, Darters, Shiners, and other small fry of no direct economic value, but of vast importance as the food supple of larger fishes.  Some of our smallest fishes had been found useful in combating malaria and annoyances caused by mosquitoes, and were being shipped to mosquito-plagued countries.

The richness of fish life in our fresh waters was amazing.  The U. S. had a smaller area than Europe, yet it had nearly five times as many kinds of freshwater fishes.  We had about 585 species of those, while Europe had but 126 species.  Some States had more than 100 species – Illinois had 150 species, while New York had 141.  Many of the fishes commonly taken for food or sport had been transplanted beyond their original habitat.  In that way the Shad and the Striped Bass had been made abundant on the Pacific coast – a notable success in fish propagation.  Although the numbers of fishes caught by anglers did not figure in the statistics of the catch made for market, they were not without high economic and other values.  Most of the Northern States were visited in summer by tourists interested in good angling waters.  Lakes far and wide had become summer resorts for people who found much of their recreation in fishing.  Summer visitors, moving by hundreds of thousands, carried into those States millions of dollars.  The trade in angling equipment alone was extensive.  Modern fish culture had made greater progress in the U. S. than in other countries, being carried on by the Federal Government and by all of the States which had fishery resources of importance.  The output from Government hatcheries in 1921 amounted to nearly five billion fish eggs, young fry, and partly reared fishes, while from the State hatcheries was nearly as great.  The work included all of the freshwater fishes of importance and a number of marine species belonging to the coastal regions or entering rivers to spawn.  Freshwater fish culture in the U. S. had been carried on for more than fifty years in steadily increasing volume, in an effort to keep pace with a depletion by fishing industries that threatened to exhaust the fish supply.

The great fishery problem of the time [1923] in our country was the pollution of the fresh waters by innumerable agencies, rapidly affecting their productiveness.  Unless stern measure were introduced by law to correct that, soon one of our great natural economic gifts would be seriously stricken.  When we considered that the market catch in the Great Lakes alone sometimes exceeded 100,000,000 pounds a year, the legion of anglers were overfishing the Trout and Bass streams everywhere, and the pollution of the rivers by manufacturing industries had reached appalling proportions, it was apparent that our heritage of the water was endangered to a serious degree.  Fish culture alone cannot save it, even if greatly increased.  We were already wasting expensive propagation work in stocking waters no longer suitable for fish life, and many streams had been abandoned to their fate.  One could name a score of rivers in mining and manufacturing States, once contributing to the food supply, that now contained no living thing – no fish or Mussel or Crayfish, not even an air-breathing Frog.  Those rivers represented damaged resources and there were others that might soon join them.  Reforms came so slowly that the great cleanup task ahead of the American people was not likely to be undertaken seriously until conditions became intolerable.  In many countries all wastes available for fertilization were restored to the land and not through sewers into the streams, while manufacturing wastes were converted into valuable byproducts.   The exhaustion of our freshwater resources was not inevitable.  We had the methods to protect and propagate the fishes, we just needed the public demand to do it.  A more recent but increasing danger to the angling waters lied in the increasing use of the automobile.  Bass and Trout waters heretofore reached with difficulty had become the easily accessible resorts of camping parties, with the result that their resources were being exhausted.

A partial offset to such conditions was the increasing efforts of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries in the work of rescuing food and gamefish from overflowed lands in the Mississippi Valley, where appalling numbers of fishes had always perished upon the receding of floods.  Although a dozen or more crews of five or six men each, equipped with seines, were employed, many times that number were needed.  The total number of entrapped fishes restored to flowing waters in 1922 exceeded 179,000,000 of all sizes.  The larger fishes were removed to adjacent streams, the smaller ones distributed far and wide for the stocking of depleted waters.  There were many more sports fishermen than hunters, and it was easy to exhaust a small stream by overfishing, but preservation of the fishes was possible through safeguards and restorative measures.  Our fishing would doubtlessly last longer than our shooting.  Private fish farming would be of great service in maintaining and increasing our supply of food fish.  While it had been practiced for centuries in some European countries, it had just commenced [in 1923] in America.  Fish-culturists asserted that an acre of water could be made to yield more food than an acre of land, and the truth of the assertion had been demonstrated.

Other aquiculture was being done in the Mississippi Valley by the Bureau of Fisheries.  The propagation of Mussels was dependent upon the presence of fishes to which the young may attach.  When old enough to form shells, they dropped off to begin their independent existence.  The Mussel’s shell was used to make pearl buttons.  The supply had been exhausted and an important industry was in danger.  The Mussel industry yielded 60,000 tons of shells which were worth more than $1,000,000.  Not all fishes were susceptible to those temporary mollusk parasites.  Large numbers of fishes “infected” with young Mussels were liberated to stock the public waters.  It was even possible to introduce the Mussels elsewhere.  There were several species of large Turtles of the kind known as “sliders” in our freshwater streams and lakes, especially in the Middle and Southern States, that contributed to the food supply.  Fishery officials were aware of their importance and had studied their distribution, methods of capture, and conservation.  Frogs of several kings were valued aquatic food delicacies, and their habits had received considerable attention with the goal of developing a practical system of frog-culture.  It was hoped that some method of conservation would be found before the natural supply was exhausted.  The annual market supply of freshwater Turtles and Frogs had been known to exceed half a million pounds of each, the great bulk of the catch being taken from the Mississippi and its tributaries.  The humble Crayfish, although small in size, figured prominently in the aquatic food supply, Lake Michigan leading with over 200,000 pounds annually.

While the food of fishes consisted chiefly of other fishes, it included practically the whole aquatic fauna.  Fishes not only fed on other fishes and on insects, but on crustaceans, mollusks, and worms.  Plants did not constitute much of their food, although a few kinds fed on them, such as the Buffalo-fishes, Carps, and Minnows.  Some fish got food rooting in the mud, while others were scavengers.  The chiefly fish-eating fishes included Pike, Pickerel, Muskellunge, Pike-perch, Burbot, Gar, Black Bass, and Channel Catfishes.  Moderated fish-eaters included Bream, Blue-cheeked Sunfish, Mudfish, White bass, Rock Bass, and Crappies.  Fishes that rarely ate other fishes included White Perch, Suckers, Spoonbill, Darters, Top Minnows, Silversides, Sticklebacks, Mud Minnows, Stonecats, and common Minnows.  The whole minnow tribe contributed to the food of the smaller fish-eaters.  In the Mississippi region the Gizzard-shad constituted 40% of the food of the Walleyed Pike, 30% that of the Black Bass, half that of the Pike, and a third that of the Gars. That was a good illustration of the usefulness of an abundant species of little importance as food for man.  Mollusks – Snails and Mussels – were also important as fish food.  They formed a large portion of the food of Catfishes, Suckers, Freshwater Drum, and mudfish.  About 16% of the food of Perch, Sunfish, Top Minnows, and Shiners were mollusks.  Fishes fed freely on insects, both aquatic and terrestrial insects cast into the water.  Crustaceans appeared to be an even more important fish food, especially the minute Entomostraca.  The Crayfishes were also eaten.  The food of adult fishes differed greatly from that of the young.  Fish in captivity devoured many kinds of meats and prepared foods.  Apparently, fishes will eat almost any living animal forms from the water not too large to be swallowed.

Little could be learned about the ages attained by fishes, unless individuals were kept under observation in captivity.  Tagging of young Salmon showed that they returned to spawn and die in their native rivers, after maturing at sea, between the fourth and seventh year, according to the species.  The records of public and private aquariums furnished reliable data.  Some specimens of the European Eel had lived for periods varying from 20 to 55 years.  It was recorded that four Russian Sterlets lived for 25 years.  A Golden Orfe was still living after 24 years of captivity.  One Sterlet died after being kept “about 38 years.”  An Australian Lungfish lived more than 19 years.  There were accounts of European Trout being kept in captivity for 53 years, and of Carp still longer.  The New York Aquarium had specimens in 1923 of Mudfish, Bowfin, and the Long-nosed Gar which were received in 1903.  There was a Short-nosed Gar from 1904.  In the Aquarium certain North American fishes had lived for long periods – Striped Bass, 20 years; Whitefish, 20 years; Black Bass, 11 years; Muskellunge, Calico Bass, Rock Bass, and Yellow Perch, 10 Years.  A Striped Bass kept in captivity for 19 years weighed 20 pounds and was three feet long when it died.  That species sometimes attained a weight of 80 pounds or more.  It was likely that some species grew faster in freedom.  Wild fish of exceptionally large size were often found.  It was assumed that fishes continued to grow through their lifetime.  It was now known [in 1923] that scales of fishes bore marks which indicated the length of life and the rate of growth in different years.  The scale grew in proportion with the rest of the fish by additions around its border.  The fish grew at different rates during different seasons.  Concentric ridges formed around the edge of the scale, growing more in summer than in winter.  Thus, the ridges on a fish’s scales were comparable to the annual ring growth of tree trunks.  Studies of the scales of Whitefish in the Great Lakes show the scales were well defined and one could tell the age of an individual by reading them.

The sexes of fishes were not as readily distinguishable as in the case of birds.  Males and females were usually so much alike that only the expert recognized the differences, and in many species the dissecting knife needed to be employed to determine the fact.  The colors of fishes varied somewhat according to the waters they inhabited, and that applied also to fishes held in captivity, where the colors tended to become more subdued.  The fishes of exhibition tanks, however, brightened their colors during spawning seasons, much as did wild fishes.  The habits of fishes had not been studied as thoroughly as those of birds, mammals, and other vertebrated animals.  Books on fishes were largely of two classes: those written by anglers, related to methods employed in the capturing of fish, and those written by the naturalist, dealing with classification and distribution.  In neither class of book was the life of the fish in its own environment fully considered.  Since the keeping of fishes in aquariums became common, many important facts had been recorded, but observations of creatures in captivity could show but little of their real life.  For many important facts related to the senses of fish we were indebted to the modern biology laboratory.  Facts based on experimentation related to fishes’ powers of hearing and memory, their color change, sleep, electrical and poisonous properties, the sounds they made, and so on, were slowly being brought to light.



The second part of the first article, as stated before, is a field guide of U. S. freshwater fish.  It is comprised of two parts – a series of text entries and the previously mentioned set of color Plates.  The entries, one for each species of fish or group of similar fishes, contain a common name, a Latin name (genus and species), and Plate numeral, followed by a short description of the fish, its range, habits, and other facts.  The set of color Plates have a separate title: “Fresh-Water Fishes of the United States.”  They are embedded in the field guide portion of the article.  Since the entry headings and the Plate caption titles would generate almost identical lists, I have opted to list the entry headings with Plate numerals.

  • Spotted Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), Common Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus) and other Catfishes, Plate I
  • The Black Basses (Micropterus dolomieu and Micropterus salmoides), Plate II
  • Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Plate III
  • Calico Bass (Pomoxis sparoides) and Crappie (Pomoxis annularis), Plate IV
  • White Perch (Morone americana), Plate V
  • Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Plate VI
  • Lake Trout (Cristvomer namaycush), Plate VII
  • McCloud River Rainbow Trout (Salmo irideus shasta), Plate VIII
  • Eastern Pickerel (Esox reticulatus), Plate IX
  • Pike (Esox Lucius), Plate IX
  • Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser rubicundus), Plate X
  • Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), Plate XI
  • Common Whitefish (Coregonus clupeiformis), Plate XII
  • Fresh-Water Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens), Plate XIII
  • Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), Plate XIV
  • Pike-Perch (Stizostedion vitreum) and Sauger (Stizostedion canadense), Plate XV
  • Common Eel (Anguilla rostrata), Plate XVI



The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “Hunting Birds with a Camera” and was written by William L. Finley, of the National Association of Audubon Societies.  It has the internal subtitle: “Record of Twenty Years of Adventure in Obtaining Photographs of Feathered Wild Life in America.”  Of the “37 Illustrations” documented on the cover, twenty-one of them are black-and-white photographs taken by H. T. Bohlman, Irene Finley, and the author.  Three of these photos are full-page in size, with one of them serving as the frontispiece to the article.  The other illustrations consist of a block of sixteen full-page duotones embedded within the article.

As far back as he could remember, the author could see the Black-headed Grosbeak that took his meal of elderberries in the tree just outside the east window.  He recalled the Goldfinches flocking in the autumn fields and he heard the evening calls of the White-crowns gathering in the rose brier to spend the night.  These were all friends of his childhood days.  The lure of the wild birds developed into a hobby.  Later, the opportunities opened for him to hunt out the haunts of rarer birds and make friends with them.  Finally, he had made business out of pleasure by lying in wait with camera and notebook.  Years before, in reading about Audubon and looking at the pictures in his big portfolios, Bohlman and the author developed an ambition to show some of the things with the camera which that great naturalist had shown with the brush.  Their objective was to secure a series of photographs that were both artistic and informative.  They wanted to show the birds’ home lives, traits, and habits.  They searched for typical nests of artistic setting, then visited them from time to time to get different stages of growth of the young birds and to make a photographic life history of the species.  They soon discovered that the skilled painter had an advantage over the photographer in many ways.  The art in a bird photograph was so greatly limited by the working possibilities of the camera.  Painters had possibilities and flexibilities; the photographer had what was in front of him.  When a camera hunter tried for effects, like water ripples, he had to search high and low for the right foreground and background, the proper lighting, and the perfect position from which to take the shot.  And he never knew when his bird subjects were willing to pose.  He might try for days, even weeks, to get the right combination to make a good photograph.

A good bird photograph was a reflected image of facts.  The reality of things, the truth, was the appeal which the photograph made.  We cannot compare photography with art.  A photograph had to be studied for its own sake.  It should be compared to other photographs, but not to creative works of pen or brush.  In considering the photograph from an artistic standpoint, we had to take into account the relationship between the camera, which was a mechanical means of expression, and the ideas expressed in the picture.  Because of the different means of expression, we cannot compare a picture made with a camera to a painting made with a brush.  In wildlife photography, one generally had to take what he could get.  Yet that was not always so.  One might often obtain photographs of artistic value by combining a technical knowledge of the camera with a sympathetic study of nature.  After selecting his position and subjects all that was needed was the patience to wait hours, maybe days, to get the perfect shot.  Some birds made up much better in photographs than others.  The attitude of the Great Blue Heron at rest was in itself artistic.  The first trips of any consequence that Bohlman and the author took to study birdlife were in 1897 and 1898.  During the summers of those years, they made two long canoe trips to the headwaters of the Willamette River.  In the summer of 1899, they cruised Lewis River in Washington as far as Tum Tum Canyon.  Their first intensive work in making photographic studies of wild birds was one summer, when they were landed on some rocks of the Oregon coast by sealion hunters.  That was their first glimpse of the great colonies of birds that lived on the sea cliffs.  They decided to return at the first opportunity and make a careful photographic study of the seabirds.  Two years later they pitched their tent on the beach opposite Three Arch Rocks.

Three Arch Rocks were about a mile offshore.  Those great stacks of basalt, so named because each had a huge arch through the base, were the largest islands off the Oregon shore.  For 16 days they laid in camp while the waves throbbed incessantly.  Eventually, the surf dropped lower, and they were able to launch their 14-foot dory and reach the smooth water beyond the shoals.  As they pulled near the rocks the air-laden guano smell struck their nostrils.  The babel of distant sounds was broken by the scream of a nearby Gull or the roar of a sealion.  As they approached the low-lying rocks, the bellowing grew louder and louder.  Mingled with the roar of the bulls were the bleating of a hundred calves and the cries of thousands of sea fowl.  They could not talk above the din.  Far up, under the eaves of those great stacks of basalt, they saw the California Murres whirling and flashing in circles.  Thousands sat in long white lines on every available shelf.  Others splattered over the water and dove about their boat.  Puffins buzzed about the crags like bumblebees.  Gulls followed in the dory’s wake.  Cormorants flapped solemnly away while others returned strung out in file.  They landed on the south side where the rock shelved down to tide level.  A steady ground swell of 10 or 12 feet prevented them from landing.  One member jumped ashore, and provisions had to be tossed ashore.  The hardest task was ledging the boat.  They used a block and tackle to work her up to a 12-foot table above the waves.  They camped about 40 feet up from the landing spot.  On the next two flats just above theirs, were two large “chicken yards” of Murres.  The clamor of those birds lasted well into the night and started again at daybreak.  The ventilation was vile; the whole island was rancid.  By climbing from shelf to shelf and zigzagging back and forth, they found a way to the top.  Here they climbed from the nest of one Cormorant to another and clambered on up to the pinnacle of the rock, where they got an idea of the size of the island.

One of the prettiest sights about the rock were the Gulls, which filled the air like so many feathery snowflakes.  The author liked to watch them because they were masters of the air.  A Gull would steal and murder like a pirate.  If a Murre of Cormorant left their nest unguarded, Gulls would swoop in and eat chicks and eggs.  The roof of the island rock was covered with a loose coating of earth.  It was fertilized with guano, and had a luxuriant growth od chickweed, clover, and other grasses.  The whole surface was so perforated with the burrows of Puffins and Petrels that they could scarcely walk without sinking into the nests.  The Puffins dug in two to three feet, and a burrow would often have two or three openings.  A Petrel sometimes used the door of a Puffin’s nest as an entrance and dug himself a kind of a side bedroom off the main corridor.  Mr. Finley’s first experience with an old Puffin was unpleasant.  He wanted a Puffin egg.  He reached into a nest and the Puffin bit him and held on.  It had to be dug out and then pried off.  It had cut the skin to the bone.  Petrels were nocturnal, and never seen about the rock in the daytime.  By digging in the soft earth, it was not difficult to unearth Petrels and their nest.  The Petrel nestlings were fed by the parents thrusting its beak down the mouth of the young bird and injecting a yellowish fluid.  The bird would use it as a defense by projecting rancid fish oil if they were molested.  One evening the went to the top of the rock and hid on the north slope.  As the sun set Petrels, returning from the open sea, swept in like a swarm of bats.  Those in the burrows came chittering out to meet them.  The ground seemed full of squeaking while the air softly twittered and whistled.  They had two 10-gallon casks of fresh water.  They could stay so long as the water lasted.  They had plenty of food.  It was easy to catch fish and they had an unlimited number of eggs.  Murre eggs were excellent for cooking and they ate hard boiled Cormorant eggs for lunches.

They could not climb along the ledges for an hour without risking their lives in a dozen places.  Up and down the rock was a large colony of Brant Cormorants.  Their nests were scattered a few feet apart for over 100 yards.  The author found the half-grown Cormorants ugly and ridiculous.  It was not uncommon for young birds to fall over the ledges of the cliffs, where the population was so crowded.  Late one afternoon, while preparing dinner, they were startled by an avalanche of loose gravel from the overhang above. A half-grown Cormorant came flopping down with a thud from a nest 75 feet above.  It got up, shook itself off, clamored over near their fire, curled up and went to sleep.  The California Murre was by far the commonest bird on the rocks.  It crowded together in immense colonies.  The bird laid a single egg in the open, with no sign of a nest.  The shape of the egg kept it from rolling, even down a slope.  All about laid eggs so close together that one could hardly walk without crushing them.  Thousands of eggs yet no two were alike.  Some were white, some were gray, others brown or black.  Each bird knew her own egg.  The author proved that fact by scaring the birds in the colony and then watching their return.  Two years later he performed the similar experiment on the same colony when all the eggs were hatched.  It had been noisy during the days of incubation, but it was bedlam when the Murres had young.  Upon returning, the mothers ignore all but their own chick.  When a Murre mate came from the fishing ground to relieve the brooding mother, he landed on the ledge and then forced himself through the crowd, squeezing and shoving, until he found his mate.  He took her place and she reversed the process, working her way to the ledge and taking off from there.

When Mr. Finley was a boy, he watched the wedges of geese flying southward each autumn and other flocks of wild fowl winging silently on their way.  Each spring he saw the bands returning.  Those sights kindled his imagination.  One spring, they followed the trails across the Cascade Range, in Oregon.  On the morning of the fourth day, they came down the eastern slope overlooking the basin of the Lower Klamath.  Stretching to the east and south, almost beyond the limit of vision, laid the marshes.  Here laid the land of his dreams.  After nearly 20 years of waiting, he was looking over that place of mystery that laid far beyond the northern rim of my home hills.  The plain yielded to the plow, the forest to the ax, but the unmeasured stretch of those tules was unchanged.  The trapper and the hunter had plied the streams and lakes, but the tules lied untouched, a maze forbidding, almost impenetrable.  The lure of the tule was in its wildness.  It was the ancestral nesting grounds of many species of wild fowl.  They camped at the edge of the marsh that night, and early next morning bailed out an old trapper’s boat and slowly paddled down the right bank of the marsh-lined river.  There were many sounds.  The Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds fluttered in and out and swung on the bending tops of the tall cane.  As they edged silently along close to the reeds, they came to a turtle lying asleep on a log.  Once or twice, they saw a snake gliding away in the water.  They were approaching a Bittern, who was pumping.  Suddenly they were face to face with the Bittern, and up he flapped with a frightened “quork.”  At the next bend in the river, the author waded out through two feet of water to a small grassy island in the midst of the swamp.  He was sure he would find Ducks’ nests.  He had wandered around for some time, wondering why he could not find a nest, when suddenly a female Mallard flushed from between his feet.  He had straddled a nest of ten eggs before the mother flapped off lamely through the grass.

The next day they started out again down the river.  In the afternoon a bank of clouds rose in the east, and they heard the peal of thunder.  Soon they were caught in the storm, the nearest cover was their tent, two miles away.  The sun broke through a rift in the clouds.  Then over a wide stretch of the marsh, the birds began to rise – Gulls, Ducks, Cormorants, Terns, and even a Bittern, or Night Heron.  Blackbirds were all aflutter, as the rain and hail began to pelt.  The whole surface was a-splatter with the flood from the clouds pounding the river below.  After spending two weeks along the Klamath River, they set out overland for Klamath Falls, and then went to the town of Merrill, 20 miles south.  There they secured a staunch rowboat, loaded their supply of provisions, and started down Lost River for Tule, or Rhett Lake.  That night, they camped at the mouth of the river, a great rendezvous for water fowl.  Avocets were swooping past calling loudly, Stilts were crying loud and fast, and Killdeers were running and flapping about in great distress.  They kept crying long after the party had crawled into their blankets and well into the night.  The next morning, they discovered the reason – four Killdeer nests, and five of the Stilts and Avocets were near where they camped.  Toward evening the Ducks came in from the lake in bands and settled down for the night where the water was shallow.  After five days, they set out across Tule Lake, and after rowing several hours came to the peninsula at the southeast end.  It was of volcanic origin.  The shore was rough and precipitous.  In some places there were cliffs, in others steep slopes of crumbly debris.  In places on those slopes grew masses of California poppies.  That night, they camped just below the crater of an extinct volcano and early next morning they paddled out to the rocky island containing a colony of Farallone Cormorants.  In the space of 25 or 50 feet they counted 190 nests containing about 300 birds and half as many eggs.

When they returned to Merrill, they loaded their boat on a wagon and hauled it to White Lake, a long body of alkali water that emptied into the Lower Klamath at the southeast end.  The Lower Klamath was very different from the south end of Tule Lake.  The whole border was an impenetrable jungle.  Tules grew from 10 to 12 feet high.  The foundation was made of decaying vegetation and was treacherous to walk on.  Extending for several miles out from shore was a seemingly endless area of floating tule islands, between which flowed a network of channels.  The heavy growth of tule each year shot up through the dead stalks of the previous season.  On top of that, the Pelicans, Gulls, Cormorants, and Terns had perched and trodden down the tule.  Those precarious footholds were their only camping spots during the two weeks they cruised the Lower Klamath.  The largest bird colonies of that region were located on the west side of the lake.  In one place, for half a mile, the Western Grebes, White Pelicans, Farallone Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, California and Ring-billed Gulls, and Caspian Terns had combined to form one of the most extensive bird colonies they had ever seen.  To the east of the Klamath lakes were other large alkaline bodies of water where water fowl abounded – Summer, Abert, Goose, Warners, Harney, and Malheur lakes.  In the spring of 1908, we started into the Malheur country.  On the south side of the lake a large spring rose at the base of the gravelly hill and wound out through the meadow land.  For a mile it meandered along until it came to the main part of the tule marsh – thousands of floating islands, between which flowed narrow channels that were endless in their winding.  The main body of the lake was still a mile beyond the place where the spring entered the tule jungle.  They launched their flatboat in the spring branch and set out, anxious to get the lay of the land and to see some birds.  They passed from the spring branch into the serpentine meanderings among the tules.  In one place the author heard a pair of Sora Rails chattering anxiously.  He crawled out of the boat and stepped on the springy mass.  He made his way for twenty feet, with the excited pair of Rails leading him on.  Suddenly he dropped waste deep into the muck.  With the aid of an oar, he was able to struggle back to the boat. 

They were in danger of losing their way.  They started leaving signposts along the way – a handkerchief, a pole pointing the way.  They became disoriented.  The sun was setting, so they knew east from west.  They paddled in the direction from which they came, but reached the end of a blind channel.  They cut for shore by the shortest route.  They floundered in the tules, sinking in the black muck of the marsh.  They turned back again.  As they floated out into the channel, they cleaned off the mud.  Rails ran lightly through the jungle, the Blue Herons stood fishing in the marginal water, the Red-wings and Tule Wrens clung to the swaying stems, the muskrats paddled home.  Darkness set on the marsh.  It was almost noon the next day that they struck the channel that led out of the maze, and back to camp.  After resting a day, they tried again.  This time they kept straight north until reaching the main body of the lake.  Along the southeast side of the lake, they discovered great colonies where White Pelicans, California and Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Great Blue Herons were nesting.  Over on the North side were immense colonies of The Western Grebes, Eared Grebes, Black-crowned Night Herons, and White-faced Glossy Ibis.  They were hunting mainly for colonies of American Egrets, or White Herons, which were formerly common on the lake.  After a month’s search they saw two fly overhead.  They had been practically exterminated by plume-hunters.  Their expedition into the Klamath and Malheur Lake countries were taken for the Audubon Society.  Their report led President Roosevelt to issue a proclamation, on August 8, 1908, setting aside Lower Klamath Lake as a reservation for the protection of wild birds.  A second proclamation, on August 18, 1908, established the Malheur Lake Reservation.  Prior to that, on October 14, 1907, the President had created the Three Arch Rocks Reservation, the first land set aside on the Pacific Coast solely for the protection of wild birds.

From a scientific standpoint, their photographic life history of the California Condor was the rarest and most important work they had done.  That was accomplished in 1906.  After a long search, they found the home of the Condor in one of the mountain ranges of southern California.  The advance of civilization had all but led to the extinction of the species.  The main cause of the decrease in Condor numbers was the poisoning, by ranches, of panthers, bears, and coyotes.  They baited carcasses with poison.  Many Condors died from feeding on poisoned meat.  The Turkey Vulture had held its own in the struggle for existence, but the Condor was slow to recuperate its numbers.  At best, a pair of Condors would raise only one chick per year.  The slow growth of the Condor was shown by the fact that it took six months or more for them to raise their young.  The Condor of the Andes had a wingspan of 10 feet, and weighed 20 to 25 pounds.  The California Condor averaged the same.  The South American Condor was glossy black, with a broad white bar across each wing, and a ruff of white on the neck.  The California Condor was blackish, with the feathers on the back edged with brown.  About the neck were loose black lance-linear feathers.  The size and strength of the Condor had often been exaggerated.  There were stories of them killing sheep, and carrying off hares in their claws.  The habit of the Vulture was to wait till after death.  As to them carrying prey, the claws were blunt and weak, and the foot was not adapted for grasping or carrying.  In their study of the Condor at home, the most surprising thing was that the biggest of all birds was not ferocious but gentle as a kitten.  After many visits, they got acquainted with the men, and knew they would not harm them.  Both parents were very solicitous for the young bird in the cave.  When the cameraman got too close to the young, the mother nibbed on his sleeve.  When he got closer, and the young bird hissed, the mother nipped the man gently on the gloved hand.  He let the glove slip from his hand, for a moment it hung in her bill; then she laid it at her feet.

At first sight one might not select the desert as a retreat for bird-lovers.  A friend who lived in the Arizona told them that there were no birds in the desert.  Perhaps she did not have the eye for bird study.  When one travelled 2,000 miles to hunt birds with a camera, he was likely to find them, even in the desert.  One spring the author and his wife went to Arizona to study and photograph the birds of the desert.  At Tucson they bought a horse and light buggy.  For three months they wandered about day after day, through the cactus and along the old river bottoms, making friends with the birds.  Nearly everything was fortified with thorns.  The cactus had a panoply of points to protect its soft, spongy meat; the mesquite, the paloverde, and the white poppy clothed themselves in thorns.  Out in the desert, Nature armed her “toads” and lizards in thorns and scales.  The “toad” wore a crown of thorns and was really a lizard instead of a toad.  Out in the desert they found birds in abundance: Road Runners, Verdins, Gnat-catchers, and three kinds of Thrashers – Palmer, Bendire, and Crissal.  The river bottoms were always full of song.  There were numbers of Mocking Birds, Chats, Cardinals, Tanagers, Warblers, Towhees, Flycatchers, House Finches, and four kinds of Doves – Mourning, Inca, Mexican Ground, and White-winged.  The Road Runner was, perhaps, the most striking character of the cactus belt.  He had several names – Ground Cuckoo, Mexican Paisano, Snake-killer, Chaparral Cock, and Cock-of-the-Desert.  When they first went to Arizona, they were anxious to find a Road Runner.  They found some old nests and caught some glimpses.  One day, when they least expected it, a Road Runner slid across the road, hopped up into a cholla cactus, and disappeared in the thorny mass.  They drove around the bush slowly, closer and closer, but no Road Runner.  A slight movement, and there she was, sitting upright with a lizard in his mouth.  The Road Runner seemed to enjoy outdistancing a team of horses, they could not outrun an automobile.  They lived almost entirely on lizards.  The young birds were fed lizards, head first, with tail hanging out of the mouth.  As the head was digested, the tail was slowly gulped down until it disappeared.



As mentioned above, there is an undocumented block of duotones embedded in the second article.  These full-page engravings are from page 165 to 180.  They have the internal title: “Successful Shot with a Friendly Camera.”  While not credited, the captions indicated that the photographers were made by the author, his wife, and his partner just as the black-and-white photographs scattered throughout the article are.  These engraving were made by pressing an acid-etched metal plate against the paper, transferring a special ink.  The deeper the etch, the darker the transfer.  The ink used in this batch has a slight greenish tinge.

A list of the caption titles to these duotones is as follows:

  • “The Author’s Friend’s, a Family of Desert Sparrows”
  • “A Good Wing Shot of a Female Pintail Duck”
  • “A Road Runner, or Cock of the Desert”
  • “Young Golden Eagles Ready to Break Home Ties”
  • “The Benediction”
  • “A Dangerous Climb After Sea Birds”
  • “Visiting the Home of an Elf Owl in Arizona”
  • “A Wedge of White Pelicans”
  • “Great Blue Heron on Guard by His Nest”
  • “A Long Climb to a Red-tailed Hawk’s Nest”
  • “Picturing the Aerie of a Golden Eagle in Central California”
  • “A Young Avocet at Home in the Marsh”
  • “California Condor Alighting on the Mountain Side”
  • “A Family of Half-grown Burrowing Owls”
  • “Gulls on an Anchor Chain”
  • “A Coveted Place on the Bowsprit”



The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “Ruins of Cuicuilco May Revolutionize Our History of Ancient America” and was written by Byron Cummings, Professor of Archeology, University of Arizona.  It has the internal subtitle: “Loft Mound Sealed and Preserved by Great Lava Flow for Perhaps Seventy Centuries is Now Being Excavated in Mexico.”  The article contains twenty-one black-and-white photographs, four of which are full-page in size.  One of those full-page photos serves as the frontispiece for the article.  The article also contains a sketch map of Central Mexico with an inset of the excavation area on page 207.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

About 1,000 years before Pharaoh was driving his slaves to construct the Great Pyramid of Egypt, and some 5,000 years before the Assyrians toiled to built the great palace of Sennacherib, some ancient Indian Chief in the Valley of Mexico was forcing his subjects and slaves to rear a mighty structure on which to honor the gods of his land.  In Mesopotamia, extensive palaces were built for the living rulers and, in Egypt, the great structures were tombs for their dead rulers, but, in Mexico, these great works served as temples to their gods.  The Valley of Mexico was guarded by a ridge of mountains along which rose many craters that spoke of repeated baptisms of fire.  While the destruction wrought by the wrath of the fire gods was great, the earth was enriched by them and a Garden of Eden was made.  Just west of the pass between the valleys of Mexico and Cuernavaca rose the irregular crest of old Ajusco, from whose craters had showered ash and pumice, and poured lava to envelop the plains below.  The most recent of those craters was a huge bowl, some 1,500 feet in diameter and 300 feet deep, rising from the northern slopes of the Ajusco group, about 10 miles south of Tlalpam.  A stream flowed to the borders of San Angel on the north and to the outskirts of Tlalpam on the east.  As it swept toward the northeast, it crept around the slopes of a low hill which the natives called San Cuicuilco.  That great tongue of black lava was some 15 miles long and three miles wide.  It was from 5 to 30 feet deep.  It was called the Pedregal, or “Stony Place.”  Its surface was wrinkled and twisted, and seamed by deep cracks, broken gorges, and yawning cisterns.  Geologist had studied the Pedregal, its floral and its weathering.  Estimates of its age varied widely, with the youngest being 2,000 years old, while the most recent estimate puts the age at 7,000 years.  There were indications of a long period of weathering.  No tradition regarding the eruption of Xitli had survived among the Aztecs or other Indians of the region.

It was evident that before the eruption of Xitli a numerous population occupied that part of the valley.  If that cap of lava could be removed, it would disclose the ruins of houses and villages.  At San Angel, the Mexican Government had dug numerous tunnels and found skeletons, pottery, and stone implements.  Dr Manuel Gamio, director of anthropology in the Mexican Bureau of Agriculture invited the author to join him in examining and excavating the mound.  The Mexican Government extended every courtesy during the work and fulfilled all its promises.  That assistance included men and materials.  A few days after they began operation, the workmen claimed they saw a light dance above the top of San Cuicuilco and then pass over the Pedregal to the crest of Zacatepec, another hill lying to the west.  They believed it meant there was treasure in both hills.  Rumors spread of treasure buried by Aztecs and Spaniards.  The Spaniards and mestizos watched their operation and occasionally stole into their workings and tried to excavate.  That lava-covered plain had ever been a refuge for criminals, revolutionaries, and those opposed to the dominant political party.  Even in 1923, people living near it seldom ventured out alone at night.  As the work progressed, people came to realize the truth of the team’s statement: that the builders of Cuicuilco had neither gold nor silver and had very little which would be of value today [in 1923].  San Cuicuilco had more than fulfilled expectation.  It had proved to be an artificial mound covered by the long accumulation of ages.  Its original structure was a truncated cone 412 feet in diameter and 52 feet in height.  The rounded shape of the pile was in keeping with circular form of all the most primitive homes.  The top formed a broad platform 290 feet in diameter, probable a place for ceremonial dances.  That structure consisted of an outer wall of rock 70 feet thick at the top with a central core filled with earth.  The wall was composed of chunks of lava compactly piled.

The outer surface inclined at an angle of 45 degrees and consisted of large unhewn blocks of lava, many three and four feet in length.  The style of the surface masonry was crude cyclopean.  Holes were filled with smaller stones or were left open.  No other filling material was used.  No attempt was made to chip the rough blocks to make them fit better or provide a smooth surface.  The base of the cone lied 25 feet below the present [1923] surface of the surrounding terrain and the top of the platform was covered by 18 feet of volcanic material.  Large pepper trees flourished on the summit or struck their roots into the sustaining walls that later generations of men had built along the slopes.  In those walls and in a large pile of rock and earth on the southwestern side of the platform appeared many waterworn boulders, probably from some riverbed buried by the Pedregal lava.  In the center of the top platform and beneath eight feet of volcanic material and surface loam stood a crude altar of waterworn boulders and clay.  It was 20 feet long and 9 feet wide.  The corners were rounded and the eastern half was a platform raised two feet above the floor of the western half and surrounded by a wall that raised its outer edge one foot higher.  That portion was in the shape of a horseshoe with the open end pointing slightly south of west.  The whole rested upon a platform of large lava boulders bedded in sand and clay.  That platform in turn rested upon a hard clay floor that had been beaten down smooth by the tread of many generations of men.  The rock and clay platform had a diameter of 55 feet, but the clay floor beneath had not yet been determined.  Beneath that clay pavement were two others, the lowest at the level of the original platform of the truncated cone.  The lava found in every part of the structure was of a flow that antedated that of the Pedregal, which occurred thousands of years ago.  Not a piece of Pedregal lava had been found in any of the walls or even piles of rock encountered on the top.

Lying scattered about the base were chunks of lava of the type found in the structure.  They seem to have rolled down the slope. From the edge of the walls above and accumulated in a great mass at the bottom.  Above those lied from 12 to 15 feet of volcanic material similar to that covering the top platform and terraces.  That accumulation was thickest at the base and diminished as it extended up the sloped walls.  Above that was a layer was a mass of clayey loam filled with lava boulders that had rolled down from broken terrace walls of later construction.  At the bottom of that accumulation of loam and rock was a stratum, varying from 5 to 18 inches, of charred and blackened material.  Under the lava it was a crisp mass, with pockets of black sand and ash.  From the eastern side a great platform 30 feet long and 70 feet wide extended down on an incline from the first terrace.  Most of its walls had fallen down and buried by windborne sand before the crept up over them to a height of 10 feet.  Those 15 to 17 feet of sand, clay, and rock that had accumulated above the surrounding pavement before the lava flow occurred demonstrated that its builders had lived and worked thousands of years before the Pedregal had formed.  It was reasonable, then, to assume that this temple was reared by primitive Americans who lived some 8,000 or more years ago.  The lava flow effectively sealed up and preserved this handiwork of ancient Americans for ages.  Cuicuilco presented positively and forcefully a chapter of human history on the American Continent that many supposed never existed.  Its rough, massive walls and simple outlines showed the beginning of public architecture in North America.  Its extensive proportions and great mass of material were evidences of early political and social organization, and demonstrated the wonderful results of human cooperation in primitive society.

Its chipped and rough ground stone implements, its crude pottery, it childlike attempt to represent the human form in clay figurines and idols, all showed the beginning of mastery of materials, and the coming of trained hands, eyes, and intellects.  Cuicuilco was not spectacular.  Its architecture was massive and simple, dedicated to the mighty forces of earth and air.  Decorations were meager and crude.  Cuicuilco represented the results of stolid, vigorous Youth, Youth just beginning to feel his strength and to straighten up and ask the spirits to teach him.  This edifice was the foundation upon which was built that massive and ornate American architecture whose ruins dotted nearly every height, plain, and valley from Zacatecas to Panama, and from Guerrero to Yucatan.  Its walls were rough and massive, yet preserved a beauty of line that undoubtedly inspired the descendants of its builders to create the mighty pyramids, the wide paved plazas, and the beautifully decorated halls of Teotihuacan.  The Pyramid of the Sun, the Ciudadela, and the ornate Temple of Quetzalcoatl, all spoke forcefully of the wonderful organization of the Toltecs and the great skill their artisans had acquired.  As in ancient Mediterranean lands architecture advanced from the crude cyclopean masonry of Tiryns to the beautiful Temple of Athena on the Acropolis, in Athens.  From investigating the various American Indian languages and the fact presented by old Cuicuilco agreed that human history in North America began thousands of years before the Christian Era.

Wherever the first ancestors of the native American may have arisen, they had populated out continent extensively when they had attained only the crude rudiments of human culture.  The steps of human development from the simplest beginnings were as easily traceable in the Valley of Mexico as in Mesopotamia or the Valley of the Nile.  Rudely chipped stone tools gave way to polished stone and copper.  Jewelry progressed from clay and stones to gold and gems.  Domestic utensils manifested all stages of skill and adaptation. The development of the weaver’s art was shown from rude baskets and course cloth to garments and mantles in a great variety of materials, designs, and colors.  Sculpture was encountered everywhere, from the crudest of stone images to life-size and colossal representations of men, intricate geometrical designs, and elaborate symbols.  Thus, in every class of material known and used by prehistoric people, one could trace, step by step, the understanding and the mastery man gradually gained over his environment.  The ability to marshal men and materials to construct palaces and temples was a result obtained by a people after generations and generations of practical experience.  In all was seen a distinct American type.  The skeletal remains, the architecture, the art, all showed an American development.  While there were similarities to Mongolian, western Asiatic, and Egyptian types, the dissimilarities to those, and to European and African types were far more pronounced.  They formed a large group of the human family, separated from the parent stock in some remote age.  They gradually multiplied and possessed themselves this part of the globe, sought to surmount its obstacles, and to become masters of their surroundings.  It was not surprising that these people, and those on the other side of the sphere, should develop some similar religious concepts, social customs, and artistic standards and designs.

The early American did not differ greatly from the early Asiatic, the early Egyptian, or even the primitive European.  He lived his life in his own peculiar fashion, but he evolved many ideas, characteristics, and customs akin to those of his cousins across the seas.  Everything he touched bore the stamp of his individuality and the influence of the natural phenomena of the Western World; and yet, at the same time, his works express the aspirations of the whole human race in its attempt to solve the mysteries of the universe and to understand its own relationship to its phenomena.  America had a prehistory extending into the early centuries of human development.  The steps of her progress and the success achieved were as interesting and instructive as any attained by the renowned human groups of the Old World.  Had the Spanish governors who were in control of Mexico in the first years after the conquest had truer vision, the task of assembling the record of those glorious and heroic periods of human history in America would have been comparatively simple.  The people had done their duty and made permanent records of their ideals and achievements of the various nations.  Some scholarly and honest priests and monks carefully studied and translated many of those records, but intolerance and ignorance consigned nearly all the manuscripts to the flames and sent their authors back to Europe.  However, the task, though thus made more difficult, was ours.  The unraveling of the history of early America devolved upon American scholars from Canada to Chile, and it was hoped that the brains and energy necessary to carry the task to a successful conclusion would soon be forthcoming.



Tom Wilson

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