National Geographic's Collectors Corner

Collaborative site for collectors, dealers, & anyone interested in our history.

100 Years Ago: July 2023


This is the one-hundred-and-second installment in my series of (hopefully) short synopses of National Geographic Magazines as they reach the one-hundredth anniversary of their publication.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Through the Back Doors of France” and as written by Melville Chater, author of “The Land of the Stalking Death” and “East of Constantinople,” in the National Geographic Magazine.  It has the internal subtitle: “A Seven Weeks’ Voyage in a Canadian Canoe from St. Malo, Through Brittany and the Chateau Country, to Paris*.”  [*See: “Through the Heart of England in a Canadian Canoe,” May 1922, National Geographic Magazine.]  The article contains thirty-nine black-and-white photographs, four of which are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map on page 3 of the region of France in which the author traveled.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

As far as the author was concerned there were two ways to see Europe – through its front doors and through its back doors.  The front doors were used by most tourists while the back doors were the “road less traveled.”  Robert Lewis Stevenson was the patron saint of the back-doors voyager, and preferred doing it afoot or astride a donkey or bicycle.  For the author and his wife’s trip through the countryside of France they chose a Canadian canoe.  They ordered it through a London firm and wrote the French ministry for permission to navigate the rivers and canals of western France.  They arrived in London three months later; the canoe was waiting for them but the permit was not.  It took another month of negotiations before the permit was granted.  The recommended starting point of their journey was St. Malo.  They took a Channel boat from Southampton, and the following night sighted the coast of Brittany.  Just as every American town had its National House and every English town had its Royal Arms, so every French town had its Hotel de I’Univers.  But in St. Malo the hotel was full and they were accommodated in the “Annex of the Univers.”  The next morning, they went to the customhouse and retrieved their canoe.  The Nageoma [named after our beloved magazine, I think] was 16 feet in length.  For camping purposes, it had a removable iron rod that supported a canvas awning with side and end flaps.  It was equally simple to set up the rod and canvas on land or on the canoe.  It afforded a rain-proof shelter 16 feet long by three feet wide.  Their equipment consisted of army blankets, ground sheets, a water tank, a field-kitchen, and a small library packed in duffle bags, which could be stored on the canoe and thus could be transported with it by train or cart when necessary.  They carted the Nageoma across the town, attended by an ever-augmenting audience.  They headed across the harbor toward the low-banked stream which would lead them to the Ille-et-Rance Canal.

La Rance appeared a winding, tree-crowned stretch of placid water not a thousand yards wide, and 22 kilometers in length.  But the author was unaware of the extreme tide which existed there, and before he knew it, the tide had gone out and they were stranded on precipitous crags.  There was nothing to do but wait, and six hours later, at sunrise, the waters returned and they were again on their way.  By noon they found themselves gliding along between cornfield, where farmhouses and fishing smacks curiously intermingled.  They went ashore and asked a farmer why he kept a fishing smack in his vegetable garden; and he replied that at low tide he farmed and at high tide he fished.  By the time they got back to their canoe the water was gone.  They pitched camp in a meadow.  Six hours later the waters returned.  They had six hours to reach the first lock and had to hurry.  The tide in La Rance rose and fell from 25 to 50 feet.  Low water exposed immense tracts of sand.  They reached the great lock at Le Chatelier, separating ocean from canal, just in time; there was very little water left.  They paddle inside, the massive gate shut, and the sluices opened.  The inrushing water boiled around them.  They kept their canoe steady and soon they were level with the canal.  They asked the lock-keeper how many more locks there were to Paris.  He looked it up and informed them, 134.  For a while they just sat blissfully at rest, drifting along the tranquil Ille-et Rance Canal.  After two nights spent amid rocks and mudflats, the humble waterside inn they found at Dinan seemed luxurious.  Early next morning the declivitous streets were a-clatter with high, two-wheeled pony-carts containing farmers and wives on their way to the marketplace atop the hill.  The statue of Bertrand Du Guesclin, constable of France, astride his horse, looked down upon the village square.

Regretfully, they paddled away from charming Dinan; nor did they see another town until, five days later, they reached Rennes, 65 kilometers distant.  It was all “little country,” as the French called it, with here and there clusters of red roofs, or a distant spire, or lock-keeper’s house, to add their charm to the stream.  They mustered their kitchen equipment, set up their canvas awning, and padded the canoe’s mid-space with blankets.  That gave them ten feet of lounging room and three feet of storage room at each end.  They observed the principle of mobility and collapsibility.  The middle thwart had been rendered removable.  Its position was usually occupied by their camping-table.  In addition to that folding-table, they carried collapsible food-containers, a collapsible oil-stove, a folding anchor, a folding water-bucket, and folding cups and cutlery.  The author surmised that his was the first canoe to cross Brittany.  Until they reached Nantes, they met no one who had seen a canoe.  Except at Nantes, they encountered no pleasure boating until they reached the Seine.  Men and women stopped their work to stare; whole families from grandparents to toddlers hurried forth from some thatched farmhouse to watch.  Stupefied cows mooed at their approach; canal-boat drivers covered the eyes of their horses; and draft-dogs, hitched to handcarts, barked furiously as the canoe overtook them.  During the first five days they passed through 48 locks, and once they encountered 13 within four miles.  It was an off season for canal-boat traffic, and during the first 200 kilometer they saw no craft of any kind.  They often had to climb ashore and search the countryside for the lock-keeper, who would be cultivating his garden during the slack season.  Their unpleasant experience at Le Chatelier was never repeated.  The keepers opened the sluices gradually moderating the water’s inrush.  The descending locks were even easier.  Down they went, losing sight of the world, until the gate opened exposing some new, charming picture – a Corot or perhaps a Cazin.

At Tinteniac they rested for a day at the inn.  There, the peasant-folk quaffed bowl after bowl of Brittany cider, and the lame lock-keeper recounted to them how he received his seven wounds when on the Marne in 1914.  At Rennes, where everyone was surging on the bridge to greet them, they locked through into the Vilaine River.  It was another lovely stream, which wound its way through a closely shorn land, of natural golf links.  Perhaps it was an indirect complement to the beauty of French waterways that this one should be called Ugly River.  During the next five days, spent in traversing the Vilaine’s 90 sinuous kilometers which stretched between Rennes and Redon, they passed only lock-keepers’ houses, isolated farms, and an occasional cluster of red roofs.  Throughout those five days the rain descended in torrents, which they either donned mackintoshes and pushed ahead or retreated within their snugly curtained center space and let the elements howl.  As for meals under those conditions, there was always a kindly lock-keeper and his wife who would ask them in.  They would dine on cabbage soup, country cheese, and cider, departing with a huge bouquet, which the wife insisted on picking for them from her garden.  At Redon they were informed that a three-day delay would be necessary.  However, a canoe possessed some advantages over a canal-boat.  They put the Nageoma on a hand-cart drawn by draft-dogs, transported it around the broken lock, and launched it in the Nantes-a- Brest Canal.  Then for five more days they paddled along the 100-kilometer stretch of stream among rolling, windmill-topped slopes between Redon and Nantes.  They found that the countryside still fondly recalled the passage of American troops in 1918.  The cow was queen of the Brittany countryside.  She not only had cornfields planted for her, but she “commuted” across the canal in a flat-bottomed boat, to and from the most favorable grazing grounds.

At Blain, a glimpse of the Chateau de la Barriere warned them that they were leaving the “small” country, and not long after they issued upon the wide Erdre, with its fine panorama of oak-clad heights, successive chateaux, and riverside tea-gardens, where oarsmen were regaling themselves after their dash down from Nantes.  Even in that big town, when they dropped anchor in the barge-crammed canal they had not lost the backdoor aspect of things.  With their green canvas roof over their heads and the deck of an adjacent barge to cook on, they were fairly in the bosom of homely family life.  Those big canal boats, gaily painted with red and green stripes, bearing two enormous wooden rudders, and embellished by geranium gardens atop the cabins, constituted the hearth and home for the wives, the husbands, and the half-dozen romping children.  Another feature of backdoor life was comprised of the twenty-odd enormous wash-barges anchored on each side of the canal.  At Nantes they “washed their dirty linen in public” and on a vast scale.  They were amazed to behold the public laundry of 170,000 people.  For fifteen hundred years the Nantese strove successively against the Roman, Norman, English, and, last, the French for the independence of Brittany.  They left the canal, and, choosing the slack-water hour preceding flood-tide, ascended the Loire toward the chateau country.  Sand shoals obstructed navigation.  The sands of the Loire were famous, yet infamous from the canoeist’s viewpoint.  The dredges did their best, but it was hopeless; so, they shipped the Nageoma to the middle Loire, where the chateaux were many and the sand-shoals were fewer.  Langeais, Luynes, Amboise, Chaumont, Blois – outstrung jewels on the river band of the Loire.  They were founded at different times, some dating back to the Romans.  Langeais and Luynes were fortresses.  Amboise and Chaumont belonged to the same century as Langeais.  They were military strongholds, but softened under ornamentation.

Of that gradual transition the final stage was seen in the chateaux of Blois and Azay-le-Rideau, where no hint of feudal fortresses remained.  Blois was for the traveler who preferred to hobnob with the ghosts of cardinals, queens, and courtiers.  But to conjure up knights with crossbows, one visited Luynes.  At Orleans they regained the canal, with 125 kilometers to go before reaching the Seine.  It was pleasant to return to backdoors country.  The locks in the backdoor country could accommodate one boat at a time.  They were passing the limits of chateau-land.  Their stores were running low, when one evening they sighted the village of Grignon.  On the bank stood an inn.  They expected more cabbage soup, but were pleasantly surprised that the chef of the American Ambassador was vacationing there.  He cooked them an exquisite meal.  At Buges, where the Orleans, Briare, and Loing canals intersect, we locked through into the last named and were soon amid the press of a canal-boat traffic that increased hourly.  The French canal system dated back to 1638, when the Canal de Briare was constructed.  Since then, it had swelled into a vast complex of 3,000 miles of canals and 7,000 miles of navigable rivers.  One night they ate in a canal-side inn at Nemours.  Twenty kilometers beyond Nemours they passed the last lock of the back-country and floated out upon the Seine.  But there were still locks ahead – nine big ones, each capable of holding sixteen barges at a time.  Sometimes the Nageoma won and locked through alone.  Sometimes they lost and locked through in the company with 16 big barges.  At Vives Eaux, where it was the later case, the sluice mechanism broke.  The barge-men, seeing the tiny canoe, banded together and hoisted the canoe from the lock and relaunched it in free water.  Two more days on the glassiest and fairest of ever-widening water, while the red roofs of Corbeil and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges slipped by, then the Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean Express thundered overhead, across the stream, and they waved goodbye to the back-doors country.

Ahead the skies grew murkier, where cranes and factory chimneys towered; then certain distant murmurings deepened into a dull roar, as successive industrial suburbs came into view.  Finally, stone embankments arose on either side cutting off the view.  Wishing to know exactly which suburb they had reached, the author ascended a convenient stairway and asked a passerby, “What town is this?”  He merely pointed over the author shoulder.  Mr. Chater turned and saw the square towers of Notre Dame.  “Monsieur,” said the Frenchman, with a polite bow, “this is Paris.”


At the bottom of the last page of the first article in this issue (page 51) there is a notice regarding change of address.  If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month.  If a member wanted the September issue redirected, the Society needed to know by August first.


The second item listed on this month’s cover is entitled “Rural Scenes in Brittany” and has no byline.  It is not an article but a set of “16 Illustrations in Duotone” embedded within the first article from page 11 to page 26.  These Duotones, formerly known as Photogravure, are transfers using an acid-etched metal plate which presses a special ink to the paper.  The deeper the etch, the darker the transfer.  The special ink used in this set of sixteen, full-page duotones, has a definite reddish tinge.

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

  • “Cleaning Grain by the Oldest Known Method”
  • “The Public Square in Comfort on a Market Day”
  • “A Shrine on the Ile de Sein, the Sena of the Romans”
  • “Bretons of Finistere Playing Skittles”
  • “Bretons at the Douarnenez Laundry Tub”
  • “Pointe du Raz at Sunset”
  • “Women on a Wharf of the Ile de Sein”
  • “A Breton Innkeeper”
  • “A Young Lady of Plouegat-Moysan”
  • “Harvesting Furze Near Plougasnou”
  • “Putting the Wedding Kettles on to Boil”
  • “Women and Children of Plougastel”
  • “Breton Women Making Headdresses”
  • “The Brenn Rock on the Road from Saint-Pol-de-Leon to Plouescat”
  • “Knitting Socks for Father at Rochefort-en-Terre, in Morbihan”
  • “In the Shadow of a Breton Cathedral”



The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Mysterious Prehistoric Monuments of Brittany” and was written by Charles Buxton Going.  The article contains sixteen black-and-white photographs.  A full twelve of these photos are full-page in size, with one of those full-page photos serving as the article’s frontispiece and the other eleven together spanning pages 56 to 66.  While the article does not contain a sketch map, it references the one embedded in the first article, which is also about Brittany.

Brittany had a multiplicity of appeal.  Be it ethology or architecture; the medieval picturesqueness and quaint costumes or the history and romance, there was something there for everyone.  Outmatching them all in wonder were the strange megaliths in which a prehistoric race left a great but almost unintelligible cry.  Brittany stood unrivalled as the land of those great monuments.  Assyria, chronologically still more remote from our era, was an open book with the recovery of the key to the cuneiform inscriptions.  But the herculean toilers of western Europe who transported and erected huge boulder monuments seemed mere shadows in comparison.  They left no written language to speak across the centuries.  A few eager workers, especially a group from the Musee Miln, at Carnac (50 miles west of Redon, see map, page 3), had begun to explain those monument builders – their origin, their aspirations, and something of their social order.  Almost every commune in Brittany had one or two Celtic monuments; they were found throughout western France.  But grouped around Carnac, within a radius of seven miles, there were nearly 300, even counting the hundreds of menhirs in each of the great alignments as a single unit.  Miln’s results, gathered in the museum bearing his name, had been continuously extended and enriched by his successors, and the following summary is based largely on their deductions.  That region, it appeared, was a sort of Mecca, or particularly holy ground, to which the remains of heroes and leaders were brought for entombment, to which the faithful flocked in pilgrimages, and in which the great religious ceremonies were held.  Carnac was probably to the western continent of Europe what Stonehenge was to the British Isles.  There was at that place, in fact, a focus and concentration of the megalithic works by the Celtic forerunners in their prehistoric migration which, starting in Asia, moved across northern Africa, over Mediterranean waters, into Spain, and along the shores of the Atlantic, striving westward, until the effort died out in Scandinavia.

They were searching for the resting place of their god, the sun, but were baffled by the impassable ocean and so forced northward.  In their long sojourn near those shores, covering at last 2,000 years, they became increasingly an agricultural people.  The weapons and implements placed in the sepulchers lost their rough but serviceable character and appeared in polished but merely votive forms, often in soft or valuable stone.  A few attempts at carving had satisfied the most careful investigators that some use, at least, of iron – or in all events, of metal – had begun.  Further, those carvings were best interpreted as representations of agricultural symbols – an ox, a plow, the sun vivifying ears of grain – thus confirming the belief that cultivation of the soil had been exalted to first place.  Ultimately, having lost their military hardihood and having been deterred, perhaps by the priesthood, from advancing in the use of metals, those stone-users were overrun by bronze-sworded Gallic invaders, and those in turn by the steel-weaponed warriors of Rome.  Each superimposing culture, however, seized upon and adopted, or adapted, some parts at least of the preexisting beliefs and institutions of the land, and especially its holy places.  The worship of stones (perhaps as symbolizing eternal existence) seemed to have continued indefinitely, as witnessed by various edicts of the early Church condemning the practice.  A Jesuit writer spoke of it as persisting at the end of the 16th century, and, in 1923, it was represented by superstitions concerning the stone monuments inextricably mingled with the religious life of the Breton peasant.  Their churches were almost always associated with the sites of the chief megaliths.  Nine types and several subtypes of those monuments had been defined, of which the most important were: the menhir, or “long stone” set on end; the dolmen, or house-like structures, with stone slabs or boulders for walls and roof; and the tumulus, or mounds.

Alignments were groups of menhirs arranged in a line or in several parallel lines.  Cromlechs were groups of menhirs standing in a circle or an arc of a circle.  The Great Menhir near Locmariaquer, now thrown down (probable by an earthquake) was nearly 70 feet high and weighed some 375 tons.  Some of the dolmen had a height of 18 to 20 feet, with roof slab 20 by 35 feet in area and several feet thick; one near Finistere had a capstone 45 by 27 feet in area and 6 feet thick.  The alignments of Carnac in 10 to 13 parallel rows, stretched across the country for five miles.  The tumulus of Mont St. Michel looked like a natural knoll, dwarfing the modern chapel which crowned it.  All menhirs, cromlechs, and alignment were from their beginning open to the sky.  Dolmens were originally covered by tumuli, since removed in many cases.  The tumuli were simple tombs, of which the dolmens and “covered alleys” were the crypts.  The great quantity of skeletal remains would indicate collective sepulture.  In other cases, the greater or central dolmen was surrounded by smaller dolmens or stone coffers.  With the bones had been found stone implements, hatchets, arrow points, and tools of various kinds, fragments of pottery, pendants, beads, and amulets.  The alignments appeared to have been designed as open-air temples, each group (with its cromlech placed always at the western end of the lines) having been erected on a single comprehensive plan and at one time.  They were the remains of huge religious monuments, the alleys between the parallel files of stone being the aisle in which the devotees gathered and moved, and the cromlech the holy of holies in which the priests performed their rites.  They had a curious general characteristic in that the tallest menhirs were always placed nearest the cromlech, the lines diminishing in height from west to east.  Most interesting of all was an apparently definite scheme of orientation, which tended to prove that, in addition to their ritual use, or perhaps a part of it. Those files of monoliths served a peculiar purpose.

It was pointed out that in each group of alignments was found a single very large menhir so placed in one of the outer files that if one stood at a given point in the cromlech, he would see the sun rise over the giant at a specific date in the year.  Those alignments corresponded generally with the following dates: November 8, February 4, May 6, and August 8, marking the principal agricultural seasons.  The orientation was not exact in 1923.  Calculations made independently by two astronomers reached the same results – that it was correct at a period 1,600 years before the Christian Era.  That finding agreed with conclusions reached on other grounds placing only the earliest of the megalithic structures prior to 2000 B. C.; the greatest dolmen-building was between 2000 B. C. and 400 B. C.; and the latest works, expressed by small galleries and small coffers in the first century before the Christian Era.  Local superstition invests the whole region with curious wild beliefs and legends strikingly like the Celtic traditions and folk tales of Ireland and Wales.  Lights gleamed and flickered among the ghostly stones after nightfall.  Strange sounds were heard among them and weird voices cried across the dark.  One might meet spectral animals crossing bridge or ford.  Many an old man and ancient dame had contributed such items to enrich the “Legends and Traditions of Carnac.”  Their belief was implicit.  Mystery and magic were the most certain things in life.  The great stone monuments had no perplexities for such minds.  The dolmens, everybody knew, were the habitations of the Kerions, a race of small but very strong dwarves who formerly peopled the land.  As for the alignments, there was the simple tale of their origin: Monsieur Saint Cornely was being pursued by heathen soldiers wishing to kill him.  He arrived a Carnac just in time.  He changed into stone all the soldiers who were pursuing him.



The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “A Cruise Among Desert Island” and was written by G. Dallas Hanna and A. W. Anthony.  While the cover lists “29 Illustrations,” the article contains thirty-two black-and-white photographs taken by G. Dallas Hanna.  Four of these photos are full-page in size, with one of those serving as the frontispiece to the article.  The article also contains a sketch map of the Desert Islands off the coast of Lower California on page 73.  [Note: this is one of the few sketch maps missed by Philip Riviere in his work of documenting maps in the magazine.]  Before the article starts there is an italicized paragraph by the Editor containing background information about the authors, the expedition of which they were a part, the organizations who funded the research, and the array of animals, plants, and fossils studied.

The islands off the west coast of Lower California were widely scattered over a section of ocean which provided a very scant rainfall.  As a consequence, desert conditions prevailed among them.  The most interesting of those islands was Guadalupe.  It rose precipitously from the abysmal depths, a volcano some 12,000 feet high, but with only 4,500 feet above the sea.  It had never been connected to other shores and it was, therefore, an oceanic island in every respect.  All of its animals and plants had either come to it over or through the ocean.  This forced isolation of the species which had come to Guadalupe had caused them to become modified into many distinct forms.  The island was commercially important because of the abundance of certain marine mammals.  Guadalupe was home to the sole remaining herd of elephant seals in the Northern Hemisphere.  Its fine herd of fur-seals was hunted and wiped out.  At least 200,000 skins worth $6,000,000 were taken from the island.  Guadalupe, Mexico’s westernmost possession, located 180 miles southwest of San Diego, was about 20 miles long and six miles wide.  It was known to have been visited by fur-seal hunters in the early nineteenth century.  Guadalupe first appeared upon maritime charts in 1837.  The world’s greatest herds of fur-seals had long been commercially extinct.  The largest herd in existence [in 1923] was on Pribilof Island, in Alaska, being protected by the U. S. through treaties and legislation.  But once there were several other herds, much larger, in the Southern Hemisphere.  The species that lived on Guadalupe was akin to those last and not to the Alaska forms, although the furs from both were of equal value.  So far as available records showed, the last living fur-seal was seen on Guadalupe in 1892.  Since then, several expeditions besides the authors’ voyage had gone to the island and searched for the animal without success.  Their party searched the entire shore, but after six days of searching, they knew they were 40 years too late.

They headed toward San Quintin Bay to study the old breeding grounds.  While on the island they studied three former fur-seal rookeries.  They measured the area and computed the number of animals they could support.  South Rookery originally contained at least 50,000 seals, and the entire Guadalupe herd must have numbered at least 100,000 animals when it was in its prime.  If the original breeding stock had been preserved, only the annual increase being removed each year, the herd would have produced millions upon millions of dollars in the 125 years since the slaughter began.  At $30 per skin, the annual increase from the herd would have been about $750,000, with the entire herd valued at $15,000,000.  So, the Guadalupe fur seal had joined the passenger pigeon, the Steller’s sea-cow, and the dodo in oblivion.  The great slaughter took place between 1800 and 1830.  The hunters thought they had killed all the animals and forgot the island, but about 1880 it was rediscovered and several thousand seals were killed in a few succeeding seasons.  At South Rookery the stone foundations of 16 huts still stood.  At Jacks Bay Rookery a driveway was partly constructed of trunks of palm trees.  It was at that place, in 1892, that four fragments of skulls of fur seals were found.  Those bits of skull were [in 1923] preserved in the U. S. National Museum.  The dodo and the great moa of New Zealand were better represented in our museums than this valuable animal which once lived in herds of tens of thousands a few miles from our mainland.

Another interesting sea mammal was the Guadalupe elephant seal – a huge, clumsy beast with a long flexible trunk.  The animals were at one time widely distributed and abundant on many of the remote islands of the Antarctic region.  [See: “South Georgia, an Outpost of the Antarctic,” April 1922, The Geographic.]  The whalers soon learned that a fair quantity and quality of oil could be obtained from each carcass.  So, the slaughter began, and ended only when the species was commercially exterminated.  The animal found on Guadalupe was similar to, but not the same species as that of southern waters, but it suffered equally from the attacks of the whalers.  The northern species was found on other islands and on the coast of Lower California, but those outlying rookeries were soon destroyed.  More than once it was thought that the last representative of the species had been killed, but fate had dealt more favorably with it than with the fur seals; each time a nucleus escaped to rebuild the herd.  They found those animals at the original Elephant Seal Beach, a slight indentation of the northwest shoreline of Guadalupe.  Unscalable cliffs walled in the beach on the back, so they landed at one end very quietly, without disturbing a single animal.  Counts were made and photographs were taken, including motion pictures.  They found it easier to count the herd by enlarging a photograph taken of the entire herd.  On July 12, 1922, they found 264 animals present.  The breeding season had passed and, except for a few cases, the females and young were absent.  An estimate of the entire herd based on the males present put the number of animals at almost a thousand.  If vandals and hunters could be prevented from raiding the rookery, the species could be preserved indefinitely.  Individuals might then be obtained through the Mexican Government for museums and zoological parks.  And eventually the government could derive a considerable revenue from the surplus of the herd.

As soon as their expedition returned and submitted reports, prompt measures were urged for the protection of those interesting animals.  President Obregon, of Mexico, almost immediately thereafter declared Guadalupe a government reservation.  Unauthorized landing was now prohibited and no elephant seal or fur seal could be killed or molested within three miles of its shores.  Heavy penalties had been fixed for violation of the protective measures.  It was hoped that additional protection could be had through a treaty with the U.S., and perhaps other countries, similar to the North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty, which had resulted in an increase of the Alaskan herd from 127,000 animals in 1911 to more than 600,000 in 1922.  The success of that treaty had demonstrated that international agreement was the only feasible method to protect any sea-going animal.  They could not be protected by a single country.  The elephant seals were awkward, slow, and deliberate in their movements on land.  They soon learned that their fear of disturbing the beasts was groundless.  The party walked down among them, and some slapped them on the back and vaulted over them.  They seemed to have no conception of man or fear of him.  Instead of shedding hair the elephant seal sheds the cuticle of the skin.  It peeled off in large flakes, like sunburned skin.  The new skin on its rough and corrugated neck was left a bright pink.  Otherwise, the animals were a dull gray.  They bore a closer relationship to the hair seals than any other existing mammals.  The flexible snout, or trunk, reached 16 inches in older males.  When the animal threw its head back and uttered its trumpet-call, the end of the trunk blew full of air and placed in the widely opened mouth.  An accessory resonator was thus produced, giving the sound a far-away, uncanny tone.  The snout of the female was imperfectly developed.  Nothing was known of their feeding habits.  Several stomachs were taken for museum specimens, but in all cases, they failed to furnish any data.

Several elephant seals were seen in the water, where they appeared as ungainly as on land.  They seemed fond of swimming slowly close to shore, with head and hind flippers both out of the water.  The sea around the island was too deep for them to go to the bottom for clams, as did the walrus, and they seemed too clumsy to capture the fleet pelagic fishes and squids of neighboring waters.  Truly, the elephant seal was one of the mysteries of nature.  Even without the fur seals and elephant seals, Guadalupe was one of the most interesting islands of the western hemisphere.  The sea had eaten its way into its volcanic rock, exposing the very hearts of some of the craters.  They examined the great dike systems, caverns, lava bubbles, and vents to gain an idea of the tremendous forces which were once at work there.  No doubt the desert conditions of 1923 prevailed since the island cooled; surface erosion had been so slight that the original features had been preserved almost intact.  Some of the northern portions of the island projected upward sufficiently (4,500 feet) to pierce the lower strata of clouds, and that part was bountifully supplied with moisture, chiefly in the form of mist.  There were some fine groves of pines, cypresses, oaks, and palms, all species found only on that island.  The first naturalist to visit the island was Dr. Edward Palmer, in 1875.  He found thirty species of plants and 140 species of birds.  But conditions were vastly changed at the time of the author’s visit.  Guadalupe was a biological sepulcher.  The shrubs and plants had been practically exterminated and for thirty years no young trees had had a chance to grow.  The old trees were fast disappearing through natural death and the effects of storms.  Four species of birds had become extinct and the others were reduced to a fraction of their former number.

The cause of all that destruction was the start of a goat ranch.  The animal thrived, but the venture failed financially.  The goats had learned to drink sea water, and had eaten almost every living plant.  In seasons of drought, thousands of animals had died, and the canyons, beaches, and caverns were strewn with their bleached bones.  The only source of fresh water on the island was on the higher portion, where there were some small seepages.  Around one of those there were 5,000 goats when they were there.  At one time Mexico had a garrison of soldiers stationed on the island.  They built a barrack on the beach near the northeast point.  They brought burros and mules to carry water down the mountain over rough trails.  When the soldiers went away, they left the animals to fend for themselves.  They found several of them around one of the water-holes.  Either the goat ranchers or the soldiers liberated house cats, which promptly went wild, proceeding to subsist upon the bird life.  They were the direct cause of the disappearance of most of the birds.  House mice were introduced in some manner and had completely overrun the island.  The cats would probable exterminate practically all the birds on the island within the next few years.  Guadalupe rose from abysmal depths of the ocean.  Those depths were as effective barriers to the distribution of marine animal life as high mountain ranges were to land forms.  As a consequence, they found scant fauna along the shore.  There were no more than half a dozen species of mollusks, whereas on the Lower California coast there were hundreds.  Shore fish were fairly abundant, but very few kinds were seen.  The most interesting of those was the beautiful Azurina hirundo.  Those gorgeous little fishes were an azure blue.  As they passed in schools in the crystal-clear waters over a background of red coral, they made a picture long to be remembered.

Cedros Island was slightly larger than Guadalupe and very different in every way.  It lied close to the Lower California coast, but separated from the mainland by a deep channel.  It got its name (Spanish for cedar) from numerous scrub junipers found growing there, and those were usually called “cedars.”  The higher ridges of the north end and the central portion had some groves of pine trees.  This island at no distant date was connected to the mainland, as indicated by the fauna and flora as well as the geology.  The northern portion contained metamorphic rock, which in some places was mineral bearing.  There had been gold and copper mining done, long since abandoned.  Along the western side of the island were vast beds of kelp.  In earlier days, numbers of sea otters would hunt crabs around the roots of the kelp and basked in the sun on beds of the fronds.  In the early days of Spanish occupation, they were hunted to near extinction.  Cedros Island was a prolific producer.  One of the objectives of their expedition was to determine the present status of the sea otter.  If the sea otter was protected, it could regain its former range along the Washington, Oregon, California, and Lower California coasts.  It had been recommended that the killing of sea otters be prohibited for a period of at least 25 years in U. S. territory, and that similar action be urged among other countries – Mexico, Canada, Japan, Russia, China, and perhaps some others.  There were numerous springs in the mountain canyons of Cedros Island, but in few cases do they reach the sea, lost in the burning sands of the canyon bottoms.  Around those water supplies there was a luxuriant growth of vegetation, but elsewhere the lowlands were a desert.  Several species of cacti abounded, but the most conspicuous vegetation was the elephant tree.  With a base three feet in diameter and a height of eight feet, it was hard to imagine a more monstrous plant growth.  The bark was yellowish white, and peeled off like a paper birch, but it was fully an inch thick and upon being punctured exuded a thick, viscous milk.

Near the southern end of the island was an abalone packing company.  Abalone abounded around the rock-ribbed shores of Cedros, and an important industry was being develop.  Some of the mollusks were dried for the Chinese market, while other were canned for American consumption.  The abalone was chiefly known for its pearly shells used in the manufacture of opera glasses and umbrella handles.  It had become so popular as a food in California that it was gathered under stringent restrictions and exportation from the State was prohibited.  Mexico had likewise adopted restrictions.  The Mexican abalone diver used standard equipment and stayed down in 25 to 40 feet of water for four hours at a shift.  He pried the shellfish from the rocks with a steel bar and sent them to the surface in large wire cages.  The drying was done in the sun, after three intermittent steam-cookings.  The fisheries of that portion of Lower California waters were almost untouched.  They were capable of very extensive development.  Albacore, sea bass, yellow tail, bonito, dolphin, mackerel, jewfish, and sardines existed in untold abundance.  There was a zone of sardines completely around Cedros Island at the time of their visit.  The numbers were so great that they could hardly be estimated except by some such unit as a cubic mile.  Other fishes in inestimable numbers were preying upon them.  The giants of all were the great jewfish, some of which weighed 400 pounds each.  They found them acceptable seafood, equal to halibut or salmon.  Some of the pelagic fishes, such as the skipjack, bonito, and mackerel, caught on troll behind the vessel, were beautiful in color, especially the bonito.  In winter the spiny lobster was caught in abundance off the shores of Cedros and shipped to San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  There were many interesting land animals on Cedros Island – deer, rabbits, rats, mice, rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, several kinds of lizards, a tree-frog, goats, cats, and dogs.  Birds were scarce and they were extremely wild and wary.

East Benito, West Benito, and Middle Benito lied close together, about 15 miles west of Cedros.  Fur seals, elephant seals, and sea otters were once found there in abundance, but a few bones of the elephant seals were all that remained.  California sea lions, however, were abundant.  They were found on every island they visited.  Those animals were being put to no commercial use in 1923; so, protection for them was not immediately needed.  The characteristic plants of the San Benitos were cacti, of which there were several species.  One of the most annoying was the vicious cholla, the barbed thorns of which were as sharp as needles and very difficult to extract, once they had penetrated the skin.  Cats had also been liberated on all these islands, and they had worked havoc with the birds.  They found a crew of Japanese on West Benito gathering and drying abalone.  They had brought them from San Diego, 200 miles away.  Some years prior, it was discovered that three species of petrels – least, black, and Socorro – nested in burrows on the San Benitos.  The little bird had never been found nesting elsewhere, but there were thousands of them on these islands in the breeding season.  They flew by night and kept up a continual chatter.  During the day they remained in their burrows with their single egg or chick.  There were no indigenous land mammals on the San Benitos, nor were there snakes, and they found only a single species of lizard.  Insects and land shells occurred in abundance.  Situated eight miles south of Cedros Island, Natividad partook of many of the characteristics of its larger neighbor.  On the other hand, there were many striking contrasts.  There were no indigenous mammals except a white-footed mouse; snakes were absent, but there were two species of lizards.  There were no trees and little brush, but the giant cactus stood, sentinel-like, on many of the higher parts.

San Roque and Asuncion Islands were much smaller and a few miles farther south.  All three of these were essentially seabird islands.  Gulls, cormorants, and pelicans nested there by the thousands and much of the land was white with guano.  Considerable amounts of fertilizer had been shipped.  The chief use of the islands, however, was as landing places for the lobster fishermen.  Sea gulls were guilty of much depredation upon the rookeries of the cormorants.  Gulls did not molest them so long as they were left undisturbed.  But when the cormorant rookery was disturbed, the gulls pounce upon the nests, killing young birds and breaking eggs by the hundreds.  They could eat or carry away only a fraction of the chicks and eggs they destroyed.  Walking on the uplands of those islands was difficult, for one was constantly breaking through into the tunnels or burrows of black-vented shearwaters.  Those birds belonged to the family of albatrosses, and, like their relatives, roamed far and wide over the sea; yet they invariably returned to these particular islands to rear their young.  Most of them had left their nests at the time of their visit, and they saw flocks of tens of thousands in the sea a little to the south.  At the eastern end of Asuncion Island was a precipitous, flat-topped rock outcrop occupied by sea lions and birds.  Beetles were exceptionally abundant on the tableland, and the specimens they collected were extensively studied.  Since the rock was without a name, they called it Angulo Rock, after the captain of their ship, the Tecate.

Magdalena and Santa Margarita Islands formed the outer barrier to Magdalena Bay, one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.  It was deep, wide, and unobstructed at the entrance and had sufficient room for all the navies in the world to swing with the tide.  Storms were practically unknown and the temperature was mild and equable throughout the year.  But Magdalena Bay had two drawbacks – no adequate fresh water and the surroundings were a desert.  Magdalena Bay village was formerly headquarters for a company engaged in gathering a specimen of lichen called orchella.  It grew upon other plants in bunches, much like Spanish moss.  It was shipped to Germany for the manufacture of dye, but the development of coal-tar colors had destroyed the orchella industry.  On Margarita Island there was a fishery by-products establishment engaged in the manufacture of fertilizer and oil.  And on the seaward side of the island a Mexican family was found living very close to nature, on what they called their ranch.  These islands were separated from the mainland by narrow lagoons which were bordered by impenetrable mangrove swamps.  Wood-rats built their nest in the mangroves while crabs swarmed in the mud beneath.  In those swamps was found the Xantus jays and the rare mangrove warblers.  Great black moths flitted here and there, while herons and egrets perched on projecting stubs.  Out in the bay, the brown pelicans were constantly diving, while high over head man-o’-war birds were coming and going.  The land animals on those islands consisted of jack rabbits, coyotes, rats, mice, rattlesnakes, and lizards of several species.  All had adapted to desert life.

Cacti formed the main element in the vegetation, and there were many striking species.  On Santa Margarita there was a forest of the giant species; some were 60 feet tall.  The fruits were just ripe when they were there, in July, and the woodpeckers and cardinals were having a great feast.  They tried the fruit and found it most delicious and an excellent thirst quencher.  The forest grew on the seaward side of the island where there was fresh water at no great depth.  Other desert vegetation grew there in exceptional luxuriance.  In the hottest part of the interior of Santa Margarita Island they captured a desert iguana, a lizard which tucked its fore legs against its chest and, with tail high in the air, ran with the speed of a race horse.  The greater portion of those islands was steep and rocky.  On Santa Margarita was a considerable quantity of magnesite.  During the world War, it was gathered and shipped for use in the iron industry, but operations ceased when the urgent need passed.  Magnesite was scattered far and wide in that region, in the form of nodules.  From Cedros and the San Benito Islands southward there was evidence of a general subsistence.  Marine shells were found at elevations up to 50 feet.  It would seem that the entire region had been soused beneath the sea for a short time not very long ago.  Further south the land went under to a much greater depth, because terraces of shells had been found at elevations of more than 1,000 feet.  Certainly, the geological changes of the region had been most sudden and violent in character.  No doubt they had had a profound influence upon the present distribution of animals and plants of the region.



The fourth and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “Pueblo Bonito, the Ancient*” and was written by Neil M. Judd, leader of the National Geographic Society’s Pueblo Bonito Expeditions.  It has the internal subtitle: “The National Geographic Society’s Third Expedition to the Southwest to Read in the Rings of Trees the Secret of the Age of Ruins.”  [* See the announcement of the Pueblo Bonito Expedition in the National Geographic Magazine for June 1921, and an account of the 1921 Expedition in the issue for March 1922.  The third Expedition left Washington for Pueblo Bonito May 1, 1923.]  The article contains nine black-and-white photographs.  One of these photos is full-page in size and serves as the frontispiece for the article.  The article also contains a sketch of the ground plan of Pueblo Bonito on page 101.

The age of Pueblo Bonito was difficult to calculate.  It was possible to identify many of the antiquities recovered and to explain their purposes.  We could, with reasonable accuracy, sketch the picturesque life that once brightened those now drab walls of stone and clay and made the “Beautiful Village” an objective for merchants, with their wares from places so distant.  It was possible to read from the strata of silt which had built up on the valley floor.  But it was not yet possible, and may never be, to count the years that had passed since the site was abandoned.  Pueblo Bonito guarded her age well.  To the casual observer the site appeared to be recent, no more than a few years, but more detailed examination showed that they were ancient structures.  The evidence for considerable antiquity included – archaic pottery and utensils peculiar to the prehistoric Pueblo peoples; the utter lack of any objects associated with European civilization; and the vast depth of wind-blown sand that had accumulated in and around the buildings.  During the 16th century, when the Aztec and other Mexican tribes were feeling the force of the Conquest, the Spaniards heard tales of villages far to the north – villages with streets paved with gold and doorways studded with gems.  There were seven of those wonderous cities, and their reputed wealth proved irresistible to the conquistadores.  Late in March 1539, Fray Marcos di Niza set out in search of those mysterious villages.  When he found the Zuni pueblos and their cultivated fields, he believed he had found the “Seven Cities of Cibola” and hastened back to Mexico to report his findings.  The conquest of that New Spain, our Southwest, began almost immediately and had continued ever since.  Coronado and his mailed followers overlooked but little but no record had yet been found that they saw, or even heard of, the marvelous ruined settlements of Chico Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico.  Their history was as yet unwritten; their decline and abandonment probably occurred before the venturous Norse discovered America.

Archeologist studying pottery and other cultural remains, geologist examining the valley deposits and eroded cliffs, and dendrologists peering into the lifelong secrets of dead and dying trees, working independently along definite lines of inquiry, estimated the abandonment of Pueblo Bonito as about 1,000 years ago.  But that figure, although reached after careful consideration of the facts, was a conjecture.  It failed to answered, absolutely, the question as to the age of Pueblo Bonito.  The Bonitians possessed no method of recording time; they had evolved no calendar, such as the Maya of Central America.  [See: “The Foremost Intellectual Achievement of Ancient America,” National Geographic, July 1921.]  When circumstances urged them forth, they pushed out across the open country to regions as yet undetermined.  With the passing of the centuries, their great community house became a ruin.  Although the exact date when Pueblo Bonito was established and the year it was abandoned remained unsolved problems, there was a dim hope that those points may eventually be answerable.  Within the past decade archeological investigations elsewhere in the Southwest had resulted in a system of relative dating through pottery sequence.  As useful as it was, that method gave only the approximate age of any given ruin.  Relative dates were not wholly satisfactory, even to the archeologists.  It remained to be determined whether any other means existed for correlating the chronology of that prehistoric culture with that of our own civilization.  Such a means was being sought by the National Geographic Society’s Pueblo Bonito Expedition and by a very novel method.  The oldest living things in America were its big trees, the sequoias of the Sierra Nevada.  [See the National Geographic Magazine for January 1917, and July 1921.]

The pines and junipers of Arizona and New Mexico were much younger than the sequoias, but, like the latter, they were older than anything in their neighborhood.  Some were between 400 and 500 years of age, and still older ones might exist.  The life history of almost any tree was revealed by its cross-section, each year’s growth being recorded by a new ring.  If any given year had scant rainfall, the ring for that year was thin.  Conversely, a year with plentiful rainfall produced a thicker ring.  Periods of drought or excessive moisture tended to repeat themselves at fairly regular intervals, resulting in a more or less orderly sequence of thick and thin annual rings which did not vary in all the trees of any one district.  Certain of those ring series possessed individual features that quickly identified them, and those were used as “keys.”  And what was true of living trees was likewise true of dead trees, and beams or roofing timers from prehistoric ruins, like Pueblo Bonito.  If any overlapping series of rings could be found in both Pueblo Bonito timbers and living trees, it would be able to date the former with reasonable exactness.  Such a direct connection was beyond the range of possibilities, the time span was too great.  It was necessary to find a “connecting link” in that time chain.  That was the objective of a subsidiary expedition.  That party will seek out the oldest living trees in the plateau States and dead pines and stumps hoping through them to bridge the gap that guarded the age of the great ruins.  They also will search Pueblo villages, still inhabited, for roof beams possibly several centuries old.  So prized were those beams that they were carried along when family groups abandoned one village for another.  Some beams used by the Zuni, Wapiti, and other pueblos built in 17th century were salvaged from the dwellings destroyed in the “Pueblo rebellion” of 1680.  Such timbers, if they existed, would lessen the gap that separated the ring-growth of Pueblo Bonito beams from that in living pines in the region.

Cross-sections from 49 timbers unearthed in 1921 and 1922 had been examined by Dr. A. E. Douglass, of the University of Arizona.  The beams taken from the eastern portion of Pueblo Bonito were cut within a period of 12 years.  Some timbers from the northwestern quarter were cut several years earlier, corroborating the archeological evidence previously presented.  [See the National Geographic Magazine for March 1922.]  Most of those timbers were felled in the winter or very late autumn.  It might be that the ancient inhabitants had periodic logging parties after the harvest.  Lacking beasts of burden, they dragged or carried the large beams back to the pueblo.  The forests of a thousand years ago were gone.  Were they exhausted in the construction of the “Beautiful Village,” or had the climate changed and blotted them out?  In 1923, no timber of comparable size to those beams grew within 40 miles of Pueblo Bonito.  Exploration of Pueblo Bonito had disclosed other evidence to the great antiquity of the village.  The partially razed walls of earlier structures lied beneath the foundations of nearly every room thus far excavated.  Those earlier dwellings appeared to have been erected on a knoll, which had since been hidden by the wind-blown sands and water-borne silt that had built up over the years.  Human habitations vastly older than Pueblo Bonito – houses covered by as much as 12 feet of clay and sand – withing a few moments’ walk of the great ruin had been discovered and explored by the Expedition.  Those remains, together with deeply buried layers of potshards, charcoal, and refuse exposed by cutting the arroyo, showed that Pueblo Bonito, old as it was, was not established until long after the canyon was settled.

The explorations of 1922 emphasized even more strongly than did those of the previous summer the fact that Pueblo Bonito was a monument to the cooperative efforts of peoples physically related, but culturally distinct, who were drawn together, through mutual interest, from widely separate localities.  Cliff-dwellers from the cave villages of Colorado’s Mesa Verde were welcomed, together with the migrating clans from the valley pueblos bordering the Little Colorado in Arizona.  Relics peculiar to each of those distinctive cultures abounded at Pueblo Bonito, whose characteristic arts were influenced, though not supplanted, by such foreign elements.  Many mysteries remained to be solved.  One of the most tantalizing was the manner of disposing of their dead.  Except to two wisdom teeth and the body of an infant buried in the refuse which filled an abandoned room, no skeletal remains had been found.  Hundreds must have died during the long occupancy of the village.  Another problem was the source and extent of the ancient water supply.  The broad stairway behind the ruin may have led to water pockets on the cliff above.  But what seemed more likely was that once springs were at the base of the canyon wall.  They had since been covered by the accumulating sands.  Aged Navajos dwelling in Chaco Canyon insisted that, as boys, they heard the old men of the tribe tell of one such spring.  The Navajo might possess more information regarding prehistoric Pueblo Bonito that it had been thought, and folklore merited our careful consideration, since it may prove helpful solving problems which seemed well-nigh hopeless.


At the bottom of the last page of the last article (page 108) is a notice with the heading “Index for January-June, 1923, Volume Ready”.  The one-line text of the notice states “Index for Volume XLIII (January-June, 1923) will be mailed to members upon request.”



Tom Wilson

Views: 66

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

~ HAPPY 100 Tom ! ~ 

Thet's 102 to you.  ;- )



Legal notice about this site

Note: Any sales or trade arrangements are solely between users of this site; The National Geographic Society is not a party to and does not endorse or promote any particular sales or trade arrangements between collectors, dealers, or others. Due to the immediate nature of this medium, National Geographic Online also does not review, censor, approve, edit or endorse information placed on this forum. Discussion boards on National Geographic Online are intended to be appropriate for family members of all ages. Posting of indecent material is strictly prohibited. The placement of advertisements or solicitations unrelated to National Geographic also is prohibited. National Geographic Online shall review information placed on this forum from time to time and delete inappropriate material that comes to its attention as soon as it is practicable, but cannot guarantee that such material will not be found on the forum. By posting material on this discussion board you agree to adhere to this policy prohibiting indecent, offensive or extraneous advertising material, and to legally assume full and sole responsibility for your posting.

© 2023   Created by Cathy Hunter.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service