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Guide to Life and Literature
of the Southwest

Nature; Wild Life; Naturalists

"NO MAN," says Mary Austin, "has ever really entered into the heart of any country until he has adopted or made up myths about its familiar objects." A man might reject the myths but he would have to know many facts about its natural life and have imagination as well as knowledge before entering into a country's heart. The history of any land begins with nature, and all histories must end with nature.

"The character of a country is the destiny of its people," wrote Harvey Fergusson in Rio Grande. Ross Calvin, also of New Mexico, had the same idea in mind when he entitled his book Sky Determines. "Culture mocks at the boundaries set up by politics," Clark Wissler said. "It approaches geographical boundaries with its hat in its hand." The engineering of water across mountains, electric translation of sounds, refrigeration of air and foods, and other technical developments carry human beings a certain distance across some of nature's boundaries, but no cleverness of science can escape nature. The inhabitants of Yuma, Arizona, are destined forever to face a desert devoid of graciousness. Technology does not create matter; it merely uses matter in a skilful way -- uses it up.

Man advances by learning the secrets of nature and taking advantage of his knowledge. He is deeply happy only when in harmony with his work and environments. The backwoodsman, early settler, pioneer plainsman, mountain man were all like some infuriated beast of Promethean capabilities tearing at its own vitals. Driven by an irrational energy, they seemed intent on destroying not only the growth of the soil but the power of the soil to reproduce. Davy Crockett, the great bear killer, was "wrathy to kill a bear," and as respects bears and other wild life, one may search the chronicles of his kind in vain for anything beyond the incidents of chase and slaughter. To quote T. B. Thorpe's blusterous bear hunter, the whole matter may be summed up in one sentence: "A bear is started and he is killed." For the average American of the soil, whether wearing out a farm, shotgunning with a headlight the last doe of a woodland, shooting the last buffalo on the range, trapping the last howling lobo, winging the last prairie chicken, running down in an automobile the last antelope, making a killer's target of any hooting owl or flying heron that comes within range, poisoning the last eagle to fly over a sheep pasture for him the circumstances of the killing have expressed his chief intellectual interest in nature.

A sure sign of advancing civilization has been the rapidly changing popular attitude toward nature during recent years. People are becoming increasingly interested not merely in conserving game for sportsmen to shoot, but in preserving all wild life, in observing animals, in cultivating native flora, in building houses that harmonize with climate and landscape. Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds has become one of the popular standard works of America.

The story of the American Indian is -- despite taboos and squalor -- a story of harmonizations with nature. "Wolf Brother," in Long Lance, by Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, is a poetic concretion of this harmony. As much at ease with the wilderness as any Blackfoot Indian was George Frederick Ruxton, educated English officer and gentleman, who rode horseback from Vera Cruz to the Missouri River and wrote Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. In this book he tells how a lobo followed him for days from camp to camp, waiting each evening for his share of fresh meat and sometimes coming close to the fire at night. Any orthodox American would have shot the lobo at first appearance. Ruxton had the civilized perspective on nature represented by Thoreau and Saint Francis of Assisi. Primitive harmony was run over by frontier wrath to kill, a wrath no less barbaric than primitive superstitions.

But the coyote's howl is more tonic than all theories about nature; the buck's whistle more invigorating; the bull's bellow in the canyon more musical; the call of the bobwhite more serene; the rattling of the rattlesnake more logical; the scream of the panther more arousing to the imagination; the odor from the skunk more lingering; the sweep of the buzzard in the air more majestical; the wariness of the wild turkey brighter; the bark of the prairie dog lighter; the guesses of the armadillo more comical; the upward dartings and dippings of the scissortail more lovely; the flight of the sandhill cranes more fraught with mystery.

There is an abundance of printed information on the animal life of America, to the west as well as to the east. Much of it cannot be segregated; the earthworm, on which Darwin wrote a book, knows nothing of regionalism. The best books on nature come from and lead to the Grasshopper's Library, which is free to all consultants. I advise the consultant to listen to the owl's hoot for wisdom, plant nine bean rows for peace, and, with Wordsworth, sit on an old gray stone listening for "authentic tidings of invisible things." Studies are only to "perfect nature." In the words of Mary Austin, "They that make the sun noise shall not fail of the sun's full recompense."

Like knowledge in any other department of life, that on nature never comes to a stand so long as it has vitality. A continuing interest in natural history is nurtured by Natural History, published by the American Museum of Natural History, New York; Nature, published in Washington, D. C.; The Living Wilderness, also from Washington; Journal of Mammalogy, a quarterly, Baltimore, Maryland; Audubon Magazine (formerly Bird Lore), published by the National Audubon Society, New York; American Forests, Washington, D. C., and various other publications.

In addition to books of natural history interest listed below, others are listed under "Buffaloes and Buffalo Hunters," "Bears and Bear Hunters," "Coyotes, Lobos, and Panthers," "Birds and Wild Flowers," and "Interpreters." Perhaps a majority of worthy books pertaining to the western half of America look on the outdoors.

ADAMS, W. H. DAVENPORT (from the French of Benedict Revoil).

The Hunter and the Trapper of North America, London, 1875. A strange book.


Wild Life in the Southwest, Dallas, 1936. Helpful chapters on various characteristic animals and plants. OP.


Mammals of New Mexico, United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Biological Survey, Washington, D. C., 1931. Biological Survey of Texas, 1905. OP. The "North American Fauna Series," to which these two books belong, contains or points to the basic facts covering most of the mammals of the Southwest.


Camps in the Rockies, 1882. A true sportsman, Baillie-Grohman was more interested in living animals than in just killing. OP.


Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, Doubleday, Garden City, N. Y., 1947. To be personal, Roy Bedichek has the most richly stored mind I have ever met; it is as active as it is full. Liberal in the true sense of the word, it frees other minds. Here, using facts as a means, it gives meanings to the hackberry tree, limestone, mockingbird, Inca dove, Mexican primrose, golden eagle, the Davis Mountains, cedar cutters, and many another natural phenomenon. Adventures with a Texas Naturalist is regarded by some good judges as the wisest book in the realm of natural history produced in America since Thoreau wrote.

The title of Bedichek's second book, Karankaway Country (Garden City, 1950), is misleading. The Karankawa Indians start it off, but it goes to coon inquisitiveness, prairie chicken dances, the extinction of species to which the whooping crane is approaching, browsing goats, dignified skunks, swifts in love flight, a camp in the brush, dust, erosion, silt -- always with thinking added to seeing. The foremost naturalist of the Southwest, Bedichek constantly relates nature to civilization and human values.


Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter, 1859; reprinted, Philadelphia, 1928. Prodigal on bear and deer.


Mammals of North America, Macmillan, New York, 1947. The author is a scientist with an open mind on the relationships between predators and game animals. His thick, delightfully illustrated book is the best dragnet on American mammals extant. It contains excellent lists of references.


Antelope and Deer of America, 1877. Standard work. OP.


The Longhorns (1941) and The Mustangs (1952), while hardly to be catalogued as natural history books, go farther into natural history than most books on cattle and horses go. On the Open Range (1931; reprinted by Banks Upshaw, Dallas) contains a number of animal stories more or less true. Ben Lilly of The Ben Lilly Legend (Boston, 1950) thought that God had called him to hunt. He spent his life, therefore, in hunting. He saw some things in nature beyond targets.


The Hunting Grounds of the Great West, London, 1877. Published in New York the same year under title of The Plains of the Great West and Their Inhabitants. Outstanding survey of outstanding wild creatures.


The Great Divide, London, 1876; reprinted under title of Hunting in the Yellowstone, 1925. OP.


Fading Trails, New York, 1942. Humanistic review of characteristic American wild life. OP.


The Texas Ranger, or Real Life in the Backwoods, 1866; another form of A Hunter's Experience in the Southern States of America, by Captain Flack, "The Ranger," London, 1866.


Desert Mavericks, Santa Barbara, California, 1928. Illustrated; delightful. OP.


Naturalists of the Frontier, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1937; revised and enlarged edition, 1948. Biographies of men who were characters as well as scientists, generally in environments alien to their interests.


Wild Sports in the Far West, 1854. A translation from the German. Delightful reading and revealing picture of how backwoodsmen of the Mississippi Valley "lived off the country."


Animal Outlaws, Collinsville, Oklahoma, 1938. OP. A remarkable collection of animal stories. Privately printed.


Between 1893 and 1913, Grinnell, partly in collaboration with Theodore Roosevelt, edited five volumes for The Boone and Crockett Club that contain an extraordinary amount of information, written mostly by men of civilized perspective, on bears, deer, mountain sheep, buffaloes, cougars, elk, wolves, moose, mountains, and forests. The series, long out of print, is a storehouse of knowledge not to be overlooked by any student of wild life in the West. The titles are: American Big-Game Hunting, 1893; Hunting in Many Lands, 1895; Trail and Camp-Fire, 1897; American Big Game in Its Haunts, 1904; Hunting at High Altitudes, 1913.


Fur-Bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status, and Relation to Man, two volumes, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1937. The king, so far, of all state natural histories.


Mammals of Nevada, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1946. So far as my knowledge goes, this is the only respect-worthy book extant pertaining to the state whose economy is based on fees from divorces and gambling and whose best-known citizen is Senator Pat McCarran.


Possum, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1952. This richly illustrated book comprehends everything pertaining to the subject from prehistoric marsupium to baking with sweet potatoes in a Negro cabin. It is the outcome of a lifetime's scientific investigation not only of possums but of libraries and popular talk. Thus, in addition to its biographical and natural history aspects, it is a study in the evolution of man's knowledge about one of the world's folkiest creatures.


Camp Fires on Desert and Lava, London, n.d. OP. Dr. Hornaday, who died in 1937, was the first director of the New York Zoological Park. He was a great conservationist and an authority on the wild life of America.


The Naturalist in La Plata, New York, 1892. Not about the Southwest or even North America, but Hudson's chapters on "The Puma," "Some Curious Animal Weapons," "The Mephitic Skunk," "Humming Birds," "The Strange Instincts of Cattle," "Horse and Man," etc. come home to the Southwest. Few writers tend to make readers so aware; no other has written so delightfully of the lands of grass.


Wild Neighbors, New York, 1897. OP. A superior work. Chapter II, "The Father of Game," is on the cougar; Chapter IV, "The Hound of the Plains," is on the coyote; there is an excellent essay on the badger. Each chapter is provided with a list of books affording more extended treatment of the subject.


Denizens of the Desert, Boston, 1922. OP. "Don Coyote," the roadrunner, and other characteristic animals. Our Desert Neighbors, Stanford University Press, California, 1950.


Naturally Yours, Texas, Naylor, San Antonio, 1949. Charm must never be discounted; it is far rarer than facts, and often does more to lead to truth. This slight book is in verse and drawings, type integrated with delectable black-and-white representations of the prairie dog, armadillo, sanderling, mesquite, whirlwind, sand dune, mirage, and dozens of other natural phenomena. The only other book in this list to which it is akin is Eve Ganson's Desert Mavericks.


Unknown Mexico, New York, 1902. Nearly anything about animals as well as about Indians and mountains of Mexico may be found in this extraordinary two-volume work. OP.


The Alligator s Life History, Boston, 1935. OP. The alligator got farther west than is generally known -- at least within reach of Laredo and Eagle Pass on the Rio Grande. McIlhenny's book treats -- engagingly, intimately, and with precision -- of the animal in Louisiana. Hungerers for anatomical biology are referred to The Alligator and Its Allies by A. M. Reese, New York, 1915. I have more to say about McIlhenny in Chapter 30.


Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border, New York, 1866. Marcy had a scientific mind and a high sense of values. He knew how to write and what he wrote remains informing and pleasant.


Castorologia, or The History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver, London, 1892. OP. The beaver is a beaver, whether on Hudson's Bay or the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Much has been written on this animal, the propeller of the trappers of the West, but this famous book remains the most comprehensive on facts and the amplest in conception. The author was humorist as well as scientist.


Texas Nature Observations and Reminiscences, San Antonio, 1913. OP. Being of an educated German family, Dr. Menger found many things in nature more interesting than two-headed calves.


The Rocky Mountain Wonderland, Wild Life on the Rockies, Waiting in the Wilderness, and other books. Some naturalists have taken exception to some observations recorded by Mills; nevertheless, he enlarges and freshens mountain life.


The Mountains of California, Our National Parks, and other books. Muir, a great naturalist, had the power to convey his wise sympathies and brooded-over knowledge.


Sporting Adventures in the Far West, London, 1879. One of the earliest roundups of game animals of the West.


The Whitetailed Deer, New York, 1926. OP. Standard work.


The Solitary Hunter; or Storting Adventures in the Prairies, London, 1857.


Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, with a chapter entitled "Books on Big Game"; Hunting Adventures in the West; The Wilderness Hunter; Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail; A Book Lover's Holiday in the Open; The Deer Family (in collaboration).


Deserts on the March, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1935. Dramatic picturization of the forces of nature operating in what droughts of the 1930's caused to be called "the Dust Bowl." "Drought and Wind and Man" might be another title.


Wild Animals I Have Known; Lives of the Hunted. Probably no other writer of America has aroused so many people, young people especially, to an interest in our wild animals. Natural history encyclopedias he has authored are Life Histories of Northern Animals, New York, 1920, and Lives of Game Animals, New York, 1929. Seton's final testament, Trail of an Artist Naturalist (Scribner's, New York, 1941), has a deal on wild life of the Southwest.


The Hive of the Bee-Hunter, New York, 1854. OP. Juicy.


The Mammals of Colorado, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1942. OP.

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