Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditionsby Charles Gallenkamp, Michael J. Novacek (Foreword by)
The New York Times science editor John Noble Wilford has called the Central Asiatic Expeditions (1922-1930) "the most celebrated . . . of the twentieth century." Led by world-renowned explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, the five expeditions uncovered unimagined scientific wonders: the Flaming Cliffs, dinosaur eggs, the first skeleton of Velociraptor (the/i>
The New York Times science editor John Noble Wilford has called the Central Asiatic Expeditions (1922-1930) "the most celebrated . . . of the twentieth century." Led by world-renowned explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, the five expeditions uncovered unimagined scientific wonders: the Flaming Cliffs, dinosaur eggs, the first skeleton of Velociraptor (the terrifying killer of Jurassic Park fame), and a fossil treasure trove of other dinosaurs and extinct mammals.
In Dragon Hunter, Charles Gallenkamp vividly recounts these extraordinary adventures while telling Andrews's incredible life story-from his beginnings as a floor sweeper at the American Museum of Natural History to his international fame as one of the century's most acclaimed explorers. Filled with astonishing tales of political intrigue and braving the elements, Dragon Hunter is a thrilling page-turner that takes readers along on one of the most important scientific missions in history.
"Enormously entertaining." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Amazing stuff . . . an incredibly exciting life." (National Geographic Explorer)
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I was born to be an explorer. There never was any decision to make. I couldn't do anything else and be happy....The desire to see new places, to discover new facts-the curiosity of life always has been a resistless driving force in me." So Roy Chapman Andrews wrote in the foreword to his book This Business of Exploring. It was a conviction he repeated many times in print and from lecture platforms, and the course of his life confirmed its validity.
Andrews was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on January 26, 1884, at approximately two o'clock in the morning. Upon first seeing his son, Andrews' father noticed what he perceived to be an Oriental cast to the infant's eyes, causing him to jokingly declare, "Why I've begot a Chinaman!" It was a prophetic remark in view of the years Andrews lived in China and the impact of the Orient upon his career.
Andrews grew up in a decidedly conventional atmosphere. His father, Charles Ezra Andrews, was a native of Worthington, Indiana, who had moved to Beloit in 1873, lured by the town's reputation as a burgeoning industrial center. Within a few years, he was earning a comfortable living as a wholesale druggist whose hard work and involvement in civic affairs made him widely respected in the community.
Some time in 1880, Andrews became engaged to Cora May Chapman, the daughter of an entrepreneur named James A. Chapman. Originally from Utica, New York, he had moved to Beloit with his wife and children in 1858 and quickly established a successful real estate and insurance business. Although Cora was two years old when her family arrived in Beloit, she always considered herself a "native." After graduating from high school, she continued to live with her family, devoting much of her energy to community organizations. By the time of her engagement to Andrews, she had grown into a mild-mannered, studious woman who was fond of reading fiction and books on history and travel.
On December 8, 1880, Charles and Cora Andrews were married in a small Protestant ceremony held in the Chapmans' home, and they quickly settled into a pleasant if somewhat staid existence. With their two children-a daughter named Ethelyn May was born in 1882, followed by Roy's arrival two years later-the couple enjoyed a harmonious marriage that lasted until Cora's death in 1935. While Charles never became wealthy as a wholesale drug salesman, he managed to provide his family with a comfortable house in one of Beloit's better neighborhoods, an above-average share of everyday amenities, and a cabin in the woods west of town, which he built for weekend outings.
Like most Beloiters, their lives reflected a sober legacy of initiative, self-reliance, and devotion to conventional pieties derived from the town's deeply entrenched New England roots. Nearly all of Beloit's founders had come from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine at the instigation of the New England Emigrating Company, organized in Colebrook, New Hampshire, in 1836. Its sole objective was to recruit settlers from northeastern states for relocation in Beloit, where the firm had invested heavily in the area's economic development.
At the time of Roy Chapman Andrews' birth in 1884, the population of Beloit numbered about six thousand people. Situated on high bluffs along both sides of the Rock River, the town was already a thriving manufacturing center. By the 1890s, over two dozen factories were producing windmills, pumps, waterwheels, bicycles, papermaking machines, scales, steam and combustion engines, woodworking equipment, plows, and various other items that were being marketed throughout the United States and exported worldwide. Apart from sprawling industrial areas, Beloit contained a pleasing mélange of tree-lined residential neighborhoods, well-manicured parks, and a flourishing business district. Its buildings-many of them constructed of limestone from quarries along the river-embodied a mixture of Greek Revival, Victorian, and Gothic architecture. And compared to most midwestern towns of similar size, Beloit offered what residents lauded as a "refined and cultivated atmosphere." Its cultural diversions boasted choral groups, bands, theatrical companies, a Philharmonic Society "devoted to pleasure and appreciation of good music," a reading and poetry club, an elegantly appointed opera house, occasional art exhibitions, lectures, and appearances by internationally famous musicians, actors, and dancers.
Beloit was a pleasant-enough place in which to grow up, and Andrews' memories of his boyhood there were tinged with nostalgia, especially for the nearby river and woodlands, which afforded an ideal training ground for his fledgling interest in natural history. Yet there were the usual disadvantages of a small town, and for someone possessed of Andrews' curiosity, restlessness, and thirst for adventure, his horizons would inevitably expand beyond anything Beloit could offer him as an adult. Above everything loomed the certainty that his dream of becoming an explorer and naturalist could only be attained, if at all, in more cosmopolitan surroundings: cities with active, well-financed museums or other scientific institutions. It was this reality that would cause Andrews to leave Beloit immediately after graduating from college, returning only for brief visits with his parents.
Unfortunately, Andrews' books, private papers, and correspondence convey only a fragmented portrait of his family background and early years in Beloit. In his autobiography, Under a Lucky Star (1943), he devoted barely ten pages to his first twenty-one years, explaining that no one but himself would give "a tinker's damn" about his boyhood. When referring to his ancestry, he was equally terse, dismissing the topic with a remark he once heard that "people who are too much concerned with the pedigree of their forefathers are apt to be like potatoes-the best part of them is underground."
Andrews' writings contain no mention of relatives other than brief references to his mother and father. A single exception occurs in his book An Explorer Comes Home (1947), a sequel to his autobiography, in which he traces in less than a paragraph the lineage of his great-grandfather, Noah Andrews, back to one John Andrus, who came to America from Essex County, England, in 1640. Andrews enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing. He was raised in a secure, supportive household, and his relationship with his parents was always quite close. Until his graduation from college, he lived with his family in the two-story, fourteen-room house at 419 St. Lawrence Avenue that his maternal grandfather, James A. Chapman, had purchased in 1859. Gregarious and fun-loving by nature, Andrews possessed a ready sense of humor and a fondness for pranks. Even at an early age, he was fiercely independent, strong-willed, and high-strung. He prided himself on financial self-reliance, and to earn extra money, he worked at odd jobs such as gardening, taking care of horses, distributing circulars, and driving a delivery wagon for a bakery. Although he was thin and not especially muscular, Andrews was athletic and unusually strong, and his boundless energy often caused his parents to issue vain warnings against exhausting himself.
Yet there was a reclusive side to his personality as well, an "inner life," jealously guarded from intrusion, that centered around his love of reading, nature lore, and solitary days spent in the countryside hunting, studying wildlife, and camping. Photographs of Andrews taken at the ages of eight, fourteen, and twenty show a handsome youth with penetrating eyes, a high forehead,and a resolute jaw. Older-looking than his years, he was once described by a family friend as "already having the appearance of someone destined to be famous."
Andrews received most of his secondary education in public schools. When he was sixteen, he transferred for a year to the Beloit College Academy, a private institution established to serve as a "feeder" for the college itself, since few graduates of the local high school could, one observer noted, "hurdle the high wall of classical requirements for entrance [primarily Greek, Latin, and rhetoric] by which the college was surrounded." Never an exceptional student, Andrews somehow managed to navigate the academy's rigorous courses with satisfactory grades, though all forms of mathematics were agonizing to him, remaining what he called his "bête noire" throughout life. "I add correctly," he confessed in his autobiography, "only as high as I can count on my fingers, and subtract and divide very uncertainly."
In September 1902, Andrews enrolled at Beloit College. Notwithstanding the devout New England puritanism of its founders, the college had always been remarkably progressive. Beloit's faculty adopted a liberal approach to education that encouraged the pursuit of "not only Bible truth but all truth." As an outgrowth of this ambiguous mandate, the school offered a nonsectarian curriculum that emphasized humanities and science, along with mandatory biblical studies. Even Darwin's theory of evolution, widely shunned in many universities, was being taught at Beloit by the 1890s due to the influence of an enlightened professor named George L. Collie, a Harvard-trained scientist who became the first curator of the Logan Museum of Anthropology, which opened on the campus in 1894.
During his four years in college, Andrews worked just hard enough to earn acceptable grades, and his transcript reveals a student who was capable but erratic. He received above-average marks in English, science, economics, German, archaeology, history, and rhetoric-with a scattering of A's-though the rest of his grades were mediocre to poor. But regardless of his lack of academic zeal, Andrews' involvement in extracurricular activities was another matter: he played on his class baseball team, served as secretary-treasurer of the Boating Club, joined the Sigma Chi fraternity, and maintained a busy social life with the opposite sex, which caused him, he lamented, to "[waste] a lot of time."
On one occasion while attending Beloit, Andrews demonstrated the persuasive charm that would see him through many tight spots in later life. Knowing he would never pass freshman mathematics, a requirement for graduation, he turned his attention to his English teacher, an attractive young woman who happened to be in love with the mathematics professor. Andrews excelled in English, and intensifying his efforts even more, he was awarded the highest marks in literature and composition, along with frequent invitations to his English teacher's home for tea. One day he mentioned, not very subtly, that he knew he was unable to pass the dreaded mathematics course and would be dropped from Beloit at the semester's end, causing her to lose her star English pupil. On the other hand, Andrews hinted, "If she could persuade her suitor to give me a passing mark in mathematics the situation would be saved. She did and it was!"
Unquestionably, Andrews' real interests lay outside the classroom, and formal education was of secondary importance in shaping his intellectual development. It did little to nurture his deeply rooted determination to become a naturalist and explorer-ambitions that dominated his life from an early age and led him down paths of independent study. As a child, he adored stories involving epic journeys, wild animals, adventure, and scientific discovery. His favorite book was Robinson Crusoe, which his mother read to him a dozen times. By the age of eight, he showed a consuming interest in nature, and began to spend most of his spare time wandering in the woods or along the banks of the Rock River. Equipped with binoculars and a notebook, he delighted in observing wildlife and recording the migrations of birds. Occasionally, he visited the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, ninety miles away, spending hours studying its exhibits or delving into its library. He also devoted painstaking effort to assembling a "private museum" of his own-a collection of minerals, fossils, stuffed animals, insects, bird skins, Indian artifacts, and dried plants, which were carefully labeled and displayed in the attic of his house. His love of the wilderness led to a passion for hiking and camping trips, during which he liked to test his ability to live off the land, eating mostly berries, fish, and game. "I was like a rabbit," he wrote, "happy only when I could run out of doors....Whatever the weather, in sun or rain, calm or storm, day or night, I was outside, unless my parents almost literally locked me in."
For Andrews' ninth birthday, his father, who encouraged his son's sporting instincts, gave him a single-barrel shotgun with which he learned to hunt. In the process, he once mistakenly blew up three "geese," unaware that they were actually pneumatic decoys belonging to another hunter. "At the roar of my gun," Andrews recounted, the fragile geese "slowly collapsed with a gentle hissing sound." The incident so amused his father, who sorely disliked the decoys' owner, that he promptly bought Andrews a more-powerful double-barrel shotgun.
Using William T. Hornaday's book, Taxidermy and Home Decoration, Andrews taught himself to mount animals and birds. He soon became so skilled that he acquired a license from the Wisconsin Conservation Department and started a part-time business mounting trophies for hunters, the proceeds from which paid for most of his college tuition. Andrews exhibited his handiwork in stores, barbershops, and saloons; and his talents were solicited by family friends and schoolmates who brought him their dead pets to be mounted-everything from dogs, cats, and parrots to snakes, lizards, and turtles.
Throughout his formative years, Andrews devoured books on natural history, travel, and exploration. He carried a tattered copy of Frank M. Chapman's Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America-his "Bible," as he called it-on every field trip. He pored over narratives of the great nineteenth-century African explorers: Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, Samuel Baker, David Livingston, and particularly Henry M. Stanley, whose In Darkest Africa so thrilled Andrews that he "could scarcely sleep at night after reading it." In a secondhand bookstore, he bought a copy of Charles M. Doughty's classic Travels in Arabia Deserta, which may have helped awaken his attraction to deserts. He eagerly followed accounts of Fridtjof Nansen's daring polar voyage in 1893-1896 aboard his specially built ship, the Fram; and he was enthralled by Sven Hedin's two-volume work, Central Asia and Tibet: Toward the Holy City of Lassa, an English translation of which appeared in 1903.
Added to Andrews' interest in nature, hunting, and taxidermy, these books intensified his enthusiasm for science and exploration to the point of obsession. "From the time that I can remember anything," he declared, "I always intended to be an explorer, to work in a natural history museum....Actually, I never had a choice of profession. I wanted to be an explorer and naturalist so passionately that anything else as a life work just never entered my mind." Exactly how he would achieve these ambitions was yet unclear, though at that point, he wrote, "I never let practical considerations clutter my youthful dreams." While he was still in college, two unforeseen events gave Andrews a decisive push toward his goals. Midway through his junior year, he experienced a tragedy that profoundly affected his outlook. His closest friend was a twenty-three-year-old New Yorker named Montague White, an instructor in rhetoric at Beloit College. On March 31, 1905, while hunting ducks near the junction of Young's Creek and the Rock River, about seven miles north of Beloit, a canoe in which Andrews and White were trying to cross the river suddenly capsized. White, an excellent swimmer, quickly vanished in the icy, turbulent water, swollen by melting snow and a week of heavy rains. A moment later, he surfaced briefly, then disappeared again. Andrews, meanwhile, was swept downstream toward a partially submerged clump of willows. By clinging to branches, he was able to pull himself to safety and crawl more than half a mile to a farmhouse, tearing a deep gash in his leg on a barbed wire fence. Suffering from cold and exhaustion, he was put to bed by the farm's owners, who summoned the police. At six o'clock that evening, a search party recovered Montague White's body; seized by cramps, he had drowned only a few yards from where he first went under, within easy reach of the riverbank.
Devastated by his friend's death, Andrews lapsed into severe physical and emotional trauma. He lost forty pounds during the next few weeks, and the slightest excitement caused him to tremble violently. For almost six months he remained withdrawn, spending as much time as possible wandering in the woods "with field glasses and notebook studying birds," he wrote, "or sleeping in the sun." Though he eventually recovered from the accident's immediate effects, it may have been responsible for the onset of a slight nervous tic in his left cheek, which persisted for the rest of his life and was most noticeable when he became agitated. Andrews' near brush with death also became an agonizing catalyst that awakened a fierce determination to pursue his long-cherished plans. "Monty's drowning," he declared, "overwhelmed me with the frailty of my own existence. I realized as never before the importance of time, the need to focus my energy, and the necessity of exploiting every opportunity if I ever expected to fulfill my ambitions."
Less than a year later, just such an opportunity presented itself. Edmund Otis Hovey, assistant curator of geology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, came to Beloit College in 1906 to lecture. As an authority on volcanoes, his subject was the eruption of Mount Pelée, which four years earlier had killed thirty thousand people on the island of Martinique in the West Indies. Ever since Andrews could remember, the American Museum had represented the pinnacle of his aspirations. He had read every magazine article he could find on its expeditions to far-off places, and during his visits to the Field Museum in Chicago, he never failed to scour its library for back issues of the American Museum Journal, the forerunner to Natural History magazine. Long before Edmund Hovey's lecture in Beloit, Andrews had extolled the American Museum as "the one place I would most want to work if given a choice."
Eager to discuss the possibility of employment with a member of that august institution's staff, Andrews hounded Hovey's hotel until he cornered the courtly, rather shy geologist in the lobby. Hovey, who proved to be "exceptionally pleasant," sat patiently while Andrews expounded on his interest in exploration, natural history, and taxidermy; Hovey even agreed to walk around the corner to Moran's Saloon, where several deer heads and birds mounted by Andrews were displayed on the walls. Impressed by the would-be naturalist's abilities, Hovey offered to speak to the American Museum's director, Hermon Carey Bumpus, on his behalf. He also suggested that Andrews write to Bumpus directly about prospects for a job.
Andrews immediately composed a letter to Bumpus outlining his qualifications and requesting an interview. The reply was courteous, though hardly promising. In a brief paragraph, Bumpus conveyed his regrets that no positions were currently open, but he offered to meet with Andrews if he ever came to New York on other business, cautioning him that it would be unwise to make a special trip. Andrews remembered that he and his mother "were greatly excited at the letter," though his father, "more of a realist than either of us, made some uncalled-for remark about not counting unhatched chickens."
After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in June 1906 (a diploma he felt "had not really been earned"), he resolved to visit New York at once. Spurred on by the gnawing concern regarding his future that had plagued him since Montague White's death, Andrews declined a surprise graduation present arranged by his parents: a two-week fishing trip to northern Wisconsin. Instead, he left for New York early in July with a train ticket purchased by his father-in place of the fishing trip-and $30 he had earned mounting trophies.
On his way East, Andrews stopped in Chicago to investigate job possibilities at the Field Museum, after which he paid a visit to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, but he received no encouragement at either place. When he reached New York on the evening of July 6, his first sight of its skyline was from the Twenty-third Street ferry. "The magic city," he mused, "was more beautiful than anything of which I had dreamed. All my fears vanished....I knew it was my city."
The following morning, Saturday, July 7, Andrews confronted the imposing façade of the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West at Seventy-ninth Street. At eleven o'clock, he was ushered into the director's fifth-floor office overlooking Central Park. He introduced himself to Hermon Bumpus, a tall, lean energetic man with thinning hair and a small black mustache, who had formerly served as the Museum's curator of invertebrate zoology and taught comparative anatomy and biology at Brown University.
Bumpus listened indulgently as Andrews pleaded his case for a job. Nevertheless, all hope appeared to vanish when the director reiterated what he had said in his letter: that no suitable positions were available. But a moment later, a curious exchange occurred, one that Andrews subsequently retold many times in print. Almost unthinkingly, he blurted out that he was not asking for a position; he simply wanted to work at the Museum in any capacity, even if he did nothing more than clean floors. Bumpus protested that a man with a college degree would never be happy scrubbing floors. Whether by a stroke of well-calculated strategy or sheer desperation, Andrews countered that he would certainly not scrub just any floors, but the Museum's floors, he insisted, were different. Unable to resist this outburst of youthful ardor, Bumpus relented. He agreed to hire Andrews as an assistant in the taxidermy department at $40 a month.
After lunching with Bumpus at a nearby restaurant called the Rochelle, where Andrews vividly recalled ordering "cold salmon and green peas," he was taken back to the Museum to meet James L. Clark, a gifted young taxidermist and wildlife sculptor. In his autobiography, Good Hunting: Fifty Years of Collecting, and Preparing Habitat Groups for the American Museum, Clark recounted how Bumpus brought Andrews to his studio, introduced him, and announced that "he has just come here to take a job....I don't know what he will do, but if you'll give him a working space and a desk somewhere, I'll find something for him."
Instructed to report to the Museum promptly at nine o'clock on Monday morning, Andrews arrived at 8:15, having stayed up "most of the previous night too nervous to think about sleeping." He crossed Central Park and sat on a large granite boulder near the entrance to Eighty-first Street. Gazing at the Museum's massive stone façade, Andrews pondered his future with a mixture of apprehension and elation. "Finally, a few minutes before nine," he wrote, "I shut my eyes and made a little prayer, then walked to the entrance on Seventy-Seventh Street and, for the first time, went through the doors of the American Museum as an employee."
Meet the Author
Charles Gallenkamp is the author of Maya: The Riddle and Rediscovery of a Lost Civilization.
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I had known about Roy Chapman Andrews and his Gobi Desert expeditions of the 1920s for New York's Museum of Natural History but never read a full account of them. Charles Gallenkamp has written an interesting biography of Andrews that centers the period of his exploration. Dinosaur enthusiasts may be disappointed; Gallenkamp is more interested in the humans than the fossils. The story is fascinating, even allowing for the fact Andrews sometimes was creative in his accounts. Bandits, sandstorms, and wildly fluctuating weather were only some of the hazards of the Gobi. Gallenkamp details the political and military situations in China and Mongolia that finally forced the Central Asiatic Expeditions to close up shop. He winds up the book by summing up the rest of Andrews' life in a couple chapters and telling of recent expeditions that followed in his footsteps.
Dragon Hunter, by Charles Gallenkamp, discusses the life of Roy Chapman Andrews and is a mix of science and adventure. You won't want to put the book down after you start reading it. The story maps out the life of Roy Chapman Andrews, whose expeditions to the Gobi Desert in the 1920s and 1930s were the most motivated scientific undertaking ever in the United States. The expeditions exposed archaeological treasures, in spite of treacherous weather conditions and the civil war. He told the director of the museum that if it were just a matter of mopping the floors, he would be more than happy to do the job. He mopped the floors of the museum and eventually became the director of the museum. The descriptions of his expeditions make for an exciting reading. Gallenkamp has summarized the Mongolian regional politics as well as society of the time, and has made it clear just how Andrews became a sensation in his day. The book goes into great detail of his life leading up to his adventures. For instance, when he went to Asia for the first time I felt like I was along his side embracing the adventure myself. When the author described Mongolia as one of the most beautiful places in the world, it makes you want to travel there and see the sights for yourself. I also liked the way the author would tell what was happening in history during his adventures. This helped the reader know what was going on in the region at that particular time. If you love to read about real life exploration, discovery, dinosaurs, and bandits; this is a great book for you. If you want to learn about Andrews Central Asiatic Expeditions, life in the Gobi, and the political intrigue of 1920's China, this is also a novel that you will take pleasure in. You should not read this book if you're not into archeology, otherwise this book will bore you.
This was a very interesting book. Andrews was a fascinating man when the age of the explorers was still alive. I found the information on the times and culture of China and Mongolia very interesting, and at times eclipsing the excursions into the Gobi. However, this book would not be the first historical/biogrphy I would recommend to fellow readers.
It was a great book. I cried the whole way through.
At last! - a proper adult biography of Roy Chapman Andrews. Despite the politically correct nonsense review given by 'Kirkus Review', Charles Gallenkamp has written an indepth book about the life of Andrews and the times that he lived in; they are both fascinating. Andrews was a product of his time - not a product of late 21st century revisionist history. Gallenkamp tells us Andrews' story as it really was - not as some would like to see it rewritten. Despite 3 previous attempts by other authors [1930, 1968, 1972 ]to capture the true essence of Andrews, and numerous 'Kids' books on the market today - Until Gallenkamp's 'Dragon Hunter' There has been no proper biography of Andrews written. If you love to read about real life exploration, discovery, dinosaurs, and bandits; this is a great book. If you want to learn about how Andrews put the Central Asiatic Expeditions together, how personnel was selected, life in the Gobi, and the political intrigue of 1920's China - this is also a book you can really enjoy. The numerous B/W photos are reproduced on glossy paper; a few of these images have never been seen by the public before. Of particular note are the drawings by Karen Wright, which were created for this book. My one complaint is that this bio of Andrews centers around the famous expeditions to Mongolia, but does not go into as much detail about Andrews' earlier whale research days, or his life after the Mongolian Expeditions - but then this would probably have been a 3 volume set. Gallenkamp's 'Dragon Hunter' portrays the real-life accomplsihments of a real-life man; warts and all. It is a gripping read, and you quickly realize how much nonsense has previously been written about Andrews. Move over Indiana Jones - here is the real thing.