Adventure And Discovery
Roy Chapman Andrews was famous for his adventuresome lifestyle. He retold many of his favorite tales in his numerous works of popular adventure, most notably Under a Lucky Star (Viking, 1943) and Ends of the Earth (Putnam, 1929).
In the [first] fifteen years [of field work] I can remember just ten times when I had really narrow escapes from death. Two were from drowning in typhoons, one was when our boat was charged by a wounded whale, once my wife and I were nearly eaten by wild dogs, once we were in great danger from fanatical lama priests, two were close calls when I fell over cliffs, once was nearly caught by a huge python, and twice I might have been killed by bandits.
Read on for a sample of some of Roy’s adventures.
Adventure on the Rock River
In March 1905, Roy Chapman Andrews and Montague White decided to go on a duck hunting trip. Andrews, a junior at Beloit College, was 21 years old; Monty White was 23 and a member of the English Department. The choice of timing for their outing was probably more influenced by the fact that Beloit College classes were in recess for a spring break than because the month presented ideal hunting conditions. In fact, circumstances for boating on the Rock River were not good at all.
The river had been steadily rising for days. No dramatic storm or weather change had caused the increase; instead the river crept higher so gradually that many were surprised when it registered one of its highest water marks ever and stayed at that level for more than ten days. Monty and Roy had already been camping for several days near the confluence of Young’s Creek (perhaps today’s Bass Creek) and the Rock River, six miles north of Beloit when their boating accident occurred. Roy and Monty probably did not know it, but just two days before, a 15-year-old Beloit boy-playing with friends on the Northwestern Railway Bridge-had drowned after falling from the bridge into Turtle Creek.
Here’s what happened when Roy and Monty set out to hunt on Friday, March 31, 1905. As their trip got underway, Monty accidentally dropped his paddle overboard and, lunging to reach it, upset their unsteady craft. Both men were dumped into the icy flood waters. Monty began swimming for shore, then suddenly sank from view. Roy, swept in the opposite direction, was unable to help his friend.
After a struggle, Roy finally escaped the current. He rested on a submerged tree limb long enough to restore some circulation and strength in his arms, then he pulled himself ashore. Next he staggered through flooded fields for more than an hour to reach help. Although Roy eventually found safety, Monty did not. When his body was recovered from the river, its twisted shape showed that muscle cramps had seized him before he could swim to shore.
Andrews went on to have many adventures after he took up his profession as an explorer for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. None ever ended as tragically as this first one. Perhaps the grief and remorse Andrews felt over the loss of his friend helped shape the commitment to safety and preparedness that he followed during his 22 years of field work.
This story was adapted from remarks given at the Andrews birthday party by Ann Bausum on January 26, 2001, and from the text of her book, Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs-A Photobiography of Explorer Roy Chapman Andrews (reprinted with permission of the publisher, National Geographic Society).
Peeking at the past
“I wanted to go everywhere. I would have started on a day’s notice for the North Pole or the South, to the jungle or the desert. It made not the slightest difference to me.”
So wrote Roy Chapman Andrews in Under a Lucky Star when describing his enthusiasm for exploration at the beginning of his career. Andrews never reached the Poles, and he gained his greatest fame for expeditions to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia during the 1920s.
But earlier expeditions took him to different terrains and locations, including Saint Paul’s Island, one of the Pribilof Islands of Alaska. Andrews, a zoologist by training, spent several weeks there during the summer of 1913, studying fur seals and taking still and moving photographs.
“For hours I lay concealed shooting bits of intimate seal life with the movie camera,” he reports in Under a Lucky Star. Andrews biographer Charles Gallenkamp notes that these efforts yielded “some of the most detailed footage of seals ever captured on film.” of charge.
Text sources: Roy Chapman Andrews, Under a Lucky Star, (Viking: 1943) page 50, pages 121-25; Charles Gallenkamp, Dragon Hunter, (Viking: 2001) page 56.
“Don’t court hardships,” advised Roy Chapman Andrews in On the Trail of Ancient Man. “Then…you are ready to take it in your stride and laugh while it is going on.” Andrews followed this advice when he inadvertently shot himself while trying to un-holster his revolver during the 1928 Gobi field season.
Andrews recorded his experience in The New Conquest of Central Asia. A .38-caliber bullet intended for a wounded antelope passed through the explorer’s left leg instead. Andrews noted that “I felt almost happy” after verifying that the bullet had not damaged his knee. There would be no “stiff leg for the rest of my life.”
With McKenzie Young (chief of motor transportation) acting as surgeon’s assistant, the camp doctor operated on the wound. Andrews noted that Dr. Perez “had given me such a dose of morphine that the world looked bright and rosy; in fact, I was rather pleased with myself.” The arrival of a lengthy sandstorm (and the fading of the morphine) “obscured my particular sun” later on. Nonetheless the wound healed without complication.