At the Texas/New Mexico line
Kodak Plus-X 35mm film
108 years ago…
A Merry Christmas
My darling brother: If you had only not been a boy I could have thought up O so many things to have sent you. But being a boy (however I am very glad you are) you will have to put up with a book. I do not know how good this book is for I have not read it. But the notice said many fine things about it. ~ Sister Julia
In many of the vintage books I have acquired over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover reminders of the people who owned those books long ago, such as Julia’s handwritten note found in my copy of Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies by Mary T. S. Schäffer.
Mary Schäffer’s husband, Dr. Charles Schäffer, had a passion for botany. His playground was the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, and shortly after their marriage, Mary made her first trip to western Canada with Charles, acting as his scientific assistant. She was awestruck by the magnificent scenery all around her. With her husband’s guidance, Mary quickly became a talented amateur botanist and enjoyed the work they did together. She collected and identified specimens, captured photographs, and painted beautiful watercolor illustrations of the alpine flowers. For Mary, this was the genesis of many annual transcontinental journeys via the Canadian Pacific Railway, from her home in Pennsylvania to the wild country known as Banff & Jasper National Parks.
Charles died shortly after their 1903 visit to the mountains. By that time, Mary was thoroughly in love with the Canadian wilderness, and as a tribute to her dear husband, she wished to complete the botanical guide of mountain flora that they had dreamed of writing. Mary enlisted her husband’s colleague, botanist Stewardson Brown, to co-author the project, and they set out for Alberta in the summer of 1906; the book, Alpine Flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, was published the following year.
That great task now completed, Mary was eager to plan her next westward journey, with a desire to make it a grander adventure than any before…exploring new territory and spending more time in the wild. Over the winter months, Mary and her friend Mollie Adams began their preparations.
Old Indian Trails is the story of the 1907 and 1908 expeditions made by Mary and Mollie, along with guides Sid Unwin and Billy Warren.
To anyone who quizzed the group about the purpose of their travels during those two summers, they explained that they were looking for the sources of the Athabasca and Saskatchewan Rivers. In truth, they were happy just to be roaming through this beautiful wilderness, wherever the trails may lead.
But there was indeed one specific goal very much on their minds: to locate a mysterious lake which the Stoney Indians called Chaba Imne. Working from a sketch made by their local friend, a Stoney named Sampson Beaver, they finally found the lake in 1908. Its current name, Maligne Lake, was affixed by Mary, and she is credited with its “official” discovery.
From her earliest travels, Mary approached Indigenous Peoples with warmth and friendship, and showed an eagerness to understand their way of life. She had great affection for Sampson Beaver and his family; Mary looked forward to visiting them whenever she was in the area. The Stoney Indians referred to Mary as Yahe-Weha (“Mountain Woman”).
After so many years of enduring long train trips to see her beloved mountains, Mary realized there was no longer any point in maintaining the life she knew in Philadelphia. She finally made Banff her year-round home and married her long-time mountain guide, Billy Warren.
With her writing, her lectures and her lantern slide shows, Mary worked to publicize the beauty of this region. Even so, a part of her was saddened to see the peace and tranquility fade a little as more and more visitors arrived each year, and opportunities for trailblazing and discovery existed only in her memory.
Like many other titles in my library, I discovered this book due to its reference in another book (and once again, I can’t recall which one). That is one of the joys of nonfiction; I’ve enjoyed many books that I likely would never have found—and my library has grown—simply due to authors referencing earlier works on the subject at hand.
Of course, it’s hard for me to pass up any old book that happens to include a folding map…
Speaking of mountains: I know that a similar early edition of this book resides on the shelves of the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and I can’t think of a more appropriate home for it. I want to take this opportunity to mention that December is a great time to make a donation to the RMLL, as they are currently raising funds to support their 2020 workshops and restoration projects. Find out more about the Land Library and make a contribution by visiting landlibrary.wordpress.com.
Companion book: I recommend the biography No Ordinary Woman: The Story of Mary Schäffer Warren by Janice Sanford Beck, published in 2002. The book provides a great deal of illuminating information, from Mary’s Quaker upbringing in Pennsylvania to her final years with Billy Warren in their Banff home, and in between, we learn of her early travel experiences and her growing appreciation for wild beauty, her first trips to the Canadian Rockies with Charles, her fascination and fondness for the Indigenous Peoples she encountered, the botanical work with her husband and Stewardson Brown, her government-backed survey expedition of Maligne Lake in 1911, her journeys to other parts of the globe, and her environmental activism. Additionally, this book contains several of Mary’s previously unpublished articles and manuscripts, and many more photographs from her mountain adventures.
Photographs and text: Copyright 1911 by Mary T.S. Schäffer.
(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)
Working on assignments for my college photography courses was a great excuse to tour the country roads and small towns of southern Indiana in my ’57 Ford Fairlane. I shot plenty of Kodak Tri-X in the process—the first rolls of film I ever developed by hand.
Not long ago, while viewing those contact sheets for the first time in many years, I was trying to determine exactly which towns I had photographed, as I had made no notes. In one frame, I found signs containing the name Gosport; after that, shots of a bridge and a river. Moving chronologically through the roll, and with the help of Google Maps, I learned that I had gone south out of Gosport and the next town I came to was Stinesville. Google Street View confirmed it.
For decades, these photos existed only on the contact sheet. Recently, I ran some of the old negatives through my film scanner, and after enlarging the images on my monitor, I found details that I had never noticed before, such as the dog starting across the street at the bottom of the hill in the photo above.
The old buildings on Main Street are still standing, although the cars in the Google imagery are certainly different from the ones seen here.
If you look at Railroad Street (below) in Stinesville today, you’ll notice that the train tracks and telegraph poles have all been removed…
Another detail that I had never noticed prior to scanning the negatives: two kids walking near the base of the pine tree by the Stinesville Baptist Church. Neither the church nor the tree are standing there today…
(Click on any photo to bring up a larger version in a new tab.)
Kodak Tri-X 35mm film
It’s sad to see a beloved used bookstore close its doors. But the bright side of such a farewell is the opportunity to do several years’ worth of shopping in a few short weeks. When the owner of the bookstore in my neighborhood decided to retire, I was able to add dozens of vintage books to my library at generous clearance-sale prices. I didn’t walk in with a wish list; I just browsed the shelves featuring books on history, exploration, the American West and wilderness fiction and came home with a wide assortment of unfamiliar titles.
I was not acquainted with The Kindred of the Wild, nor its author, Charles G.D. Roberts. Since reading the book, I have learned that it was wildly popular in its day, selling very well the world over, and that Roberts is highly regarded as a writer of prose and poetry—much of his work dedicated to natural history.
Kindred is a collection of short stories about the lives of wild animals, set in the woodlands of Atlantic Canada, where Roberts grew up.
Some stories describe prey/predator relationships, while others tell of encounters between animals and humans. Death appears often in this book, but escape, survival and freedom are also present. And on page after page, the reader finds beautiful descriptions of the sights, sounds and tranquility of the forest.
Accompanying each story are several full-page illustrations by artist Charles Livingston Bull…
As Roberts acknowledges, Kindred is a work of fiction. The stories are not anthropomorphic in nature; the creatures are not affixed with human names, nor do they speak English. These are simply tales of animals doing what animals do. Roberts was a proponent of realism when writing about animal behavior.
Nevertheless, the book became involved in the so-called “nature fakers controversy,” in which naturalist John Burroughs and President Theodore Roosevelt criticized the work of authors such as Roberts, Ernest Thompson Seton, William J. Long and Jack London, condemning their stories as “sham natural history.”
Whether or not such allegations hold any truth or relevance, I’ll leave for others to decide. In any case, I appreciate Roberts’s writing style and I truly enjoyed reading this book.
Illustrations and text: Copyright 1902 by L.C. Page & Company, Inc.
(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)