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Missing Links

Missing Links: The African and American Worlds of R. L. Garner, Primate Collector

Jeremy Rich
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Missing Links
    Book Description:

    Jeremy Rich uses the eccentric life of R. L. Garner (1848-1920) to examine the commercial networks that brought the first apes to America during the Progressive Era, a critical time in the development of ideas about African wildlife, race, and evolution. Garner was a self-taught zoologist and atheist from southwest Virginia. Starting in 1892, he lived on and off in the French colony of Gabon, studying primates and trying to engage U.S. academics with his theories. Most prominently, Garner claimed that he could teach apes to speak human languages and that he could speak the languages of primates. Garner brought some of the first live primates to America, launching a traveling demonstration in which he claimed to communicate with a chimpanzee named Susie. He was often mocked by the increasingly professionalized scientific community, who were wary of his colorful escapades, such as his ill-fated plan to make a New York City socialite the queen of southern Gabon, and his efforts to convince Thomas Edison to finance him in Africa. Yet Garner did influence evolutionary debates, and as with many of his era, race dominated his thinking. Garner's arguments-for example, that chimpanzees were more loving than Africans, or that colonialism constituted a threat to the separation of the races-offer a fascinating perspective on the thinking and attitudes of his times. Missing Links explores the impact of colonialism on Africans, the complicated politics of buying and selling primates, and the popularization of biological racism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4181-1
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-21)

    On 18 february 1911, u.s. president william howard taft amused himself at a special dinner held at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.¹ The Gridiron Club, a social organization of prominent journalists, held its annual roast of the luminaries of the American economic and political elite. A score of senators and representatives rubbed shoulders with generals, Supreme Court justices, major newspaper publishers, railroad tycoons, the ambassadors of Austro-Hungary and Germany, and financier extraordinaire Andrew Carnegie. Attendees devoured a mountainous meal. Guests selected their choices from a crowded menu, which included steak, terrapin Maryland, crab flakes en cassolette, and a seemingly...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Southern Gabonese Coast in the Age of Garner
    (pp. 22-44)

    Richard garner spent most of his time in africa living along the Fernan Vaz (Eliwa Nkomi) Lagoon on the southern coast of the French colony of Gabon. Over time, he traveled through the grasslands and rainforests along the Rembo Nkomi River, which empties into the lagoon from the east. To the south of Fernan Vaz, the flat plains and forests of the Mpivia River and the jungles surrounding the Ngovè and Sette Cama Lagoons became equally familiar to Garner through his travels in search of chimpanzees, gorillas, and other animals. Garner briefly lived along and regularly passed through the tangled...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Garner’s Animal Business in Africa and America
    (pp. 45-66)

    Through the writings of richard garner, this chapter brings together the heretofore distinct but intimately related histories of French colonialism, the African environment, and North American zoos. These texts provide a rare glimpse into the connections between colonial economic and social policies and animal shipments to zoos, and they also represent one of the most cohesive and complete collections available of work by and about an individual animal collector in west-central Africa. Between 1892 and 1919, Garner became an acclaimed supplier of chimpanzees, gorillas, and other exotic animals for the New York Zoological Society (nyzs) and the Smithsonian Institution. While...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Is the Monkey Man Manly Enough?
    (pp. 67-87)

    Few sons of southern appalachia in the nineteenth century traveled as far from their original homes as Richard Lynch Garner. Following a conventional path in his early years during the tumult of the Civil War and Reconstruction, he served in a Confederate regiment, spent time in a prison camp, and then worked as a teacher and a real estate speculator until he commenced his African career. Like other southern middle-class men of his generation, Garner struggled with the legacy of defeat and the reality of economic underdevelopment compared to other parts of the country. The rhetoric of economic and educational...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Race, Knowledge, and Colonialism in Garner’s African Writings
    (pp. 88-107)

    In 1908 richard garner pondered racial conflict in America from an extremely unlikely vantage point: the shores of the Fernan Vaz Lagoon on the southern coast of Gabon, part of the French colonial empire in central Africa. As a former Confederate soldier from a slave-owning family, Garner had a very intimate perspective on the “Negro Question.” Few proponents of systematic discrimination and the legal disenfranchisement of African Americans made their way to Africa. Yet Garner joined the chorus of white southern intellectuals and politicians in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era who drew on their supposed expertise to teach northerners...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE African Animals for White Supremacy
    (pp. 108-124)

    No one can deny that richard lynch garner loved animals, no matter how little he cared for people. Living creatures fascinated him even as a boy in southwest Virginia. “Among the blue hills and crystal waters of the Appalachian Mountains, remote from the artificialities of the great cities … nature was the earliest teacher of my childhood, and domestic animals were among my first companions,” he recalled in the opening pages of his 1900 book Apes and Monkeys.¹ Besides presenting himself as a son of the countryside attuned to natural phenomena, he expressed here a growing sentiment among many Americans...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER SIX An American Sorcerer in Colonial Gabon
    (pp. 125-144)

    Around 1906 richard lynch garner faced a typical problem during his long stay on the Fernan Vaz Lagoon on the southern Gabonese coast. Garner had long experienced traveling along the rivers and shores that connected the lagoon to both southern inland Gabon and the important trade routes along the Ogooué River farther to the north. During one trip, the American followed a caravan of Nkomi workers from Fernan Vaz to the small administrative and trade center of Cape Lopez, located on an island facing the Ogooué River Delta.¹ He traveled with an armed convoy assigned by the colonial administration to...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Aping Civilization
    (pp. 145-164)

    New yorkers had a very long list of anxieties to choose from in the fall and winter of 1914. The carnage of trench warfare left hundreds of thousands of corpses scattered on the fields and forests of France, Belgium, Gabon, Poland, and other combat zones. Trade with colonial empires in Africa and Asia had gone into a tailspin. U.S. troops had invaded Veracruz and become involved in the bloody Mexican Revolution. Feminist activist and family planning proponent Margaret Sanger’s newspaper, Woman Rebel, had caught the attention of many, including the U.S. Post Office, and it was repeatedly suspended. Secretary of...

    (pp. 165-172)

    Richard garner’s legend swiftly faded after his death in 1920. Even with the wave of popular images of apes and evolution that flooded through U.S. newspapers with the Scopes trial of 1925, the unconventional researcher’s career as a primate dealer and evolutionary theorist drew little attention. Academic researchers such as Ada and Robert Yerkes briefly mentioned Garner in their treatises on apes. Usually, university scientists were quick to distance themselves from such an undisciplined and untrustworthy figure, even as they credited Garner as a pioneer in his observations of primates in the field. Yet his many idiosyncrasies and his trailblazing...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 173-194)
    (pp. 195-214)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 215-220)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)