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The Most Defiant Devil

The Most Defiant Devil: William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife

Gregory J. Dehler
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    The Most Defiant Devil
    Book Description:

    The late nineteenth and early twentieth century were a brutal time for American wildlife, with many species pushed to the brink of extinction. (Some are endangered to this day.) And yet these decades also saw the dawn of the conservationist movement. Into this contradictory era came William Temple Hornaday, a larger-than-life dynamo who almost uncannily embodies these conflicting threads in our history.

    InThe Most Defiant Devil,a compelling new biography of this complex figure, Gregory Dehler explores the life of Hornaday the hunter, museum builder, zoologist, author, conservationist, and anti-Bolshevist crusader. A deeply religious man, he was nonetheless anything but peaceful and was racist even by his era's standards, going so far as to display an Mbuti pygmy as a "living specimen" in a zoo. A passionate hunter, Hornaday killed thousands of animals, including some of the last wild buffalo in America, but he was far ahead of his time in his influential views on the protection of wildlife. Hornaday designed and built the New York Zoological Park (which became the Bronx Zoo) and was chief taxidermist for what would later become the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.In this single, fascinating individual, we can discern some of the Progressive Era's most destructive forces and some of its most enlightened visions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3434-1
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    The years 1800 to 1900 were a bloody century for American wildlife. Prolific species like the ubiquitous passenger pigeon and the hardy buffalo were gunned down with reckless abandon. A determined group of conservationists managed to pull the buffalo back from the brink of extinction, but the passenger pigeon fell into the abyss. In 1914, Martha, a passenger pigeon who was the lone survivor of a species that may have numbered as many as 5 billion when Columbus landed, died in a Cincinnati zoo.

    Various local extinctions mirrored the national exterminations of the buffalo and passenger pigeon. Throughout the country,...

    (pp. 9-30)

    William temple hornaday was born into a family of mythmakers. The origins of the Hornaday clan have baffled generations of family genealogists who have been unable to reliably trace the family name to Europe. Various family legends claimed that the Hornadays immigrated to America from England, Northern Ireland, Germany, Norway, Hungary, and even Spain, but none of these stories can be fully substantiated. William Temple Hornaday himself believed that his ancestors were Englishmen who immigrated to Northern Ireland after Oliver Cromwell’s fall, before setting sail for America. To account for their untraceable past, several origin myths emerged. In one such...

    (pp. 31-51)

    In 1876, William Temple Hornaday embarked on a two-year adventure to Asia that few Americans of his day could have contemplated. During his earlier “two trial trips,” Hornaday (“my western man,” Henry Ward called him) had demonstrated his keen eye for valuable species, a willingness to take risks, and an uncanny ability to keep his expenses to the barest minimum. Unmarried, energetic, proven, and only twenty-one years old to boot, Hornaday was the right man to fill several large orders for Asian specimens.¹

    Hornaday expected to be gone for at least three years. Before departing, he took leave to visit...

    (pp. 52-73)

    After two and a half years of traveling abroad, Hornaday returned to Rochester, New York, in April 1879 with two ambitious goals. First and foremost, he wished to write a gripping and informative memoir of his journey on a level with the work of the French explorer and natural historian Paul du Chaillu, though he was in no rush to complete it. The second idea, which had gelled more slowly in his mind, could be implemented more quickly. It was to introduce a revolutionary new concept in museum presentation, the group display. He was unimpressed by the museums of the...

    (pp. 74-94)

    Six days after New Year 1896, William Temple Hornaday opened a curious piece of correspondence from his friend Frederic A. Lucas, “asking if I have received an offer from New York,” he wrote in his journal. “Have no idea what he refers to.” The next day, the entire trajectory of his life changed. He received a letter from Henry Fairfield Osborn, chairman of the New York Zoological Society’s Executive Committee, inquiring if he would be interested in interviewing for the position of director of the New York Zoological Park. “I know that you have for some time retired from scientific...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 95-115)

    In august 1905, William Hornaday took a much-needed and long-awaited vacation to British Columbia, Canada, with his friend John M. Phillips. “I am about starting West on a hunting trip that I think will do me a lot of good, both physically and mentally,” Hornaday wrote to his former collecting companion Chester Jackson. Hornaday enjoyed vacations from work and appreciated their restorative attributes. But he fretted about this one. The old hunter was out of practice: it had been years since he last took up a gun in pursuit of wildlife. He was not a young man anymore, and he...

    (pp. 116-136)

    In march 1911, just after William Temple Hornaday returned from his politicking in Albany against the sale of game meat, he met with H. S. Leonard, a vice president with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Although Hornaday subsequently produced several different versions of the meeting with varying details, they all agreed on an essential point: Winchester offered Hornaday at least ten thousand dollars a year for wildlife-protection efforts on the condition that he abandon his campaign against the automatic and pump shotguns. Since Browning had introduced the first weapons of this type around the turn of the century, Hornaday had...

    (pp. 137-157)

    If 1913 had been a whirlwind for William Temple Hornaday, the following year looked to be just as demanding. By the third week of January, the director of the New York Zoological Park already had two months of work piled up on his desk, as he told T. Gilbert Pearson of the Audubon Society. He had to edit theNew York Zoological Society Annual Report,revise his now ten-year-oldThe American Natural Historyfor Charles Scribner’s Sons, and prepare a series of lectures on wildlife conservation for the Forestry School at Yale University, which he later turned into a book....

    (pp. 158-178)

    In march 1920, Hornaday received what he regarded as payback for his vitriolic attacks on opponents of World War I and others he deemed un-American during the Red Scare. David Hirschfield, the New York City commissioner of accounts, had conducted a year-long, thinly veiled witch hunt into Hornaday’s stewardship of the New York Zoological Park that now culminated in a report that dubbed Hornaday “a monarch in his own principality.”¹

    Hirschfield’s report accused the director of the zoo of deliberately firing a whistle-blower, keeping shoddy financial records, engaging in unethical business practices, and committing nepotism through employing his nephews, the...

    (pp. 179-198)

    In january 1928, as William Temple Hornaday lay in his bed at the Anchorage, his home in Stamford, Connecticut, battling the “demon” sciatica, Senator Peter Norbeck, a South Dakota Republican associated with the progressive wing of the party, introduced another migratory bird refuge bill. Sick as he was, Hornaday remained a vigilant sentinel for wildlife, and he offered some unsolicited advice to the senator. “I have just finished a careful study of it,” Hornaday wrote to Norbeck about his bill, “and I am convinced that it is not at all the good-conservation bill that you think it is.” Hornaday’s main...

    (pp. 199-202)

    On april 18, 1912, George Orville Shields pulled his copy of William Temple Hornaday’sTwo Years in the Jungleoff the shelf for a little evening reading. After thirty minutes, he took out his pen to write the book’s author, his old friend. “I have kept you busy explaining and apologizing for me,” Shields wrote, “but we may both console ourselves with the assurance that 100 years hence people will understand both of us better than they do now, and will be sorry that our warnings were not heeded more generally than they are.”¹

    Actually, within the next twenty-five years,...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 203-228)
    (pp. 229-244)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 245-254)