The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 55, July 1951 - April, 1952

Book Reviews

Naturalists of the Frontier. By Samuel Wood Geiser. Second edi-
tion, revised and enlarged. Dallas (University Press in Dal-
las), 1948. Pp. 296. One illustration, maps, appendixes, and
index. $5.oo.
Samuel Wood Geiser's drive and enthusiasm permeated the
first edition of his Naturalists of the Frontier, issued in 1937. It
was a book about scientists on the Texas frontier in "the heroic
age of American bird life," in a time when the Southwest was
a botanist's ideal laboratory. Many of these dedicated men, ex-
pecting "little reward beyond the joys of the day's work and the
consciousness that they had wrought well for science," could be
favorably compared to Methodist circuit riders in their selfless
devotion to the scientific ideal that was becoming almost a reli-
gion for a few mid-nineteenth century Americans. For me, Geiser
made his subjects literally come alive as he sent Berlandier, Roe-
mer, Lincecum, and the rest of that notable crew stalking their
scientific prey. Some of the writing reaches a sufficient intensity
of performance to glow with its own heat.
The research task involved in Geiser's undertaking was one of
unusual difficulty. While the charlatan phrenologists and the
politician leaders of the Texas Philosophical Society, with their
bombastic orations about "boundless research," had hogged the
meager scientific limelight in the Republic of Texas, some of
these genuine scientists had worked in a dim background. Their
reports and letters had gone to their scientific colleagues in the
East and in Europe. Hence Geiser had to find many of their
records in distant places-in Scotland, Mexico, and Sweden, at
Harvard and in scattered courthouses, and in a thousand obscure
publications. He deserved nothing but admiration for the way
he stalked his prey. I know of no historian who worked his field
more exhaustively and scrupulously and in the face of more dis-
couraging obstacles.
I can further testify, from personal knowledge, that Naturalists
of the Frontier was written with a profound understanding of
the social scene in which the central figures moved. The volume
clearly demonstrated that the frontier social environment broke
scientists as well as made them.
Not content with the widespread acclamation that greeted his

315

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 55, July 1951 - April, 1952. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101139/. Accessed September 16, 2014.