Gathering the Desert

It is ironic that the modern environmentalist movement was founded bv men with whom most modern environmentalists would have nothing to do today: game hunters, many so avid for the chase that they would spend fortunes to collect antlers and skins and skulls from far-off places. Theodore Roosevelt, to name one distinguished early conservationist, was responsible for setting aside vast tracts of land for national parks and wildlife preserves; he also traveled to the Arctic Circle, to China's Taklimakan Desert, to the Serengeti Plain to add rare specimens to his collection of kills, which already numbered countless species from fields and streams that lay closer to home. Charles Sheldon (1867-1928) garnered a smaller reputation than that of the bully-pulpit President, but he filled the hunter-conservationist role just as well; his efforts substantially enriched the American public domain, and if few moderns have heard of his work, they have their remedy in The Wilderness of the Southwest.

A Yale graduate from a once well-todo family gone broke in the recessions of the 1880's and 90's, Sheldon scrapped his plans for a grand tour of Europe, took to the woods with a shotgun and pointer, and set about exploring North America from Alaska to the high Sierra Madre of Mexico. He began his career, as literary archaeologists Neil Carmony and David Brown tell us in their edition of Sheldon's unpublished field notes, as...

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