Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/October 1890/Popular Miscellany


California and its Mines.—The trustees of the California State Mining Bureau find in the increasing demands for their report evidence that the institution is fulfilling a public want and is growing in public favor. The edition of the sixth annual report is exhausted, and that of the seventh nearly so, while the edition of the eighth was nearly doubled. A historical fact of much significance is embodied in the statement that while in the early days the newspapers of the State teemed with notices of mining interests which were summarized at regular intervals in quarterly and annual reviews, the articles of that kind have been gradually curtailed as the relative importance of the mines diminished and other interests pushed themselves into prominence, till now they appear, if at all, as mere items. Hence the Mining Bureau has become the only center and the best source of information on the subject. A complete review of the mines and mining operations was given for the first time in the report for 1888. The report for 1889 assumes that the whole country owes very much of its prosperity to mining. Every State owes that industry something; the mid-continental regions almost their very existence. Mining investments are among the most profitable, notwithstanding an impression to the contrary prevails. The impression that the gold-mines of California are depleted below the point of profitable production is likewise mistaken. The gold taken out has exhausted but little of the auriferous wealth of the State, and the annual production has not heretofore much exceeded what it may be reasonably hoped to reach and maintain in the future. Besides its gold-fields and silver-bearing lodes, California possesses the more common metals and minerals in great variety. There is hardly a county in the State but has valuable mineral deposits of one kind or another, and the distribution of these products is pronounced remarkable. Fourteen of the fifty-three counties make a notable production of gold, and twelve of gold and silver; five produce quicksilver, two borax, two salt, four asphaltum, two petroleum, three copper, etc. Were California even poor in the precious metals, it would yet become a great mining State. It is asserted in the report that gold-mining has not yet reached even the stage of sturdy infancy.

Caprices of Soils.—The system of studying the adaptation of soils to crops has grown out of the failure of attempts to settle such questions in the laboratory. This work, as is shown in a Bulletin of the Ohio Experiment Station, is attended with great difficulties. "So great is the variation in natural fertility in soils that appear to the eye to be identical in composition, that the results of field experimentation are liable to be even more misleading than those of the laboratory. Take any single acre of ground for illustration. An open glade in the original forest may have permitted the wind to sweep away its winter coverlet of leaves, and they may have lodged in a thicket of underbrush adjoining, carrying stores of potash and phosphoric acid with them. Such a glade may have been for centuries the pasturing ground of deer. It would then accumulate nitrogen, but would lose potash and phosphoric acid through an additional channel, while the thicket would accumulate these in excess of nitrogen. The growth of a surface-rooting tree in one spot may have drawn upon the adjacent surface-soil for supplies of potash; that of a tree with a deep tap root in another may have drawn its support largely from deeper layers of the soil, and also have opened a way for drainage. A slight depression of the soil here may have received added fertility in the waste from a slight elevation there, and he who has studied the soil carefully, especially where its levels are shown by the melting of snow when the ground is frozen, will have detected irregularities of level unsuspected by the casual observer."

Firing Pottery Kilns by Gas.—A new method of firing kilns by gas has been introduced at one of the Trenton, New Jersey, potteries by the use of which the expense of baking the ware is greatly reduced. It is dependent on the principle of preheating the air before it enters the kiln, so that a perfect combustion is secured, with no loss of heat. Gas generated outside the building is forced through an underground flue to the center of the kiln, whence it is carried by branch channels to the several mouths around the side of the kiln. There it is combined with air, and combustion takes place. The heated air then passes upward, and, instead of escaping out of the chimney, it is drawn down a well-hole through the center of the kiln and passes down and around the channel at the base of the kiln in the opposite direction from that in which it entered, and to near where it entered. After some time the dampers are reversed, so that the cold air enters the channel through which the heated air from the kiln has been passing toward the chimney, and the heated air escapes by the opposite passage. The cold air is thus heated some 1,000 or 1,500 degrees by passing through the heated channel, with the saving of much heat that was formerly wasted by passing immediately out of the chimney. The dampers are reversed every half hour, whereby the cold air is at every turn passed through a freshly heated chamber.

Some Advantages of Wild Life.—The two great point3 of superiority of the native or savage soldier over the representative of civilized discipline, says Captain John G. Bourke, in his An Apache Campaign in the Sierra Madre, are his absolute knowledge of the country and his perfect ability to take care of himself at all times and under all circumstances. Though the rays of the sun pour down from the zenith, or the scorching sirocco blow from the south, the Apache scout trudges along as unconcerned as he was when the cold rain or snow of winter chilled his white comrade to the marrow. He finds food, and pretty good food too, where the Caucasian would starve. Knowing the habits of wild animals from his earliest youth, he can catch turkeys, quail, rabbits, doves, or field-mice, and perhaps a prairie dog or two, which will supply him with meat. For some reason he can not be induced to touch fish, and bacon or any other product of the hog is eaten only under duress; but the flesh of a horse, mule, or jackass, which has dropped exhausted on the march and been left to die on the trail, is a delicious morsel which the Apache epicure seizes upon wherever possible. The stunted oak, growing on the mountain flanks, furnishes acorns; the Spanish-bayonet, a fruit which, when roasted in the ashes of a camp-fire, looks and tastes something like the banana. The whole region of southern Arizona and northern Mexico is matted with varieties of the cactus, nearly every one of which is called upon for its tribute of fruit or seed. The broad leaves and stalks of the century-plant—called mescal—are roasted between hot stones, and the product is rich in saccharine matter and extremely pleasant to the taste. The wild potato and the bulb of the tule are found in the damp mountain meadows; and the nest of the ground-bee is raided remorselessly for its little store of honey. Sunflower-seeds, when ground fine, are rich and nutritious. Walnuts grow in the deep ravines, and strawberries in favorable locations; in the proper season these, with the seeds of wild grasses and wild pumpkins, the gum of the mesquite, or the sweet, soft inner bark of the pine, play their part in staving off the pangs of hunger. The above are merely a few of the resources of the Apache scout when separated from the main command. When his moccasins give out on a long march over the sharp rocks of the mountains or the cutting sands of the plains, a few hours' rest see him equipped with a new pair—his own handiwork—and so with other portions of his raiment. He is never without awl, needle, thread, or sinew. Brought up from infancy to the knowledge and use of arms of some kind—at first the bow and arrow, and later on the rifle—he is perfectly at home with his weapons, and, knowing from past experience how important they are for his preservation, takes much better care of them than does the white soldier out of garrison. He does not read the newspapers, but the great book of nature is open to his perusal, and has been drained of much knowledge which his pale-faced brother would be glad to acquire. Every track in the trail, mark in the grass, scratch on the bark of a tree, explains itself to the "untutored" Apache. He can tell to an hour, almost, when the man or animal making them passed by, and, like a hound, will keep on the scent until he catches up with the object of his pursuit.

The Pine Belt of New Jersey.—The "pine belt" of New Jersey is described by Dr. I. H. Piatt as a strip of land about sixty miles long by from eight to twenty miles wide, reaching from a few miles south of Freehold almost to Vineland. Its soil varies from a light, sandy loam to clear beach sand. Its streams, which are sufficient for drainage, have good banks which they rarely if ever overflow, and there is no wet meadow. There are a few peat-bogs, some marl-beds, and occasionally a cedar swamp, but these features are all of very limited extent. The belt comprises in all about five hundred and seventy square miles, and has a population of 14,475 persons. The region has long enjoyed a local reputation for healthfulness, and some parts of it have been mainly settled by people who have sought it for that reason. According to the reports of the State Board of Health, its average death-rate during the six years, 1883 to 1888, inclusive, was 12·65 per thousand, against 18·65 per thousand for the whole State, or 15·07 for the State excluding cities; and the death-rate from consumption was 1·60 against 2·53 and 2·12. The comparatively low mortality from consumption is the more striking when we recollect the extent to which the region is sought by persons in feeble health.

The Mouth-slitting Botocudos.—A monograph on the Botocudos of Brazil and their ornaments has been published by Dr. John C. Branner, in a reprint from the papers of the American Philosophical Society. It is illustrated by photographs showing the manner of wearing the ear-and mouth-plugs from which the tribe derive their name (botogue lip-ornament), the appearance of the slits when they have been torn, and the younger members of the tribe who have ceased to practice the mutilation, or have reduced it to the simple wearing of earrings. Mr. John Stearns said, in a paper before the Royal Geographical Society, on the Exploration of the Rio Doce and its Tributaries, that the custom of these Indians of slitting the lower lip for the purpose of inserting a wooden ornament in it has been described by visitors to the American coasts from Cabral down. When Cabral sent a boat ashore in Brazil to investigate the country, the men told him on their return that they did not believe the natives were men, though they were dressed up in feathers and painted in colors, for they had two mouths. The Indians were accustomed to take out the lip ornaments, and, while the teeth were grinning from the upper mouth, to push out the tongue from the lower one. Cook, two hundred and eighty years later, at Prince William's Sound, Alaska, heard one of his sailors say to another, "Come here, Jack, look at the men with two mouths." A writer of that period tells of the wife of a great chief at Sitka, that by a singular motion of the lower lip she could raise it in such a way as almost to cover the whole of her face. Mr. Colin Mackenzie has cursorily followed out the geographical line of this singular custom, and has found that it could be traced, with very few breaks, from Alaska to the coast of Brazil.

Medicinal Plants.—The pamphlet of Mr. Charles Mohr, on The Medicinal Plants of Alabama, besides the list of the plants, with notes on their distribution and the proper time of collecting the parts used, contains some facts of interest respecting the flora of the State and the home of its medicinal plants. The flora of Alabama includes a majority of the plants noted for their remedial value which are found in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The plants furnishing drugs of the greatest importance have their home principally in the woodlands of deciduous-leaved trees in the northern section of the State. With the enormous decrease of the forest area north of the Ohio River that has taken place during the last thirty-five years, the supply of crude drugs furnished by that territory has been correspondingly reduced. The resources existing in the more elevated regions of the South have consequently been resorted to. Within the past ten or fifteen years North Carolina has become the center of the most active trade in this line, which is gradually extending farther south, and operations have been successfully begun in the northern section of Alabama. This region offers a promising field for the enterprise, with the prospect of supplies to last for a long time to come. Particularly in the mountainous and hilly districts, extensive tracts, unfit for the cultivation of the soil, will probably remain, if not violently interfered with, in the condition of woodlands. "Thus we find the interest of the healing art closely connected with the question of the preservation of the forests of our country, and the pharmacist should feel in duty bound to unite his efforts with those who are already striving to secure this important object."

The Doctrine of Spirits in New Guinea.—The natives of British New Guinea, according to Mr. H. H. Romilly, believe that human appetites remain with the spirits of their deceased friends, just as if the body had not died. Hence the spirit must be kept supplied with food and water at the grave and in the accustomed haunts of the dead man. But if he has been killed in battle, the head of one of the enemy's tribe or race is sufficient; and if the slayer is a white man, the spirit can be appeased by payment in goods. They regard dreams as voices from the land of spirits, telling them what to do, for whom to work, from whom to plunder, and what to steal. When any mischief befalls a place where a white man happens to be, the blame is laid upon his attendant spirit, and the injury must be atoned for—by payment if he is a friend, or otherwise if not. Certain trees are supposed to have spirits, for which a part of the food or feasts is set away. It is noteworthy that all these spirits are malignant and the savages do not seem able to grasp the idea of a beneficent spirit. They have to be overcome by force of arms, blessings, or cursings, but are most effectively dispelled by fire. They can not be seen, but use arrows and spears when they are vexed. Sorcerers are guarded against by wearing charms, the character of which is regulated largely by the fancy of the sorcerer or the purchaser. Sometimes the charm is a bit of bark, sometimes it is a fantastically worked crab's claw; but great faith is reposed in its potency.

Lepidosirens.—The Dipnoi, one of the oldest types of water animals, are now represented by only four species: Lepidosiren paradoxa, a very rare species inhabiting the river Amazon; two species of Ceratodus or Barramunda, plentiful in certain rivers of Australia; and L. cannectens, which is the most abundant, being found throughout tropical Africa. The lepidosiren, or "African mud-fish," has a somewhat eel-shaped body and four limbs, which are round and taper to a point, being the simplest form of limb known. The breathing-organs consist of both gills and lung-like sacs; the skeleton is part cartilage and part bone; the nostrils, of which there are two pairs, are placed within the opening of the mouth. It is the organ of smell which determines that the lepidosiren is a fish and not a reptile. In every fish this organ is a short sac opening only upon the outer surface of the body; in every reptile it is a canal with both an external and an internal opening. Though lepidosirens are without doubt fishes, they spend a considerable part of their existence out of the water, as they inhabit shallow waters which periodically dry up. During the dry season they inclose themselves in balls of clay, which are lined with mucus, and have a small hole at each end to admit air. In these they remain torpid until the rains refill their pools. Lepidosirens attain a length of from three to six feet; they are carnivorous, feeding on frogs, fishes, and other aquatic animals.

Indian Tribes of the Amazon.—Of the Indian tribes of the Amazonian river Purus, the Pammarys are described by Dr. P. Ehrenreich as being pure water-men. Most of their life is spent in their canoes, and they are conspicuous by a peculiarity of their skin, which is covered with black and white spots that cause many of them to look as if they were dappled. The same skin affection exists among other tribes of the western Amazons, and is very mysterious. The Pammarys are industrious collectors of caoutchouc and copaiva, and have provided themselves with many European articles of commerce. The Jamamadis make their homes in the forests; are without a knowledge of navigation; are clever agriculturists; avoid trade with the settlers, and seldom leave their dense forests. They are still an uncorrupted, hospitable, frank, natural people. Their principal weapon is the blow-pipe, discharging poisoned arrows. The most important nation on the Funis are the Ipurinas, or Cangiti, who dwell in numerous hordes, under different names, in the head-water regions. They are a proud, warlike race, of vindictive disposition, cunning, and treacherous. They are still partly anthropophagous. Domestic animals are rarely kept among them; tobacco is taken as snuff; and poisoned weapons are generally used. In the region of the source of the Rio Acre other Indian races of great interest to ethnologists dwell, possessing richly carved huts for ceremonies, stone figures, and idols. The caoutchouc trade, with its reckless gains, exercises a most disastrous effect upon the Indians; nevertheless, that element might become of the highest importance to the immense but thinly peopled province of the Amazon, if only a judicious and conscientious treatment was adopted as the means of bringing the aborigines within the bounds of civilization.

The Pallas Cormorant.—Pallas's Cormorant, or the great spectacled cormorant (Phalacrocorax perspicillatus) has gone to keep company with the great auk, as a bird that has become extinct within the last forty or fifty years. It is so rare in collections that only four specimens are known to exist in museums, no one has its eggs, and no bones had been found or preserved till Mr. Leonhard Stejneger collected a few of them some years ago on the Commander Islands. It was reported very abundant on Bering Island by Steller in 1741, and the only material for Pallas's description of it was derived from his observations. The specimens in the British, St. Petersburg, and Leyden Museums were obtained from a governor of Sitka, and these are all that are known to be in existence. Several pictures of the bird have been published. Mr. Stejneger was informed by the natives of Bering Island that the meat of this species was more palatable than that of its congeners, and was used as food in preference to any other. According to Steller, the weight of the cormorant varied from twelve to fourteen pounds, so that one bird was sufficient for three starving men of his shipwrecked crew. The value of the cormorant as food, and its sluggishness, contributed to its extermination. The bones found by Mr. Stejneger have been examined and described by Mr. Frederick A. Lucas; and a full account of them, with the history of the bird, is given in a reprint from the proceedings of the National Museum.

Relative Abundance of the Chemical Elements.—An estimate of the relative abundance of the chemical elements in the atmosphere, ocean, and that part of the crust of the earth which is accessible, has been made by Prof. F. W. Clarke. Separate calculations are made for the atmosphere and the ocean. The estimate of the constitution of the crust is made from the means of 880 analyses of volcanic and crystalline rocks from different places of the United States and Europe. Averaging the whole, the author finds oxygen constituting 49·98 per cent; silicon, 25·30 per cent; aluminum, 7·26 per cent; iron, 5·08 per cent; calcium, 3·57 per cent; and after these, in order, magnesium, sodium, potassium, hydrogen, titanium, carbon, chlorine, bromine, phosphorus, manganese, sulphur, barium, nitrogen, and chromium. Other substances are supposed to be present in less proportions than five one-hundredths of one per cent. The most surprising feature in the estimate is the relative abundance of titanium, which is placed before phosphorus, manganese, and sulphur. It is, however, rarely absent from the older rocks; is almost universally present in soils and clays; and is often concentrated in great quantities in beds of iron ore. Having no very striking characteristics and but little commercial importance, it is easily overlooked, and so has a popular reputation for scarcity which it does not deserve.

The Summit of Kilim-anjaro.—The ascent to the summit of Kilima-njaro, the highest mountain in Africa, was accomplished by Dr. Hans Meyer in October, 1889. The base of the ice-cap of Kibo was reached at 18,270 feet above the sea. The upper part of this ascent was extremely toilsome, as the surface of the ice became increasingly corroded, taking the form which Gussfeldt, on Aconcagua, in Chili, called nieve penitente; honeycombed to a depth of over six feet, in the form of rills, teeth, fissures, and pinnacles. The travelers frequently broke through as far as their breasts, with an alarmingly rapid diminution of their strength. Reaching the summit of the ridge, they found the precipitous walls of a gigantic crater yawning beneath them, with the loftiest elevations in the shape of three pinnacles rising above the ice on its southern brim. These they calmly and systematically climbed one after the other. The central pinnacle reached a height of about 19,700 feet, overtopping the others by 50 or 60 feet. Dr. Meyer was the first to tread this peak, and planted the German flag upon it, christening it Kaiser Wilhelm's Peak. The diameter of the crater measured about 6,500 feet, and its depth was about 600 feet. In the southern portion the walls of lava were of an ash-gray or reddish-brown color, and were free from ice; in its northern half the ice sloped downward from the upper brim of the crater in terraces, forming blue and white galleries of varying steepness. A rounded cone of eruption, composed of brown ashes and lava, rose in the northern portion of the crater to a height of about 500 feet, which was partly covered by the more than usually thick sheet of ice extending from the northern brim of the crater. The large crater opened westward in a wide cleft, through which the melting water ran off, and the ice lying upon the western part of the crater and the inner walls issued in the form of a glacier.

Artists in Humble Work.—Among the ancient Greeks and the northern Italians of Renaissance days, says Prof. G. Aitchison, in a lecture on Decoration, beauty was adored. Every man who practiced a craft was as sure of fame, if he followed what we now call a humble one, as if he followed a noble one, provided that the articles he made could be endowed with beauty, and that he possessed a certain high degree of excellence. A carpenter, an armorer, a potter, a goldsmith, a lapidary, or a bronzer, was as certain to be famous as a sculptor, a statuary, a painter, or an architect. We naturally know less about the ancient Greeks than about the Italians, though, from Socrates being a sculptor, we hear something of the crafts, and we know that Phidias was not only a sculptor and statuary, . . . but worked also in ivory and gold. The great Italian artists were almost invariably craftsmen as well; in fact, had begun as craftsmen and had learned during their apprenticeship precision in the use of tools and in workmanship as well as precision in drawing and modeling. As a rule, every youth who wanted to be a painter, sculptor, or architect, was apprenticed to a goldsmith. Brunelleschi, Michael Angelo, and Benvenuto Cellini were all brought up as goldsmiths; one became an architect, one a sculptor and painter, and one a statuary and die-sinker; Ghirlandaio got his name from the golden wreaths he made, and Francia. . . signed his pictures as a goldsmith, while he signed his goldsmith's work as a painter, and, like the French artists of the present day, these artist craftsmen were often excellent shots and swordsmen as well. If he can invest the article he works at with the highest form of beauty, he is just as much an artist as he who paints a picture, models a statue, or designs a building."

Messrs. Heilprin and Baker's Survey of Mexico.—Prof. Angelo Heilprin and Mr. Frank C. Baker have recently returned from a scientific expedition to Mexico, which they undertook in February, 1890, in connection with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and are preparing a paper giving the results of their explorations. It is represented that the main purpose of the expedition—the determination of the physical relations of the Gulf border—was successfully accomplished. The principal volcanoes—Orizaba, Popocatepetl, and Ixtaccihuatl—were ascended; and more exact measurements than have been made before gave Orizaba as the highest of the three, at a little less than eighteen thousand feet, instead of Popocatepetl. An entirely new view is taken by the explorers of the structure of the great central plateau. Instead of being an integral part of the Cordilleran system or a volcanic output, it is mostly a flooded expanse of lava and ash, which has covered over the Cretaceous system of rocks and mountains that constitute a nucleus to the plateau. Immense deposits of fossiliferous limestone, manifestly a part or continuation of the Cretaceous system of the United States, crop out around the borders of the plateau, and at points within the same, capped by the covering of lava and ash. The explorations of Yucatan did not lend support to the supposition that the banks have been built up through simple organic accretion. The evidences of recent uplift were abundant, and it further appeared that a gradual subsidence followed the elevation.

Geometry of Aboriginal Mounds.—In his paper on the Circular, Square, and Octagonal Earthworks of Ohio, Mr. Cyrus Thomas gives the results of recent surveys of those works, and corrects the errors into which Squier and Davis fell in exaggerating the geometrical accuracy of the structures. The close approximation to such regularity in certain of the square and circular works is admitted as beyond question; but none of them are perfect, while the octagons are less regular. Their characteristics are pronounced essentially aboriginal. There is nothing in them or connected with them contradictory to the theory of their Indian origin except it be the single fact that a few of them approached very nearly to true geometrical figures. It is admitted both that Indians can lay out true circles of moderate size, and that they are less able now to perform many things which necessity formerly compelled them to practice. No valid reason can be presented why Indians taught by necessity and practice could not lay off by the eye and by means at hand figures with which they were familiar more correctly than the white man without instruments.

An Indian Ball-Player's Training.—As described by Mr. James Mooney, the training of the Cherokee ball-players includes a course of precautionary measures. "They bathe their limbs with a decoction of Tephrosia Virginiana, or catgut, in order to render their muscles tough like the roots of that plant. They bathe themselves with a decoction of the small rush (Juneus tenuis), which grows by the roadside, because its stalks are always erect and will not lie flat upon the ground, however much they may be stamped and trodden upon. In the same way they bathe with a decoction of the wild crab-apple, or the iron-wood, because the trunks of these trees, even when thrown down, are supported and kept from the ground by their spreading tops. To make themselves more supple, they whip themselves with the tough stalks of the wátakû, or star-grass, or with switches made from the bark of a hickory sapling which has grown up from a log that has fallen across it, the bark being taken from the bend thus produced in the sapling. After the first scratching the player renders himself an object of terror to his opponent by eating a rattlesnake which has been killed and cooked by the shaman. He rubs himself with an eel-skin to make himself slippery like the eel, and rubs each limb down once with the fore and hind leg of a turtle, because the legs of that animal are remarkably stout. He applies to the shaman to conjure a dangerous opponent so that he may be unable to see the ball in its flight, or may dislocate a wrist or break a leg. Sometimes the shaman draws upon the ground an armless figure of his rival with a hole where the heart should be. Into this bole he drops two black beads, covers them with earth, and stamps upon them, and thus the dreaded rival is doomed, unless (and this is always the saving clause) his own shaman has taken precautions against such a result, or the one in whose behalf the charm is made has rendered the incantation unavailing by a violation of some one of the interminable rules of the gaktunta."