By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
There are many collectors documented in the registry who worked long in the field and had successful careers, but whose life details seem lost to history. We have several for whom we only have a name and a place of work because their name is on the field book documenting department collections.
Andrew Nelson Caudell is not quite this little known, but after cataloging his field notes, I feel the same level of curiosity and frustration at not being able to easily find more information on his life. Caudell was an orthopterist who worked for the USDA’s Division of Insects, 1898-1936. His interest in entomology began at an early age. The first field book in his collection Record Unit 7162 documents his collecting at age 17. He spent most of his childhood on his family’s farm in Oklahoma.
If you peruse digital sources for information on him, there is little beyond what I listed above, except that he may have been the first person to marry over the telegraph according to Wikipedia. So why my frustration?
Caudell’s collection contains only 10 items, yet his meticulous recording as well as terse but descriptive style left quite an impression on me. The first field book in his collection includes entomological observations and a portion of a personal diary from when he was 17. He is painstaking in his recording of details; it is obvious and fascinating to see how he strives to provide accurate descriptions of insects. His grammar and spelling may be lacking, but his entomological terminology is strong. In the second half of the notebook is a short personal diary where he gives short but descriptive narratives of his daily work on the farm and interactions with family, like the one below.
[November 8, 1889] “Mother and John give me a little rakeing [sic] this evening because I am not educated and John give me a going over for pestering with Entomology. Jess sticks up for me and says I am all right.”
This and many other entries somehow seem to clearly show a young man with a true passion. His delivery and attitudes may not always show it with alacrity, but his simple writing style make his sincere enjoyment of his lifelong career evident. Below are two other quotes from his notebooks. These are just a sampling.
[May 28, 1922] A wife that loves is worth all the bugs or anything else in the world but one can’t do any collecting to amount to much when with them, especially if one has to go up trees, on rocks or near water.
[February 14, 1920] On my desk in the museum I found crawling a small beetle, Sitodrepa panacea Linn [sic]. This little critter is called the Drug Store Beetle as it eats drugs, also eats biscuits and now and then museum specimens. I put him in my collection.
Other scientists may include more anecdotes, collect in more exotic destinations, have more prestigious careers. Yet I am struck again and again by his obvious honest enjoyment of collecting and studying insects. We encourage you to check out his collection on Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center.