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B&C Member Spotlight — Roy Chapman Andrews

By PJ DelHomme 

Roy Chapman Andrews was a hunter but not necessarily for big game. He hunted the past for bones and adventure. Hollywood rumors claim that he was the inspiration for Harrison Ford’s character in the Indiana Jones saga. Both men were archaeologists, fought bandits, hated snakes, and explored far-off lands. The parallels are uncanny, but there was one big difference. Indiana Jones was never a member of the Boone and Crockett Club. 


Andrews was born in 1884—three years before Roosevelt and Grinnell founded the Boone and Crockett Club. Back then, roughly 6,000 people lived in Beloit, Wisconsin, and the town was a center of industry. Lucky for young Roy Andrews, the family home was on the western edge of town. He entertained himself by exploring the woods with a single-barrel shotgun he received when he was nine. There was no stopping him as he stalked and shot small woodland creatures and then preserved them. Using William T. Hornaday's book, Taxidermy and Home Decoration, he taught himself taxidermy and had a part-time business mounting everything from trophy deer to dead pets. He got so good at his craft that he used the funds to help pay his tuition to Beloit College. 

At Beloit, he wasn’t a stand-out academic. He was more interested in baseball, Sigma Chi, and the ladies. Standing over six feet with piercing blue eyes, his good looks and evolving powers of persuasion would serve him well later in life, especially in raising money for expeditions. He always had a restless side. As a young boy, he was enthralled with tales of exploration by Henry Stanley and David Livingstone. At the same time, he carried around a copy of Frank Chapman’s Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America, referring to it as his Bible. Eventually, Andrews would mesh his love of the natural world with his quest for adventure, but first, he would need to mop some floors.

Nights at the Museum (1906-1913) 

As a student at Beloit College, Andrews attended a lecture that would change his life. The lecture was about the eruption of Mount Pelee, but more importantly, the speaker worked at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Once Edmund Harvey concluded his lecture, Andrews cornered him, asking about work at the museum. He told Andrews to get a meeting with the museum’s director, Hermon Bumpus. 

Roy Chapman Andrews on Vancouver Island in 1908.

Andrews set up that meeting and traveled to New York City after making stops at the Chicago Field Museum and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. Once in front of Bumpus, Andrews was told the museum had no positions for him. “My heart dropped into my shoes,”  Andrews wrote in his autobiography Under a Lucky Star: A Lifetime of Adventure. “Finally I blurted it out, ‘I'm not asking for a position. I just want to work here. You have to have someone to clean the floors. Couldn't I do that?’” The director protested that a man with a degree should not clean floors. Andrews countered that these weren’t any floors but the floors of the American Museum of Natural History. It worked. Bumpus hired him as an assistant in the taxidermy department for $40 a month. 

Andrews didn’t mop floors the entire time. He assisted renowned taxidermist James Clark (B&C member) the rest of the time, and the two became good friends. Clark had studied taxidermy with Carl Akeley at the Chicago Field Museum, and now Andrews was learning those skills. He was able to put them to the test by constructing a life-size model of a blue whale, which measured more than 76 feet. At the same time, Director Bumpus wanted the men to salvage the remains of a North American right whale that had washed up on Long Island. At 20 degrees below zero, Clark and Andrews set out to disassemble this massive exhibit in rain, snow, and gale-force winds. They labored in brutal conditions for more than a week. This was Andrews’ first expedition, and they would only get more outrageous from there.  

Soon after his onshore whaling episode, Andrews would take to the sea to gather more specimens for the museum. He set out for the coast of British Columbia and Admiralty Island. Whalers hunted humpback, blue, finback, and sperm whales there. When they butchered a whale, Andrews was there with a camera, measuring tape, and notebook to examine everything from its skeleton to the contents of its stomach. He tasted a little whale’s milk, recalling it “a bit too strong to be really pleasant.” 

Roy Chapman Andrews aboard the schooner The Adventuress, Alaska, 1913. More than thirty years later, Andrews with the skeleton of a right whale, Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History.

Because of his meticulous documentation, including photos of living whales, his adventures began to make waves in news outlets like the New York Times. A monthly magazine, World’s Work, offered him $250 for an article on modern whaling. His salary at the museum was $100 a month. The 24-year-old junior explorer was making a name for himself. He wrote Monographs of the Pacific Cetacea and Whale Hunting With Gun and Camera from these adventures. He spent time on the lecture circuit, too. 

The museum sent him to Borneo and the Dutch East Indies to study porpoises. At a stopover in Japan, he recounts meeting a woman, barely 30 years old, who spoke flawless English. Her name was Mother Jesus. She ran Number Nine, “the most famous house of prostitution in the world.” An Englishman once told him, “You will come to the Orient often. It is a disease, you know, like malaria, only one seldom recovers. You have been infected. I can see it in your face.” Andrews would spend many more years in the Far East. 

Dragon Hunter (1914-1920) 

After World War I erupted in 1914, Andrews was finished with whales and turned to overland exploration. At the time, Henry Fairfield Osborn (president of the AMNH) theorized that Asia was the cradle of humankind. Andrews knew this and pitched Osborn the idea of an expedition to the Central Asian plateau. “It would be purely zoological, bring to the Museum valuable collections of mammals, birds and reptiles…,” wrote Andrews in his autobiography. “Since my idea was eventually to test his own theory which had been evolved after years of research and thought, he was more than sympathetic.” Osborn supported the idea, and the AMNH provided half of the $15,000 for the expedition. Andrews raised the other half himself and set sail in March 1916. This marked the first of two Asiatic Zoological Expeditions. With his wife Yvette as the photographer, Andrews collected thousands of specimens for the AMNH, including 2,100 mammals, 800 birds, and 200 reptiles and amphibians. 

Roy Chapman Andrews taking moving pictures, Urga, Mongolia, July 5, 1919.

While in China, Andrews’ position as an archaeologist was the perfect cover to help the U.S. keep tabs on political turmoil there. While employed by U.S. intelligence, he made a brief detour into Mongolia, where he instantly fell in love with the country and its people. His descriptions of both are amusing at times. “It took a bit of doing to become accustomed to their smell,” Andrews wrote. “One Mongol in a closed room is equivalent to one skunk in the same space for they never take a bath from birth to death except by accident. There isn’t much water and a Mongol doesn't see the need of cleanliness anymore than he sees the need of chastity in his women. They are unmoral rather than immoral.” 

​​​​​​​Roy Chapman Andrews photographed by his wife Yvette Borup Andrews during the Second Asiatic Expedition in Mongolia.

Five Central Asiatic Expeditions (1922-1930) 

His detour into Mongolia set Andrews up for nearly a decade of adventure and exploration in search of Osborn’s missing link in the wilds of the Gobi Desert. He led five expeditions to Mongolia and shipped tens of thousands of fossil specimens back to the museum. The first of these expeditions left Peking on April 1922 with a fleet of Dodge cars and a pack of camels. 


A flyer produced by the American Museum of Natural History promoting Andrews Third Asiatic Expedition.

Very little of the Gobi was mapped at the time, and the routes were little more than trails between settlements. The team endured everything an unforgiving desert could throw at them along the way. Bandits, extreme heat, ice and sand storms, political unrest, and civil war were among a few of the challenges the team faced. 

George Olsen and Roy Chapman Andrews at nest of "the even dozen dinosaur eggs," Third Asiatic Expedition, Mongolia, 1925

In 1923, when Andrews became a member of the Boone and Crockett Club, he and his team made one of the most important discoveries in paleontology. In an isolated escarpment of red sandstone, which Andrews named the Flaming Cliffs, they found a nest of fossilized eggs containing dinosaur embryos. The discovery was the first physical evidence that dinosaurs did not give birth to live young. Andrews was already a living legend, and the nest vaulted his name and the museum into the headlines once again. The expedition also discovered the remains of a velociraptor, made famous by Spielberg’s depiction of the vicious little lizard in Jurassic Park. Spielberg also directed the Indiana Jones movies. 

By the early 1930s, Andrews was ready and willing to continue his exploration of the Gobi and beyond, but the Japanese had other plans for Mongolia. They had begun to amass troops along the frontier of Inner Mongolia in preparation for an assault on the region. At 48 years old, Andrews was looking for a new job. 

The Post-adventure Years (1930-1960) 

It’s hard to imagine someone like Andrews working behind a desk, and it was more difficult for him to live it. Upon his return to New York, Osborn at the AMNH appointed him an associate director. Andrews didn’t like the title and convinced them to change it to vice-director. 

With a fancy title, Andrews didn’t take long to cook up another adventure. He tried to convince the Russians to help him fund explorations in Iran and Turkestan, but that fell through. In the meantime, George Sherwood, the museum’s director, suffered a heart attack. Andrews was tapped as the interim director. Sherwood would not return, and the trustees asked Andrews to stay. He made it clear that he didn’t want the job. But because the museum had supported him for two decades, he surrendered to an office job in 1935. 

Portrait of Andrews at the American Museum of Natural History.


That same year, a lady entered his increasingly domestic life. Having divorced his first wife in 1931 after she had an affair with his close friend Chips Smallwood, Andrews met and married Wilhelmina “Billie” Christmas just three months after meeting her. She was gorgeous, rich, and adventurous. She would help Andrews navigate the nauseatingly political waters of museum director. In his first year as director, the museum’s Hayden Planetarium opened. A year later, Andrews opened the Akeley Hall of African Mammals. Still, Andrews was not happy being little more than a fundraiser and figurehead for the museum. In his autobiography Under a Lucky Star, in a chapter aptly titled, "A Square Peg in a Round Hole," Andrews writes,” I was a museum director in name only; actually merely a promoter…The knowledge that fieldwork was waiting as soon as the distasteful business of money-raising ended made it endurable. Now the possibility of continuing exploration was gone for so long as I remained as Director.” He resigned on January 1, 1942. 

While Andrews was director, he and Billie commuted to New York City from their Connecticut farm. Once he retired, Andrews spent his days on Pondwood Farm, where he wrote of his adventures, fished, and hunted. Under a Lucky Star became a best-seller. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, 57-year-old Andrews volunteered for active duty. Rejected because of his age, he served as a consultant on Asian affairs and advised General Patton on desert warfare. 

The Connecticut winters proved too much as Roy and Billie aged, and the couple moved south to Tucson, Arizona. That proved too hot, and they migrated to Carmel Valley in northern California. After recovering from lung cancer, Roy Chapman Andrews suffered a massive heart attack at just 67. He died on March 11, 1960. Billie, only 53, remarried in 1961 and died at 91 in 1998. 

To say Roy Chapman Andrews lived a full life is a bit of an understatement. The man lived a life most of us couldn’t even imagine. He is undoubtedly one of the most interesting members to enter the Boone and Crockett Club. No, he didn’t work to achieve conservation milestones like many Club members but rest assured, if he were telling a story around the fireplace, you’d want to pull up a chair.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt