By the Skin of His Teeth

By the Skin of His Teeth

Much of the fossil mammal collection in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City was gathered by Edward Cope in the American West during the time of the Sioux Indian wars.

Being a Quaker, Cope refused to carry a gun, despite the obvious dangers he would encounter. Without realizing it, he apparently was equipped with a built—in weapon. On one occasion his fossil hunting was interrupted when he suddenly found himself surrounded by hostiles. His quick thinking and action undoubtedly saved his life and that of his associates. To confound and amaze the Sioux warriors he simply removed and replaced his false teeth over and over again. The Native Americans were so bewildered that they left without harming anyone.

Such stories do not end with Cope, for expeditions into untamed lands will always produce legends. A rather tenacious tale about another scientist persists in the annals of the American Museum of Natural History.

During the 1920s this museum conducted a number of field expeditions into the Gobi Desert under the leadership of Roy Chapman Andrews. In 1925 Nels C. Nelson, at that time curator of prehistoric archaeology, was a member of the ten—year research project known as the Central Asiatic Expedition. His outstanding idiosyncrasy was his glass eye.

During the 1920s Mongolia had undergone a revolution and was a wild and lawless area ruled by warrior princes and crisscrossed by nomadic bands. At one point the expedition ran up against a hostile and well—armed group of Mongols on horseback, all with the usual cartridge belts slung across their chests.

The warriors dismounted and immediately began to harass the nervous expedition leaders for favors. However, Nelson kept his cool and was struck by what proved to be a great idea. He pretended to be a powerful magician and removed his glass eye. Holding it high for all to see, he quickly slipped it back in its socket. The Mongols fled.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth