J. Stokley Ligon's work in bird conservation, habitat protection, and wildlife legislation during the mid-twentieth century is well-documented in his own writing and the writing of others. But hovering in the background of Ligon's life story has always been the rumor of a trip he made alone as a young man in 1913 in which he covered much of New Mexico alone on horseback. Details of the trip had faded into history, and Ligon – a self-effacing man – had never published the story.
As it turns out, the trek was Ligon's first job with the US Biological Survey, and it did not go entirely undocumented. The breeding bird population report that eventually resulted from the journey, photographs from glass plate negatives, and – perhaps most enticingly – Ligon's own personal diary from these travels are presented here. Not just a compelling account of the expedition itself, the materials and insights found in Twelve Hundred Miles by Horse and Burro also reveal aspects of Ligon's family history, his early interest in wildlife, and the development of the wilderness skills needed to undertake such a survey.
Using his original itinerary and handwritten report, the authors of Twelve Hundred Miles by Horse and Burro revisited many of the places that Ligon surveyed and in a few cases were even able to locate and repeat Ligon's early photographs. Combined with a discussion of the conditions of birds and other wildlife then and now, Twelve Hundred Miles by Horse and Burro serves as a useful tool for understanding how wildlife numbers, distribution, and habitats changed in New Mexico over the course of the twentieth century.
Birding enthusiasts, historians, naturalists, and even armchair adventurers will all find something to love in this chronicle of a young man from a West Texas ranching family with a driving ambition to be a professional naturalist and writer.