Ben Oostdam story # 522


segments from Sir Aurel Stein's fourth "American" Expedition by Shareen Brysac:

..... Stein would have preferred to travel with an Indian staff, supplemented by "a couple of Chinese literati". However, he was almost seventy, had lost the toes on his right foot to frostbite, and suffered from chronic dyspepsia, so the Bostonians urged him to take an American assistant. In 1922, Stein had met a young American diplomat Cornelius van H. Engert, at Mohand Marg, Stein's lofty mountain camp, north of Srinagar in Kashmir. Engert now volunteered to accompany Stein, adding: As a matter of fact, I would rather be your "bearer" in Central Asia than Ambassador to the Pope. But, as Stein complained to Keltie, there was the problem of Engert's great lacuna, the want of all geological training..
Instead, Stein selected as his assistant the thirty-four year old Milton Bramlette (1896-1977) from Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose mentor was the distinguished Yale geographer, Professor Ellsworth Huntington.

Before meeting Stein, Bramlette had graduated from the University of Wisconsin and enlisted as a pilot in World War I, although too late in the war to see combat.
In 1921 he joined the US Geological Survey as an assistant geologist. During a stint on a mapping project of eastern Montana and the Missouri Breaks, "Bram", as he was known, proved to be a master of plane table surveying and to have a natural eye for collecting fossils. In the coming years he would earn a reputation as "the sharpest fossil finder in California".
Bramlette pursued his graduate studies at Yale in 1924/25 and then spent three years with Gulf Oil in Venezuela, Mexico and Ecuador, before finally receiving his doctorate in 1936.
He became one of the world's leading experts on sedimentary palaeography, and during World War II he led a strategic mineral project for the US Geological Survey, which identified major sources of bauxite ore essential for aluminum production.
His students remembered him as an exceptional teacher - he taught at UCLA between 1940-51, and subsequently at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
During the course of his long career, he authored several books and numerous papers. He received many honours including election to the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences, receipt of the Academy's Thompson Medal, as well as honorary doctorates.
Upon his return from Central Asia, he married Valerie Jourdan of Branford, Connecticut, and had one daughter, Emily, and five grandchildren. In 1977 Bramlette died of emphysema.
His obituary states that "throughout his life he was a modest gentleman"

So traumatized was he by his experiences in China that, although his bibliography is quite extensive, he never once wrote about his Central Asian experience. Nor is there any mention of Stein in Bramlette's papers now housed at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. ........

Bramlette's brief was to relieve Stein "of at least a portion of the work which transport and camp management demands often at the expense of scientific tasks, and to provide that geological knowledge which is found to be required for the proper interpretation of facts bearing on the prehistory of sites". The latter were skills that Stein admitted to lacking.........

At Cambridge Stein had also met Bramlette, who was to make his way to Kashmir, bring a carefully packed Marconi wireless receiver, and obtain "some colloquial knowledge of Hindustani". The geologist was also told to develop a working knowledge of photography, but, more important than that, "it should be distinctly desirable" for the geologist to gain practical experience at the Fogg in the "removal of wall paintings". Stein proposed to take a limited quantity of necessary chemicals, which Bramlette was to obtain from the Fogg. Langdon Warner was to supply all "the needed facilities for this purpose"....

On 11 August he set out from Kashmir, accompanied by Bramlette and, of course, his dog, Dash V. (Stein named all his dogs "Dash". Dash V, the only one that was not a fox-terrier, died in Kashgar, the strain of the Expedition being too much for him.)...........

On his arrival at the Chinese frontier, Stein heard that the Governor of Sinkiang had received orders from Nanking to bar his entry. Telegrams sped among British diplomats in Nanking, New Delhi and Kashgar. Finally, after the British reminded the Governor that he was "under distinct obligations" to them for consignments of arms and ammunition, the Chinese allowed Stein to enter, and on 6 October he received a friendly welcome in Kashgar.
However, Bramlette, who had proved to be "a steady and thoroughly useful helper", was forced to return to India before the passes closed for winter. The thirty-four year old's constitution was not up to the task: he had suffered from poor circulation in the freezing temperatures and a "succession of intestinal troubles, with the alternation from constipation and resulting piles to attacks of diarrhea".
A chastened Bramlette telegraphed Sachs reporting that it was not "easy to admit that a young man cannot stand up to conditions that one does of Sir Aurel's age". At almost 68 years, Stein was twice Bramlette's age. ............

BLO extracted this on 20091023_24 - return to story - stories