[an error occurred while processing this directive] Oriental Institute | Pioneers to the Past | Shergat Rest Camp, Mesopotamia
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Shergat Rest Camp, Mesopotamia

April 22, 1920

Yesterday afternoon came a fuller report on the condition of the line. There are or were three breaks: one on this side of Baiji (near Ain Dibbs), said to have been made by the Arabs, and two on the other side, with a train caught between the breaks. Last night the line was reported clear as we went to dinner, and this morning’s report from below says that three trains are on the way up, and that one will go back today. So the probabilities are that we shall be in Baghdad tomorrow. To meet every possibility, however, we are having Ali cook a big casserole of rice to take with us. The relief from the awful food here will be a relief indeed. The difficulty is that the young lieutenant in charge tries to have an English dinner, with soup, fish and a roast. Imagine soup made of this bitter water! Salmon last night that was spoiled! Potatoes boiled in this bitter water! Beans ditto! Some shreds of bully beef intended for a roast! And finally the only thing that we could eat was some preserved apricots of American origin! All this is entirely unnecessary. The Tigris, with perfectly good, though turbid water, is perhaps a half mile away, and a small camel train with a settling tank would make sweet water available for everybody. The colonel in charge is evidently an ass, but of course I can’t say anything as we are not on a hotel basis. We pay only the cost of the food served us, which amounts to 3 rupees, about $1.35 a day. If the Indian cook were allowed to make native dishes, especially stews, which he understands, it would be much better. The train is said to be coming, and I must soon close this hurried entry. Among the passengers are Miss Bell and her father Sir Hugh Bell, who have been caught below between the two breaks. I don’t know how they fared for food, but we are endeavoring to be ready for any contingency, taking bread, the rice Ali is cooking, a lot of tinned stuff from our own stores and plenty of biscuits and tinned milk. I have to watch every detail myself. We were caught on the road coming down here from Mosul, with all the dishes unwashed, though they had not been used for three days, but had been chucked into the food pannier unwashed and left there, with two servants idle for three days! This was due to Handy Andy, supposedly in charge of this outfit, and I cannot depend on my colleague to furnish the slightest supervision in these things. You know how necessary light is on a trip like this. When we took the train at Baghdad, I left Ludlow in charge of our three luggage vans, with five Arab porters to carry the stuff across to our car, where I told him I would receive the things if he would see to it that nothing was left in the vans. After the vans had departed and we were on the train, it was discovered that our only lantern had been carried away in one of the vans. Down at the ferry the other day as Luckenbill and I were waiting for the others, we were suddenly obliged to shift from one ferry boat to another. I had my own hands full of things, and I looked back to see Luckenbill vituperating Ali, who was loaded down with the big camera and its appurtenances, for not bringing also the lunch basket, which was being carried away among a lot of dirty Arabs in the departing ferry-boat while Luckenbill stood there empty-handed, watching it go! This time I did say, “Luckenbill, why didn’t you bring it yourself”? — to which he made no reply. I will not go further with this kind of thing in my letters. Saying as much as I have, borders on the querulous and childish, but it is perhaps as well that you should have an idea of the real situation. I ought to add that the chief cause of the trouble is the complete change in the character of our transport. I supposed that we should be going all the way by caravan, which as you know can be systematized so that everybody knows his work, the servants quickly learn the routine, and everything is regularly done. We really are not very well equipped for our present method of transport, partly by rail, partly by launch, again by automobile and sometimes by horse. I haven’t even saddle-bags, and if I had, they would be much in the way when going by any other means of transport. It is difficult to adjust ourselves to all these different means of getting over the ground. At the same time, our kitchen is going only rarely,—not long enough to drop into any routine. Hence I am inclined to be very charitable to all my fellow travelers. Please do not read any of the above reflections on any member of the expedition to any one.

On train at Shergat, Mesopotamia, April 22, 1920, 10:30 A.M.

The train came in below rather suddenly, and we found that we must make good our reservations by quickly taking possession. Shelton ran down and found a six berth compartment, the only one available, with a British officer already in it. He seized it in my name, and I came along at once with type-writer and bag and jumped in. Meanwhile the car is being shunted down the line to fill the water tanks, and the boys are getting our kits down without the use of Abbas… So I am employing the interval in the midst of the thrilling scenery of the yards to jiggle off another installment of this letter. It isn’t very easy to hit the keys with the car shunting and bumping about, but it is pleasanter than doing nothing.

I have been able to do a good piece of work since I have been here at Shergat. You may remember that when the British took over the Sudan, after Kitchener’s famous campaign, they very wisely put the monuments for the time being under charge of the department of education. The same thing is about to be done here. While I was at Hillah, General Wauchope kindly gave me a letter to Major Bowman, the first Director of the Department of Education out here. On sitting down to our first luscious dinner in the Shergat mess, who should be sitting next me but Major Bowman! We had a very interesting conversation in which his wife, who was with him, joined. Next day (yesterday) after lunch, the Major asked me what I was going to do with my afternoon. I said I was going to work. He intimated that he wanted to talk with me, and I agreed to meet him at tea-time. After tea, therefore, he and his wife and I took a walk out toward Assur, and sat down on a hill, where we had a long talk. With Assur before us, and of course at their request, I gave them the story of the city, in the course of which they really got a rapid sketch of the history of Assyria. They seemed intensely interested and asked many questions. I then gradually veered around to the future of investigation on the Tigris and Euphrates under British control. I found Major Bowman most open to suggestions, until I found myself sketching for him what I thought ought to be done out here. To make a long story short, I lodged a whole scheme in his mind, including the work of the University of Chicago, and I shall have further opportunity later on, to fill up the scheme more in detail. This was all done much more effectively, as we sat out on the top of a breezy, grass-covered hill, with the ruins of the earliest Assyrian capital before us, than it could possibly have been done in his office at Baghdad. He has the compartment next to ours for the trip to Baghdad, and I expect to see much of him there. Such an incidental, undesigned meeting is far better than one which has been formally planned and arranged. It illustrates the value of having come out here. If the funds can be made available for the continuance of our work in the Orient, I now have the necessary official preparation indispensable to securing a successful position out here, well in hand: in England, France, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Our coming trip to Syria will, I have every reason to think, improve our position with France also. As you know, I have in my bag the necessary preliminary official letters, and these will be presented at Beyrut early in June. Apart from the scientific data that we have secured, and leaving out also the immense value of this expedition to all its members professionally in giving us a first-hand knowledge of the lands of the Near East, the official connections, and points of contact and influence which have been secured have made the trip of the greatest value to the future of oriental research in the University of Chicago. When I think of the fruits which may easily result from this long absence from home, I feel quite ashamed that I have mentioned discomfort, loneliness, inconvenience, the mishaps inevitable when five men of different habits and temperaments travel together in very intimate association, or even the hardships which have sometimes been unavoidable. After all they are of slight consequence and easily forgotten. I should never have been able to forgive myself if I had not made one more effort to bring this all about. After all this hard year is only another outstanding illustration of the thing I have talked about to Charles so often: there is nothing worth having which does not exact its price. It is possible to be sure, to lay too heavy payments on one’s own shoulders as well as on those of others, but I don’t think that has been done in this case. We shall all rejoice in the results when they come, and I can now settle down with some satisfaction for the rest of my days, having quieted my own conscience, which never would have given me any rest on any other conditions. The practical plans I have in mind would not involve my coming out here on long trips like this one but only an occasional short trip of inspection. On such trips, as the conditions of travel improve, it would not be necessary for me to come alone; and in any case no long separations would be involved. I shall hardly be up to another such long and rough experience as this one.

As I remember, it was just about a year ago now, that I received Mr. Rockefeller’s letter, opening up this new vista. How time flies, in spite of the endless length of this separation! I love to watch the calendar now: Here we are with only a week more of April left! A few days after the first of May we shall be on board our oil steamer on our way back to Egypt, and the return journey will have begun!

5:30 P.M. En Route. Baiji Station.

We have passed Ain Dibbs station where the Arabs were indulging their shooting propensities 48 hours ago, but we saw no traces of them. We have also passed the first break in the line without trouble, and although we left Shergat over an hour late we have arrived here almost on time. We shall pass the other two breaks below by daylight, arriving at Tekrit, the former rail-head, about 8 o’clock, and if no further mishaps occur, we shall be in Baghdad early tomorrow morning. Just for fun let me mention that by some oversight the usual feeble oil lamp is lacking in this compartment: — this, by way of recalling that we have no lantern! But we always muddle through somehow. We have passed through a very heavy shower, which drove into the compartment, but that is now past and the sun is shining brightly. Evidently winter determined not to let us forget that it is the season of rains in this region of the world, for the rains should be over by this time.

For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute!

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