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Introduction

If John K. Townsend is remembered at all today, it is as the diarist of a western journey. His Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River is an enchanting account of his trek to Oregon on Nathaniel Wyeth's 1834 expedition, his two years in Oregon, and his travels back to the east coast of the United States by way of Hawaii and Chile. Townsend's success as a diarist, however, has overshadowed his accomplishments as a naturalist. John K. Townsend journeyed west with a purpose, as a participant in the Second Great Age of American Discovery, as a scientific explorer in a new land.1

John Kirk Townsend was born in Philadelphia October 10, 1809.2 The Quaker city was fertile ground in which to introduce a young man to the delights of science. Philadelphia enjoyed a reputation from colonial times as the "scientific capital of the country." Its prestigious institutions included the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences, as well as Charles W. Peale's Museum, which popularized interest in natural history. Philadelphian institutions and scientists, and the atmosphere of "Intellectual creativity" in which they existed, provided the scientific training for western explorers.3

John Townsend's family background perhaps predisposed him to intelligence and all interest in natural history. His parents were Charles, a watchmaker, and Priscilla (née Kirk), Quakers with long familial attachments in medicine and science.4 Three of John's brothers were dentists and active in attempting to improve the profession. His brother Edward, in addition, was a noted philanthropist, interested in prison reform. His sister Hannah published (posthumously) A History of England in Verse (1852). His sister Mary wrote Life in the Insect World: or, Conversations upon Insects Between an Aunt and Her Nieces (1844), and by her intelligence and disposition inspired others to emulate her.5

Young John attended from 1819 the Friends' Boarding School at Westtown, Pennsylvania, where the entomologist Thomas Say had earlier boarded, and whose later alumni included the ornithologist John Cassin and the vertebrate paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. The natural sciences were a focus of the Friends' School and it is perhaps during this period that John developed his skill at taxidermy and learned to prepare study skins of birds. With William Townsend, a cousin, and the doctor Ezra Michener, an older friend, John Townsend began a collection of the birds of West Chester County, hunting the woods, streamsides, and fields. Townsend proved as proficient with a shotgun as he was skilled in identification, and the collection he amassed with his companions was a nearly complete sampling of the local avifauna. John James Audubon, an acquaintance, remarked upon Townsend's zeal for the study of ornithology and his fine eye."6

On May 11, 1833, while collecting with John Richards at New Garden, Pennsylvania, Townsend noticed a bird he did not know sitting on a fence rail. The bird was very shy and as Townsend maneuvered to get close enough to shoot it, it flew from tree to tree. Aware of its rarity, Townsend focused on securing it for his collection. "Anxiety to procure it," he admitted, "prevented my observing its habits more particularly." When at last he held its lifeless body in his hand, his initial observation was confirmed--this was a bird unlike any he had seen before. When John James Audubon stopped in Philadelphia on his way south, Townsend showed him the specimen and Audubon concurred that the bird was undescribed, a new species. Townsend prepared a manuscript, dated September 27, 1833, formally describing the species and naming it after Audubon, Emberiza auduboni, Audubon's Bunting. For some reason this manuscript was never published. Audubon, in the second volume of his Ornithological Biography (1834), named it Emberiza townsendi, honoring its collector. I am happy in thus paying my tribute of respect to him for his great attainments in ornithology." Townsend mounted the specimen and gave it to Ezra Michener. The species was never seen again, and taxonomists to this day argue whether Townsend collected the last individual of a dying species or whether the specimen is a hybrid or aberrant individual. Elliott Coues described the Townsend's Bunting as "a species which died at its birth."7

While Townsend was collecting this unique specimen and earning a Doctor of Science degree, Nathaniel J. Wyeth was engaged in an expedition that would shortly change the course of Townsend's life. Wyeth was a Cambridge, Massachusetts ice merchant who dreamed of establishing a fur trading company on the western coast of the continent. In early 1832, he departed the east coast with a small band of men, which included his Cousin, John Wyeth, a neighbor of the Harvard botanist and ornithologist Thomas Nuttall. Nathaniel Wyeth expected to meet a supply ship when he reached the Pacific, but upon arrival at Fort Vancouver he learned that his ship had been wrecked in the South Pacific. Wyeth made the acquaintance of John McLoughlin, the chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, as well as of David Douglas, who was then collecting plants in Oregon for the Horticultural Society of London.8

In February, 1833, Wyeth left Fort Vancouver to return to Massachusetts. Along the way home he collected plants for his friend, Thomas Nuttall.9Wyeth returned not at all disheartened by the failure of his endeavor but eager to again set out for Oregon, this time to seek salmon and peddle trade goods. Nuttall, piqued by Wyeth's plant specimens, longed to join this second expedition and resigned his position at Harvard to be free to do so. Undoubtedly intending to devote most of his time on the expedition studying plants, Nuttall invited John Townsend along to collect and study the new species of birds they would certainly encounter.10

Wyeth was delighted that another naturalist would be on the expedition. In February 1834, he wrote to Nuttall advising the new man what to bring. "As he will probably have no servant I would not recommend to him to take many goods.... I do not see that he need provide anything before reaching St. Louis more than he has unless he carrys [sic] implements of science,"11

Townsend, twenty-four years old, was no doubt as excited about the expedition as Thomas Nuttall, eager to see new lands and new species.12 Townsend visited both the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, to which he had been elected a member the previous year, and requested funding, receiving from each one hundred twenty-five dollars.13 In turn, he agreed to collect natural history specimens for both institutions. No doubt Samuel G. Morton, corresponding secretary of the Academy, pressed upon Townsend the importance of collecting Indian skulls; Morton needed these for his "craniographic" research.14 On March 13, 1834, Townsend packed his guns, Nuttall's two-volume Manual of Ornithology and a treatise on North American birds by Charles L. Bonaparte, works which held little information on the scientifically poorly-explored West but standard references in the East, and joined Thomas Nuttall on the stage for Pittsburgh.15 They were off on their western adventure.

On the stage to Pittsburgh, Townsend rode into another realm. Breaking his ties to family and region, he joined a growing stream of exploring naturalists seeking new vistas, new creatures, new ideas in new lands. As had Joseph Banks on the Cook expedition and Alexander Von Humboldt in his travels through Amazonia, as had John James Audubon in his wanderings through the southeast and Thomas Nuttall, the man seated next to young John on the bouncing, jarring stage, had in Arkansas before him, Townsend became part of the second great age of discovery.16 As a curious naturalist, he sought new species of birds and hoped to study plants and native inhabitants, rocks and gems. He was riding the coattails of commerce on the Wyeth expedition to Oregon, the first ornithologist, along with Thomas Nuttall, to visit the territory.17

The stage coach ride to Pittsburgh was an unpleasant beginning of the journey, three days and four nights of bad roads. "I have never tried constant riding in a stage for several successive days before," Townsend wrote to his sister, "and thee may believe me I never wish to try it again. The stage was packed full else our bones might have suffered still more, as it is, I think our passengers generally feel tolerably sore all over." The road wound around precipitous cliffs and the stage at times came so close to pitching into the abyss that "several of our passengers (all men, too) could scarcely repress a cry." Upon arrival in Pittsburgh, Townsend found the city "a vile, vile place--I have been in it but an hour and am wholly and completely disgusted with it and wish to leave it as quick as I can." The houses were "all encrusted with a black filthy soot from the smoke of the villianous bituminous coal which is eternally hanging like a foul incubus over the place--the very visages of the inhabitants are begrimed with the same dirty material and as for handsome women I have not yet seen one that was decent, they look as though they have been dealing in charcoal." What a contrast to Philadelphia, Townsend's own "noble and delightful City."18

Thomas Nuttall arranged for a boat to take Townsend and himself down the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Townsend found crossing the border from Pennsylvania into Ohio emotionally difficult. "As we passed this line, and as the shores of my native state receded from my view a feeling of sadness came upon me. I stood upon the upper deck and watched the sandy boundary, until blotted out by the distance and then ret'ned to the cabin with feelings such as I never experienced before, I felt that I was leaving the scenes of my childhood, the spot which had witnessed all the happenings I ever knew, the home where all my affections centered. I was entering a land of strangers and would be compelled hereafter to mingle with those who would look upon me with indifference or treat me with neglect."l9

Uneasy with this homesickness, Townsend and Nuttall were glad when they arrived in St. Louis March 24 to find Nathaniel Wyeth still there, waiting for trade goods and supplies shipped from Baltimore. Wyeth took the scientists in hand and helped them with their shopping for the journey ahead. He selected for each of them leather trousers, "an enormous overcoat made of green flannel, only think of that!," and a white wool hat, "with round crown, fitting tightly to the head, brims five inches wide, and almost hard enough to resist a rifle ball." John confided to his father that "we shall look very beautiful no doubt.20

While his family might be amused by John's humorous tale of outfitting for the journey, his descriptions of Indians must have startled them, esconced as they were in Philadelphia. A day after shopping with Wyeth, a group of Sauk Indians passed through on their way to Jefferson Barracks, the government fort. "They were dressed and decorated in the true primitive style; their heads shaved closely, and painted with alternate stripes of fiery red and deep black, leaving only the long scalping tuft, in which was interwoven a quantity of elk hair and eagle's feathers.... The faces and bodies of the men were, almost without an exception, fantastically painted, the predominant color being deep red, with occasionally a few stripes of dull clay white around the eyes and mouth."21

Since Wyeth was to be kept in St. Louis for at least a week waiting for his supplies, Townsend and Nuttall decided to walk to Independence. As in Pittsburgh earlier, Townsend was happy to be leaving. "I was glad to be rid of [St. Louis] as I think it without exception the most disagreeable, extortionate, and uncomfortable town that I have yet found. Every article that a traveler finds is necessary to purchase, the little services and attentions that he requires are charged for most exorbitantly and withal there is scarcely a grain of comfort to be found in the largest and acknowledged best Hotel in this place.22

Striking the prairies, free from town, Townsend and Nuttall were in their heaven. Pileated Woodpeckers were in every riverside grove of trees and Greater Prairie Chickens warily stalked the tall prairie grasses. Ducks were "exceedingly abundant" in every stream and easy targets, 'so that amongst them all we were living in clover as we travel along." Nuttall, however, refused to carry a gun and would not use Townsend's, so that it was up to John to procure their meals of game. When they arrived at a house, the naturalists shared their bounty with their hosts, providing a meal in payment for lodging. As they steadily walked westward to Independence, Sandhill Cranes and Passenger Pigeons were flying north to nesting grounds.23

Unfamiliar species awaited them every bit of the way. "N[uttall] is continually calling my attention to plants that are new and strange and I am frequently meeting with birds that I have not before seen." Near Boonville, Missouri, they encountered "vast numbers" of Carolina Parakeets, sunshine gleaming and flashing off the brilliant red, green, and yellow bodies. Townsend began collecting the parakeets but the experience was not enjoyable. "They seem entirely unsuspicious of danger, and after being fired at, only huddle closer together, as if to obtain protection from each other, and as their companions are falling around them, they curve down their necks, and look at them fluttering upon the ground, as though perfectly at a loss to account for so unusual an occurrence. It is a most inglorious sort of shooting; down right, cold-blooded murder."24

Nearly a week later, Townsend and Nuttall arrived in Independence. Wyeth fell immediately to organizing his supplies and trade goods, impressing Townsend with his management of the men and his consideration of their ideas and feelings. The trapper Milton Sublette, who had been associated with Nathaniel Wyeth on the first expedition, joined the party. Sublette, "a man of strong sense and observation and better acquainted with Indian manners and habits than any other man in the country," proposed to take personal care of Townsend and "make a man" of him. Townsend himself was relieved to find letters from his family awaiting him in Independence. He readied a box of specimens for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He confided to his father that he dreaded "to look forward to a long, long separation, without the possibility of having one word of the welfare of those dearest to me on earth."25

On April 28, the expedition left Independence, seventy men, two hundred fifty horses. The Baptist missionaries Jason Lee and his nephew Daniel trailed the party with their cattle. Townsend was caught up the grandeur of the scene, and the joyful emotional release of the men. "I frequently sallied out from my station to look at and admire the appearance of the cavalcade, and as we rode out from the encampment, our horses prancing, and neighing, and pawing the ground, it was altogether so exciting that I could scarcely contain myself Every man in the company seemed to feel a portion of the same kind of enthusiasm; uproarious bursts of merriment, and gay and lively songs, were constantly echoing along the line." As they rode through the prairie, the air pulsed black, and yellow, and red as blackbirds rose in clouds from the grasses and alighted on the horses' backs.26

As the expedition worked its way west, spring crept northward to meet them, and new birds were everywhere around Townsend. Their very abundance was astonishing. "There is a considerable variety, and many of them have not before been seen by naturalists. Along the Platte River, Long-billed Curlews probed the mud of shallow ponds, and Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons stalked fish. Farther on, American Avocets flew crying away from the march of the horses. Violet-green Swallows skimmed low over the grasstops, hawking insects flushed out by the procession.27

The naturalists found it difficult to collect scientific specimens while on the march. Nuttall often traveled ahead to gather his plants before they would be crushed by the hooves of the horses. Both men placed their collections over their own personal comfort. "Already we have cast away all our useless and superfluous clothing, and have been content to mortify our natural pride, to make room for our specimens. Such things as spare waistcoats, shaving boxes, soap, and stockings, have been elected from our trunks, and we are content to dress, as we live, in a style of primitive simplicity."28

Despite the press of the march, they spent each day in rapture. In the morning, Mr. N. and myself were up before the dawn, strolling through the umbrageous forest, inhaling the fresh, bracing air, and making the echoes ring with the report of our gun, as the lovely tenants of the grove flew by dozens before us. I think I never before saw so great a variety of birds within the same space. All were beautiful, and many of them quite new to me; and after we had spent an hour amongst them, and my game bag was teeming with its precious freight, I was still loath to leave the place, lest I should not have procured specimens of the whole.

None but a naturalist can appreciate a naturalist's feelings--his delight amounting to ecstacy--when a specimen such as he has never before seen, meets his eye, and the sorrow and grief which he feels when he is compelled to tear himself from a spot abounding with all that he has anxiously and unremittingly sought for. 29

Nuttall devoted himself to plants, and found a large number of new species, while Townsend studied the birds."30 Near the Platte River of Western Nebraska he became the first naturalist to collect the Chestnut-collared Longspur and the Lark Bunting. He discovered the Mountain Plover on the tableland along the Sweetwater River of Wyoming; nearby he found the Sage Thrasher In Idaho, with an accurate aim of his gun, he introduced the Green-tailed Towhee to science. He compiled a long list of birds he observed on the trek from Independence to Oregon.31

Townsend performed other duties on the expedition besides Just amassing his natural history collections. Every third night, he served as captain of the guard, posting his guards around the sleeping caravan and patrolling amongst them, checking to see that every man was awake and alert, watching that Indians not steal any of the expedition's supplies. Unfortunately for Townsend, Milton Sublette's promise to make a man" out of him was voided when Sublette left the expedition with an injured leg.32

Townsend threw himself into the adventure of the western trek, He stalked buffalo with the expedition's hunters and downed one himself, an old bull too tough to cat. While hunting geese he stumbled upon a grizzly bear, "his savage eyes glaring with horrible malignity, his mouth wide open, and his tremendous paws raised as though ready to descend" upon him. Townsend backed away, fortunate that the bear had not attacked him at once, and, after a slow, backwards retreat of a hundred yards, turned and "flew, rather than ran," back to camp. At the Green River rendezvous, an amazed Townsend observed the behavior of the mountain men, and being an abstemious Quaker, was disgusted by the drunken debauchery occurring around him .33

Townsend was likewise astonished and repulsed by the chief hunter's method of slaking thirst. On a hunt with Jason Lee and Townsend, the hunter cut open a freshly-killed buffalo and exposed the stomach. Townsend and Lee watched the hunter "plunge his knife into the distended paunch, from which gushed the green and gelatinous juices, and insinuate his tin pan into the opening, and by depressing its edge, strain off the water which was mingled with its contents"' Both Lee and Townsend rejected the offered cup of "cider." "It was too thick with the excrement the [sic?] please my fancy," Lee remarked to his diary. Only moments later, however, Townsend, urged by the hunters to taste the heart's blood, was overcome by his thirst, and "Plunged [his] head into the reeking ventricles, and drank until forced to stop for breath." In "assimilating [himself] so nearly to the brutes," Townsend had traveled, in more than just a physical dimension, a considerable distance from Philadelphia.34

By the time Townsend arrived with the Wyeth expedition at Fort Vancouver in mid-September, nearly five months after leaving Independence, his exuberance was beginning to wane. Near the end of the journey, as he listened to the declarations of Captain Benjamin Bonneville regarding the appeal of the mountain man's way of life, Townsend realized he himself "had become somewhat weary of rough travelling and rough fare, and looked forward with no little pleasure to a large rest under a Christian roof, and a general participation in Christian living."35

Arrival in Oregon offered a respite from the hard travelling. On September 16, 1834, the expedition beached their canoes on the sand in front of Fort Vancouver and John McLoughlin extended a friendly hand to Wyeth, the naturalists, the missionaries, and the expedition's men. McLoughlin urged Townsend and Nuttall to stay in his house, and arranged for a servant to attend to their needs. The naturalists divided their time between the fort and Wyeth's supply ship, the May Dacre, moored off of Warrior's Point, at the northern end of Sauvie Island, at the juncture of the Columbia and the Willamette Rivers. There was so much activity on the ship and the island where Wyeth was building a trade fort, that Townsend remarked in a letter to his father that "it is difficult to fancy oneself in a howling wilderness inhabited only by the wild and improvident indian and his scarcely more free and fearless neighbors the bear and the wolf." Townsend turned down an offer by Wyeth to return eastward to meet some of Wyeth's fur trappers in the mountains. Instead he plunged into his investigation of the region's birdlife.36

Collecting principally on Sauvie Island and near Fort Vancouver, but also travelling to points as far away as Astoria, Fort Walla Walla and the Blue Mountains, and the Falls of the Willamette, Townsend enjoyed a thorough acquaintance with the local avifauna. As on the westward journey, most of the birds in Oregon were different than the birds Townsend knew so well in Philadelphia, though similar. The towhees were strikingly spotted with white on the back and scapulars. The Fox Sparrows were a rich chocolate brown. The swifts overhead were so like the eastern Chimney Swift that at first Townsend thought them to be that familiar species, upon collecting some, he realized they were unique, an undescribed species. He bestowed upon them the name of an Academy of Natural Sciences member who had contributed to his expedition fund. He named a new warbler, so reminiscent of the Mourning Warbler, after a new friend from Fort Vancouver. Flocks of small birds moving through the riparian underbrush during migration might easily have included several previously unknown species; Townsend named five new warblers, two new chickadees, and several new woodpeckers and finches. During the nesting season, he and Nuttall collected nests, and Townsend compiled long lists of birds and mammals occurring in the area.37

In October, 1835, the Reverend Samuel Parker visited Fort Vancouver, on a tour representing the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Parker asked Townsend to prepare for him a report of the birds of the Columbia River region. Parker included an abridged version of Townsend's report in his book recounting his western trip. Townsend's report reveals a thorough knowledge of the lower elevation species inhabiting the area.38

Townsend's relationship with the region's Indians was ambivalent. He alternately saw them as a threat, pitied them, or used their services to his advantage. He wished the Christian missionaries good luck "in humanizing this miserable debased people." Perhaps amused by his interest in birds, the Indians called Townsend the "bird chief." They served him as collectors, bringing him many specimens of birds and mammals. Once, while after a species of jackrabbit at Fort Walla Walla, Townsend organized a collecting party of a dozen Indians with bows and arrows. He offered payment for the rarer species of birds he could not easily procure himself. In return for their efforts, above the prices he paid for specimens, Townsend provided medical care for several children, once concocting a medicine from the bark of the Pacific dogwood to treat malaria. In a darker sense, the Indians themselves became the subjects of Townsend's collecting. Robbing burial canoes, he gathered skulls, perhaps for S. G. Morton's craniographic research, and once tried to abscond with the mummified body of a young woman. Among the living, he recorded vocabularies of numerous tribes all along the Columbia drainage.39br>
Nuttall and Townsend, while certainly friends who travelled together on occasion, also collected apart from each other. Shyer and less comfortable among society, Nuttall perhaps was not as attracted to the Fort Vancouver community than the sociable Townsend, although Nuttall did visit the Lees' mission at Champoeg Settlement. Townsend and Nuttall had spent the winter of 1834-1835 together in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, escaping the "wet and disagreeable winter" in Oregon. Nuttall sailed again to the Islands the following winter, and his decision not to return to Oregon disconcerted Townsend, who felt deserted by his friend. Nuttall sailed with Townsend's bird specimens and ultimately into literature, encountering upon a San Diego beach his former student Richard Henry Dana, who later wrote of the odd encounter in Two Years Before the Mast.40

With Nuttall on the ship to the Sandwich Islands was Dr. Meredith Gairdner, the surgeon at Fort Vancouver and a man of some scientific persuasion himself. Gairdner was seeking relief from tuberculosis and in his absence John McLoughlin appointed Townsend as fort surgeon. Townsend held this post until Dr. William F. Tolmie arrived at the fort about six months later. Tolmie and Townsend became good friends and it is after Tolmie that Townsend named one of his new warblers.41

Townsend also served as magistrate of the first public trial in Oregon. A gunsmith employed at Wyeth's Fort William (his trading post on Sauvie Island) shot and killed the fort's tailor during an argument over a young, Indian woman. After hearing the evidence, resulting from Townsend's investigation and interviews, the jury ruled the killing was justifiable homicide. Townsend noted that the slain tailor was a man whose "appetite for ardent spirits was of the inordinate kind," on one occasion even decanting the alcohol off of a collection Townsend had made of lizards and snakes.42

On November 30, 1836, John Townsend left Oregon. As when he crossed the Pennsylvania border on the western journey and was emotionally affected by the thoughts of loved ones he might never see again, so, too, he regretted that leaving the Oregon country meant final goodbyes to good friends and companions. He had a particularly difficult time leaving John McLoughlin:

Much as I desire again to see home, much as I long to embrace those to whom I am attached by the strongest ties, I have nevertheless felt something very like regret at leaving Vancouver and its kind and agreeable residents. I took leave of Doctor McLoughlin with feelings akin to those with which I should bid adieu to an affectionate parent; and to his fervent, "God bless you, sir, and may you have a happy meeting with your friends," I could only reply by a look of the sincerest gratitude. Words are inadequate to express my deep sense of the obligations which I feel under to this truly generous and excellent man, and I fear I can only repay them by the sincerity with which I shall always cherish the recollection of his prosperity and happiness.

The Columbia reached Maui on December 22, 1836, and spent the next three months cruising amongst the Islands. While in the Sandwich Islands, Townsend busied himself with natural history collecting, getting the island residents to bring him birds, fishes, and shells. He collected for a time with a Prussian naturalist named Deppe, and together they discovered, as Townsend had done in Oregon, species of birds unknown to science before them. "Our object has been to procure birds, plants &c," Townsend wrote, "and we have so far been very successful. I have already prepared about eighty birds which I procured here." At least one species that Townsend and Deppe collected, the Oahu Oo, is now extinct, indeed, their collections are the last record of the bird. Besides pursuing his collecting activities, Townsend also found time to visit with missionaries and merchants. He enjoyed an audience with the king, Kamehameha III, and was present when Kamehameha received a message that his sister's, Nahienaena, health had worsened. After she died, Townsend attended the funeral rites.44

The long journey home led from the Sandwich Islands to Tahiti and Chile. In Valparaiso, Townsend became very ill and spent several weeks recovering, attended to by a doctor from Philadelphia. In September, Townsend rounded Cape Horn. While in the southern waters, he collected a number of pelagic birds. On November 14, 1837, his ship returned him to Philadelphia and to his family. He had been gone six months on the long trek west, over two years in the western wilderness, and one year on the journey home. Twenty-four years old when he left, he was now twenty-eight, and his collection of birds was already creating a sensation."

Nuttall took Townsend's collection of birds assembled at that time with him when he departed Oregon. The specimens arrived at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in June, 1836, and Nuttall arrived in Boston three months later. Audubon anxiously sought access to both the collection and the naturalist. At work on his monumental Birds of America and wanting to illustrate the western species, Audubon greatly desired to talk with Nuttall about his discoveries in the west and to see Townsend's specimens. Townsend's supporters in Philadelphia, however, felt that Townsend should be enabled to publish the results of his own field work. It was finally agreed that Audubon might purchase duplicates of Townsend's specimens and that he and Nuttall would prepare a paper, under Townsend's name, publishing the new species. Thus a year before John Townsend returned from his long sojourn, Samuel Morton read his paper at an Academy of Natural Sciences meeting.46

Audubon was delighted with Townsend's specimens and wrote about them to his friend John Bachman:

Now good friend open your Eyes! aye open them tight!! Nay place specks on your probosis if you chuse! Read aloud!! quite aloud!!!--I have purchased Nine Three Bird Skins! Yes 93 Bird Skins!--Well what are they? Why nought less than 93 Bird Skins sent from the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia River by Nuttal & Townsend!--Cheap as Dirt too--only one hundred and Eighty Four Dollars for the whole of these, and hang me if you do not echo my saying so when you see them!!--Such beauties! such rarities! Such Novelties! Ah my Worthy Friend how we will laugh and talk over them!--47

Audubon incorporated the species in Birds of America, drawing them while in Charleston at Bachman's home. He waited impatiently for Townsend's return from the west and the probability of additional specimens. When Townsend returned in November, 1837, Audubon, then in London, arranged through his friend Edward Harris to purchase as much of Townsend's collection as he could. These were sent to London directly to Audubon, after a delay that was perhaps a result of Townsend's unfavorable financial situation. Audubon painted these new birds for later installments of the Birds of America.48

About this time, Audubon grew very critical of Townsend, complaining to John Bachman privately that Townsend's correspondence about the birds contained so little information "that I cannot understand how he spent his whole days and years at Fort Vancouver. He later wrote, now back in the United States, that "I have seen a great deal of Townsend of late, and am sorry to say have lost much towards him, he has become or perhaps always was Lazy and careless in the extreme and hardly speaks of those who have befriended him when in need in sufficient words of gratitude." Audubon claimed that he had received very little that was new from Townsend.49

Certainly the latter assertion was not justified; of the 508 species Audubon included in the octavo edition of Birds of America, 74 were sent him by Townsend. Perhaps this criticism stems from two things. Townsend was critical of several statements in the fifth volume (1839) of Audubon's Ornithological Biography, the text to the folio plates of Birds of America. In marginal annotations to his personal copy, Townsend pointed out where Audubon misused both his and Nuttall's notes. Furthermore, Townsend felt that Audubon had not properly acknowledged their contributions and observations."50

Perhaps more threatening to the competitive Audubon was that Townsend was writing a book. He published the Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains in 1839, but began also the same year a projected work that would directly compete with Audubon (who seemed to feel that only he could describe or depict the western species). If Townsend's observations to Audubon were incomplete, it was perhaps because he intended to publish his own records in his own book. He envisioned his Ornithology of the United States as a multi-part, illustrated compendium of the country's birds. While he was to write the text, French artists would draw the birds "from nature." One part appeared, but not until 1849, treating, in twelve pages and four plates, three species of vultures and one of caracara. The book could not compete, however, against Audubon's octavo edition of Birds of America, which appeared in the 1840s. No other part of Townsend's projected book was ever published.51

The western expedition was in a real sense the climax of Townsend's ornithological career. He served as a curator of the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences and for the National Institution for the Promotion of Science in Washington, D.C., where he was instrumental in the growth and fine appearance of the ornithological collection. William Baird remarked that "Townsend can skin, stuff and sew up a bird, so as to make it look far superior to any I have ever seen, in five minutes." Townsend published articles relating to his western trip in the Proceedings of the National Institute and in the Literary Record, the organ of the Linnaean Association of Pennsylvania College, of which he was an officer. About this time, he married Miss Harriet Holmes, whose sister was the wife of William Baird, brother of the ornithologist Spencer Fullerton Baird. Townsend's personality and charm, courtesy and kindness, "his brilliant conversational powers, fortified with a vivacious intellect and a fund of knowledge covering almost all subjects" attracted people to him. Spencer Baird considered him among "the cleverest people of [his] acquaintance."52

Townsend could never overcome, though, disadvantageous financial difficulties. In 1843, he was discharged from his position at the National Institute, a result of a dispute between the Institute and Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition just completed. Instead, Townsend turned to dentistry, a career in which his brothers had achieved prominence But his curatorial duties had already adversely affected his health. Although William Baird considered Townsend's blend of arsenical powder (used in preparing and preserving bird skins) as safe, Townsend was continually exposed to this cumulative poison. His brother-in-law recalled seeing him, while preparing specimens, enveloped in a cloud of arsenic dust. Townsend hoped to serve as naturalist on an expedition to Africa, but he was too sick. On February 6, 1851, as the ships sailed from port, bound for the dark continent, John Kirk Townsend lost the light of life and died, at only 41 years of age.53

John Townsend has never received the focus that he warrants. Historians, focusing on the westward movement, treat him as a diarist. Certainly his Narrative is an important document of that event, an engaging, personal record of the first trek along what would shortly become the principal route to the Oregon country. But this focus blurs his accomplishments as a scientist. Unfortunately, historians of science and natural history too often focus their attention on the more widely travelled and renowned Thomas Nuttall, and treat Townsend as a peripheral character, as Nuttall's companion. They abandon Townsend in the Oregon wilderness, while Nuttall in their accounts sails away to Hawaii and California, later to be bound for home on Dana's Pilgrim.54

This has not always been true. Ornithologists of the late 1800s-early 1900s had the highest regard for Townsend's scientific accomplishments. Witmer Stone noted that Townsend's collection of western birds was the most important yet taken and formed the beginning of the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, recently considered one of the principal ornithological collections in the United States. Stone thought Townsend "a genius," whom by competition with a talented and dominant Audubon and his own financial difficulties was "prevented from reaching his proper place in ornithological annals." Theodore S. Palmer also considered him "a brilliant young ornithologist who lived in advance of his time."55

A new evaluation of Townsend's life should assume a more general focus, addressing other aspects of his experiences and career, than has been done in the past. All of the aspects of his career can be related to how he interpreted the western environment, or allowed others to interpret the opening frontier. Townsend's scientific activities, his role in bringing culture to the west and in its settlement are the pieces of the frame that define his life.

Scientific exploration was a creative way of interpreting the environment. Townsend possessed all of the traits of the naturalist identified by William Goetzmann: "The passion for organized information, a genius for accurate and meaningful observation, the collector's instinct, an eye for novelty, and most of all a love for the primitive and exotic. "His collections scientifically defined the new frontier for those scientists who could not experience it first hand. Townsend was the first ornithologist to convey to the cast what the western avian mosaic was like. His Narrative and the papers he published in the Academy of Natural Science's Journal informed other scientists of the new world in this new land. Thomas Nuttall used Townsend's, as well as his own, observations in the second edition of his Manual of Ornithology, as did Audubon in both the folio and octavo editions of the Birds of America and the Ornithological Biography. The western records in Thomas Brewer's "North American Oölogy" are Townsend's. His bird specimens were an important source for Baird, Cassin, and Lawrence's epochal Birds. For over twenty years, Townsend's observations in Oregon were not matched.56

His studies also made the far west more understandable to the average citizen. The collections pointed out the great similarities of Oregon to the settled parts of the country. Many of the bird species were identical to those in the east, while others differed only slightly in form or coloration. This reinforced the idea that Oregon was not an alien land but a familiar one, a desirable destination for anyone seeking a new beginning.

In a broader sense, Townsend helped open the west to culture and commerce. As a literate Philadelphian, he filled a part in the cultural environment of Fort Vancouver and western Oregon in the 1830s. He was an early practicioner of medicine in the northwest. He served as magistrate of the first public trial in Oregon.57

The Wyeth expedition of 1834 was a remarkable venture that united commerce, religion, and science. Each played a significant part in an interpretation of the west that attracted newcomers to Oregon. Wyeth revealed the route to the Oregon country and suggested the financial possibilities on the west coast. The missionaries brought the white man's culture to the wilderness and in letters home drew a seductive picture of the attractions of Oregon. Townsend's bird report in Parker's Journal of an Exploring Tour reached a religious audience his Narrative depicted the west in honest and appealing terms for a secular, east coast audience.58

John Kirk Townsend was a member of what William Goetzmann has called the second great age of discovery. Townsend contributed to the scientific discovery of the region and in so doing facilitated its use and exploitation by those following him. Science, as represented by Townsend, joined hands with commerce and religion in opening the west. He served an equal part, with the businessman and the missionaries, in forging a new interpretation of the west, a new vision, that others could use in forming new ideas, new dreams, about this new land.

Acknowledgements

Several individuals at Oregon State University Press made this edition possible. I would especially like to thank Jeffrey Grass, Warren Slesinger, Jo Alexander, Amy Callahan, and Tami Hotard. Patti Fowler offered a critical reading of the introduction. As always, my family, Margaret Hadaway, Jessica Jobanek, and Andy Jobanek, provided their support and encouragement.

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