Missouri's First Botanists

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

got himself invited to ac-company Bradbury, he occasionally got lost and tended to use his rifle to uproot plants instead of for its intended purpose.

Although they covered the same territory and saw the same flora, the two made independent collections, with each intending to study his own botanical treasures in England after the trip.

Upon returning to St. Louis, however, the two men's careers took dramatically different turns. Nuttall took a relatively fast boat south to New Orleans and sailed to England, where he spent several years studying his specimens at the British Museum of Natural History and gaining a reputation in scientific circles.

He published his botanical masterwork on North American plants in 1818 and went on to become one of the most celebrated botanists of his day, completing two more major expeditions during his lifetime and receiving a position at Harvard University.

Bradbury took a somewhat slower boat to New Orleans. He was further delayed by arriving in the New Madrid area just as the disastrous earthquake of December 1811 occurred. By the time he was ready to sail for England, the War of 1812 had started, preventing his voyage.

Bradbury did not reach England until 1817, but his specimens had made it there before the war. In London, the botanical pirate, Frederic Pursh, gained access to this treasure trove of plants and published descriptions of the species new to science without Bradbury's knowledge or permission. This effectively ruined Bradbury's career in science, and he died in relative obscurity in 1823, never having contributed to botanical research or exploration again.

William Baldwin

It was not until 1819 that another major expedition involving botanists started in Missouri. The Yellowstone Expedition was the first scientific expedition funded by the U.S. government and was intended to map and explore a vast area of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

The officer in charge was Major Stephen Harriman Long, who led a crew of specialists in zoology, geology, cartography, journalism, art and botany. The initial botanist was the ill-fated William Baldwin, who had a long history of poor health and apparently thought that extended travel would benefit his condition. However, none of the scientists was prepared for the trip's rigors and the poor living conditions aboard their boat.

Within three weeks, Baldwin became too sick to continue and had to be dropped off at Franklin, in Howard County, where he died soon after. This forced Long to

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