06 July 2005

The life and times of Thomas Say 2

In 1819, Thomas Say was appointed as zoologist on Major Stephen H. Long’s expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Besides Say, the party also included a botanist, a geologist, military topographers, an assistant zoologist (Titian Peale) and an artist (Samuel Seymour) whose job was to paint pictures of landscapes and Indians.

They left Pittsburgh in May 1819 on the steamboat Western Engineer, travelling up the Ohio river. On September 19 they reached a place on the west bank of the Missouri near the border of the present day Nebraska and Iowa. They called this place Engineer Cantonment*, built cabins for themselves and stayed there until June 1820.


They reached the Rocky Mountains at the end of June. During their return trip, a party including Say was robbed by 3 deserters who took not only their wardrobe and horses but also Say’s journals. The expedition ended when they arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in September.


Members of Long's expedition meeting with Indians. The officer with shoulder knots sitting in the front is Major Long, while the man with prominent sideburns to his left is Say. Painting by Samuel Seymour, 1819. The original is in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.


To be continued.

*Recent archaeological work that has been carried out at the remains of Engineer Cantonment is detailed in this publication from Nebraska State Historical Society. Note that although Say is referred to as “Dr. Thomas Say”, he didn’t actually have a formal degree.

Expedition map is from Evans, H.E. 1997. The Natural History of the Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Oxford University Press.

2 comments:

Art Schmaltz said...

o my...
What became of the journals? Was he able to recreate them?

TroutGrrrl said...

Hey Aydin,

Thanks for posting on this subject. I learned something today...

TG