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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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The 1899 Expedition
The 1899
Expedition


 

Original Participants
Original
Participants

Brief Chronology
Brief
Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Science
Aboard the
Elder

History of Exploration
Exploration &
Settlement

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities
Alaska
Natives

 

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George Bird Grinnell

1849-1938


George Grinnell

George Bird Grinnell
The aptly named George Bird Grinnell developed an early and abiding love for birds. As a boy, he attended school in John James Audubon's mansion in Assigning, New York, near the Grinnell family home. In fact, George and his brothers and sisters knew the Audubon family well, and freely roamed the grounds and the buildings of the estate. They played in the barn that housed huge collections of birds skins and specimens.

Grinnell studied at Yale, graduating with only a mediocre record, but with an intense desire to be a naturalist. He talked his way onto a fossil collecting expedition in 1870, and then served as the naturalist on Custer's expedition to the Black Hills in 1874. Grinnell was interested in what he could learn from the Indian tribes of the region, and early on was well known for his ability to get along with Indian elders. The Pawnee called him White Wolf, and eventually adopted him into the tribe. The Gros Ventre called him Gray Clothes, the Black Feet "Fisher Hat." The Cheyenne called him wikis which means "bird," observing that he came and went with the seasons. His writings from this period are considered topnotch in the field of anthropology, and he served as an advocate for Native Americans for his entire life.

Grinnell was also editor of Forest and Stream, the leading natural history magazine in North America, the founder of the Audubon Society and the Boone and Crockett Club, and an advisor to Theodore Roosevelt. Glacier National Park came about largely through his efforts.

On the Harriman Expedition, Grinnell was photographer Edward Curtis's mentor. They had met years earlier when Grinnell and a group of friends became lost while climbing Mt. Rainier. Curtis, who had been photographing the mountain for years, led the party to safety. Grinnell recommended Curtis to Harriman as expedition photographer. In turn, it was on their Alaskan cruise that Grinnell piqued Curtis's interest in the plight of the Native Americans. "White men, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, already swarm over the Alaskan coast...in a short time they will ruin and disperse the wholesome, hearty, merry people whom we saw at Port Clarence and Plover Bay."

After the expedition, Grinnell went on to work for fair and reasonable treaties with Native American tribes, and for the preservation of America's wild lands and resources. When he died in 1938, at age 89, the New York Herald Tribune wrote that his achievements had marked him as "the noblest Roman of them all."

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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