Preserving Animals, Establishing Identity: Taxidermy and Specimen Collection in the Pikes Peak Region, 1870–1930

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:40 AM
Centennial Ballroom F (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Steve Ruskin, independent scholar
For roughly sixty years, while south-central Colorado transitioned from a nearly unpopulated frontier to a settled and increasingly urban area, three naturalists (Charles Aiken, Edward Warren, and William Sclater) preserved and cataloged thousands of examples of the region’s fauna. Their efforts were both commercial and scientific, but the end result was a biogeographical record of an important Rocky Mountain region. Their specimens—primarily birds and mammals—are still studied today.

My paper will endeavor to make some connections between animal history and the history of science. Included will be some discussion of the way the work of these three naturalists preserved knowledge of species that were lost or whose habitats were dramatically altered as the American West was rapidly populated. I will also discuss the difficulties an historian may experience when working with preserved specimens (e.g. the fact that most such specimens were preserved with arsenic). I will conclude with a discussion of the role of scientific patronage and civic identity in animal preservation—these naturalists were funded in part by the builder of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and founder of Colorado Springs, the wealthy American Civil War hero, General William Jackson Palmer.