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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Lewis' Letter to Jefferson

St Louis, March 26th 1804

Dear Sir: I send you herewith inclosed, some slips of the Osages Plum, and Apple... I obtained the cuttings, now sent you, from the garden of Mr. Peter Choteau, who resided the greater portion of his time for many years with the Osage nation.   it is from this gentleman, that I obtained the information I possess with respect to these fruits...

The Osage Apple is a native of the interior of the continent of North America, and is perhaps a nondiscript production,   the information I have obtained with respect to it is not so minute as I could wish, nor such as will enable me to discribe it in a satisfactory manner.   Mr. Peter Coteau, who first introduced this tree in the neighbourhood of St Louis, about five years since, informed me, that he obtained the young plants at the great Osage village from an Indian of that nation, who said he procured them about three hundred miles west of that place.  the general contour of this tree, is mery much that of the black haw, common to most parts of the U states, with these diferences however, that the bark is of a lighter color, less branced and arrives to a larger size, sometimes rising to the hight of thirty feet.   it's smaller branches are armed with many single, long, & sharp, pinated thorns.   the particular form of the leaf or flower I have been unable to learn.   so much do the savages esteem the wood of this tree, for the purpose of making their bows, that they travel many hundred miles in quest for it.  The particulars in respect to the fruit, is taken principally from the Indian description ; - my informant never having seen but one specimen of it, which was not full ripe, and much shrivled and mutilated before he saw it.   the Indians give an extravigant account of the exquisite odour of this fruit when it has obtained maturity, which takes place the latter end of the summer, or the beginning of Autumn.   they state, that at this season they can always tell by the scent of the fruit when they arrive in the neighbourhod of the tree, and usually take advantage of this season to obtain the wood;   as it appears not be a very abundant growth, even in the country where it is to be found an opinion prevails among the Osages, that the fruit is poisonous, tho' they acknowledge they have never tasted it.   They say that many anamals feed on it, and among others, a large species of Hare, which abounds in that country.  This fruit is the size of the largest orange, of a globular form, and a fine orange colour.   the pulp is contained in a number of conacal pustules, covered with a smooth membranous rind, having their smaller extremities attached to the matrix, from which they project in every direction, in such manner, as to form a compact figure.   the form and consistancy of the matrix and germ, I have not been able to learn.   the trees which are in the possession of Mr Choteau have as yet produced neither flowers nor fruit...

[From original MS. in Bureau of Rolls - Jefferson Papers, series 2, vol 51, doc.106]

 
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