Colorado Exploring Expedition (Ives Expedition)
The Colorado Exploring Expedition (Ives Expedition)
(1857 - 1858)
In the 1850s, the Colorado River had great potential to become an important shipping route and several companies were exploring the area. Furthermore, the Federal government needed a route for the transportation of troops and supplies to Utah, where the Mormon War was intensifying. In order to determine the navigability of the river, the War Department funded the Colorado Exploring Expedition, also known as the Ives Expedition. This topographical corps survey lasted from 1857 to 1858 and was led by Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives.
John S. Newberry, who served as the expedition naturalist, collected most of the botanical specimens, which were later sent to Asa Gray at Harvard to study and catalogue. He collected in several unexplored locations, and was the first to collect a specimen of the bigcone Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa), one of only two species of the Pseudotsuga genus found in North America. Many of the plants in his collection were new to science, and several were named in his honor, such as Newberry’s twinpod (Physaria newberryi, in collection), Newberry’s milkvetch (Astragalus newberryi), and Newberry’s velvetmallow (Abutilon newberryi).
Though he may not have known it at the time, Newberry also collected several species of plants used by Native American tribes of the Great Basin area. The seeds of Mentzelia involucrata were used as a staple food source. The Cahuilla tribe ground the seeds to flour and then mixed them into a mush to be eaten. The children of the Kawaiisu tribe, however, used the plant in a very different way; they threw the sticky, difficult-to-remove leaves at one another as part of a game. Eschscholtzia californica was also used by Native American tribes. This American poppy, a relative of the Asian opium poppy, was used in an incredible variety of applications, including a toothache remedy, an analgesic, a poison, a candy, a vegetable, and an insecticide. The same plant later became the state flower of California.
Newberry was impressed by the number of plants that had adapted to grow in the harsh environment around the Colorado River; he collected specimens such as rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata) in very dry areas. The harshness of the land, particularly in the Grand Canyon, also prevented Ives from anticipating the huge number of people that would later visit. He wrote that “[o]urs has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party… to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”
Beidleman, Richard G. California’s Frontier Naturalists. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
Berger, Todd R. It Happened at Grand Canyon. Guilford, Connecticut: Twodot, 2007.
Ives, Joseph C. Report upon the Colorado River of the West, Explored in 1857 and 1858 by Lieutenant Joseph C. Ives, Corps of Topographical Engineers, Under the Direction of the Office of Explorations and Surveys, A. A. Humphreys, Captain Topographical Engineers, in Charge. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1861.
Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1998.
Reinhartz, Dennis and Gerald D. Saxon. Mapping and Empire: Soldier-Engineers on the Southwestern Frontier. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2005.
Sandweiss, Martha A. Print the Legend: Photography and the American West. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.