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COLLECTION Identifier: MS AmW 2

Edward Palmer papers relating to the American West

Papers of English-born, American ethnobotanist Edward Palmer, concerning the American West.


  • 1840-1914


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


3 linear feet (8 boxes)

Includes: autograph manuscript notes; photographs, including cabinet photographs, cyanotype prints, stereographs, and photomechanical prints; maps; correspondence with Edward Palmer; drawings; broadsides; and extensive printed clippings, pamphlets, reprints, reports, and articles. Also includes the 1914 printed sales catalogue for the sale of Palmer's papers by the Merwin Sales Company.

Topics included in collection materials: Western American Indian tribes such as the Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, Tonkawa, Sac and Fox, Mohave, and many others; Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas; gold fever; Mormans in Utah; and many other subjects relating to the American West. Photographs include the following topics: Arizona towns, forts, barracks, cliff ruins, Native Americans, geographic features, mounds, etc...; California towns, San Diego, missions, Santa Rosalea, San Jose Del Cabo, San Pedro Martir Island [Palmer spells it "Martier"], St. George (Utah), Salt Lake City (Utah), railroads in Utah, Colorado River, etc...

Biographical / Historical

Edward Palmer (1829-1911), often regarded as "the father of ethnobotany," was born in England on January 12, 1829, and later emigrated to the United States. He developed an interest in natural history collecting under the tutelage of Dr. Jared Kirtland in Cleveland, Ohio, who taught him to prepare bird skins to dry and to press plants. He had his first major opportunity to collect when he was appointed to Captain Page's Water Witch expedition to Paraguay as hospital steward and botanical collector in 1853. After the Paraguay expedition he went to England to visit his mother, where he was married to Dinah Riches in 1856, and then came back to the U. S. He studied medicine for a few months in Cleveland at the Cleveland Homeopathic College, then he lived in Kansas and Colorado, and for a few months in California, where he worked on the Geological Survey of California collecting marine invertebrates. During the Civil War, he did medical work in army outposts in the Southwest for a while after the war. He managed to make natural history collections while working for the U. S. Army. The rest of his life was mostly taken up with making archaeological, zoological and botanical collections for a variety of patrons, primarily in southwestern U. S. and Mexico. He is best known for his botanical collections, which are said to number over 100,00 specimens. He made numerous botanical collecting trips to Mexico from 1878 to 1910. Palmer also was known for extensive surveys of Indian mounds in the eastern U. S. including: Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and other states.


Arranged alphabetically by title of topic. This order also reflects the naming of each group of the collection as listed in the original sales catalogue (see item (1)) for Edward Palmer's collection.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Purchased with the Charles Elliott Perkins Memorial fund from Merwin Sales Company; received: 1914 March 16.

Item (1): Gratis gift; received: 1914 February 27.

Forms part of the collection of Western Americana manuscripts at Houghton Library, collected under the auspices of the Harvard Commission on Western History.

Collection was formerly cataloged as MS AmW 2-2.298. Numbers were changed during full cataloging of the collection in 2013.

Related Materials

Additional papers relating to Edward Palmer can be found at the Gray Herbarium Archives, Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Palmer’s botanical collections (numbering over 100,000) are mostly pressed and dried and reside at research institutions around the world. These institutions include the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the New York Botanical Garden, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, the British Museum, and many others. The Palmer botanical collection in the U. S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution remains the largest.

General note

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt
Link to catalog
Palmer, Edward, 1829-1911. Edward Palmer papers relating to the American West, 1840-1914 (MS AmW 2): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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