Death Valley Expedition (1891)

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The Death Valley Expedition was the first biological survey to commence from an 1890 act of Congress. The act appropriated funds to send expeditions to discover the geographic distributions of plants and animals in the United States. Roughly 100,000 square miles of southern California and adjoining portions of Nevada, Southwestern Utah, and Northwestern Arizona were part of the expedition’s focus. The Mohave Desert, the Sierra Nevada, parts of the Tejon Mountains, and areas of Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties were all explored in detail. The expeditionary force consisted of 20 men in total. Botanist Frederick Vernon Coville—the first curator of the U.S. National Herbarium—accompanied the expedition. He collected plants and, in accordance to the wishes of Congress, noted areas where different species flourished or faded. Retired U.S. Army General and botanist, Frederick Funston, and zoologist Edward William Nelson also took part in the expedition. Naturalist C. Hart Merriam was also part of the survey, during which he collected 6,000 specimens of mammals, 4,500 insects, roughly a thousand birds, reptiles, amphibians, a number of fish, mollusks, and some 25,000 plants.


  • Coville, F.V. Botany of the Death Valley Expedition. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1893.
  • Humphrey, H.B. Makers of North American Botany. New York: The Ronald Press Co, 1961.
  • Merriam, C.H. The Death Valley Expedition: A Biological Survey of Parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Washington, D.C.: Government PrintingOffice, 1893.

Date Range

1891 - 1891


  • Animals
  • Herpetology
  • Zoology
  • Birds
  • Mollusks
  • Plants
  • Botany
  • Ornithology


  • Mojave Desert
  • San Luis Obispo
  • United States
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Tejon Hills
  • California
  • Monterey
  • Arizona
  • Utah
  • Nevada


Expedition name