Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7364
Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman Collection, circa 1873-1946 and undated
The biological explorations made by Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman in Mexico from 1892 to 1906 have been described as ". . . among the most important ever achieved by two workers for any single country." They conducted investigations in every state in Mexico, collecting 17,400 mammals and 12,400 birds, as well as amassing an enormous fund of information on the natural history of the country. The best account of the work is Goldman's Biological Investigations in Mexico, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 115, July 1951.
EDWARD WILLIAM NELSON (1855-1934)
Described by Theodore Roosevelt as ". . . one of the keenest naturalists we have ever had . . .," Edward William Nelson was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. He developed an interest in the outdoors around his boyhood home in New England, and in Chicago where his family moved in 1868. Shortly after enrolling in Cooke County Normal School in 1872, Nelson was invited to join Edward Drinker Cope and Samuel Garman on a fossil collecting trip to the Badlands of Wyoming. After returning to Chicago, his interest in natural history continued to grow as he became acquainted with Joel Asaph Allen, Robert Ridgway, Stephen A. Forbes, Henry W. Henshaw and others.
In the winter of 1876, Nelson traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet Spencer F. Baird, Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and enlist his help in securing a position as a field naturalist. Through Baird's influence, Nelson traveled to Alaska as a weather observer in the Signal Corps of the United States Army in April 1877. From June 1877 to June 1881, he was stationed at St. Michael on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska with a charge to ". . . secure an unbroken series of meteorological observations, and, in addition, to obtain all the information possible concerning the geography, ethnology, and zoology of the surrounding region." Nelson made several dog-sled excursions around the region, compiling data on the lives and customs of the native people, and making ethnological and natural history collections for the Smithsonian. The results of his work were published in "Report upon Natural History Collections Made in Alaska between the Years 1877-1881," 1887, and "The Eskimo about Bering Strait," 1900. In June 1881, he accompanied the revenue steamer Corwin on its search for the missing arctic ship Jeannette. The expedition was the first to reach and explore Wrangell Island.
Nelson spent most of the period from 1882 until 1890 in Arizona recovering from pulmonary tuberculosis contracted in Washington, D.C., while preparing his report on the birds of Alaska. In 1890, he accepted an appointment as a Special Field Agent with the Death Valley Expedition under C. Hart Merriam, Chief of the Division of Ornithology and Mammalogy, United States Department of Agriculture. This was the start of a career with the Division and its successor, the Bureau of Biological Survey, that would continue until 1929. In January 1892, Nelson received orders to conduct a three-month field survey in Mexico with Edward Alphonso Goldman, whom he had recently hired as an assistant. The trip evolved into an exhaustive, fourteen-year biological investigation of the entire country.
After concluding the Mexico work, Nelson's duties with the Bureau of Biological Survey gradually shifted from scientific to administrative. He was Chief Field Naturalist, 1907-1912; Assistant in charge of Biological Investigations, 1913-1914; Assistant Chief, 1914-1916; Chief, 1916-1927; and Senior Biologist, 1927-1929. Nelson was also an honorary Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution from 1930 until his death. During the decade in which he led the Biological Survey, Nelson was actively involved in most of the major conservation issues of the era. He helped negotiate the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1916 with Great Britain and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Public Shooting Grounds-Game Refuge Bill, the Alaska Game Law Bill, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. He was also instrumental in developing policies to improve conditions of domestic reindeer herds in Alaska, and the promoting of bird-banding as a method of ornithological research.
In the field, Nelson was an all-round naturalist, observing and collecting most things that he encountered. He was a prolific author, and his bibliography included over two hundred titles, mostly concerning birds and mammals. Over one hundred animals and plants were named in his honor. Nelson Island and Nelson Lagoon, along the coast of the Bering Sea, and Nelson Range, a short mountain range in California, also bear his name. Nelson was President of the American Ornithologists' Union, 1908-1909, the Biological Society of Washington, 1912-1913, and the American Society of Mammalogists, 1920-1923. He received an honorary M.A. from Yale University in 1920, and an honorary Doctor of Science from the George Washington University in the same year.
Nelson was involved with the Goldman family in the operation of fruit orchards in California and Arizona. He was a co-owner and director of the Nelson-Goldman Orchard Company, 1911-1934, and the Arizona Orchard Company, 1921-1923.
For more detailed biographical information on Nelson, see Edward Alphonso Goldman, "Edward William Nelson - Naturalist," The Auk, April 1935, vol. 52, no. 2; Margaret Lantis, "Edward William Nelson," Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska, December 1954, vol. 3, no. 1; and William W. Fitzhugh and Susan A. Kaplan, Inua. Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimo, (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982).
EDWARD ALPHONSO GOLDMAN (1873-1946)
Edward Alphonso Goldman, field naturalist and mammalogist, was born in Mount Carroll, Illinois. His family moved to Tulare County, California, in 1888, and he went to work as a foreman in a vineyard near Fresno at the age of seventeen. After a fortuitous meeting between his father and Edward William Nelson of the Bureau of Biological Survey, Goldman was hired by Nelson in January 1892 to assist his biological investigations of California and Mexico. Thus began an association with Nelson and the Biological Survey that would continue for the remainder of his life. Shortly thereafter, he received appointment as a Field Naturalist with the Biological Survey, and he spent most of the next fourteen years with Nelson collecting in every region of Mexico.
Goldman served in a variety of positions with the Biological Survey. He was Field Naturalist, 1892-1917; Biologist in Charge, Division of Biological Investigations, 1919-1925; Biologist in Charge, Game and Bird Reservations, 1925-1928; and Senior Biologist, Division of Biological Investigations, 1928-1943. Goldman also had an honorary position with the Smithsonian Institution as Associate in Zoology from 1928 to 1946. His service with the Biological Survey was marked by extensive field investigations in every region of the United States.
In 1911-1912, Goldman conducted faunal studies as part of the Biological Survey of Panama during construction of the canal. His results were published in The Mammals of Panama in 1920. During World War I, he was a Major in the Sanitary Corps of the American Expeditionary Forces, in charge of rodent control in France. In 1936, he was chosen to assist the United States Government in negotiations with Mexico for the protection of migratory birds and game mammals.
Goldman's bibliography included more than two hundred titles. He named over three hundred forms of mammals, most of them subspecies. Approximately fifty mammals, birds, reptiles, mollusks, and plants bear his name. Goldman Peak in Baja California was also named in his honor. A member of many professional organizations, Goldman was President of the Biological Society of Washington, 1927-1929, and the American Society of Mammalogists, 1946.
For additional biographical information on Goldman, see Stanley P. Young, "Edward Alphonso Goldman: 1873-1946," Journal of Mammalogy, May 1947, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 91-109.
- CHRONOLOGY OF THE LIFE OF EDWARD WILLIAM NELSON
- Born in Manchester, New Hampshire, May 8
- Family moved to Chicago
- Assisted Edward Drinker Cope and Samuel Garman on a fossil collecting expedition to the Badlands of Wyoming
- Visited Washington, D.C. and met Spencer F. Baird
- Weather Observer for the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army at St. Michael, Alaska. Made extensive natural history and ethnology collections and observations of the Bering Strait Eskimos.
- Accompanied revenue steamer Corwin on search for missing arctic exploring ship Jeannette. Was a member of the first party to explore Wrangell Island.
- "Report upon Natural History Collections made in Alaska between the years 1877-1881" (Arctic Series of Publications Issued in Connection with the Signal Service, United States Army, no. 3)
- Special Field Agent, Death Valley Expedition, Division of Ornithology and Mammalogy, United States Department of Agriculture
- Field Naturalist, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Field investigations of Mexico with Edward Alphonso Goldman
- "Revision of the Squirrels of Mexico and Central America" (Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences, vol. 1)
- "The Eskimo about Bering Strait" (Eighteenth Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, Pt. 1)
- Chief Field Naturalist, Bureau of Biological Survey
- President, American Ornithologists' Union
- "The Rabbits of North America" (U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, North American Fauna, no. 29)
- Part owner, Nelson-Goldman Orchard Company, Orosi, California
- President, Biological Society of Washington
- Assistant in charge of Biological Investigations, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Assistant Chief, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Chief, Bureau of Biological Survey
- "Wild Animals of North America" (National Geographic Society; rev. ed., 1930)
- Vice-President, American Society of Mammalogists
- Honorary Master of Arts, Yale University
- Honorary Doctor of Science, George Washington University
- President, American Society of Mammalogists
- President and Director, Arizona Orchard Company
- "Lower California and its Natural Resources" (Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 16)
- Senior Biologist, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Research Associate, Smithsonian Institution
- Death, May 19
- CHRONOLOGY OF THE LIFE OF EDWARD ALPHONSO GOLDMAN
- Born in Mount Carroll, Illinois, July 7
- Family moved to Tulare County, California
- Hired by Edward William Nelson as a field assistant, beginning a long professional and personal association
- Field Naturalist, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Biological investigations of Mexico, mostly with Nelson
- Revision of the Wood Rats of the Genus Neotoma (U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, North American Fauna, no. 31)
- Revision of the Spiny Pocket Mice (genera Heteromys and Liomys) (U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, North American Fauna, no. 34)
- Conducted faunal studies as part of the Biological Survey of the Panama Canal Zone
- Biological investigations of Arizona
- Rice Rats of North America (U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, North American Fauna, no. 43)
- Major, Sanitary Corps, American Expeditionary Forces, in charge of rodent control in France
- Biologist in Charge, Division of Biological Investigations, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Mammals of Panama (Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 69, no. 5)
- Reserve Major, Sanitary Corps, U.S. Army
- Biologist in Charge, Game and Bird Reservations, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Senior Biologist, Division of Biological Investigations, Bureau of Biological Survey
- Associate in Zoology, United States National Museum
- 1936 assisted with negotiations of United States-Mexico migratory bird and mammal treaty
- "The Wolves of North America," with Stanley P. Young (American Wildlife Institute)
- Collaborator, United States Fish and Wildlife Service
- President, American Society of Mammalogists
- "The Puma: Mysterious American Cat," with Stanley P. Young (American Wildlife Institute)
- Death, Washington, D.C., September 2
- Biological Investigations in Mexico (Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 115)
This collection consists primarily of papers documenting the professional career and personal life of Edward William Nelson. A smaller amount of material was created by Edward Alphonso Goldman and relates to both professional and private matters. Apparently, Goldman assumed control of Nelson's papers after the latter's death, probably for reference in his continuing work summarizing the results of their Mexico field investigations. Due the pair's close professional relationship, it was decided to keep the collection intact. The papers of each individual have been kept distinct and reside in separate series, with the exception of photographs, which mostly document the Mexico field work. Other photographic materials have been placed in the same series as a matter of convenience.
Nelson's papers are valuable in documenting his work as a field naturalist, particularly in Alaska and Mexico; his administrative career with the Bureau of Biological Survey and consequential involvement in conservation issues of the day; his research on birds and mammals; his participation in professional societies and conservation organizations; personal and family matters; and commercial ventures, especially his ownership of fruit-growing businesses in California and Arizona.
The papers include a large file of incoming and outgoing correspondence that relates to all aspects of his professional life, but is particularly important in documenting his administrative tenure with the Bureau of Biological Survey, 1914-1927. The letters provide information on the role of the Biological Survey in conservation issues of the era, as well as Nelson's own attitudes on the matters--attitudes that sometimes clashed with other conservationists, including William Temple Hornaday. He corresponded extensively with most of the major figures in the conservation movement including Hornaday, John B. Burnham, Charles Sheldon, George Bird Grinnell, and John C. Phillips. Especially well represented by correspondence are the negotiations for the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, 1916, and the protracted fight over the Public Shooting Grounds-Game Refuge Bill during the 1920s. The correspondence also relates Nelson's role in the formative periods of several professional societies and conservation organizations including the American Society of Mammalogists, the American Game Protective Association, and the American Wild Fowlers.
Nelson's career as an explorer and field worker is documented in a series of journals and notebooks maintained between 1877 and 1930. The journals kept during his landmark work in Alaska and Mexico provide a running narrative of his daily activities and include notes on the fauna, flora, and physiography of the areas explored; information on specimens and artifacts collected; observations on native peoples and their cultures; and sketches of people, villages, fauna, and natural phenomena. The journals from his Alaska work are relatively complete; however, journals from the Mexico investigations from 1903 to 1906 are missing. Also included is a journal from the Death Valley Expedition, 1890-1891, and journals and notebooks kept during many of Nelson's official trips for the Bureau of Biological Survey.
The collection includes a series of records documenting Nelson's private life and business affairs. Especially well represented is his involvement with the Nelson-Goldman Orchard Company, 1911-1933, and the Arizona Orchard Company, 1921-1923. Also included is a voluminous correspondence with his brother, Fred W. Nelson, which concerns family and business matters; and various records concerning health issues, investments, real estate, and other financial matters.
Nelson's research is documented in a large series of notes, lists, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, photographs, and publications. Most of the material concerns his work on birds and mammals. The file also contains collected materials on many of the conservation issues of the day.
The papers of Edward Alphonso Goldman found in this collection are just a fragment of the material generated during his long career with the Bureau of Biological Survey. They are most valuable in documenting his biological survey of Mexico with Nelson. Included is an incomplete series of journals which contain a chronological narrative of Goldman's activities. Specific volumes are devoted to notes of birds and mammals observed and collected. Other papers of Goldman include correspondence, mostly with Nelson, and his brothers, George and Luther; and materials documenting his research on mammals.
The collection contains a series of photographs, photograph albums, and glass plate negatives documenting the careers of both men. Most of the material relates to their biological investigations of Mexico, 1892-1906. Included are images of areas visited, native peoples, and flora and fauna. Many of the photographs are unidentified. Also included are photographs of Nelson and Goldman; photographs of colleagues; and photographs taken in France during Goldman's service in World War I.
The collection also contains some papers of the conservationist Charles Sheldon, a close personal friend of Nelson. Apparently, Nelson acquired the papers when he was writing a biographical memorial on Sheldon. They consist of correspondence, notes, photographs, manuscripts, and related materials documenting Sheldon's work in conservation and natural history.
Finally, the collection includes a manuscript (with Nelson's annotations) of George Shiras' "Hunting Wild Life with Camera and Flashlight; A Record of Sixty-Five Years' Visits to the Woods and Waters of North America," and a few pieces of correspondence concerning the manuscript.
Additional materials documenting field work of Nelson and Goldman can be found in Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7176, Field Reports of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1860-1961, Field Reports. Voluminous field notebooks, lists, and other specimen related records for both men are housed in the Division of Birds and the Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Nelson, Edward William, 1855-1934
- Goldman, Edward Alphonso, 1873-1946
- Sheldon, Charles, 1867-1928
- Shiras, George, 1859-1942
- Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942
- United States. Bureau of Biological Survey
- United States. Army. Signal Corps
- United States. Department of Agriculture
- American Ornithologists' Union
- Biological Society of Washington
- American Society of Mammalogists
- Yale University
- George Washington University
- United States. Army. American Expeditionary Forces
- Biological Survey of the Panama Canal Zone (1911-1912)
- Corwin (Ship)
- Death Valley Expedition (1891)
- World War, 1914-1918
- Saint Michael (Alaska)
- Wrangell Island (Wrangell, Alaska)
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7364, Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman Collection