Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Titian Ramsay Peale, naturalist, scientific illustrator, and explorer, meticulously depicted the birds, insects, and plants of the Central Plains with high-quality sketches and paintings during the 1820s and 1830s.

Peale was born on November 2, 1799, in Philadelphia, the son of Charles Willson Peale, an artist who founded the Philadelphia (or Peale's) Museum. From an early age he demonstrated an unusual ability as a naturalist and artist. Peale's first exploration came on an 1817 trip to eastern Florida and the Sea Islands of Carolina. Then, in 1819, he was appointed as the assistant naturalist for Maj. Stephen H. Long's scientific expedition. Ordered to explore the Central Plains and the major streams that crossed it, the scientists began their journey aboard the steamboat Western Engineer. They halted for the winter of 1819–20 near present-day Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. The next summer Long led the group overland along the Platte River to the Front Range of the Rockies. For three months they observed, mapped, sketched, and gathered plant and animal specimens, returning along the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers. Because of the scarcity of water and trees on the Plains they traversed, the explorers labeled the region the Great American Desert.

Peale's ensuing reputation as a scientific illustrator resulted from the 122 paintings and drawings he made while on the expedition. His work included colored plates of birds drawn for Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology (1824-33) and of insects for Thomas Say's multivolume American Entomology (1824-28). For the next several decades he remained one of the top scientific illustrators of the flora and fauna of the Central Plains while serving as the curator of Peale's Museum and also designing coins for the U.S. Mint. He joined Charles Wilkes's 1838-42 scientific expedition to the Pacific, but conflicts with Wilkes prevented a definitive publication of his drawings from the voyage. Peale then worked for the U.S. Patent Office until his retirement in 1873. He died on March 13, 1885, in Philadelphia.

See also WAR: Long, Stephen H..

Roger L. Nichols University of Arizona

Poesch, Jessie. Titian Ramsay Peale, 1799–1885 and His Journals of the Wilkes Expedition. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1961.

Porter, Charlotte M. The Eagle's Nest: Natural History and American Ideas, 1812– 1842. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1986.

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