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Guide to the C. Hart Merriam Papers Volume 2: Correspondence; Papers Relating to Career With United States Biological Survey, 1798-1972 (bulk 1871-1942)
Microfilm copies: BANC FILM 1958 Originals: BANC MSS 83/129 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: C. Hart Merriam Papers, Volume 2: Correspondence; Papers Relating to Career With United States Biological Survey,
    Date (inclusive): 1798-1972
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1871-1942)
    Collection Number: Microfilm copies: BANC FILM 1958

    Originals: BANC MSS 83/129 c
    Creator: Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942
    Extent: Microfilm copy: 216 reels Originals: Number of containers: 52 boxes, 24 cartons, 33 volumes, 1 oversize folder Linear feet: 65
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Correspondence, letterpress copybooks, manuscripts, notes, clippings, pamphlets, printed matter, scrapbooks, notebooks, certificates and financial papers documenting this naturalist's long and varied career. The papers cover a wide range of topics including natural history, zoology, ornithology, geography, geographic distribution, botany and wildlife conservation. The extensive correspondence files include prominent individuals from many of the fields noted above, including Merriam's sister Florence Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Vernon Bailey, to name just a few. The papers document Dr. Merriam's long association with the United States Biological Survey and other surveys beginning with the Hayden Survey of the Rocky Mountain West in 1872 through the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899. Also included are papers on his involvement, beginning in 1891, in the Bering Sea controversy over seal hunting. Among the subject files are a large group of files on bears of North America and files on geographical distribution and the development of Dr. Merriam's Life Zone Theory.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is available on microfilm only. Originals not available for use.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of the History of Science and Technology Program. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], C. Hart Merriam Papers, BANC MSS 83/129 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    Title: C. Hart Merriam Pictorial Collection
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1980.023
    Title: Florence Merriam Bailey Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 79/139 c
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 82/46 z
    The Library of Congress has additional holdings of C. Hart Merriam's papers.

    Materials Cataloged Separately

    • Select printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Maps have been transferred to the Map Collection of The Bancroft Library.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The C. Hart Merriam Papers consist of a consolidation of the following collections: BANC MSS C-B 520, BANC MSS C-R 21, BANC MSS 72/56 c, BANC MSS 79/138 c, BANC MSS 82/45 c and BANC MSS 83/129 c.


    The processing and microfilming of the C. Hart Merriam papers have been made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Title II-C, Strengthening Research Library Resources Program.

    Biographical Sketch

    1855 Born in New York, December 5 to Clinton Levi Merriam, a merchant, banker, and member of Congress and Caroline Hart Merriam. Siblings include an older brother, Charles Collins Merriam, and younger sister, Florence Merriam. Florence married an associate of C. Hart's, Vernon Bailey.
    1872 Naturalist, Hayden Survey of the territories.
    1877 A Review of the Birds of Connecticut published.
    1879-1885 Received M.D. degree Columbia University. Practiced medicine for six years.
    1883 Surgeon, S.S. Proteus Arctic Seal Fishery from Newfoundland.
    1884 Mammals of the Adirondacks published.
    1885-1910 Appointed Special Agent in charge of Economic Ornithology under the Division of Entomology of the Department of Agriculture. This division evolved into the U.S. Biological Survey, of which Merriam was named chief. He held the position for twenty-five years.
    1886 October 15. Married Virginia Elizabeth Gosnel.
    1889 U.S. Biological Survey to the San Francisco Mountains, Arizona. Merriam developed the life zone concepts.
    1890 May 21. Daughter Dorothy born.
    1891 U.S. Biological Survey of Death Valley, California. Merriam revised and expanded the life zone concepts.
    1891 Appointed by President Harrison to a commission to investigate the problems of pelagic sealing in the Bering Sea.
    1891-1892 President, Biological Society of Washington.
    1892 April 14. Daughter Zenaida born.
    1898 U.S. Biological Survey of Mount Shasta, California.
    1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition.
    1900-1902 President, American Ornithologist's Union.
    1905 "Indian Population of California" published.
    1907 "Distribution and Classification of the Mewan Indians of California" published.
    1910 Resigned from U.S. Biological Survey. Began biological and ethnological investigations with financial support from the E. H. Harriman Fund. Ethnological work was primarily with California Indian tribes. Continued until 1936.
    1910 Dawn of the World published.
    1917-1925 Chairman, U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
    1919-1921 President, American Society of Mammalogists.
    1920-1921 President, Anthropological Society of Washington.
    1924-1925 President, American Society of Naturalists.
    1928 An-nik-a-del, the History of the Universe, as told by the Modes-se Indians of California published.
    1931 Received Roosevelt Medal "for distinguished work in biology."
    1942 Died in Berkeley, California, March 19 at age of eighty-six.

    Posthumous Publications

    • Boundary Descriptions of California Indian Stocks and Tribes. Co-authored with Zenaida Merriam Talbot; edited by Robert F. Heizer. Berkeley: Archaeological Research Facility, 1974.
    • Chumash Place Name Lists. Compilations by A. L. Kroeber, C. Hart Merriam, and H. W. Henshaw; edited by R. F. Heizer. Berkeley: Archaeological Research Facility, 1975.
    • Ethnogeographic and Ethnosynonymic Data From Northern California Tribes. Assembled and edited by Robert F. Heizer. Berkeley: Archaeological Research Facility, Department of Anthropology, University of California, 1976.
    • Ethnographic Notes on California Indian Tribes. Compiled and edited by Robert F. Heizer. Berkeley: University of California Archaeological Research Facility, 1966-67.
    • Indian Names For Plants and Animals Among Californian and Other Western North American Tribes. Assembled and annotated by Robert F. Heizer. Socorro, N.M.: Ballena Press, 1979.
    • Studies of California Indians. Edited by the staff of the Department of Anthropology of the University of California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955.
    • "Village Names in Twelve California Mission Records." Assembled and edited by Robert F. Heizer. Berkeley: Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey, no. 74 (1968).

    Selected Bibliography

    • Grinnell, Hilda Wood. Bibliography of Clinton Hart Merriam. [S.l.: s.n., 1943?]
    • Osgood, Wilfred Hudson. Biographical Memoir of Clinton Hart Merriam, 1855-1942. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 1945. Biographical memoirs (National Academy of Sciences U.S.); v. 24, 1st memoir.
    • Phillips, Arthur Morton [et. al.]. Expedition to the San Francisco Peaks: C. Hart Merriam and the Life Zone Concept. Flagstaff, Ariz.: Museum of Northern Arizona, 1988. Plateau; v. 60, no. 2.
    • Sterling, Keir B. Last of the Naturalists: the Career of C. Hart Merriam. New York: Arno Press, 1974 (revised 1977)
    • Talbot, Zenaida Merriam. "Obituary." Science, vol. 95, no. 2474 (May 29, 1942), pp. 545-546.

    Scope and Content

    The papers of C. Hart Merriam span the years 1798-1972, with the bulk of the material dating from 1871-1942. Included are correspondence, letterpress books, writings, notes, clippings, pamphlets, printed matter, scrapbooks, notebooks, certificates, and financial papers documenting this naturalist's long and varied career. The papers cover a wide range of topics including natural history, zoology, ornithology, geography, geographic distribution, botany, and conservation.
    This collection of the papers of C. Hart Merriam represents a consolidation of six separately acquired collections by The Bancroft Library over the course of approximately twenty years. Because the separate collections were in various physical states, some being almost fully processed, and others having only minimal arrangement and description, and because they came from more than one donor, it was impossible to discern or maintain any original arrangement. Some sections of the collection were left virtually untouched, while others were greatly reorganized. For example, the writings have been left in the overall alphabetical arrangement given to them at some time in the past, although a subject arrangement of them might be better for scholarly use. Another collection of Merriam's work on California Indians with a published finding aid by Robert F. Heizer of the University of California Berkeley Department of Anthropology has been maintained as a separate collection (BANC MSS 80/18 c). Parts of Heizer's guide have been revised and expanded.
    The papers are a valuable source for studies in the history and development of American science, particularly the natural sciences. The collection's extensive correspondence file, a veritable Who's Who of the scientific world, spans a period of more than 70 years, from 1871-1942. The correspondence provides a rich source of historical information on the scientific societies and institutions emerging at the turn of the century, about the individuals associated with the scientific community of the time, and private and public funding of science. A broad range of topics are covered from the fields of natural history, ornithology, zoology, ethnology, linguistics, geography, and conservation.
    Twenty-eight volumes of Merriam's letter press copy books (1886-1936) retain copies of letters sent by Merriam, as well as diary entries and typed manuscripts. Each volume is indexed. Four volumes of the copy books relate to the publications of the Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899-1905). There are additional loose files of Merriam's outgoing letters and telegrams that include letters to family members.
    There is an extensive correspondence between C. Hart Merriam and his sister, Florence Bailey, who was one of the foremost women nature writers of the era and who traveled extensively throughout the western United States for almost fifty years. She was married to Vernon Bailey, a naturalist connected with the U.S. Biological Survey. Merriam and his sister were very close, and she wrote openly to him about many issues of the day, as well as about her travels. This 22 year span of letters provides an unusually long look at the world of a well-educated Victorian woman interested in science. The letters provide insight into her attitudes toward nature and her respect for the Native American cultures she visited, as well as the more general culture of the time.
    There is a large file of letters from Theodore Roosevelt, beginning in 1877 and continuing for forty years. The letters cover a rich and varied range of subjects: specimen collecting, wildlife in the West, birds, American deer, bears, Native American affairs, Yellowstone Park, natural history publications, meetings of the Boone and Crockett Club, and social matters.
    Another noteworthy file of letters are those of John Muir, covering the years 1871-1914. This set of letters cover Muir's 1871 expedition to Yosemite, his travels elsewhere, his health, publications, and his desire to have the Forest Service placed under civil service. Three long letters from Muir's 1871 Yosemite trip are particularly rich with descriptions of the area and detail Muir's exploration of glaciers in Yosemite Creek Basin.
    Series 3 of the collection provides information on scientific surveys and expeditions Merriam participated in, including the Hayden Survey of 1872, a government-sponsored exploration and mapping of the Rocky Mountain West. Merriam served as a naturalist on the Survey at the age of 17. His personal diary recounting his work and experiences on the survey is preserved in the collection. There are also files on the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, in addition to the four letter press volumes already mentioned. Edward Harriman funded the expedition and hand-picked some of the nation's most distinguished scientists to make a thorough reconnaissance of the region. Included in the expedition were preservationist John Muir and photographer Edward Curtis. A substantial number of Curtis' photographs are included in the pictorial element of the collection.
    While heading the United States Biological Survey Merriam began one of his most important (and controversial) areas of work, the study of the distribution of animals and plants. He developed the Life Zone Theory during the Biological Survey's 1889 expedition to the San Francisco mountains of Arizona and modified it after the Survey's Death Valley expedition of 1890. The theory basically postulates that temperature (and any physiographic conditions that influence it) is the primary determinant of the distribution of animals and plants of North America in zones named and described by Merriam. Although it was eventually shown that Merriam's zones applied primarily to mountain regions and not to all of North America, he provided solid research and ideas for later naturalists to build on and often to dispute. Merriam's research files on geographic distribution can be located in Series 4.
    Series 4 also contains Merriam's extensive research files on a wide range of topics, including zoology, ornithology, geography, and botany. Merriam collected a large number of specimens of bears in his attempt to identify as many species as he could from Alaska, California, Canada, and the Rocky Mountains. Included in the collection are 4 cartons of his research notes, drawings, clipping files, and collected publications on bears. The correspondence files contain numerous letters from trappers and hunters offering their skins and skulls to Merriam for his work. A large number of photographs of individual specimens and bear skulls can be found in the pictorial collection.
    In addition to his work with the Biological Survey, Merriam was active in many scientific societies of the day. He was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society and served on its board of directors for 54 years. He was president of many organizations including the American Ornithological Union, the American Society of Naturalists, the American Society of Mammalogists, and the Anthropological Society of Washington, to name a few. Information on these and other organizations and Merriam's activities in them are documented in series 4.
    While overseeing the Survey and working in various societies, Merriam also published an impressive amount of work. According to an obituary by his daughter Zenaida, his published writings number more than 500 titles. Series 2 contains Merriam's writings. Many of them are descriptions of new species of animals and plants published in scientific journals of the day. The collection contains numerous reprints of Merriam's articles, as well as typescripts with manuscript annotations and corrections in his hand, and printer's galleys. Some of the manuscripts, for example The Big Land Bears of America (a long-planned book), are unpublished. Merriam published only a few monographs throughout his career, primarily on California Indians (see 80/18 c for these materials). When declining health forced his retirement in 1939 at the age of 82, he was still hoping to publish another volume on the Death Valley Expedition of 1890-91 and the book on bears mentioned above. Critics have charged that his extreme perfectionism hindered his ability to publish more substantial work. He apparently had great difiiculty preparing a manuscript that he thought was ready for publication. There were always errors to correct and facts to check and he would seldom entrust this work to his assistants.
    The papers also include a small collection of Merriam's personal and financial papers, and miscellaneous letters and papers of other Merriam family members. These materials constitute series 5 of the papers.