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Frontier Naturalist

Jean Louis Berlandier and the Exploration of Northern Mexico and Texas

Russell M. Lawson

Publication Year: 2012

This is a true story of discovery and discoverers in what was the northern frontier region of Mexico in the years before the Mexican War. In 1826, when the story begins, the region was claimed by both Mexico and the United States. Neither country knew much about the lands crossed by such rivers as the Guadalupe, Brazos, Nueces, Trinity, and Rio Grande. Jean Louis Berlandier, a French naturalist, was part of a team sent out by the Mexican Boundary Commission to explore the area. His role was to collect specimens of flora and fauna and to record detailed observations of the landscapes and peoples through which the exploring party traveled. His observations, including sketches and paintings of plants, landmarks, and American Indians, were the first compendium of scientific observations of the region to be collected and eventually published.

Here, historian Russell Lawson tells the story of this multinational expedition, using Berlandier’s copious records as a way of conveying his view of the natural environment. Lawson’s narrative allows us to peer over Berlandier’s shoulder as he traveled and recorded his experiences. Berlandier and Lawson show us an America that no longer exists.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. ix-x

I wish to express my thanks to many institutions for support and to individuals for help during the writing of this book. I appreciate the financial assistance of the professional development fund and the support of the administration at Bacone College...


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pp. x-xi

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pp. xiii-xxi

This is a story of discovery. The setting is a land of extremes: in temperature, the heat of the terra caliente and the cold of the Sierras; in moisture, the arid lands of the Mexican Plateau and the humidity of the lowlands near the sea; in elevation, ranging from 10,000...

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1: Savant of Matamoros

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pp. 1-16

The war had been over for almost five years, and an uneasy peace had settled upon the region, when Lt. Darius Nash Couch, a veteran of the conflict between the Republic of Mexico and the United States of America, arrived to Brazos de Santiago...

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2: Lock of the Rhône

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pp. 17-28

During his years living and traveling in Mexico and Texas, the savant of Matamoros, Jean Louis Berlandier, returned to the images of his youth as the standard for comparison of human culture and society and natural history. He examined and analyzed the mountains of America according to his recollection of the Jura Mountains...

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3: Río Pánuco

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pp. 29-48

Jean Louis Berlandier began his journey to Mexico with a cloud of anxiety and doubt hanging over him. The uncertainty of his future, the questions that arose about his abilities, or lack thereof, to accomplish the tasks set forth by Augustin Pyramus...

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4: The Arms of God

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pp. 49-78

The Comisión de Límites departed Mexico City, traveling north, on November 10, 1827. Led by soldier, mathematician, and surveyor Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán, members included officers Lt. Col. José Batres of the medical corps...

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5: River of the Comanches

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pp. 79-98

Jean Louis Berlandier discovered, as Darius Nash Couch did years later, that a foreign traveler in distant lands was highly dependent on the guides that he hired or that accompanied him by chance. On his journey from the Pánuco to Mexico City...

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6: Father of Waters

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pp. 99-120

Among the many similarities between Darius Nash Couch and Jean Louis Berlandier—their interest in botany, their willingness to brave dangers in search of discoveries, their journeys throughout the Mexican frontier—was one keen difference: their respective views toward the indigenous peoples of the Rio Grande valley...

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7: Waters of the High Sierra

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pp. 121-154

The two times that Jean Louis Berlandier made the journey from San Antonio to the Rio Grande, he and his companions watched for attacks from the Comanches, particularly in 1834, when Berlandier and Raphael Chowell took the same way that Couch...

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8: Río Bravo del Norte

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pp. 155-180

Chance, knowledge, and availability rather than education and career ambition turned the immigrant naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier into the apothecary and physician of the town of Matamoros. Berlandier’s botanical collections and extensive notes gathered...

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9: River of Death

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pp. 181-202

Having come to know many Americans, such as Stephen Austin, during his journeys to Texas before 1836, and having been convinced by General Terán’s viewpoint that it was just a matter of time before the greedy Americans would push Texas into a declaration of independence, Berlandier had not been surprised that the Texas Revolution...

Appendix One: Fauna and Flora Named for Jean Louis Berlandier

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pp. 203-206

Appendix Two: Chronology of the Journeys of Jean Louis Berlandier

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pp. 207-212


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pp. 213-230

Sources Consulted

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pp. 231-240


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pp. 241-262

Back Cover

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pp. 263-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780826352194
E-ISBN-10: 0826352197
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826352170
Print-ISBN-10: 0826352170

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 12 halftones, 6 maps
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 813844030
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Frontier Naturalist

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Subject Headings

  • Mexico, North -- Description and travel.
  • Texas, South -- Description and travel.
  • Berlandier, Jean Louis, d. 1851 -- Travel.
  • Natural history -- Mexico, North.
  • Natural history -- Texas, South.
  • Scientific expeditions -- Mexico, North -- History -- 19th century.
  • Scientific expeditions -- Texas, South -- History -- 19th century.
  • Naturalists -- France -- Biography.
  • Explorers -- Mexico, North -- Biography.
  • Explorers -- Texas, South -- Biography.
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