Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Earlier expeditions made incidental collections of plants and animals in Louisiana Territory, but the Long Expedition of 1820 was the first deliberately staffed with scientists assigned to that task. Authorized by President Monroe and Secretary of War Calhoun, the Expedition was directed to document plant and animal life and geology in the intimidating country between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains and to find the source of the Platte and Red Rivers in the mountains. All this was to be done quickly and, in fact, took only 100 days, June 6-September 13, 1820. Starting near present-day Omaha, the Expedition moved westward along the Platte and South Platte rivers to the mountains, then southward into present-day New Mexico, and finally eastward following the Canadian River (not the Red as hoped) to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The staff included Major Stephen H. Long, an army engineer, as leader; Titian Peale, son of the painter, as naturalist and painter of animals; Samuel Seymour as landscape painter; John Bell as journalist; Thomas Say, later famous for his scientific discoveries and writings, as zoologist; and Edwin James M.D., of Vermont, as botanist. Admonished by both natives and settlers east of the Louisiana Purchase, the explorers were told of terrors in that land of unreachable horizons in what was then west of the West.