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.