Edward William Nelson

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Edward William Nelson in Alaska

Edward William Nelson (May 8, 1855 – May 19, 1934) was an American naturalist and ethnologist. He was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. In 1871 together with his family, he became homeless due to the Chicago Fire.[1]


In 1877 Nelson joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Spencer Fullerton Baird was responsible for selecting Signal Officers for the remoter stations, and would choose men with scientific training who were prepared to study the local flora and fauna. Baird sent Nelson to St. Michael, Alaska.

Nelson was the naturalist on board the USRC Corwin, which sailed to Wrangel Island in search of the USS Jeanette in 1881. Nelson published his findings in the Report upon Natural History Collections Made in Alaska between the Years 1877–1881 (1887). He also published his ethnological findings in The Eskimo about Bering Strait (1900).

In 1890 Nelson accepted an appointment as a special field agent with the Death Valley Expedition under Clinton Hart Merriam, chief of the Division of Ornithology and Mammalogy, United States Department of Agriculture. After this expedition he was ordered to conduct a field survey in Mexico, and Nelson remained in the country for the next fourteen years. Nelson continued to work for the Bureau of Biological Survey until 1929, being chief of the bureau from 1916 to 1927.

The desert bighorn sheep and Nelson's milksnake were named in his honor. The holotype of the milksnake was collected by Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman on July 18, 1897. He worked with Goldman for ten years surveying Mexican terrestrial vertebrates. Nelson's sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni) (formerly Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow; formerly sharp-tailed sparrow) was also named for him.[2] Rodents named in his honor include Oryzomys nelsoni, Xenomys nelsoni, Ammospermophilus nelsoni, Heteromys nelsoni, Dicrostonyx nelsoni, Dipodomys nelsoni, Chaetodipus nelsoni, Megadontomys nelsoni, Neotoma nelsoni and Nelsonia.

He was the president of the American Society of Mammalogists from 1921 to 1923.[3]

See also[edit]



Further reading[edit]

Nelson, Edward William The Eskimo About Behring Strait Washington, Government Printing Office, 1900