Josephine Skehan and the Mountains Near Gray

Eugene Jercinovic

 

Many areas of New Mexico were initially botanized by naturalists in the company of contingents of armed soldiers or in large trading caravans.  Some intrepid collectors braved unknown territory and harsh conditions in lonely solitude.  However, very few women had any part in plant collection prior to the dawn of the twentieth century. This is the tale of one.  The story ends in the Capitan Mountains, but, as is not uncommon in the botanical history of this state, the story begins east of the Mississippi River in the middle of the nineteenth century with four men.

 

Parker Earle (1831-1917)

Parker Earle was born in Mt. Holly, Vermont on the 8th of August, 1831.  As a young man he developed an interest in horticulture, becoming associated with Charles Mason Hovey, a seeds man and nursery man in Boston.  Hovey founded the American Gardener's Magazine (later the Magazine of Horticulture) which he edited for 34 years.  Hovey served as president of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society for four years.  Hovey was also the first notable American breeder of strawberries.  It was undoubtedly Hovey who got Parker Earle started in raising strawberries.

 

By the mid-1850's Parker had moved to Dwight, Illinois where in 1855 he married Melanie Tracy.  The couple produced three children, Franklin Sumner Earle, Charles Theodore Earle and Mary Tracy Earle.  The family relocated to southern Illinois in the Cobden-Anna area (Union County) where Parker developed orchards and extensive vegetable gardens, in which he put his expertise in strawberries into practice.  After the Civil War,  Parker developed a new method of transporting fruit by using insulated wooden crates with ice in the bottom which allowed him to ship his strawberries by rail to Chicago, where they sold for $2 per quart, a princely sum at the time.

 

By the mid-1870's Parker had become a noted horticulturalist.   He was a horticultural judge at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In 1880 he was named the first president of the newly formed Mississippi Valley Horticultural Society (now the American Horticultural Society).  In 1884 he was selected as horticultural director of the World Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans.  While in Louisiana, Parker visited and fell in love with southern Mississippi, particularly the area around Ocean Springs.

 

Around 1886 the Winter Park Land Improvement and Livestock Company was formed with Parker as president.  He and his two sons owned 97% of the stock.  By the end of 1887, the company had invested in 15,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Ocean Springs in Jackson County, Mississippi, most of which was pine forest.  Parker left Illinois and built a home in Mississippi.  His sons also set down roots there.  In 1889 Parker's wife died in Ocean Springs.  In 1890 he married Agnes Cook in Mt. Holly and then returned to Mississippi and resumed his horticultural pursuits, cultivating tomatoes, peaches and grapes on 80 acres.  However, on October 1, 1893, Parker's bucolic dreams were shattered as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 135 mph ripped across southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi.  Two thousand people were killed.  Parker once again pulled up stakes and moved to the New Mexico Territory.


Samuel Mills Tracy (1847 - 1920)

Samuel Mills Tracy was born in Hartford, Vermont on April 30, 1847.  In 1863, the family moved to Illinois, near Bloomington.  After moving to Platteville, Wisconsin in 1864, Tracy joined the Union Army in the 41st Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers.  After the Civil War, he entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), receiving a B.S. in 1868 and an M.S. in 1871.  After graduation he developed an interest in commercial horticulture and even became secretary of the Mississippi Valley Horticultural Society.  In the 1870's he served as editor of the Practical Farmer.  In 1877, he became Professor of Botany at the University of Missouri.  He served as Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Missouri from 1881 to 1882 and as President from 1883 to 1884.  Certainly he met and became a friend of Parker Earle during this period.  In 1886 he published the first Flora of Missouri. In 1887 he was selected as the first Director of the Mississippi Experiment Station. In June 1887, before assuming the position, he made a trip to Raton New Mexico to collect fungi.  He retired in 1897 and enjoyed the Mississippi environment enough to live in Laurel until his death in 1920.  In his later life, he specialized in grasses.  He donated his collections to the Agricultural College of Texas (now Texas A&M).  This formed the core of the S.M. Tracy Herbarium (TAES), the third largest herbarium in Texas with over 200,000 specimens, over 70,000 in grasses.

 

Charles Fuller Baker (1872 – 1929)

Charles Fuller Baker was born on March 22, 1872 in Lansing, Michigan.  He, like S.M. Tracy, attended Michigan Agricultural College.  After completing his studies, he became the assistant to Clarence Preston Gillette at Colorado Agricultural College (now Colorado State University).  Here he pursued his interests in entomology and botany.  He began collecting specimens and publishing.  Together with Gillette, he published A Preliminary List of the Hemiptera of Colorado, a summary of the true bugs of the state.  In 1893, he was chosen to present the forestry and zoology of Colorado at the Columbian Exposition of Chicago (The Chicago World's Fair) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus to the New World.  In 1897, Baker left Colorado and accepted a position at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), where he remained until 1899.  Between 1899 and 1901 he taught biology at a High School in St. Louis.  Moving to California in 1901, he attended Stanford University, obtaining an M.S. under Albert Kellogg in 1903.  During this time he became associated with the growing group of California botanists who believed that western American plants should be described by western botanists and began sending his specimens to Edward Lee Greene in Berkeley for determination. Baker then accepted a position at Pomona College, but only remained for one year before becoming director of botany at the Estación Agronómica at Santiago de Las Vegas in Cuba, serving until 1907.  The well-travelled Baker then moved to Brazil, where he accepted a position at the herbarium and botanical garden at the Emilio Goeldi Museum in Belem where he spent one year, also collecting extensively in the surrounding area.  In 1908 he returned to Pomona College where he remained until 1913 when he moved to the Philippines to become professor of agronomy at the University of Manila.  He remained outside the United States until his death in 1927.  His extensive insect collection is housed at the Museum of Natural History, his herbarium of U.S. plants at Pomona, and his herbarium of plants collected around the Pacific Ocean at the University of the Philippines.

 

Franklin Sumner Earle (1856 - 1929)

 Parker's son, Franklin Sumner Earle, was born on the 4th of September, 1856, in Dwight, Illinois.  He spent the majority of his youth at the Earle farm in southern Illinois.  He attended the University of Illinois sporadically in the 1880's, but did not earn a degree.  He studied with Thomas J. Burrill, a mycologist, who founded the herbarium at the University of Illinois and who, in 1895 would travel to Mississippi to work on fungi with S.M. Tracy. At the Mississippi Valley Horticultural Society meeting in New Orleans in 1885, Franklin read a paper on the white rust and other diseases of strawberry. In 1887, he co-authored a paper with Burrill, Parasitic Fungi of Illinois: Part II. Erysipheae, which established his reputation in mycology.  Franklin also shared his father's interest in horticulture.  The Earle fruit and vegetable operations in Cobden led to a friendship between their family and that of William Skehan, his wife Esther and their five daughters.  Franklin married the oldest Skehan daughter, Susan Bedford Skehan, on August 11, 1886 in Cobden.  The couple produced a son, William Parker Earle, born in Cobden in 1887 and two daughters, Melanie Tracy Earle, born in 1889 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and Ruth Esther Earle, born in 1891 in Ocean Springs.  Tragically, Susan died in Ocean Springs shortly after the birth of Ruth.  During this difficult period, Franklin became associated with the Mississippi Experiment Station and in 1892 became superintendent serving until 1895, and developed a friendship with Samuel Mills Tracy. 

 

Franklin's mycological professionalism was recognized.  In 1895-96, he served as assistant pathologist for the USDA collection at the U.S. National Herbarium.  From 1896 to 1900 he served as biologist and horticulturalist at the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and was awarded an honorary M.S. by the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. When Charles Fuller Baker arrived in 1897, Franklin suddenly had another scientific colleague and friend. The two collected extensively around Auburn, Alabama in the summer of 1897.   In 1901, Franklin became an associate with the New York Botanical Garden for three years as assistant curator of mycological collections, even publishing The Genera of North American Gill  Fungi.  In 1904 Franklin accepted the position of director of the Estación Agronómica at Santiago de Las Vegas , reestablishing contact there with his old friend C.F. Baker.  He established a farm at Herradura and cultivated fruit.  He remained in Cuba for the rest of his life, functioning as a business consultant, as president of the Cuba Fruit Exchange, and becoming a USDA investigator in the sugar cane industry.  A year before his death in 1929 he published Sugar Cane and Its Culture.

 

New Mexico

 

After Susan's death in 1891, Franklin was left with three young children and a busy life.  His connection with the Skehan family became a godsend.  Susan's sisters Esther Jane (1867-1948) and Josephine (ca.1871-?) continued their involvement with Franklin in Ocean Springs, becoming part of Parker and Agnes Earle's extended family, which also included Franklin's brother Charles and his wife, Cora.  In 1893, Parker and Agnes set up their new life in the New Mexico Territory, settling in Roswell.  Esther and Josephine continued to help in Mississippi.  Both Esther and Josephine were interested in plants. During 1895, doubtless under the tutelage of Franklin, Josephine began collecting plants.  She made 8 collections in Ocean Springs in the spring and summer.  Her first specimen, labeled as #1, was the moss Ditrichum pallidum collected on March 26, 1895, followed by 7 sine numero (s.n.) collections.  Josephine had much more to contribute three years later.  On August 12, 1896 Franklin married Esther Jane in Cobden, Illinois.  Esther contributed significantly to Franklin's natural history pursuits.  She became a co-collector with him and a notable botanical artist, making illustrations for Franklin's later studies of Caribbean fungi which are now part of the William A. Murrill collection at the New York Botanical Garden.

 

With grandfather Parker ensconced in the wilds of the New Mexico Territory, it seems inevitable that Franklin might become interested in the botanical exploration of the west.  The opportunity arose when S.M. Tracy retired in 1897.  Since Tracy had visited Raton a decade earlier and C.F. Baker had considerable experience in Colorado, the three botanical amigos decided to make a trip to Colorado in the summer of 1898.  Baker, Earle, and Tracy botanized in the vicinity of Durango and Mancos and in the La Plata Mountains, making extensive collections in June and July.  They made these collections available for sale in the United States and overseas.  The UC and Jepson herbaria show five sheets in their types database from these Colorado collections.

 

The Colorado expedition provided a chance for the rest of the Earle family to make an extended visit with Parker and Agnes in Roswell.  In August of 1897, the ever opportunistic Parker had filed a mining claim in the Nogal Canyon area of the Capitan Mountains.  The nearest settlement was the village of Gray (now called Capitan) which was about 70 miles from Roswell.  Gray was to be the center of activity for the spring and summer of 1898.  The Earle family arrived in early April.  Josephine came along on the trip apparently committed to collecting plants.  Her first New Mexico specimen was gathered on the 10th of April "near Gray".  On April 15 she made two collections in Roswell, and on April 18, another (see attached database).  She continued to collect at an average rate of 6 plants per week from April until the 6th of September.  Review of the 92 available sheets from her next 114 specimens show that all were gathered at Gray, near Gray, or at Nogal, less than 10 miles from Gray.

 

The highest specimen number found in the course of this study was 118 with 7 additional s.n. specimens.  103 of the 125 specimens were located.  Josephine's collections are remarkable, spanning 35 families and 90 genera in only 103 sheets.  More than a century later it is virtually impossible to assess how her association with S.M. Tracy, F.S. Earle, and C.F. Baker might have influenced what she collected and what was retained.   Grass specimens were determined by Frank Lawson Scribner at the USDA.  The vast majority of other specimens were determined by Edward Lee Greene, who was then at the University of California at Berkeley.  Specimens and duplicates were distributed to at least 10 herbaria.  Tracy, Earle, and Baker clearly were involved.

 

Josephine's work not only helped define the plants of a mountain range of New Mexico, but also affected the circumscription of botany in all of the United States.  Five specimens were particularly important because of their designation as a holotype ( the one collection which is permanently attached to a name), an isotype (a collection believed to be a duplicate of the holotype), a syntype ( a specimen used by an author when no holotype was designated), or a lectotype (a specimen selected to serve as a type if a holotype was not designated at publication or if the holotype is missing).

#

Specimen

Designation

Herbarium(a)

78

Gutierrezia sarothrae

syntype

NY

78

Gutierrezia sarothrae

isotype

COLO, NY, US

79

Argemone squarrosa

isotype

NY, UC

79

Argemone squarrosa

lectotype

US

89

Physaria valida

isotype

NY, US

108

Ambrosia confertiflora

holotype

NY

108

Ambrosia confertiflora

isotype

NY, US

112

Oxalis caerulea

holotype

NY

112

Oxalis caerulea

isotype

US

COLO   University of Colorado Herbarium                    UC       University of California at Berkeley

NY        New York Botanical Garden                              US       U.S National Herbarium


* * *

Very little is known about Josephine's life.  Without question, her place in botanical history is connected to the Earle family and to the colleagues of Franklin and Parker, but it was Josephine walking the woods and fields of the area around Gray.  It was her interest, intelligence and tenacity that produced the first significant collections in the Capitans.  To this day, the Capitan Mountains are not thoroughly known botanically.  They are curious geologically.  More work needs to be done.  It is interesting to note that in 2006 Patrick J. Alexander, a graduate student at New Mexico State University, came upon an alumroot (genus Heuchera) new to science, while exploring in the Capitans, not that far from Gray.

 

References

 

Allred, Kelly. 2007. A Working Index of New Mexico Vascular Plant Names. Range Science Herbarium, Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University

Averett, John. E. 1973.  Biosystematic Study of Chamaesaracha (Solanaceae).  Rhodora 75:325-365.

Ewan, Joseph. 1950. Rocky Mountain Naturalists, University of Denver Press.

Hess, William J. and James L. Reveal.  1976.  A Revision of Eriogonum (POLYGONACEAE) subgenus Pterogonum.  Great Basin Naturalist 36(3):281-333.

Lenz, Lee W.  1986.  Marcus E. Jones.  Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

Rodgers, Andrew Denny.  1949.  Liberty Hyde Bailey, a Story of American Plant Sciences.  Princeton University Press.

Rodgers, Andrew Denny.  1952.  Erwin Frink Smith, A Story of North American Plant Pathology.  American Philosophical Society.

Wheeler, L.C. 1941.  Euphorbia subgenus Chamaesyce in Canada and the United States exclusive of Southern Florida.  Rhodora 43: 97 – 154, 168 – 205, 223 – 286.

Williams, Roger L.  1984.  Aven Nelson of Wyoming.  Colorado Associated University Press.

 

Online Resources

 

Family histories   http://www.familysearch.org

 

Baker, C.F.  http://siarchives.si.edu/findingaids/FARU7113.htm

                    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fuller_Baker

Earle, F.S.   http://sciweb.nybg.org/Science2/libr/finding_guide/earlwb2.asp

Earle, Parker  http://www.oceanspringsarchives.com  (The Rose-Money Farm)

Hovey, C.M.  http://www.nal.usda.gov/pgdic/Strawberry/book/boktwel.htm

Tracey, S.M.   http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/taes/tracy/TRACYNF.htm

 

Virtual Herbarium UC http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/db/types/types_table.html

Virtual Herbarium COLO  http://cumuseum.colorado.edu/Research/Botany/Databases/typeSpecimens.pdf

Virtual Herbarium NY  http://sciweb.nybg.org/science2/hcol/allvasc/index.asp

Virtual Herbarium US  http://acsmith.si.edu/emuwebbotweb/pages/nmnh/bot/Query.php

 

Other Resources

 

Herbaria and data bases: NMC, NMCR, UNM

Karen Mills, Historical Records Clerk. Lincoln County Records.  Lincoln County Courthouse. Carrizozo, NM