October 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 5
Overrated Given that we have until recently paid insufficient attention to most of the explorers of our national topography (other than Lewis and Clark, whom we are now close to running into the ground), it’s difficult to name anyone who is overrated. But on the other side, the underrated ones—that is, explorers scarcely known to most educated Americans—are legion: Clarence King, Ferdinand Hayden, Joseph Ives, G. K. Warren, Howard Stansbury, to name a few, and then the early scientists like Thomas Nuttall, George Engelmann, Asa Gray.
Underrated One of my favorites is Lt. William Emory, whose government report on his 1846-47 reconnaissance of the Southwest is thick with descriptions of landforms, flora, and fauna, much of it new to European Americans, and his accounts of meetings with native peoples are rich with priceless details and anecdotes. The illustrations and maps in the big report are lovely adjuncts to a long trip of scientific inquiry made by a military man.