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Robert Kennicott

Nature Bulletin No. 395 Forest Preserve District of Cook County

November 13, 1954 Wlliam N. Erickson, President

Roberts Mann David H. Thompson

Conservation Editor Senior Naturalist


Snooty easterners prone to sneer at Chicago ad being a crude boisterous city of gangsters, stockyards, windy weather and windy people, ignore the fact that it is one of the world's great centers of learning, science and culture. Chicagoan's are proud of their magnificent museums but few know that two of them, the Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Natural History, have their roots in the ideals and achievements of a remarkable naturalist who died in 1866 when less than 31 years of age : Robert Kennicott.


At 17 he was sent to study under Dr. Jared Potter Kirtland in Cleveland. Kirtland, another physician and horticulturist, now famous in the history of natural science, Introduced Robert to several outstanding men who became interested in him – notably, Spencer Fullerton Baird, really the founder of the National Museum, then planning zoological explorations of the entire American continent by naturalists under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. As a result, the rest of young Kennicott's brief life was spent in exploration, collecting specimens, preserving and cataloging them for various museums, writing about new species, and heaping up materials for others to investigate.

He quickly established a reputation for clear descriptions and accuracy of detail. He presented a wealth of new facts about the habits and economic importance of the smaller mammals: their power to benefit or injure the farmer; how to avoid depredations of rodents; etc. He also pointed out the differences between eastern and western forms of animals previously supposed to be identical and wrote: “I wish to show these gentlemen that if two-legged animals in the West follow Eastern fashions, four-legged ones don't!”

In 1865 he was selected as one of the leaders of an expedition to explore an overland route to Europe via Alaska – then Russian territory – and Siberia; also to make collections for the Smithsonian and Chicago Academy. They finally arrived at Norton Sound and portaged to the Yukon river where on May 12, 1866, Kennicott overexerted himself in saving a Russian member of the party from drowning. The next morning they found him on the riverbank, dead, with his compass set in the ground and, drawn in mud, a map of the surrounding peaks.

-He was a great and lovable person.


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