Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Audubon and Rafinesque
Nature Bulletin No. 189-A   April 23, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

John James Audubon, naturalist, ornithologist and great painter of birds, was born April 26, 1785, in what is now Haiti. He was the son of a French naval officer, a wealthy sugar planter with estates in the West Indies, France and Pennsylvania. While very young, Audubon's mother died and he was taken by his father to France where he grew up and was educated. From early boyhood he had a passion for drawing birds, taxidermy, and collecting birds, their nests and their eggs.

In 1803 he was sent to his father's estate in eastern Pennsylvania. In 1807, newly married, he and another young man opened a frontier store in Kentucky -- first in Louisville and later in Henderson. For almost 50 years, except for trips to England, Scotland and France in connection with the publication and sale of his book and except for periods in which he painted portraits and taught dancing, fencing and French in order to obtain money, Audubon traveled to observe and paint the wildlife in America. He went down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in a flatboat to New Orleans; he explored the bayous along the Gulf of Mexico as far as Galveston, Texas, and the Atlantic coast from Key West to Labrador. At the age of 58 he traveled up the Missouri River as far as the buffalo country of western North Dakota.

Audubon saw, described and painted sights that never will be seen again. He lived in the heroic age of American life when this was virgin country and the whooping crane, the trumpeter swan, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon and the buffalo were plentiful. A friend of Daniel Webster and Daniel Boone, he kept detailed diaries and journals wherever he went. He painted birds life-size, whether eagles or warblers, and was the first to paint them in action, in natural poses in their native surroundings with all the wild vegetation.

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, the man whom David Starr Jordan called "the Daniel Boone of American science", and perhaps the greatest of all the early naturalists, was for many years almost forgotten or mentioned only with pity and contempt. But he announced a theory of evolution many years before Drawin, and his name will live as long as plants, fishes and mollusks are studied. Brilliant, but disorderly in mind and habit, he constantly delved into and wrote copiously on such varied fields of knowledge as botany, fish and other aquatic life, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, Indian languages and mounds, the Bible and poetry. He had a mania for discovering and naming new forms of plant and animal life, frequently giving new names to kinds already known, including some non-existent fishes of which Audubon, for a joke, showed him colored drawings.

Rafinesque was born in a suburb of Constantinople on October 23, 1783, of French and German parents. He grew up in Genoa, Italy; lived for 10 years in Sicily; and when he came to America, in 1815, his ship was wrecked at the entrance to Long Island Sound and he lost everything he owned, including all his books, manuscripts and priceless collections. Hearing of this, his wife ran away with a strolling actor, and from that day he became a suspicious, lonely man. From 1818 to 1826 he was professor of natural science in Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky -- a typical "absent-minded professor": oddly clothed, dirty, eccentric and the target for practical jokes. It was during this period that he visited Audubon. He spent the last years of his life in Philadelphia, in dire poverty and unsound in mind.

"Audubon died full of riches and honor, with the knowledge that his memory should be cherished as long as birds should sing. Rafinesque loved no man or woman, and died, as he had lived, alone. "

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