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Dr. C. C. Parry


Posted By: Annette Lucas (email)
Date: 7/12/2021 at 08:32:25

SOURCE: Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County, Iowa. American Biographical Publishing Company, H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. Proprietors. 1895


The following carefully prepared sketch of Dr. Parry, written by Dr. C. H. Preston, was read before the Davenport Academy of Sciences, September 15, 1893 :

On the twentieth of February, 1890, there died at his pleasant home near this city one to whom the Davenport Academy of Sciences was deeply indebted, and whose memory, fragrant and pure as the flowers he loved, it will ever cherish .

At that time the working force of our association had been almost paralyzed by recent sad losses ; the publication of its Proceedings was for a time deferred , and so it happened that he who was always ready with an appreciative tribute to the memory of associate or friend, has waited thus long for an expression from this, his home society, of the admiration and esteem which each and all of its members entertained for him . It is to be regretted that there was not found among us some co- laborer in his own field of botanical science to prepare a sketch of Dr. Parry's life and work — an undertaking for which the writer is qualified only by warm personal friendship and long association in the affairs of this academy. Deficiencies which must in consequence of necessity exist will, however, in part be made good by citations from those better qualified to speak.

Charles Christopher Parry was born in the hamlet of Admington, Gloucestershire, England, August 28, 1823. Descended through a long line of clergymen of the Established Church, he was himself of a deeply religious nature and rarely endowed with that poetic feeling and insight so apt to characterize the true naturalist.

In 1832 the family removed to America, settling on a farm in Washington County, New York. Here the remainder of his boyhood was passed , and, the advantages of the schools of the locality having been well improved, he entered Union College at Schenectady, and in due time was graduated therefrom with honors. He began the study of medical botany in his undergraduate years, and subsequently received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from Columbia College.

Coming west and to Davenport in the fall of 1846, he entered upon . the practice of his profession, but continued in it for a few months only, very soon discovering that all his natural tastes and instincts led directly away from the unreason , the too often self-inflicted ills, and the petty conflicts with which the active physician has perforce to deal--led him to the unvexed, blossoming solitudes where Nature, silent and orderly, works out her fair results.

His earliest collecting had been done in the attractive floral region about his home in Northeastern New York, in the summer of 1842 and the four years following ; and now again, attracted to this more congenial work, we find him employing much of the season of 1847 in making a collection of the wild flowers about Davenport, of which, with the dates of finding, he has left a manuscript list. Those of us who knew him well in after years can readily picture the brisk, dark complexioned, though blue-eyed youth, symmetrically but slightly built and somewhat below the medium height, in his solitary quest by river side and deep ravine, over wooded bluff and prairie expanse, for the treasures which were more to him than gold -- for such early friends as “ the prairie primrose, the moccasin - flower and the gentian, ” which in later years he complained had been quite driven out by “ the blue grass and white clover.”

In the course of that summer, also, he accompanied a United States surveying party, under Lieutenant J. Morehead, on an excursion into Central Iowa, in the vicinity of the present State capital. From this time on (except for a short time while connected with the Mexican Boundary Survey, when he discharged the duties of assistant surgeon ) the physician was merged in the naturalist. He was almost con tinuously in the field collecting, but Davenport remained his home. Here, in 1853, he was married to Miss Sarah M. Dalzell, who, dying five years later, left with him an only child, a daughter. But she, too, a fair, unfolding flower, was claimed by death at an early age.

In 1859 he was married again, to Mrs. E. R. Preston of Westford , Connecticut, who, through the more than thirty years of their union, entered helpfully into all his work and plans, assisting him in his study and often accompanying him to the field, and who is left to mourn the loss of one who, in every relation of life, was exceptionally unselfish and kind. Of his two brothers and six sisters only two remain, viz : Joseph Parry and Mrs. Charles Pickering, both of Davenport, besides a half sister, Mrs. Austin, residing in Arkansas.

We are fortunate in possessing, in Dr. Parry's own words ( Proc. , Vol. II, p. 279) , a succinct chronological account of his work up to 1878, which need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that for more than thirty years the greater part of his time had been spent in observing and collecting - along the St. Peters and up the St. Croix ; across the isthmus to San Diego, to the junction of the Gila and Colorado, along the southern boundary line and up the coast as far as Monterey ; through Texas to El Paso, to the Pimo settlements on the Gila, and along the Rio Grande; in the mountains of Colorado, to which and to those of California he returned again and again in the pursuit of his special study, the Alpine Flora of North America ; across the continent with a Pacific railroad surveying party by way of the Sangre de Christo Pass, through New Mexico and Arizona, through the Tehachapi Pass, through the Tulare and San Joaquin Valleys to San Francisco; through the Wind river district to the Yellowstone National Park ; in the Valley of the Virgin and about Mount Nebo, Utah ; about San Bernardino, California, and in the arid regions stretching to the eastward ; and in Mexico about San Luis Potosi, Saltillo and Monterey.

The winter of 1852-53 was spent in Washington, in the preparation of his report as botanist to the Mexican Boundary Survey ; and the years from 1869 to 1871, inclusive, while botanist to the United States Agricultural Department, were also passed chiefly at the capital, employed in arranging the extensive botanical collections from various Government explorations, which had accumulated at the Smithsonian Institution. During this period, also, he visited, in his official capacity, the Royal Gardens and herbaria at Kew, England, and was attached as botanist to the Commission of Inquiry which visited San Domingo early in 1871. The report of his observations in that island is a valuable summary of its chief botanical features, vegetable products and agricultural capacities.

His visit to Kew and the land of his birth was the beginning of a lasting friendship between himself and the eminent Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of the Gardens, who afterward in a congratulatory letter dated February 27, 1877, calls him “ already king of Colorado botany,” and expresses deep interest in the results of his explorations, then making, in Southern California .

Subsequent to 1878, the date of the autobiographical sketch before mentioned, his work, although arduous and important, may be briefly summed up as follows :

In 1879, being called to the East by the illness and death of his father, he did little if any work in the field. In 1880, as special agent of the Forestry Department of the United States Census Office, he accompanied Dr. Engelmann and Professor Sargent in an expedition to the Valley of the Columbia and the far Northwest. Wintering in California he spent the following year in that State, making numerous collecting trips north and south , including a trip to the Yosemite in June. Home again in the summer of 1882, he was busily employed for some months in arranging his collections and on work for our Academy Proceedings. In the fall of that year he returned to California , and passed the winter in San Diego.

In January and February, 1883, he made two camping trips into Lower California ; then, going to San Francisco, made numerous excursions from that point, and returned to Davenport in September. In June, 1884, he sailed a second time for England, returning in August of the following year, after spending much time at Kew, and visiting other herbaria and gardens on the Continent.

The summer of 1886 he spent partly with friends in Wisconsin , partly in the quiet enjoyment of his Iowa home. But even when resting, his mind did not rest — his wonderfully voluminous correspondence went on, and the microscope filled in his otherwise leisure hours. Again the winter was passed in San Francisco, from which city he made numerous collecting trips as before. Remaining in California, chiefly in the vicinity of San Francisco, until September, 1888, he was busily employed making special collections of Arctostaphylos and Ceanothus, and in the study of these and the genus Alnus. His last visit to California was made in the spring of 1889. Returning to Davenport in July, he made a trip to Canada and New England, visited New York and Philadelphia, and returned to his home but a few weeks before his death.

Most intimately connected with the botany of the Pacific Coast ; " treading reverently in the steps of Chamisso, Douglas, Nuttall, and others of less note,” who, at such accessible points as San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey and the mouth of the Columbia, had, at an early day, preceded him, he greatly extended their labors.

" None of the early investigators, ” says a writer in the “ Century Magazine ” ( October, 1892) , " was more typical than the late Dr. C. C. Parry, who first crossed the country with the Mexican Boundary Com mission. At intervals, for forty years after, he was a familiar figure to hunters, prospectors, mountaineers and all sorts of outdoor people, from the Arizona deserts to the Siskiyou pine forests.”

Dr. Parry was recognized as an authority by botanists everywhere, not only in this country ( where he ranked with the first) and in England, but on the Continent as well ; and this notwithstanding the fact that he never published a book, had no ambition in the way of authorship and left most of his discoveries to be described by others. His writings, though sufficient to constitute volumes and comprising much of great scientific value, are scattered in fragmentary form through various Government and society reports, scientific journals and the daily press.

In 1875 he was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in which body his membership dates back to 1851. He kept up a corresponding membership in the Philadelphia, Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago and California Academies of Science, and was connected with various other organizations, among them the Philosophical Society of Washington, D. C. , the Bay District Horticul tural Society of California and the State Historical Society of Iowa. Of our own academy he was, from the start, a most active promoter and one of the main supports. Its welfare was a matter of constant solicitude with him, and to his valuable papers, published in our Proceedings, the academy's favorable recognition abroad is in great part due. Although absent in Arizona at the time of its organization, he was made a member of the first Board of Trustees, and continued in that capacity as long as he lived . On the resignation of our first president, Professor Sheldon, in 1868, Dr. Parry was chosen to succeed him , and reλlected again and again, until, in 1875, he declined longer to retain a place from which, and its duties, he must of necessity be much of the time absent. As a member of the Publication Committee from its inception, his counsel and assistance were invaluable, as indeed they were, while he lived, in the academy's every undertaking.

Wholly free from that jealous self -seeking which too often mars genuine merit, his relations with his fellow -workers, whether tyros or masters in the science, were always of the pleasantest. The veteran botanist, Professor John Torrey of Columbia College, to whose assistance and encouragement, from the time of their first acquaintance in 1845, he acknowledged himself deeply indebted, was his warm personal friend through life. Of their last living interview , which occurred in September, 1872, shortly before Torrey's death " full of years and honors,” Dr. Parry writes in an obituary notice prepared for this academy: “ It was my privilege to entertain this distinguished guest at my rude botanical retreat in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Here, in close proximity to my cabin, I could point out to him many of the living plants that he had described fifty years previously, from herbarium specimens, but had never before seen in their living beauty. ” Owing to the early severity of the season at the time of this visit, Dr. Torrey was prevented from making the ascent of the peak to which his name had been given by his host and friend, although permitted “ to gaze on its sky- piercing summit and to snatch from its wintry slopes some late- grown floral mementos of his early labors.” Of this and its companion peak, Mt. Gray, Dr. Parry says : “ In my first botanical exploration of the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, in 1861, I applied the names of " Torrey and Gray' to twin peaks which , from a distant view, had often attracted my attention . In the year following I succeeded in reaching the summit of the eastern peak, now well known as Gray's Peak, and determined its elevation by barometric observation. Two years afterward, in 1872, I stood for the second time on the same elevation, accompanied by Professor Gray himself and a large party of acquaintances. In response to some appropriate resolu tions on this occasion, Professor Gray, pointing to the closely adjoining western peak, expressed the earnest wish , seconded by all present, that it should continue to bear the name first affixed - of Mt. Torrey - in worthy commemoration of his early and valued scientific associate."

It was Dr. Parry's pleasant privilege also to give its name to Mt. Guyot, in honor of his friend, Professor Arnold Guyot, of Princeton . His own name (bestowed by Surveyor-General F. M. Case) is borne by a peak of the Snowy Range, to the northwest of Empire City. Farther removed from the abodes of men, retiring yet not inconspicuous, it stands among its fellows, an enduring and a fitting monument to him whom his friends knew as " good Dr. Parry."

Not less close than with Torrey and Gray were his relations with Dr. George Engelmann of St. Louis, whose death occurred in 1885. " Since my first acquaintance with him , in 1848,” he writes, “ when I called on him at St. Louis before starting on my first exploring trip with Dr. D. D. Owen in the then Northwest, our friendly intercourse has been constant, and the letters received from him would make up a respectable volume. How much I owe to his wise counsels, his substantial encouragement, and not less to his sharp criticisms ( always well-meant), I can now best realize by feeling their loss. He knew just what to look for, and, when seen, he also knew its significance in elucidating the system of nature.” This was not less true of Dr. Parry himself.

Torrey, Gray, Engelmann, Parry! What were American botany but for these four co - laborers whose work and fame are inseparably interlinked ?

Dr. Parry was essentially a field student, and the general accuracy of his conclusions is largely due to the fact that his observations were all made at first-hand — to this and to the thoroughness of his determinations, which were based on careful dissections of all access ible fruit, as well as of the flowering specimen ; so that he was generally able, as he declared, to discriminate species by the fruit alone.

Industrious and indefatigable, “ the bulk and value of his collections have probably not been equaled in America.” ( I quote from the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club.) Besides contributing largely to the collections of his botanical friends and of various societies at home and abroad, he made for himself one of the finest private herbaria in the land, a collection, systematically classified and arranged, comprising over eighteen thousand determined specimens represent ative of nearly six thousand eight hundred species, together with some fourteen hundred specimens determined only as far as the genus. But while himself thus chiefly occupied in collecting from untrodden heights and tangled wilds, he recognized “ with respect and reverence” the magnitude of the task assumed " by those masters of botanical science who have taken upon their broad shoulders the burden of a systematic arrangement of the whole vegetable kingdom . ”

Appreciating the beautiful as he did wherever found, and especially as embodied in floral and arboreal forms, Dr. Parry was yet, for a naturalist, markedly utilitarian . Wherever he went, in whatever he did, his eyes were open to the practical. The plant, the tree which gave promise of usefulness was to him doubly interesting, and he spared no pains to obtain for such the recognition they deserved . To bring the Mexican rose into cultivation, for example, he made an extra trip into Lower California. He was at especial pains to introduce the remarkable Spiraea caespitosa or “ tree moss," found in the Wasatch Mountains, of which he writes : “ The peculiar adaptation of this plant for ornamental rock- work can be appreciated by those who have seen it in its native haunts, and it is hoped that from plants and seeds somewhat copiously collected it may eventually find a much larger number of admirers in gardens devoted to this charming class of horticultural adornments. " Every region he explored was viewed not alone with the botanist's searching eye, but was studied as well in its topographical and climatic aspects, as affecting its economic possibilities.

Of his careful work in the field we have pleasant glimpses in the notes of his first Pike's Peak expedition. At the close of each day's toilsome journey we see the earnest student seated by the camp-fire, note- book in hand, tracing a map of the route just passed over and recording its general features — topographical, geological, botanical in simple, terse narrative, with scarcely a word interlined or erased. As he said of his lamented young friend and associate, J. Duncan Putnam , who accompanied him on more than one toilsome expedition, “ with him the truths of nature were serious matters. "

The conscious possessor of a talent for observation , he used it reverently, taking careful account of what so many would have suffered to pass unseen or fade into forgetfulness. Nor was he content to be simply receptive, but interrogated Nature continually. Often, intent on some all- absorbing quest, he would disappear from camp for a day or more at a time, still , however, with the woodsman's unerring instinct, reappearing safe and sound.

Yet, curiously exemplifying the absorption of the naturalist in other than the affairs of his fellow -men, these notes contain no mention of his traveling companions, nor of any of the unique and interesting specimens of western humanity with which he was continually coming in contact. The most warm- hearted, unassuming and genial of men ; one whose learning and humility were alike delightful, whose nature reflected the sweetness of the flowers he loved, and who was welcomed to every fireside; one of whom , as of Agassiz, it may truly be said,
where'er He met a stranger, there he left a friend,
he yet made no study of man as man, caring only for hearty companion. ship, the warm greeting, and fervent Godspeed.

Deeply affectionate, almost extravagantly fond of children, and with a sense of humor which often sparkled in his home conversation, he was yet so reticent that only the intimate few were aware of these traits in his character. With no expensive habits and almost no wants save knowledge, he looked on money as of value chiefly for the amount of this it could procure and diffuse . Devoted not only to his own special study but to natural science in general as a too-much -neglected part of the great educational field, he lost no opportunity to support its claims as against the dull abstractions of unused tongues and all exclusively text-book instruction .

Of his scientific achievements I will leave those to speak who shared in and were conversant with his labors.

Professor J. G. Lemmon — with whom he explored the San Bernar dino Valley, and in whose pleasant home, in the quietude of his berbarium , Dr. Parry's last days in California were spent-after paying a feeling tribute to the memory of his friend, thus sums up his western coast work :
" Dr. C. C. Parry was most intimately connected with the flora and the botanists of California . Since his early explorations on the coast near San Diego, in 1849, the doctor has made several brief visits to different regions of the western slope, intent upon some special discovery or study. During one visit it was the curious little sand plant, the Chorizanthe, that caught his keen eye and secured his careful dis crimination. Another visit was devoted to the alders, another to the cacti, etc.

" In 1882 Dr. Parry traveled well over the Pacific Slope, studying the interesting family of Arctostaphylos or 'manzanita , publishing the following year, in the Proceedings of the Davenport Academy of Sciences, a monograph which cleared away much of the misconception and ambiguity that has all along encumbered our botanical literature, by showing that there were several distinct forms mingled in previous descriptions. A second monograph, read before the California Academy of Sciences, June 20, 1887, still further elucidated the subject, and the two papers cited complete our knowledge of the California manzanitas, Dr. Parry having detected and described therein six new species, besides determining the proper limits of the other nine.

“ Later, in 1887 and 1888, he performed like excellent services in the examination of our Ceanothus family, many species of which form our coast chaparral, while others constitute the valuable forage plants called ' tea bushes' or 'deer brush ' in the interior mountain regions. In two able monographs, published February and August, 1889, he has cleared up the mass of confusion in this genus, while detecting a half -dozen new species and defining the twenty -six remaining ones.”

C. R. Orcutt, editor of the “ West American Scientist, " writes:
“ Dr. Parry discovered during his extensive explorations hundreds of new plants afterward described by Dr. Gray and by Dr. Engelmann, and his name is firmly fixed in the history of West American botany. While his greatest service has been rendered to botanical science, yet horticulturists will not soon forget that it was Dr. Parry who discovered Picea pungens, the beautiful blue spruce of our gardens; Pinus Engelmanni, Pinus Torreyana, Pinus Parryana , Pinus aristata and a host of others of beauty and value. Through his real and enterprise many plants now familiar to American and European gardens were first cultivated. Zizyphus Parryi, Phacelia Parryi, Frasera Parryi, Lilium Parryi, Saxafraga Parryi, Dalea Parryi, Primula Parryi and many other plants of great beauty or utility bear his name in commemoration of his labors and worthily do him honor.

(Unfortunately, there are 2 pages missing from the book.)


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