Frontier Naturalist: Jean Louis Berlandier and the exploration of Northern Mexico and Texas by Russell M Lawson.

Author:Yacher, Leon
Position:Book review

Lawson, Russell M, Frontier Naturalist: Jean Louis Berlandier and the Exploration of Northern Mexico and Texas. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012. xxi + 262 pages. Cloth, $45.00.

A significant number of explorers arrived in the New World in search of a fresh start and a promising future. Especially noteworthy among the thousands who came were those seeking an understanding of place, particularly as it potentially offered knowledge that would be new to science. The New World presented plenty of opportunities for exploration, particularly for those who came early and/or ventured to uncharted areas. Jean Louis Berlandier, a French-born naturalist who trained mainly as a botanist in Geneva during the early nineteenth century, was one of those looking for the promise of discovery. At the age of twenty-one he became the first naturalist to study the flora and fauna of northern Mexico. Over time, Berlandier also delved into other disciplines, including geography and geology, and made advances in climatic studies. Berlandier's copious notes showed the type of detail that allowed for the reconstruction of his journeys and present an understanding of what took place and where. His travels took him to locales that others had not previously visited and brought him in contact with a variety of Indian tribes, some previously little known. His persona permitted him to observe the cultural landscape of the region's Indians. Berlandier's ethnological observations took place at a time that preceded the formation of anthropology as a discipline.

In Frontier Naturalist, historian Russell M. Lawson seeks to recreate the life and contributions of Berlandier. Lawson also uses Berlandier's abundant archival records to examine how the explorer viewed the region's environment and placed it all in the context of the conflict between the United States and Mexico. Consequently, Lawson provides two parallel stories in this book, and retells both through the eyes of Berlandier. Lawson deals with the complexities of the conditions that Berlandier faced with ease, yet without missing detailed explanations necessary to grasp the condition of that time. The author interrelates topics to explain relationships between the natural environment, full of challenges, with the various players that sought to dominate and control the area. That Indians, Mexicans, and Americans vied for position and possession is an understatement, for these were unsure times for all...

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