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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. H. Merriam   19 May 1874

East Hampton, Mass.

May 19, 1874.

Dr. Chas. Darwin;

Dear Sir;

Your note of April 29th. is recd.1

I take pleasure in forwarding you by mail this day a “Report of the U.S. Geol. Survey of the Territories” for 1872.2 I was Zoologist of the Survey and on page 667 you will find the description of Lepus Bairdii previously referred to.3

The animal is very local in its distribution, never having been seen except in the immediate vicinity of Yellowstone Lake, and it is to be regretted that no females have as yet been taken.

I know several hunters in Montana who are trying to procure specimens which they will forward to me entire in Alcohol if fortunate enough to obtain them.

The Yellowstone country is such a remarkable region that it cannot long remain in the wild condition it is now in & I think that in less than two years good roads will be built to it & scientific men stationed there.4 So the obtaining of more specimens of this curious rabbit is only a matter of time.

I am now young and expect to devote my life to the study of Natural History. Thus far Ornithology has been my speciality & in our birds I find most convincing proof of development. In over 90 genera we find intermediate forms connecting what were formerly considered as distinct & widely separated species & reducing them to the rank of climatic & geographical races or varieties. Our common quail (Ortyx), Cheewink (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), & woodpecker—both Picus villosus & P. pubescens—in Florida differ so decidedly from the northern birds that they have already been described as distinct varieties, and it was only a year ago that I called attention to similar case in the Blue Jay (Cyanura cristata). In Florida I also collected specimens of the Brown-headed Nuthatch (Litta pusilla) which had not yet assumed the adult plumage & they were scarcely distinguishable from the Californian L. pygmaea which was previously thought to be distinct.

Numerous other parallel cases might be mentioned in the genera Chrysomitris, Cardinalis, Myiarchus, Melospiza & etc etc, some of which have been very ably pointed out by Mr. Ridgway, Coues & others.5

You have doubtless heard of Prof. Marsh’es most interesting horse discoveries in our western deposits.6

The scientists in this country almost universally seem to believe in development to a greater or less extent, & I don’t see how any sane observer can do otherwise, & the only question seems to be in its application to man, & upon this point there is now no doubt in my mind. If it is not asking too much I would be greatly obliged if you will send me your photograph with signature.

I remain Sir | Yours respectfully | C. Hart Merriam, | Locust Grove, | New York.


Merriam refers to Hayden 1873.
The report states that all males of Baird’s rabbit (now Lepus americanus bairdii, the snowshoe hare) have teats and take part in suckling the young (Hayden 1873, p. 667).
Yellowstone is in the western United States, in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; it had become a national park in 1872.
The genus Chrysomitris (now Carduelis) contains siskins; Cardinalis is the genus of cardinals; Myiarchus is the genus of tyrant flycatchers; and Melospiza is the genus of song sparrows. Merriam refers to Robert Ridgway and Elliott Coues.
Othniel Charles Marsh established the North American origins of the horse with a series of fossil discoveries (see O. C. Marsh 1874).


Hayden, Ferdinand Vandeveer. 1873. Sixth annual report of the United States geological survey of the Territories, embracing portions of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah: being a report of progress of the explorations for the year 1872. Washington: Government Print Office.

Marsh, Othniel Charles. 1874. Fossil horses in America. American Naturalist 8: 288–94.


Sends the 1872 Report of the U. S. Geological Survey of the Territories, for which he was zoologist.

Most American naturalists support CD. His study of ornithology convinced him.

Lepus bairdii has a distribution limited to Yellowstone Lake.

No doubt CD knows of O. C. Marsh’s horse fossils.

Letter details

Letter no.
Clinton Hart Merriam
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
East Hampton, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 171: 159
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9461,” accessed on 3 April 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22