skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. S. Anderson   24 May 1874

Fort Lyon C.T. | U.S. America

May 24th. 1874

Mr. Charles Darwin, F.R.S. &c.

Hon. Sir;

It is with a feeling of great diffidence that I forward you by this mail a photograph of a natural curiosity found near this post, in Lat 37o30N, Long. 103o20W., as I hesitate to intrude my ignorant curiosity on your valuable time.1

The object in question is a very accurate representation of some animal not unlike the Grizzly Bear found hereabouts, except in the peculiar formation of the mouth & nose.

The image is painted—as it were—on a perpendicular face of a very soft grey sandstone rock, about 40 feet from its base & 38 feet from its top, but may be easily reached—to the level of the bottom of the picture—by climbing over the dèbris at the foot of the bluff.

The coloring matter appears to be iron (probably Fe3O4) and penetrates the rock to a depth of more than 12 inch.

The image is in length, from nose to tail, about 812 feet; it was found here by the first white settlers who came to the country, & Indian tradition refers its origin to a most remote past. Among the Indians—who hold it in the highest veneration—it is called a “Bear”, & worshipped as such. The color is noticeably darkest near the shoulder, growing gradually lighter toward either extremity.

I have forwarded copies of the photo. to several scientific men in this country, & from a few have received acknowledgements. Prof. Henry of the Smith’n. Instn.2 suggested that it is a work of Indian art, but the color—which is the same as that with which the rock is in many places stained—seems to have withstood the action of the weather too well, & to have penetrated too deep into the rock to add confirmation to this theory.

Prof. Kendrick of the U.S. Mil. Acad, at West Point, thinks it a lusus naturæ.3

I am Sir with great respect, | Your Most Obedient | & Humble serv’t. | Geo. S. Anderson | 2nd. Lieutn. Cav U.S. Army


The photograph has not been found. From the co-ordinates, the location is near what is now the Comanche National Grassland in south-east Colorado (see also
Joseph Henry was secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
Henry Lane Kendrick was professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at the United States military academy at West Point, New York (an army officer-training facility). Lusus naturae (Latin): sport or freak of nature.


Sends CD photograph of a "natural curiosity", a bear apparently "painted" with red iron on the face of a soft rock; has also sent copies to a few U. S. scientists.

Letter details

Letter no.
George S. Anderson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Fort Lyon, USA
Source of text
DAR 159: 58
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9466,” accessed on 9 March 2021,

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