The Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon

The Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon

The Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon

The Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon


Historians, biographers, and scholars of John James Audubon and natural history have long been mystified by Audubon's 1843 Missouri River expedition, for his journals of the trip were thought to have been destroyed by his granddaughter Maria Rebecca Audubon. Daniel Patterson is the first scholar to locate and assemble three important fragments of the 1843 Missouri River journals, and here he offers a stunning transcription and critical edition of Audubon's last journey through the American West.

Patterson's new edition of the journals--unknown to Audubon scholars and fans--offers a significantly different understanding of the very core of Audubon's life and work. Readers will be introduced to a more authentic Audubon, one who was concerned about the disappearance of America's wild animal species and yet also loved to hunt and display his prowess in the wilderness. This edition reveals that Audubon's famous late conversion to conservationism on this expedition was, in fact, a literary fiction. Maria Rebecca Audubon created this myth when she rewrote her grandfather's journals for publication to make him into a visionary conservationist. In reality the journals detail almost gratuitous hunting predations throughout the course of Audubon's last expedition.

The Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon is the definitive presentation of America's most famous naturalist on his last expedition and assesses Audubon's actual environmental ethic amid his conflicted relationship with the natural world he so admired and depicted in his iconic works.


Out of the trunk grow the branches.

— Herman Melville

This project began with a trip to the Audubon Center at Mill Grove (Audubon, Pennsylvania) in June 2008. My wife and I made the drive so that I could study the Alice Ford Papers housed there in hopes of finding answers to questions that had arisen while I was working on my edition of Audubon’s journal of 1826. Since Ford’s work on Audubon spanned half a century, the six archival boxes and one large rubber storage tub contained many hundreds of documents: correspondence, transcriptions, notebooks, photographs, exhibit catalogs, brochures, and books. One item especially intrigued me, though, when I lifted it from its box (box 3, item 14, of the inventory I prepared). in an envelope from the Newberry Library in Chicago was a photocopy of a manuscript, across the top of the front page of which Audubon had written, “Copy of my Journal from Fort Union homeward Commenced Aug 16 at 12 o’clock, the moment of our departure.” So far as I knew at that time, no portion of his 1843 Missouri River journals was known to have survived. His granddaughter Maria Rebecca Audubon was said to have destroyed the original journals after publishing her rather freely edited Audubon and His Journals in 1897 (more on this in part 1). Yet here was a copy of a portion of the original journals that Audubon ordered his scribe to make. Differences between the Newberry partial copy and the granddaughter’s version of the same dates motivated me to keep searching.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.