THE FIRST AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGIST
IN THE IMPOSING entrance hall of his Monticello mansion, Thomas Jefferson proudly displayed his prize collection of natural history specimens-- mastodon bones and other fossils along one wall, a mix of prized Indian relics against the other. His estate at Poplar Forest continued the theme, displaying a Cree deerskin dress collected by Lewis and Clark at Fort Mandan, painted buffalo robes from the Plains, a Chinook woman's skirt of cedar bark, an Omaha tobacco pouch, and a Crow Indian cradleboard.
When Jefferson died, insolvent, his Indian artifact collection was dispersed. A number of his most valued Indian artifacts were later lost to fire. Some were simply discarded by those who did not share Jefferson's enthusiasm for things Indian. Some today are curated in Harvard's Peabody Museum. A few have found their way back to Virginia, installed in a reconstruction of Jefferson's Monticello entrance hall, which the historian Roger Kennedy calls the nation's first museum of the American Indian."
Jefferson was always fascinated by American Indians and their relationship to the natural world. A catholic scholar, he actively pursued a program of