Guess Who’s Coming to Two Rivers Chautauqua? Huey Long

Traveling salesman, self-educated lawyer, Louisiana Governor, and U.S. Senate member, Huey Long appeared at a time when people needed someone to champion those who were suffering through the depression and seemed without a political voice. Huey campaigned on issues of economic equality which generated very strong feelings from the populace; the average Louisiana citizen loved him, the unions, big businesses and wealthy hated him.

Fortunate to have been raised in a family that stressed the importance of an education, Huey was inquisitive and had a photographic memory, two characteristics that would propel him to advance rapidly through school. Eventually, after only three semesters of law school, he passed the Louisiana Bar Exam at age 21. He was a successful lawyer, but felt that he would accomplish more as a politician.

The 1920s in Louisiana was a time of 25% unemployment, a high rate of illiteracy and extreme poverty. Huey sought to change that and ran for Governor, traveling to the poorest of communities painting a picture of a more progressive time. His “Share Our Wealth” program promised free public education, paved roads, free hospital care and lower property taxes. He eventually initiated 22 different programs aimed at improving the quality of life in Louisiana.

He was not, however, popular with everyone. The changes he eventually made included how people were taxed; large corporations and wealthy individuals were taxed much more while the poor had their taxes reduced. He made enemies among the wealthy and well-connected; chief among them was the Standard Oil Company which he taxed to finance a free textbook program. Prominent members of the community gathered together in “assassination clubs” which met secretly and plotted against Long.

While Huey accomplished much of what he set out to do, he was also corrupted by the power of his position, often acting in ways he condemned in others. He created a group of his own cronies, granting them contracts and quietly taking their “donations,” further infuriating those whose influence diminished as Huey’s grew.

A successful, power-driven politician who ruffled feathers, it seemed almost inevitable that Huey’s life would not end quietly. He made many enemies; even Franklin Delano Roosevelt called him “one of the country’s two most dangerous men.” He was often threatened and surrounded himself and his family with security. It was not too surprising, therefore, when he was shot by a disgruntled man in the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge and died from his injuries two days later. That over 200,000 people attended his funeral was a testament to his popularity.

Join us for Two Rivers Chautauqua September 18th and 19th at Cross Orchards Historic Site to hear Huey Long’s story as portrayed by Chuck Chalberg.

–Jennifer Murrell,
Mesa County Libraries


Titles Recommended by Chuck Chalberg include:

Huey Long, by T. Harry Williams.

Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long, by Richard White.

The Story of Huey Long, by Carleton Beals.

Every Man a King, by Huey Long.

Huey Long: A Candid Biography, by Forrest Davis.

Dynasty: The Longs of Louisiana, by Thomas Martin.

Huey P. Long: Southern Demagogue or American Democrat, Henry Dethloff (ed.)

The Kingfish and His Realm, by William Ivy Hair.

Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression, by Glen Jeansome.

Reminiscences and Recollections of Huey P. Long, by Calvit Walker.

Guess Who’s Coming to Two Rivers Chautauqua? Benedict Arnold

At this year’s Chautauqua, we’re bringing in the “Rascals and Rogues.” First among them is infamous General Benedict Arnold (V). Druggist, bookseller, smuggler and skillful and courageous general of the American Revolution, he is best known for betraying his country. He was, however, also called the “Greatest General” by George Washington. Who was this general whose name is synonymous with being a traitor? What could change a man so?

Knowing his family history makes Benedict Arnold’s story more tragic. The first Benedict Arnold was the Governor of Rhode Island. Benedict’s father (III), one of Connecticut’s most prosperous shipowners, lost the family’s fortune, forcing young Benedict to begin working to help support the family. From then on, making back the family fortune was one of his driving goals. He found his niche in the army of the American Revolution.

Frank Mullen as Benedict ArnoldAn ardent leader of many battles, Arnold captured Ft. Ticonderoga, blocked the British at Quebec, was wounded in Saratoga and drove the British out of Danbury, CT. Unfortunately, the credit for Ticonderoga went to Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, five junior officers were promoted above him while he was fighting in Quebec, and he was then accused of stealing; he demanded a court-marshal to prove his innocence. Although he was exonerated, Washington reprimanded him. He had fallen from the heroic “Greatest General,” impinging Arnold’s honor and crushing his desire to support the Americans.

Instead he became disgruntled, wounded in spirit and body and resentful of the lack of acknowledgement, advancement, and compensation he received. He married Peggy Shippen, his second wife, who was an affluent British sympathizer. With his new command of West Point, he decided that he could end the war by turning West Point over to the British and joining their side of the fight.

With this move, the British made him a General and tolerated him, but he was reviled by the Canadians and would have been killed if he stepped foot in the Americas again. He ended his life in London as a man with no country, belonging to no place, who professed until he died that he did all that he had “for the love of my country.”

Join us at Cross Orchards Historic Site for Two Rivers Chautauqua September 18th and 19th to hear Benedict Arnold’s story as portrayed by Frank Mullen.

–Jennifer Murrell,
Mesa County Libraries


Titles Recommended by Frank Mullen include:

Benedict Arnold’s Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary War, by Arthur Lefkowitz, 2008.

George Washington And Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots, by Dave Richard Palmer, 2006.

Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, by James Kirby Martin, 1997.

Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution, by James Nelson, 2006.

More Museums than Starbucks-Yea!!!

I have been involved with museums nearly my whole career. In that whole time, finding sufficient resources has always been a challenge. It is easy at times to get discouraged and wonder if the nation really values museums in general. This was the situation recently when I came across an article in the Washington Post (June 13, 2014) that made me stop, ponder and smile. I thought I would share some of its highlights with you.

The article’s author, Christopher Ingraham, pointed out that today there are 35,000 museums though-out the United States. As he pointed out, that has doubled since the 1990s. He continues to point out that this is more than all the Starbucks and McDonalds combined (yea-we beat out Big Macs and lattes-at least in quantity).

What is even more heartening is that museums are very well distributed throughout the nation. While some counties have a huge number of museums-681 in Los Angeles and 414 in New York-nearly all counties in the US have at least one museum.

This inspired me to look at museums in Colorado. I was proud to discover that nearly every county in our state could claim at least one of these cultural institutions. This includes the three Colorado counties with populations less than 1,000–San Juan (699), Mineral (712) and Hinsdale (843). In fact, the only Colorado county without a museum is Dolores County, and yet even they boast of several historic sites that are preserved for future generations.

Many of these museums, especially in the smaller communities in Colorado as well as the nation, are dedicated to the preservation of local history. Mamie Bittner of the Institute of Museum and Library and Services is quoted in the article as saying that the United States is “in love with our history – at a very grassroots level we care for the histories of our towns, villages and counties.” Museums, including the MWC, play a vital role in preserving the heritage of their communities and telling the stories of those communities.

Thank you for valuing museums-for valuing the MWC.

Positive Trends

Greetings Museum Friends. It is always fun to share positive news, especially as we enter the high season for the Museums. The staff and volunteers have been working very hard and we have some positive trends to show for it.

  • Our membership as of April 30th topped 2,000 for first time in anyone’s memory. The membership stands at 2,035.
  • Admission numbers for all the museums combined (actual people through the door) is running 2,472 ahead of this point last year.
  • On Trips and Tours, we have 364 slots reserved, up 16% over this point last year.
  • On Dino Digs, the numbers of reservations are up to 295, up 29% over this point last year. Plus, we have had great press this year with appearances in Reader’s Digest, American Scientific, EnCompass, and US Airways Magazine.
  • With the Gift Store, we are over $3,000 ahead of last year at this time. Actually, this is the highest YTD amount for the Gift Store since at least 2009.
  • At Spring Day at the Farm there were 859 in attendance this year. This is up from 742 last year and approximately 500 the year before. Meanwhile, at Heritage Day, we had 647 in attendance over the approximately 500 the year previous. Awesome!
  • Cross Orchards Kid’s Camp is off to a great start. At the time that this article is being written, the first week has started with a full session.
  • Timeless: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau exhibit, curated by Zebulon Miracle, opened on May 15 with approximately 230 in attendance.
  • Development through Sponsorships has already surpassed the total amount raised last year (which had eclipsed the year previous to that).
  • And the MWC as a whole is ahead of budget by nearly $20,000.

This is just a small bit of the good news to share. These trends are totally credited to the effectiveness of the MWC’s staff and volunteers, as well as to the support of our members.


Thank you!

Guess who’s coming to Chautauqua? Rosa Parks

Seamstress, civil rights activist, author, recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1996) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1999), and the only woman in American history to lie in state at the Capitol, we are honored to welcome Rosa Parks to the Two Rivers Chautauqua September 19th and 20th.

As the secretary of her local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Rosa was the only female officer, yet her work on numerous cases was were never publicized. She was persistent in her efforts to promote desegregation, believing that “Segregation itself is vicious and to my mind there is no way you could make segregation decent or nice or acceptable.”

Often seen as a quiet, private woman, Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white rider on the Montgomery City bus in 1955 which resulted in her arrest and a fine of $14. Her activism actually began much earlier; 12 years earlier she was thrown off a city bus for the first time. Yet it wasn’t until her arrest that black leaders in Montgomery had what they considered a fighting opportunity to take a strong stand against segregation. Here was a soft-spoken, demure lady, being arrested for sitting down; the timing was right for a non-violent protest, and the bus boycott was publicized and supported by the majority of the black community. As Rosa herself said, “The only ‘tired’ I was, was tired of giving in.” The Montgomery City bus boycott lasted 382 days and vividly brought the struggle against segregation to the world’s attention.

Having received death threats and suffering from an ulcer, Rosa and husband Raymond moved to Detroit in 1957 where she lived until her death in 2005. She remained politically active throughout her life working for 23 years for U.S. Representative John Conyers, founding the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, and writing her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story.

This quiet, thinking revolutionary and key figure in the Civil Rights Movement helped change the history of our nation. Please join us at the Two Rivers Chautauqua on September 19th and 20th to hear from Rosa Parks as portrayed by Becky Stone.
–Jennifer Murrell, Mesa County Libraries

Titles recommended by Becky Stone:
Rosa Parks – A Life, Douglas Brinkley. New York, Viking, 2000.
Rosa Parks – My Story, Rosa Parks and James Haskins. New York, Dial Books, 1992.

Two Big Feet and Jumping In: My First Days at Dinosaur Journey

My first days at Dinosaur Journey were fast, furious, and full of excitement – just the way I like it! When I arrived at Dinosaur Journey, the summer field season and Dino Dig program were already in full swing at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry. With the cooperation of the Bureau of Land Management and the untold hours of volunteer and dino digger work, a giant femur of Apatosaurus was nearing the end of its excavation. But before we could tackle removing this 6 foot and 7 inches beast of a fossil, we had to pull a smaller block of rock and bone out from in front and partly underneath it.

This jacket contained vertebrae, part of the back bone, of an herbivorous sauropod dinosaur, possibly also Apatosaurus. A projection of bone from one of the vertebrae in the jacket was jammed underneath of the large femur. This created a big worry for those of us working the quarry, because we knew the femur was riddled with cracks (thanks to our very wet spring) and, without the support of the vertebrae jacket and process lying underneath, the femur may begin to crumble out from below. Luckily, there was a large fracture running through the process near the femur’s edge. It was along this fracture we hoped that the two blocks of bone and fossil would separate from each other. When we pried the jacket free, the process broke cleanly along the existing fracture. We were then able to safely incorporate the process into the plaster jacket of the femur. I held my breath when it broke, but I knew if things went awry we had a large cadre of talented and experienced volunteers and field coordinators to help set things straight. I am so thankful for their wonderful support in the quarry and in the prep lab. I can’t imagine how I would even begin to do my job without them! I cheered as the vertebrae jacket was gently pulled by Mike Perry and his truck from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry. We had prepared for the worst, and were rewarded with the best case scenario: a clean break and two stable and separated jackets of bone and rock.

We plan to reunite the pieces of the vertebrae still in the femur jacket with the removed jacket back at Dinosaur Journey after the femur is pulled from the quarry later in July. The vertebrae jacket is now inside the Dinosaur Journey fossil prep lab, waiting patiently for its turn to be opened up, rock removed, and fossils repaired and cleaned for scientific study.

The jacket’s removal was featured in an article by Rachel Sauer in the Saturday, June 28th edition of The Daily Sentinel. Be sure to check it out for more details on my nail-biting first Friday as Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of Western Colorado.

~Julia McHugh

An Essay on Rosa Parks by Chautauquan Becky Stone

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?

From Psalm 27, one of Rosa’s two favorite psalms

Rosa Parks is often thought of as quiet and demure, a devout Christian and a stoic supporter of non-violent civil disobedience. Those who knew her well understood that this was only part of the picture – the public part. She had always been an activist and a bit of a rebel.

Rosa’s mother and her maternal grandparents raised her. She was greatly influenced by grandparents who had very different responses to their lives as slaves. Her grandmother was a Christian who stood strong in her faith in God and His gospel of Love. Her grandfather, the son of his slave mother and their master, was driven by his hatred of white people. He stood armed and ready to fight the Ku Klux Klan whenever their home in Pine Level, AL, was threatened and he dreamed of following Marcus Garvey back to the motherland in Africa. Rosa was a blend of the two.

Rosa grew into a very private person. She felt strongly about race issues, but had never discussed them with anyone outside of her family until she met Raymond Parks. “Parks,” as she called him, was actively involved in the NAACP. He met regularly with the local NAACP committee working on the Scottsboro Boys case. He continued that work after he and Rosa married. The committee met in their home secretly with pistols on the table just in case . . . Parks asked Rosa to wait on the porch outside during the meetings so she would not hear their conversation. That way, if the men were arrested, she could honestly say she did not know what they were saying.

Rosa joined the NAACP and was an active member, serving as secretary and the head of the NAACP youth activities — including their effort to desegregate the Montgomery public library. They failed, but the young people learned how to take a stand against segregation and for personal dignity. Rosa had been thrown off a Montgomery City bus 12 years before the famous incident in 1955. Starting in 1943, Rosa doggedly went to register to vote three times before she “passed the test” and had the privilege of paying the $16.50 poll tax so that she could finally vote in 1946. In the summer of 1955, she received a scholarship to attend leadership training at the famed Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and was profoundly influenced by Myles Horton and grass roots organizer Septima Clark. Rosa regularly gave her lunch hour to helping Fred Gray, a young black attorney, with his office. As the secretary of the NAACP, she kept current with all the cases in which they were seeking action. She became a supporter of both Martin Luther King, whom she considered a good friend, and Malcom X, whom she never met, but did hear speak a week before he was assassinated.

Rosa said in a 1967 interview, “I don’t believe in gradualism or that whatever is to be done for the better should take forever to do.” She was always ready for action. Refusing to give up her bus seat that fateful day in 1955 was almost instinctive for Rosa; because she was tired of giving in, being pushed around, seeing people treated badly because of the color of their skin, obeying Jim Crow laws, and being oppressed. She was never one to let fear overwhelm her: “When one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.” Rosa Parks was primed and ready for action, as was all of the black population of Montgomery AL in 1955. They simply seized the moment.


Quotes from Rosa regarding the incident on the bus:

The only “tired” I was, was tired of giving in.

When one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.

I would have compromised my dignity if I had buckled one more time to the white establishment and relinquished my seat.

Your behavior must be above reproach . . . this is how you gain the respect of others.

Segregation itself is vicious and to my mind there is no way you could make segregation decent or nice or acceptable.

Love, not fear, must be our guide.


Rosa Parks – A Life by Douglas Brinkley

Ms. Stone’s notes: This is the book I rely on extensively. It is extremely well researched and written very clearly and objectively. His bibliographical notes are excellent. I have read quite a few titles from it. My favorites: The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward; The Montfomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started it by Jo Ann Robinson; Making Whiteness by Grace Elizabeth Hale.

Rosa Parks – My Story by Rosa Parks and James Haskins


Becky Stone is a storyteller who also has training as an actor. She has performed as a storyteller, actor, singer, and dancer for 45 years when raising four children, teaching, directing, and small magazine publishing with her husband has allowed.

In 2002, the Greenville, South Carolina Chautauqua Society contacted the Asheville-Buncombe North Carolina Library to see if they could recommend someone to portray Pauli Murray the following year. They were put in touch with Becky. That began her Chautauqua career. She has portrayed Pauli Murray, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks for Greenville and several other Chautauquas. She also regularly performs these characters using the Chautauqua format for schools, churches, libraries, and universities.

An Essay on Jane Addams by Chautauquan Annette Baldwin

Valiant Choices

Jane Addams was among the first generation of America’s college-educated women. Her personal struggle to oppose the conventions of society and to find a deeply meaningful purpose to her life, led ultimately to her decision to cofound Chicago’s Hull-House, the first major social settlement in the United States. Addams would become an inspiring and influential leader among the most intellectual and productive reformers in the late 19th and early 20th century Progressive Reform Movement, which sought to alleviate the myriad of economic, political and social ills rising from the Industrial Revolution and the rampant growth of America.

In her lifetime, Jane Addams was a near legend – internationally known and respected. Hull-House opened in September 1889, and while Stanley Coit’s Neighborhood Guild in New York City predated Chicago’s settlement house by one year, Hull-House became the most well-known effort where educated young men and women with a commitment to social reform came to live among the poor, especially the immigrant poor, to provide cultural and educational programs and confront the injustices pervading the lives of the powerless. Addams was a natural-born leader with the capacity to attract dozens of intelligent and eager young women – and men – from around the country, many of whom became exceptional leaders in the various individual reform movements. They arrived at Hull-House to help make possible Jane Addams’ dream of providing a social and political haven for the millions of immigrants flocking to Chicago with their own dream: a better and fuller life. Instead, the horrifically overcrowded west side neighborhoods of the City and the resulting deplorable sanitation conditions, compounded by the exploitation of the immigrant by industry and commerce, created an abysmal setting which perpetuated poverty and disease for the thousands living in the tenements, producing fear and hatred by American citizens for the unfamiliar cultures and customs invading the city.

As one of American’s greatest humanitarians Jane Addams had, in her own words, “an unfaltering optimistic faith in human nature.” Her life was ordered by her conviction that the inequities of human life could be brought to balance Addams efforts and leadership, as well as the dedication of the Hull-House residents, initiated important progressive reforms: industrial safety, juvenile justice, immigrant rights, labor reform, and child welfare. Jane Addams was first vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, first chairman of the Woman’s Peace Party, and founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She maintained an active, international speaking schedule and was a prolific writer, authoring eleven books and dozens of magazine articles on the enormous issues of her day.

Addams advocacy for peace led her to denounce U.S. entry into WWI and to spearhead the American Woman’s Peace Party, which became a section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. After more than 20 years of being hailed as an American heroine for her social justice advocacy, Addams and her vision for peace were condemned by the press and the public, and she found herself separated in principle from many of her associates and friends. Yet Jane Addams, as she had always managed to do, remained resolute in her ideologies. In 1931, she would receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.


“People should be dealt with on the level of their highest potentialities.”

“It is through discussion that we learn tolerance.”

“Free speech is the greatest safety valve of these United States.”

“Decent housing, better parks and playgrounds, and good schools produce better citizens.”


Jane Addams: Spirit in Action, Louise W. Knight. W.W. Norton & Company, Scranton, PA, 2010.

Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy, Jean Bethke Elshtain. Basic Books, the Perseus Books Group, New York, NY, 2002.

Twenty Years at Hull-House, Jane Addams. Print on demand from Empire Books, New York, 2013.


For 20+ years, actor and lecturer Annette Baldwin, who resides in Illinois, has been creating and performing first-person portrayals of unconventional and inspiring women. She has appeared in nearly 200 cities across 18 states, performing at public libraries, historical societies and museums, professional associations, community organizations, colleges and universities, and government agencies. Her Jane Addams has been performed at Hull-House, Chicago; for the Hull-House Association, Chicago, and at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Ms. Baldwin’s portrayals of fashion designer Coco Chanel, Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew, journalist Dorothy Thompson, woman’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, and sculptor Louise Nevelson have appeared variously on the Chautauqua stages of Maryland, New Hampshire, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, and Colorado (High Plains, Greeley). In 2009, Annette performed on the Two Rivers Chautauqua stage as Coco Chanel.

An Essay on Alexander Hamilton by Chautauquan Hal Bidlack

Thinking Continentally

Alexander Hamilton was a man who thought broadly. He believed our nation would be best served by men who were “continental in their thinking.” He meant this in the fullest possible meaning: geographically, politically, economically, culturally, and legally.

Hamilton was a soldier, a political philosopher, a propagandist, a financier, and a founder. By the time of his death at the age of 47, Hamilton had become the chief architect of the American economic system, the midwife to its legal system, and the enemy or friend of the most powerful men in the nation.

As a Founding Father, Hamilton was one of the most important, perhaps second only to General Washington. To most Americans Hamilton remains a vaguely disquieting figure, known more for how he died (mortally wounded in a duel) than for what he did in life. The echoes of Weehawken N.J., the bluff where his life ended in his “interview” with Aaron Burr, have profoundly shaped Hamilton’s modern legacy. Hero or melancholic, suicide or principled man, Hamilton’s duel with Burr had an immediate and cataclysmic impact on both men’s political and personal futures. Hamilton’s was extinguished by a lead mini-ball, Burr’s by the reverberations of shooting down a great, if flawed, man.

Alexander Hamilton served his country in three major ways. First, he served with the quill. As the principal author of the Federalist Papers, Hamilton was critical to helping Americans of both his era and ours understand the ideas, views, and beliefs of the Founding Fathers. The Papers were both propaganda and philosophy.

Secondly, Hamilton served his country in public office. Most critically, he was the first Secretary of the Treasury. In that position, he worked tirelessly to put our nation on a firm financial foundation. His understanding that a well-managed debt is an important tool in fueling economic prosperity, as well as his support of a national bank, and his profound influence with President Washington all support the claim that he was the most important Secretary of the Treasury ever.

Finally, he served his country bravely and well in war. Near the beginning of the Revolutionary War, in August of 1775, Hamilton first saw fire rescuing twenty-one 9-pound cannon from the Battery in New York under fire from HMS Asia. He served as General Washington’s closest aide from March of 1777 to April of 1781, and ended his revolutionary service by leading a critical attack at Yorktown on October 14, 1781.

Yet Hamilton can also be seen as the new American: a man who rose through society propelled only by his intelligence and energy, who became far more than seemed likely at his birth He was hated by enemies, and loved by his family and friends. Hamilton’s legacy, therefore, maybe that he was the herald, the prototype of the New American: strong of will, confident of purpose, with the encumbrances of human frailties. History does a disservice when he is remembered merely for how he died. It was his life that was far more interesting, and far more important. Hamilton resonates through the ages.


Hal Bidlack has performed around the country as Alexander Hamilton for nearly twenty years. His work as Hamilton has been seen on both national and local television. His performances have been seen in auditoriums, libraries, and museums around the country. He has performed Hamilton for a wide array of audiences, including federal judges, schoolchildren, and historians.

Bidlack is a retired career military officer. During his years in the military, he served as Deputy Director of the Air Force Institute for National Security Studies, was posted to the United States Department of State in Washington, and was as an ICBM launch officer and instructor. He also served at the White House, as Director of Global Environmental Affairs for the National Security Council. He taught Political Science at the United States Air Force Academy for 17 years. Bidlack holds academic degrees from the University of Michigan, including a doctorate in Political Science. He currently serves on the staff of a United States Senator.

Additional information can be found here.

An Essay on John James Aububon by Chautauquan Brian “Fox” Ellis

John James Audubon

1785 – 1851

A man of many firsts, Audubon was the first to paint every known bird in North America, more than 465 species, including more than a dozen birds that he was the first to scientifically describe, naming them for his friends. He was the first man in America to band a bird, proving that they migrate. He followed their migrations and wrote 5-10 pages about every bird he painted, published in seven volumes as the Ornithological Biographies. Less well known, he was a best-selling author of his day, publishing 50 short stories about his travels and travails known collectively as the “Delineations of American Scenery.” He was also the first to attempt to paint all of the four legged animals that give birth to live young, Viviparous Quadrupeds.

Most importantly, he transformed ‘scientific illustrations’ raising the skill of the draftsmen to the level of fine art, moving from flat, lifeless, two-dimensional dead birds, to dancing, flying, hunting, feeding, living, breathing birds drawn within their native habitat with scientifically accurate trees and flowers, including the differences between male and female birds, creating truly informative and inspiring paintings.

Every wildlife artist since has given his due to John James Audubon.

Born as the illegitimate son of a plantation owner who was involved in the slave trade, his father also ran the British blockades and helped America to win our revolution. Audubon later lied about his birth claiming to have been born in the Louisiana Territory, before Napolean sold it to Jefferson, so he could claim American Citizenship.

He was mostly self-taught as an artist, developing a unique technique of wiring birds into position and then painting them predominately in watercolors, but using some gouache and pastel crayons to add texture. These original paintings were then rendered into copper engravings by Robert Havell Jr. in London. The prints were hand colored and then sold by subscription. Special paper was needed, double elephant portfolio, so each bird could be painted life size. In the end, there was little profit from this massive project, but “The Birds of North America” made his reputation. They were later rendered into smaller stone lithography prints by J.T Bowen, (who also engraved the mammals), so that they could reach a broader audience. This is where Audubon made his wealth.

At every stage Audubon sought the best engravers, and was at the cutting edge of printmaking technology.

Original Havell Edition prints today range from $1000 for smaller birds in poor shape to $200,000 for mint condition, highly desirable birds. For the best modern reprints, Princeton editions range from $100 – $800 in price. But please note that until recently, Audubon was the most reproduced artist in the world… so many of the cheaper reproductions are worth less than the frame you might find them in at your local antique store.

  • Audubon painted more than 1000 specimens of 465 different species of birds.
  • Several of the birds he painted are now extinct, including the Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk, Heath Hen, and the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
  • The Audubon Society was founded years later by a committee which included George ‘Bird’ Grinnell, who, as a boy, took lessons from Audubon’s wife, Lucy. Grinnell suggested the name.

A Few Favorite Quotes:

“I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.” – John James Audubon

“In my deepest troubles, I frequently would wrench myself from the persons around me and retire to some secluded part of our noble forests.”  – John James Audubon

“Neither this little stream, this swamp, this grand sheet of water, nor these mountains will be seen a century hence as I see them now.” –John James Audubon

“…nothing, after all, could ever answer my enthusiastic desire to represent nature, except to copy her in her own way, alive and moving!”  – John James Audubon

In a letter to a friend Audubon’s wife, Lucy, wrote of her husband’s loyalty, saying she knew, “My only rival for my husband’s affection is every bird in North America.”


A Brief Bibliography:

Audubon, John James, Writings and Drawings. Library of Congress/Penguin Putnam, 1999

Always go to the source! Read what Audubon wrote in this fine collection of essays, letters and excerpts from his Ornithological Biographies and field journals.

Streshinsky, Shirley, Audubon – Life and Art in the American Wilderness. Random House, 1993 The best of the recent biographies, this book is a good balance of his personal life, his art and his ornithology.

Souder, William, Under A Wild Sky, North Point Press, 2004  This is the biography for the serious birder who would like to better understand Audubon’s field ecology and ornithology.

Rhodes, Richard, John James Audubon – The Making of an American. Knopf, 2004 Though the best selling of the recent biographies, highly recommended, and critically acclaimed, it dwells mostly on his personal life, the preference of some.

Hart-Davis, Duff, Audubon’s Elephant. Henry Holt 2004 For the art historian and all of those fascinated by Audubon’s technique as an artist, the process of printmaking and the selling of subscriptions, this is the book for you.


Brian “Fox” Ellis is an internationally renowned storyteller, author and naturalist. He has been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on environmental concerns.  Fox is also a museum consultant who has worked with The Field Museum and The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. He is the Artistic Director for Prairie Folklore Theatre, a unique theatre company that celebrates ecology and history through original musical theatre. Fox is the author of fifteen books including the critically acclaimed Learning From the Land: Teaching Ecology Through Stories and Activities, (Libraries Unlimited, 1997/2011), and The Web at Dragonfly Pond, (Dawn Publications, 2006).

Time Line of Audubon’s Life

April 28, 1785 – Born Jean Rabine on the Isle of Santa Domingo, what is now Haiti.

1788 – On the verge of the Haitian Uprising, Audubon’s father flees Haiti. His son is raised by a step-mother near Nantes, France on the Loire River.

Late 1790’s – Audubon may have studied painting with Jacques-Louis David at The Louvre.

1803 – After years of bloodshed on the barricades, as the Napoleonic Wars were heating up, to avoid conscription, Audubon was smuggled out of the country to live the life of the bon vivant on his father’s estate near Philadelphia, where he begins to paint “The Birds of America.”

1805 – Audubon is the first man in North America to band a bird, proving that they do migrate.

1807 – 1820 Audubon moves over the Appalachian Mountains to establish a trading post, first in Louisville and later in Henderson, Ky. It is in Henderson that he raises a family, builds a trading post and grist mill and later goes bankrupt to be threatened with debtor’s prison. He continues building his portfolio of birds.

1820 – After a short stint drawing charcoal portraits in Louisville, the starving artist moves his family to Cincinnati, OH. He works at the Western Museum, teaches art classes and finally commits his life to painting all of the birds of North America. His wife begins teaching to help support the family, which she continues the rest of her days.

October 1820 – Audubon makes his first pilgrimage down the Mississippi following the annual migration of birds. He brings Joseph Mason, a 12 year old assistant to paint flowers. Eventually, the two of them land in New Orleans before settling at Oakley Plantation near St. Francisville the next summer.

1826 – Audubon makes his first trip to England to find a printer and sell subscriptions to his great work, The Birds of North America.

1830’s – Audubon makes several trips to and fro, making forays into the American wilderness from Nova Scotia to the Florida Keys and back to England to supervise the print making and sell subscriptions.

1838 – The Birds of America is finished. What costs approximately $2000 then, recently sold for $11.5 million.

1840’s – Audubon begins work on the Viviparous Quadrupeds, (mammals), but his failing eyesight and senility lead his sons to finish the project. With his fame and fortune he buys 30 acres of Manhattan Island, NYC, where he spends his final days, dying in January 1851.

January 27, 1851 – Audubon passes away with his family at his side on his farm in New York.