By Harley Shaw

The first scientists to cross the upper Verde watershed were members of the Army Corp of Topographical Engineers.  They traveled horseback from Zuni during the fall of 1851, under the command of Brevet Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves.  Dr. Samuel Woodhouse was the physician on the trip, hence, by standard practice of the day, the expedition's official naturalist.  As such, he became the first biologist to collect specimens from northern Arizona.  Woodhouse and Sitgreaves had worked together earlier on a survey of the Indian Territory.  Other scientists included engineer Lieutenant J. G. Parke and artist-cartographer, Richard Kern.  The guide on the trip was trapper Antoine Leroux.  Their orders were to locate a wagon road, determine if the Zuni River provided a route to California, and assess the navigability of the lower Colorado River.  The traditional routes from Santa Fe to California were the Old Spanish Trail, which looped northward through Utah, and the other, a southern route down the Rio Grande then west through the worst of the Arizona deserts.  A more direct route through a less severe landscape was needed.


After passing north of the San Francisco Peaks, the party entered the Verde watershed on October 15, 185l, while traveling south from Leroux Springs to Rogers Lake.  They left the watershed through a low pass west of Seligman on October 27.  They were detained while tending an injured workman who ultimately died.  The group was small enough to consider the scattered Pai Indians a serious threat, hence they crossed the area from Roger's Lake to Truxton Springs rapidly hoping to reach the Mohave Villages before food, including a small herd of sheep, ran out.  Water was scarce all the way.  Leroux suffered arrow wounds, and Yuma Indians killed a straggling soldier.  In spite of the hardships, Sitgreaves, Woodhouse, Parke, and Kern left written descriptions of the terrain, wildlife, and vegetation.  Those of Sitgreaves and Woodhouse were published in the official report.  Even though Woodhouse was recovering from a rattlesnake bite suffered at Zuni, he assembled a respectable collection of plant and animal specimens.  The snakebite had disabled his left hand, so he depended on others to shoot birds and mammals for him. 

Woodhouse was favorably impressed by the forested route from Rogers Lake, around the head of Sycamore Canyon, across the south end of Garland Prairie, south of Bill Williams Mountain, to the head of Hell Canyon, which the party mistakenly identified as the Bill Williams River.  Through this region, he noted the presence of mountain lions, grizzly bear, wild turkey and tuft-eared squirrels.  He also described a host of smaller birds and mammals, including the 'pouched sand rat', his name for gophers.  He described open stands of pine and aspen interspersed with prairies and noted with special interest the rough-barked (alligator) juniper. 

Woodhouse was less impressed with the juniper woodlands and grasslands at lower elevations to the west.  As they descended the western slopes of the Mogollon Plateau, he noted that "the timber became scarce and the grass dry and thin."  Among the prairies and Utah juniper woodlands near present Ash Fork, Woodhouse saw Gambel's 'partridge', antelope, hare (jackrabbit), and wolves (by his description, probably coyotes).  He noted numerous deer.  Plants of special interest to him were "yellow-wood", now commonly known as algerita, "Obion canescens" (four-winged salt bush), and Apache plume . Somewhere near the western edge of the Verde watershed, Woodhouse wrote "we commenced ascending a mountain of quartz rock, on the top of which the cedars become quite thick; here is a portion of country apparently without animal life." 

Woodhouse is now hardly known outside of academia.  His name is attached to a hill northeast of Flagstaff, and a species of wood rat.  He accompanied one other expedition to Central America in 1853, then returned to Pennsylvania and practiced medicine the rest of his life.  He died November 23, 1904, at the age of eighty-three. 

Harley Shaw is a researcher and author. He will be speaking this afternoon at 2:00pm at the Sharlot Hall Museum about Lions in Yavapai County.

No photo available.