May 6, 2015

Montana Wild Flower Booklet for the Chicago World's Fair

By Brian Shovers, Montana Historical Society Library Manager, retired

During the month of May, hikers in Trout Creek Canyon east of Helena frequently see a beautiful pink flower sprouting from the limestone cliffs. 

Kelseya uniflora - Trout Creek, near York, in the Big Belt Mountains
Photo credit: Barbara Pepper-Rotness
The Latin name for this elegant member of the Rose family is Kelseya uniflora, named for Rev. Francis D. Kelsey, a prominent botanist and Congregational minister who resided in Helena from 1885-1893. 

While pastor of the Helena Congregational Church, Reverend Kelsey also taught botany at the College of Montana in Deer Lodge from 1887 to 1890 and was granted a Doctorate of Science by that institution. During his short stay in Helena, he amassed one of Montana's most important early botanical collections and identified several new species. Dr. Kelsey left Montana in 1893 to accept the position of Professor of Botany at Oberlin College (Ohio).

 The entire booklet (Pamphlet 4157) is available for viewing on the Montana Memory Project
The Montana Historical Society Library recently acquired a beautiful handmade booklet containing eleven botanical pressed specimens. This booklet, produced under the direction of Dr. Kelsey, was intended to accompany the exhibit of Montana wild flora for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Epilobium spicatum (Fireweed) - one of eleven pressed botanical specimens in PAM 4157.
The book, prepared by L.A. Fitch of Sheridan, Montana in the autumn of 1892, also includes pen and ink drawings of Rainbow Falls on the Missouri and Ruby Lake in southwestern Montana. 

"Ruby Lake near Sheridan, Mont."
Through a recent, generous donation by Matt Lavin at the Montana State University Herbarium (MONT), a major portion of Montana's wild plant exhibit for the 1893 World's Fair now resides at the Montana Historical Society Museum. The remainder of Dr. Kelsey's extensive personal collection can be found at the Miami University Herbarium in Oxford, Ohio. 

And, his legacy lives on in the naming of the Helena Chapter of the Native Plant Society: Kelsey

(Brian contributed this post shortly before his retirement at the end of last year; we saved it to kick-off the Spring wildflower season.)