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G. K. Warren's Expedition

Warren made three expeditions through the Nebraska Territory in the 1850s. These routes are traced on Warren's map to the right. He made the 1855 trip [blue] as chief topographical officer in Gen. Harney's expedition against the Sioux. During the 1856 trek [green], Warren commanded a survey mission in the Nebraska Territory along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. His 1857 expedition [red] was a survey of the Niobrara River and Black Hills. These three expeditions were integral to future roads and railroads and created the raw sketches that Warren sued to create his map of the trans-Mississippi West.

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Map Legend: blue=1855, green=1856, red=1857

Warren's hand-drawn map of the Nebraka territory with his three expedition routes outlined on it

Ammonite fossil

Specimen tag for the ammonite fossil

Ammonite fossil from the Cretaceous period
Collected near the Moreau River in a layer of rock from the Cretaceous Period
A fossilized specimen of an ancient marine creature. This ammonite had a snail-like shell.

Today we know that the Cretaceous Period dates from about 144 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. At the end of the Cretaceous, the sea receded to expose the land that would become the North American continent.

These Cretaceous rocks were created over millions of years as sediments are laid down and harden into rock. Newer sediments bury older sediments. Thus, older formations are typically found in the deeper layers in the earth's surface. During Hayden's time, geologists were actively classifying the fossils within these rocks, work that led to our current understanding of the history of life on our planet.

The ammonite fossil pictured here were found by Warren and Hayden near the Moreau River. The fossils are housed in the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

Bones of a gray wolf

Bones of a Gray Wolf
Canis lupus
Collected near the Yellowstone River

A member of the Canidae (dog) family, the wolf has a pair of large, fang-like canine teeth on each side of its mouth. Canine teeth are used for grabbing and stabbing prey. Wolf color varies from pure white to black, with shades of cream and brown.

Geologist F. V. Hayden accompanied Warren's expeditions. Here's what he wrote about the gray wolf, which looks like a large husky dog:

"It is found more or less numerous throughout the country, though more abundant in those portions where the buffalo range. I have never heard of their attacking the settlers and Indians. Their skins are made a considerable article of trade, usually bringing one dollar apiece. Range: Missouri River to the Pacific."

This photo was taken of a wolf skeleton assembled with bones collected by G.K. Warren.

Brachiopod fossils

Brachiopod fossils from the Carboniferous period
Collected near Ft. Leavenworth in a layer of rock that dates from the Carboniferous period
Brachiopods are marine animals that secrete a shell consisting of two parts, called valves. Although these specimens look like small clams, brachiopods are only distantly related to them.

Fossils are created when the body of a plant or animal that lived a long time ago becomes buried in sediments. Over millions of years the sediments harden into rock. This is a fossilized specimen of an ancient marine bivalve called a brachiopod.

Scientists in Warren's time could tell this fossil came from the Carboniferous Period, but they had no technique to estimate how many years ago that was. Today, scientists know that the Carboniferous Period began about 360 million years ago and ended about 290 million years ago. During these ancient times, the middle regions of North America were covered by water.

This is an image of an actual fossil collected by Warren and Hayden. The fossil resides in the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

Iowa darter

Iowa Darter
Etheostoma exile
Collected in the Cannon Ball River
A species of fish that lives among vegetation and often over muddy bottoms of lakes, ponds, or slower sections of streams

At the time of Warren's expedition, this type of fish was thought to be a new discovery to scientists. Warren's specimen was sent to the Smithsonian where it was studied by the Institution's first ichthyologist (fish scientist), Charles F. Girard. Girard named the fish boleichthys warreni in Warren's honor ("warreni" means "of Warren").

Years later, other scientists determined that Boleichthys warreni was the same species as another fish that had been discovered before Warren's expeditions. So the fish is now known by the earlier name: Etheostoma exile. The rules of taxonomy state that the earliest name used is the official name for a species.

Image courtesy of Konrad Schmidt


Collected in the Great Tertiary Lignite Basin near Ft. Union
Lignite is relatively soft and rubs off or crumbles easily. It is a low grade coal that can be burned to provide heat.

Lignite is a dark brown to black combustible mineral formed over millions of years by the partial decomposition of plant material.

Lignite reserves in the Upper Missouri Valley where Warren and Hayden explored were deposited by tons and tons of dead and decaying plants 50 to 70 million years ago, when the area was swampy.

Today, lignite is burned to generate heat and electricity. It is also used to create synthetic natural gas and fertilizers.

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Oreodont fossil

Oreodont Fossil from the Late Eocene to Middle Eocene Epochs
Merychochoerus proprius Collected near Ft. Laramie

The oreodont is an extinct even-toed hoofed mammal most closely related to sheep and other cud-chewing mammals. Oreodonts were common in the western United States 35 to 20 million years ago (or from the Late Eocene to the Middle Miocene Epochs). Oreodonts varied in size. The smallest were the size of small dogs, the largest as large as pigs. They were herbivores, or plant eaters.

The Oreodont specimens pictured here are portions of an upper jaw that was collected by F. V. Hayden, a geologist with Warren's 1857 expedition. This specimen still resides at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Sioux doll

Lakota Sioux Doll

In addition to scientific specimens, Warren collected Native American artifacts. These articles were sent to the Smithsonian and still reside at the National Museum of Natural History. This is a girl's doll which stands 19 centimeters (about 7.5 inches). It is made of leather, wool cloth, horsehide and horsehair, seed beads, pony beads, and other materials available to Plains Indians at this time. This is probably the oldest documented Plains Indian doll known to exist.

Warren collected all of his Native American artifacts after the Battle of Blue Water Creek on September 3, 1855. In this battle, 600 United States soldiers fell upon 250 Sioux, killing 86 and capturing 70. After the battle, Warren wrote in his journal that, "The sight on top of the Hill was heart rending—wounded women & children crying and moaning, horribly mangled by the bullets.' This was Warren's first battle. He was distressed by the treatment of the Sioux and became a lifelong advocate for Indian rights.

On September 8th, five days after the battle, Warren wrote, "The Ravens Bussards and Wolves had begun their work with the dead and already little but the bones of some of them were left. We found considerable property still lying on the ground." This property was a large part of the artifacts Warren collected and sent to Washington.

G. K. Warren's sketch of rock formations

G. K. Warren's Sketches
Rock formation sketches from 1855

Warren made these sketches in 1855 of various rock formations he found between the Niobrara and White Rivers, in present-day Nebraska. Drawing was an important part of G. K. Warren's education at West Point. Cadets were taught to draw precisely and accurately so that they could draw maps, create technical drawings, and record details on the field of battle. During Warren's time, cameras had been invented, but they were very large, complicated, and unreliable. They were not as common or simple to use as they are now. Scientists and explorers relied on drawings of scientific specimens. In addition to rock formations, Warren sketched forts, mountains, Native Americans, and even produced the occasional doodle.

Courtesy of New York State Library

Warren's letter to the Secretary of the Smithsonian

Warren's Letter to the Secretary of the Smithsonian

Warren's scientific work with the Smithsonian Institution was not limited to collecting natural history specimens. Throughout his travels in the western frontier, Warren assisted Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, a prominent scientist, with Henry's efforts to create the first network of systematic weather observations in the United States. This work provided the foundation for a national weather service and the integrated system of radar, satellites, weather balloons, and human observers we use today to predict the weather.

Warren helped Henry by collecting weather data, delivering instruments to volunteer field observers, instructing observers on correct procedure, communicating data to Henry, and even using the data collected for his work in hydrology and geology. For this work, Warren was elected to the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.

Read this letter for a peek into the work of these early meteorologists.

Letter courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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