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This biography is from ANNALS of the Medical Society of the County of Albany, 1806-1851, by Sylvester D. Willard, M. D.

Edwin James

Edwin James was the youngest of ten sons of Deacon Daniel James, a native of Rhode Island, who settled in Stockbridge, Mass., and afterwards in Vermont. Edwin was born in Weybridge, Addison county, Vermont, in August, 1798. He graduated at Middlebury College at an early age, and came to Albany to study medicine with his brother Dr. Daniel James, who is noticed in these pages. He was meanwhile, a diligent student in the natural sciences, and entered with zeal into scientific pursuits. His talents were such, and his attainments, that at an early age he was brought to the attention of scientific men, and on recommendation of Dr. Torrey, and Hon. Smith Thompson, Secretary of Navy, and more recently, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, he was appointed by Mr. Calhoun, Secretary of War, botanist and geologist to Major Long's expedition to the Rocky mountains. He was scarcely twenty-one years of age. Dr. James left St. Louis to join the expedition on 4th day of May, 1820, in company with Major Long, and Capt. John R. Bell of the army, and traveled on horseback twenty-four days, until they reached the point on the Missouri in Nebraska Territory, a few miles above the place where Omaha city now stands. The expedition was composed of twenty persons, and on the 6th of June, they all started for the sources of the Platte river, and after six weeks journeying, and novel adventure, they reached the chasm where the river issues from the mountains. They visited what the accomplished explorer Pike, had supposed the highest spur of the Rocky mountains, and which bears his name, and also a summit that had been reported as inaccessible, for the peak that Pike ascended, was eight or ten miles south of this, a much less elevation, and wooded to the top. Love of adventure and courageous enterprise, were combined in Dr. James, and on the 13th and 14th of July, a detachment of the party under his direction made the ascent. On the 15th day of July, 1820, Major Long records as follows: "From information derived from the Indians and hunters, as also from the account given by Pike, relative to this peak, it appears that no person, either civilized or savage, has ever ascended to its summit, and that the ascent was deemed utterly impracticable. Dr. James having accomplished this difficult and laborious task, I have thought it proper to call the peak after his name, as a compliment to which his zeal and perseverance, together with the skillful attention with which he has examined its character and productions, give him the fairest claim. Pike has indeed, given us notice that there is such a peak, but he only saw it at a distance; the unfortunate circumstances under which he came into its neighborhood, prevented him from ariving [sic] at its base."

The expedition divided, and Major Long and Dr. James intended to go to the sources of the Red river, but misled by Indians, they went to Port Smith, where they arrived on the 18th of September, having been in the wilderness and among the Indians for three months and six days; subsisting on game, horse flesh, and such other fare as they could secure. The information gained, and the contributions to the botany, natural history and geology of the country, were honorable to the explorers, acceptable to the country, and cordially welcomed by men of science, both in America and Europe.

Dr. James prepared a digest of the various reports, and a history of the expedition, which was published in London under the following title: "Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819, 1820, by order of John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War. Under the command of Major S. H. Long of the U. S. Topographical Engineers, compiled from the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the party, by Edwin James, Botanist and Geologist to the expedition. In three volumes, London, 1823, pp. 314, 356, 347. The work is dedicated to John C. Calhoun.

Dr. James gave name to the Ozark mountains, calling them after an almost extinct tribe of Indians. Dr. James was subsequently appointed a Surgeon in the United States army, and was alternately stationed at Sault St. Marie, and at the Military Post in Watervliet, near Albany. It was probably while residing here, that he united with the Medical Society. He was not the man to be idle at a post where there was but little labor, and he accordingly translated the New Testament into the Chippewa language, under the title of Kekitckemanitomenahn, Gahbemahjeinnunk Jesus Christ Otoashke Waweveendummahgawin. Albany, Packard and Van Benthuysen, 1833. He also published the life of John Tanner, a lad who was stolen by the Indians in Ohio, and found thirty years afterwards in the Red River country.

Dr. James resigned his position in the army, and became associated for a time with Mr. Edward C. Delavan, in conducting a journal devoted to the cause of temperance, but dissenting from some of the leading advocates of that reform, he relinquished his connexion with the journal about 1836, and concluded to make a home in the far west. About 1837, he received from the government the appointment of Indian agent, and for a time resided among the Osage Indians, in Western Missouri, but in endeavoring to exclude whisky from the country, he encountered fierce opposition from the traders, and was the subject, in consequence, of so many annoyances that he was glad to resign the agency. He then returned to a place near Burlington, in Iowa, where he had selected a home, and took up his residence.

From this time forward, a change seems to have come over the mental habits of Dr. James. He courted retirement, and sought to avoid observation; his manners and his dress became singular and eccentric. He discarded confidents, and unbosomed his thoughts to none. He appeared distrustful of others, cold as the mountains, and impenetrable as the wilderness he had explored; and he assumed an Indian fortitude and stoicism. And from this change, he became in matters of politics, ultra radical, and uncompromising, and especially on the subject of slavery, where he was an unconditional abolitionist. He showed great kindness to some poor Danish Mormons, who settled in his neighborhood, giving them employment, and instruction in the English language.

In early life, Dr. James united with the Presbyterian church, but subsequently changed his relation to the Baptist, and later in his life his mind became greatly unsettled in religious faith. It is but charitable to believe in a review of his conduct and opinions in the last years of his life, that his eccentricity arose from a morbid condition, that approached "a mind diseased." Encountering for years the dangers of adventure in the dark forests, among the rocks and rivers of the great west, and among wily Indians, Dr. James was at last to meet, within sight of his own door, an accidental death.* He fell from a load of wood, as the wagon descended a small pitch of ground, and the wheels passed over his chest, and he died three days afterwards, on the 28th of October, 1861, at the age of sixty-three years.

* Most of the facts of the foregoing sketch, were from a Burlington, Iowa, paper, noticing the death of Dr. James.

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