The Prolific Life of Barton Evermann

Anyone who’s studied fisheries science will have seen the name “Barton Evermann.” He was a full-fledged member of the gilded age of American ichthyology and created a greater good working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ancestral U.S. Fish Commission.

Barton Evermann was born in Iowa in 1853, and came of age on an Indiana farm. Despite his world travels and a career that would plant him on the Pacific Coast, Evermann considered Indiana his home and it was there that he would eventually return.

Teaching was his first profession and one he practiced intermittently to his last days. From 1871 to 1879, he taught in Indiana schools and then ventured west to California for a two-year teaching stint. He returned to the Hoosier state in 1881, and enrolled at Indiana University to study ichthyology under David Starr Jordan. Evermann and Jordan had been acquainted since 1877, when Evermann and his wife took an extended fish-collecting trip with him through the Southeast.

Barton Everman, 1905 (Source: Sam and Jane Zook family archives.)

From 1883 to 1885, Evermann took a break from the university to serve as the superintendent of Carroll County, Indiana, schools. He finished his first degree in 1886, and published one of his first papers, “Fishes observed in the vicinity of Brookville, Franklin County, Indiana” in the Bulletin of the Brookville Society of Natural History. A cascade of scientific papers, books and magazine stories on fish, birds and mammals would follow for the next 45 years.

Evermann continued his studies at Indiana University while simultaneously chairing the biology department at Indiana State Normal School, earning a doctorate by 1891. That very year Evermann took a job with the U.S. Fish Commission as a research scientist aboard the Albatross and steamed to the Bering Sea.

Evermann’s capabilities led to his rise in the Fish Commission. Based in Washington DC, he was the Commission’s Ichthyologist from 1891 to 1914. He led the Division of Statistics and Methods of Fisheries in 1902 and 1903. From 1903 to 1910, he was the Chief of Scientific Inquiry, simultaneously serving as Curator of Fish at the U.S. National Museum. From 1910 to 1914, he was the Chief of Alaska Fisheries. All the while, Evermann lectured on fisheries science at Cornell and Yale universities, and somehow found the time to serve as Vice President of the Washington DC, board of education from 1906 to 1910.

To say that Evermann was a prodigious writer is an understatement. He authored books and scientific articles including “The Golden Trout of the Southern High Sierras,” in 1906. Stuart Edward White’s book, The Mountain caught President Teddy Roosevelt’s attention in 1904, where White penned a concern for a native trout in the Sierras. Roosevelt directed Evermann to investigate. In a fashion very much like the capabilities of today’s 65 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service around the country, Evermann mounted an expedition to learn more about these presumed rare trout. On horseback, Evermann led a team to the high country to learn more.

Salmo evermann

Golden Trout, Salmo whitei

What culminated were two new species of fish: Roosevelt’s trout and White’s trout. Evermann determined that California’s Kern River contained two rare fishes which he named Salmo roosevelti and S. whitei, to honor the president and the citizen conservationist. Scientists have since revised the species designations, but Evermann’s descriptions remain a testament to his capabilities in the field and at a desk.

Golden Trout, Salmo roosevelti

Golden Trout, Salmo roosevelti

Evermann went to work for the California Academy of Science in 1914, where he continued to research and publish on fish. He held that job until his death in 1932, and his remains were interred near his old Indiana farm. All told, he published nearly 400 scientific papers, mostly related to fishes, and many being descriptions of new species.

The Evermann name lives on in organisms named by others in his honor: four fish genera include Evermanni, Evermanella, Evermanolus, and Evermannichthys. Perhaps the most significant namesake is the highest point in the Archipelagos—Mt. Evermann—to go along with the mountain of scientific research that spanned a career.

Craig Springer (craig_springer@fws.gov) is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

2 responses to “The Prolific Life of Barton Evermann

    • Evermann should be in the AFS Fish Culture Hall of Fame for his immense contribution to fisheries conservation. While not a culturalist per se, he located the site of several stations that would become National Fish Hatcheries, and eventual state fish hatcheries when divested from the national fish hatchery system.

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