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This is an original 160-year old illustration, professionally stabilized and conserved, mounted in archival materials. As framed, it measures 15” x 11”. It was donated to the ABA so 100% of your purchase supports the organization!
History of the work
This illustration was originally identified as “California Hawk”. The skin from which this illustration was drawn still exists in the Smithsonian’s collection and was recently examined. It was determined that this bird is a light-morph Harlan’s Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani). The illustration was published in 1860 as part of Volume XII of the Secretary of War’s report to Congress, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
Pressure for a transcontinental railroad grew in the mid-1800s from numerous sources including the westward spread of settlers, the acquisition of new lands after the Mexican-American War, and the California gold rush. The construction of such a railroad would be one of the most expensive projects ever funded by the United States, and politicians and lobbyists argued for routes that would benefit their areas. There was at the time, however, little known about the West on which to base a route decision. Finally, in 1853, Congress appropriated $150,000 and charged Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to ascertain the best route for a transcontinental railroad.
The explorations included not only possible railroad routes, but also the flora and fauna of the West. Naturalists employed by the expeditions shot birds they found, prepared the skins, and then forwarded them to the Smithsonian Institution. Spencer Fullerton Baird, at that point Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, oversaw the creation of this engraving by artists working there.