Henry Pratten (? -1857)
paleontologist, naturalist

Henry Pratten co-authored findings of newly-discovered species with J. G. Norwood. He has two pages in David Dale Owen's monumental 1852 Report. A fossil species and a plant bear Pratten's name, and a number of his letters have survived. It is surprising that no record of Henry Pratten's year of birth or his parents' names seems to have been published.
Among the manuscripts sent to and preserved by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia is one by David Dale Owen of New Harmony. At the beginning, Dr. Owen writes,
Mr. Henry Pratten, one of my assistants in the geological survey of the North West in 1848 & 1849 went to California in the Spring of 1850 and returned last Febr. Being interested in mineralogy & geology he made observations in these Departments of sciences both on his way out and during the time he remained there.
Owen's manuscript was eventually published:

David Dale Owen, "Notice of a New Mineral from California, Submolybdate of Iron," Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 6 (1852-53) 108-9.

The mineral in question he [Pratten] obtained at a locality known as the Wisconsin & Illinois claim near Nevada City, at which place he resided most of the time he remained in California.
Owen then tells that Pratten recognized the mineral as unusual. He and others were unable to identify it. After Pratten had brought the mineral to New Harmony, Owen was able to establish that it was new to science.

The significance of Owen's manuscript for present purposes is that it gives the earliest known published reference to Henry Pratten (1848), tells that he was on Owen's staff during the extensive Northwest geological survey (identified more precisely in the 1852 report cited below), and describes Pratten's trip to California, which led to the naming of a plant in his honor.

Another of Owen's assistants during the Northwest survey was Fielding B. Meek, who later became the chief paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution. Letters from Pratten to Meek dated 1849 and 1853 repose in the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The image shown here is taken from the 1849 letter. These letters indicate that Pratten was an avid collector and trader of fossils. His colloquial style stands out among the many other letters in the Meek collection: "By Jupiter, Meek, I believe I can trade with Dr. Conyngton for another of his Exogyra's..."

During the 1848-49 Northwest survey, Pratten kept a list of species of birds sighted. The list is published in

David Dale Owen, Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota; and Incidentally of a Portion of Nebraska Territory. Made under Instructions from the United States Treasury Department, Lippincott, Grambo & Co., Philadelphia, 1852. (Pratten's list occupies pages 622-3; see the link below.)

When Dr. Norwood was appointed first Illinois State Geologist in 1851, Henry Pratten became "attached" to Norwood's Illinois State Geological Survey. At first, the Survey was headquartered in New Harmony, but in 1853, Norwood was ordered by the governor of Illinois to move to Springfield, and Pratten moved there also.

The two Illinois geologists coauthored three papers:

J. G. Norwood and H. Pratten, "Notice of Producti found in the Western States and Territories, with descriptions of twelve new species," Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 3 (1854) 5-22.

J. G. Norwood and H. Pratten, "Notice of the genus Chonetes, as found in the Western States and Territories, with descriptions of eleven new species," Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 3 (1855) 23-31.

J. G. Norwood and H. Pratten, "Notice of fossils from the Carboniferous series of the Western States, belonging to the genera Spirifer, Bellerophon, Pleurotomaria, Macrocheilus Natica, and Loxonema, with descriptions of eight new species," Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 3 (1855) 71-77.

As the titles of the publications indicate, Norwood and Pratten introduced 31 new species. The articles themselves indicate that the type specimens of the new species were mostly in the Illinois State Collection. Over the decades since 1855, the Collection has been lost, and searching during the 1990's has led to the conclusion that the present location of only one of the 31 type specimens is known. In 1994, this little shell reposed in a steel cabinet in the basement of the Illinois State Geological Survey. It was photographed and made available for this website - just click below on Chonetes maclurea.

One of the lost types, associated with the first of the three papers coauthored by Norwood and Pratten, is of a species named by Norwood in Pratten's honor. Norwood's dedication is in these words:

It affords me great pleasure to be able to dedicate this new and beautiful species to my friend and fellow laborer, Mr. H. Pratten; to whose quiet but fruitful labors, for many years, several branches of science, besides geology, are largely indebted."
The full current name of the species is Linoproductus prattenianus (Norwood and Pratten). A description and illustration are given in

Hervey Woodburn Shimer and Robert Rakes Shrock, Index Fossils of North America, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1965.

Henry Pratten's trip to California has already been mentioned in connection with a new mineral found near Nevada City. Details about this trip are found in

Elias Durand, "Plantę Prattenianę Californicę; An enumeration of a collection of California Plants, made in the vicinity of Nevada, by Henry Pratten, Esq., of New Harmony; with critical notices and descriptions of such of them as are new, or yet unpublished in America," Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 3 (1855) 79-104.

Durand writes,

This collection, which was placed in my hands ... is composed of about two hundred specimens, many of which, unfortunately, are in a very incomplete state. It was made during the spring and summer of 1851, in the vicinity of Nevada, a place situated on Deer Creek, one of the affluents of the Sacramento river ... I am informed by Mr. Pratten that many of his plants belong, exclusively, either to the granitic or to the schistose formations, whilst others grow indifferently on both.
About forty of the two hundred specimens were judged to be new. Of these, Durand assigned Pratten's name to three:

Mimulus prattenii, on page 98;
Stachys prattenii, on page 100;
Eriogonum prattenianum, on page 100.

A botanist for the Digital Library Project at the University of California, Berkeley, has kindly written that Mimulus prattenii now goes by the name Mimulus bicolor, and that Stachys prattenii, by the name Stachys ajugoides var. rigida. Five images of the former and 18 of the latter can be viewed at the Brousseau Wildflower Database (link below).

The botanist confirmed that the third species has retained the original name: Eriogonum prattenianum Durand. This, then, appears to be the only plant whose current name bears Pratten's name. The magnificent Jepson Herbarium reveals three matches when searched for this species:

Eriogonum prattenianum Durand;
Eriogonum prattenianum Durand var. Reveal & J. R. Shevock;
Eriogonum prattenianum Durand var. prattenianum.

Click on "Rare Plant" (below) to see an image of the Eriogonum prattenianum.

In his letter from Springfield dated March 11, 1856, Henry Pratten wrote to Meek at the Smithsonian:

Friend Meek I suppose Mr. Hall [State Geologist of New York] has informed you that I have declined his offer; to you as an old friend I can state the reasons which I did not do in my letter to him. The principal [one] was [that] I was married four weeks ago in Mt. Vernon [Indiana]. If I could do that any where else as well as here I should leave, for this is one of the most miserable places I have ever lived in.
Indeed, life in Springfield must have been miserable for Norwood, Pratten, and others in the Illinois State Geological Survey. Provisions for the Survey in the Capitol were inadequate. For example, when Norwood was told to move the Survey from New Harmony to Springfield, no place but the Supreme Court Room could initially be found for the state fossil and mineral collections; for a discussion of the circumstances, see the reference cited at the webpage for Joseph Granville Norwood.

On May 4, 1857, Dr. Norwood wrote on engraved Illinois State Geological Survey stationery to Meek that Mr. Pratten was unable to finish a job for Meek. In Dr. Norwood's words,

Mr. Pratten told me, on Friday last, that you had sent him a map on which he was to make annotation, to be returned to you. At his request, I looked over the map, and wrote what he dictated. He was too sick, however, to carry out all his designs for you.

Tomorrow, I will mail the map to you. I fear, very much, that it will be his last work. He is very sick. He has erysipelas, of a most malignant type.

If he does leave us, to me it will be like losing my right hand.

In a letter dated May 7, 1857, B. F. Shumard wrote to Meek:
I write now to inform you of the sad news of the death of our old friend Mr. Pratten. He died on the 5th [of May] of erysipelas ... and was buried in Springfield. He leaves an interesting young wife and child.
Court records indicate that the "interesting young wife" was Laura V. Pratten. Among the records is an Appraisement Bill of the goods, chattels and personal estate of Henry Pratten decd. The Bill includes a Cabinet of fossils ($800), a Cabinet of minerals ($150), and Collection of birds ($700).

Ongoing search
The search continues for information about Henry Pratten's early life. Recent findings are that his widow returned to Mt. Vernon, Indiana. According to the 1880 Federal Census for Posey County, she, 49, and her son, Harry, 23, resided with her three younger brothers, of surname Dougherty. Under the column marked "Birthplace of father" for Harry is written "Eng." Thus, it appears that the man for whom species of Linoproductus and Eriogonum are named was born in England.

Quotes from letters written by Pratten, Norwood, and Shumard are used by permission of Smithsonian Institution Archives (RU 7062, Fielding B. Meek Papers, 1843-1877).


The Jepson Herbarium, University of California, Berkeley
Pratten's list of Wisconsin and Minnesota birds, from Owen's 1852 Report
Chonetes maclurea Norwood and Pratten
Eriogonum prattenianum, Durand var. avium Reveal & Shevock
Joseph Granville Norwood, geologist
Native Wildflowers of California (Brousseau Collection)
New Harmony Scientists, Educators, Writers & Artists
Clark Kimberling Home Page