Odocoileus hemionus Rafinesque
common name: mule deer

The Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory (NREL), Colorado State University, has kindly granted permission to use this superb image of a mule deer. This and other work by photographer L. L. Master can be viewed at the NREL site (link below).

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque used various sources of information from which to give descriptions of species. In the case of the mule deer, now bearing the scientific name Odocoileus hemionus, Rafinesque based his description on the words of a man held captive by Indians for many years. Rafinesque's account, as given in the article cited below, is reprinted below. He begins by describing his source:

A concise and interesting Topographical Description of the state of Ohio, Indiana Territory and Louisiana, &c. was published at Boston in 1812, in a small 12mo. volume, by an anonymous writer, styling himself a late Officer in the U. S. Army. To this work, an account of the Indiana tribes East and West of the Mississippi, is added; and likewise, the Journal of Mr. Le Raye while a captive with the Sioux nation, on the waters of the Missouri. This Journal occupies from page 158 to 204, and is replete with useful and valuable geographical information and natural observations.

Mr. Charles Le Raye, who appears to have been a Canadian trader, and an intelligent man, was going, in 1801, to trade with the Osage nation, when, on the 23d of October, he was made a prisoner and plundered, by a party of Sioux or Nadowessies, who were then at war with the Osages. He remained their captive until the 26th April, 1815, and during that period visited many nations on both sides of the Missouri, such as the Ricaras, Mandans, Minetarrees, and the Crow, the Flat-head and Snake Indians. He was allowed to accompany a hunting party of Minetarrees (or Menitures or Gros-ventres) to the plain of the Yellow Stone river, and the upper plains of the Missouri, near the Rocky Mountains . . .

I consider those [observations] furnished by Mr. Le Raye as highly valuable . . . and have been induced to collect them together and illustrate them by appropriate notes or comments . . .

Rafinesque itemizes nine mammals, of which the third, on page 163 of Le Raye's journal, is the mule deer. Le Raye's description follows:
A kind of deer is frequently killed here (on the Sioux river), called mule deer. It is smaller and of a darker colour than the red deer, having large branched horns. The ears are very large, the tail about five inches long with short dark hair, and at the end a tuft composed of long black hair.
Immediately following is Rafinesque's note, giving the eariest scientific name for this new species:
This short account is however characteristic; it belongs to my Cervus hemionus (mule deer) a new species, akin to the Cervus melanurus, or black tail deer. Its description will be—horns very branched, longer than the head, ears elongated, body of a reddish brown, tail brown with a black tuft at the end.

The above account is quoted from

C. S. R.[afinesque], [Article 5, Museum of natural sciences], "Extracts from the Journal of Mr. Charles Le Raye, relating to some new Quadrupeds of the Missouri Region, with notes by C. S. R.," The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, 1, no. 6 (October, 1817) 437-439.

Although Rafinesque referred to "black-tailed deer" as a separate species, this name is now understood as a synonym for "mule deer". In 1832, Rafinesque placed this species in his newly erected genus Odocoileus..

Further details can be accessed by visiting the Smithsonian Institution's Mammal Species of the World Home Page (link below). When you get there, you'll be prompted for a name; choose the "scientific" option, and type "odocoileus".

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, naturalist
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