Arthur carl victor schott (1814–1875)

Arthur Schott was one of the many highly trained and talented Germans who came to America and became an important part of the exploration and documentation of the West. Schott was born in Stuttgart in 1814 and lived in Germany until 1850. He received an extensive education, was apprenticed at the Royal Gardens in Stuttgart, and attended the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Hohenheim. In addition to his botanical studies, Schott was an accomplished musician and published his own poetry and a collection of folktales.

After emigrating to America Schott met the prominent botanist John Torrey, and was soon employed to illustrate Torrey’s botanical report for Capt. Howard Stansbury's survey expedition to the Great Salt Lake in 1849–50. It was Torrey who recommended Schott for appointment to Emory’s survey of the United States and Mexican boundary.

The Boundary Commission in 1851 was headed by John Russell Bartlett, with Major William Emory serving as its chief astronomer . Schott was hired as a surveyor but also functioned as topographic artist, and along with John Weyss, sketched 64 scenic views (32 by each artist) of the landscape along the border that, in conjunction with the maps, were to serve as legal evidence of the position of the boundary. Because of Schott’s botanical interests, his depictions of the boundary lands include a significant amount of plant life.

In his correspondence with George Engelmann, the St. Louis physician who was classifying the cacti for the boundary report, Schott wrote: “I am charged by Maj. Emory with the finishing of some 36–40 sketches of landscapes to illustrate the topography of the Boundary line. In these plates I shall take occasion to make the foregrounds lifelike by introducing all those indigenous plants which appear most striking in the survey of the country. You will easily understand what a prominent part the Cacti will take in those sketches. By frequent repetitions I will try to give the features and characteristics of almost every one through the various phases of their growth.”

While Schott’s primary responsibilities were surveying and topographical drawing, he had much wider interests and took on additional duties. His portraits of American Indians encountered by the survey party along their route greatly enhanced the written ethnological reports. Schott had been a plant collector in Germany, and during the boundary survey he joined several other naturalists in collecting specimens to send to George Engelmann ("Cactaceae of the Boundary") and John Torrey ("Botany of the Boundary") who were to prepare the botanical classifications for the final report.

Schott also collected specimens and made contributions to the zoology report, including notes from his personal observations of the animals and, unique to Schott's reports, listings of the names of each animal in English, Spanish and Indian languages. Schott's contribution to the geology report, along with those of Dr. Charles Parry and Prof. James Hall, was to attempt a reconstruction of the geologic history of the trans-Mississippi West that is still largely valid today.

Once the field work of the boundary commission was complete in 1855, several of the expedition members, including Schott, joined the boundary survey office in Washington to complete the final report. Schott's work included illustrating, collating report information, supervising progress on Torrey's botanical report and the various engravings, and proofing maps. He stayed with the boundary office for six years and left in 1857, having been one of the most productive and capable of all the civilians hired to work on the boundary survey.

After leaving the boundary survey office, Schott remained in Washington, except for the occasional excursion. He worked with a survey for a possible trans-oceanic canal across the Isthmus of Darien, collected botanical and zoological specimens in the Yucatan, and continued his botanical studies of the native vegetation around Washington. With his background as a naturalist, it is not surprising that his name appears repeatedly in reports of the Smithsonian Institution during this time. He died in 1875 leaving a wife, six children, and an impressive artistic and scientific legacy.

Here is a selection of the drawings of views along the U.S.–Mexican boundary by Schott and Weyss that shows the contrasting styles of the two artists and, particularly in the work of Schott, the unique botanical characteristics of the area.