Heinrich balduin möllhausen (1825–1905)

Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen, a German naturalist, artist, and topographer, came to America in 1849 and made an occasional living as a hunter in the general vicinity of St. Louis. He traveled with three exploratory expeditions into the American West, beginning in 1851 with an excursion to the Rocky Mountains led by a fellow Prussian, Duke Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg. The expedition encountered too many difficulties to continue and was disbanded late in the year, leaving Möllhausen to fend for himself in hostile territory for several weeks. It was a harsh introduction to the New World, but one that produced numerous sketches of Native Americans and wildlife and provided much fodder for his future writings.

After the failed expedition, Möllhausen returned briefly to Berlin where he became acquainted with the cartographer Alexander von Humboldt. After hearing of his adventures in the West, Humboldt encouraged him to return to America, and it was Humboldt’s recommendation that in 1853 secured Möllhausen a position as draftsman and topographer on one of the Pacific Railroad Survey expeditions.

Although he had no formal artistic training, Möllhausen was appointed official artist of the railroad survey led by Lt. Amiel Whipple along the 35th parallel through the Southwest. In the final report of the expedition, the majority of the full-page plates of landscapes and Indians are attributed to Möllhausen. Two other members of the expedition, Lt. John C. Tidball and Albert H. Campbell, also contributed landscape sketches and American Indian portraits to the report, and there is ongoing uncertainty about the attribution of some of the drawings as they appear in the final version. For the report on the Cactaceae, George Engelmann made note that Möllhausen had contributed field sketches of cholla cactus that were incorporated into the botanical illustrations of Paulus Roetter (top right). It is also thought that Roetter's striking frontispiece for the volume ("View Along the Gila - Cereus giganteus") was based on Möllhausen's sketch of the giant saguaro.

In 1857, Möllhausen was invited to accompany another expedition, the U.S. Survey of the Colorado River under First Lt. Joseph Ives. Möllhausen’s appointment was as artist and specimen collector, and his work and that of artist and engraver Frederick von Egloffstein were the first depictions of the Grand Canyon (bottom right).

Many of Möllhausen’s sketches and watercolors from his travels in the West were destroyed in Berlin during World War II. But his experiences in America gave him endless material for writing, and in his later years he became so prolific a writer about the American West that he was referred to as Europe’s Fenimore Cooper. He produced an illustrated account of his travels with the Ives survey and wrote more than 40 novels and stories based on his western adventures.

FURTHER READING: Report upon the Colorado River of the West can be found at Google Books in its entirety along with Möllhausen's own account of his time with the Whipple expedition, Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to the Coasts of the Pacific. The definitive biography of Möllhausen can also be found at Google Books: Balduin Möllhausen - The German Cooper by Preston Albert Barba.