San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionHistory of the Museum

Charles Russell Orcutt (1864-1929)

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Charles Orcutt had a burning interest in publishing natural history information. He often published his research discoveries in his own journals/literature. In fact, during the time period of 1885-1928, C.R. Orcutt published and edited over 30 journals. Some of the journals published were done so simultaneously, for example, California Tress and Flowers (1891) and Science and Horticulture (1891). Orcutt even included advertisements for his own journals in other writings he published at the same time. He was consistently soliciting subscriptions so that he could keep his publishing endeavors afloat. Of all the journals published, the one that is the most recognized in the scientific field is the West American Scientist.

Cover drawing from West American Scientist

Orcutt first began publishing the West American Scientist at the age of twenty. The motto of this publication was 'accuracy, brevity, completeness'. It contained an eclectic assortment of scientific and natural history articles from the editor as well as other authors, various advertisements, and weather reports. A typical issue might contain articles on the regions of Baja California and the Colorado Desert, rare and useful minerals, and insects of the West. The first several issues contained facts of general interest for the reader, for example, " The California fan palm is named Washingtonia in honor after our first President."

At times the West American Scientist was published with a cover but often without one. Volumes of this journal were often published out of sequence; for example, volume 22 was published in 1918. (If it was done in order the issue should have come out a year later in 1919, after volume 21) In the case of volumes 10 and 11, volume 11 was finished in 1901. At the time Orcutt was still completing the last few remaining issues of volume 10 (No. 98,99,100) in conjunction with volume 11. Orcutt often published personal accounts of his travels to Baja California and what he had discovered in the region. He even halted the publication of his journals until he returned from whatever expedition he was on at the time. In 1884, Orcutt offered a copy of the West American Scientist to the members of the San Diego Society of Natural History. On January 2, 1885 it was given the title "official organ of the San Diego Society of Natural History." Orcutt contributed sporadically to the journal from 1884 to 1919.

cover of The Great Southwest
February 1894 issue of The Great Southwest, a monthly publication on horticulture

When it was first published in 1884 the journal was the first of its kind west of the Rockies. According to Edmund C. Jeager, the West American Scientist was "the only medium that existed in Western America for the publication of natural history and short articles". In its entirety the journal contains about 180 numbers in 22 volumes. For several years after its initial publication, the West American Scientist was regarded as a legitimate scientific journal. Once Orcutt stopped contributing to the journal it was reduced to a mere advertising sheet. The most complete sets of the West American Scientist in existence today are located at the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco), the Huntington Library (Huntington) and San Diego Natural History Museum Research Library.

Other journals that Orcutt published did not enjoy a long life in publication as the West American Scientist did. Many were only published for less than a year; others were reborn under a new title. For example, in terminating the West American Mollusca, Orcutt stated that he planned to contribute publishing molluscan contributions in California Art and Nature. Sets of both periodicals, West American Mollusca Volume 1, Number 1-13 (1900-1901), California Art and Nature, Volume 1, Number 1-11 (1901-1902), which are perhaps the only ones in existence are located at the San Diego Natural History Museum Research Library.