Frank Stephens, Pioneer Naturalist


Frank Stephens worked alongside the two foremost naturalists of the period, Joseph Grinnell and C.H. Merriam, due to his extensive field experience acquired during more than 60 adventurous years. He collected and published papers about animals in the southwest United States and Baja California, Mexico, despite a lack of formal training. In 1906, he published the first work on mammals for the area entitled California Mammals.  Conducting field work and expeditions in the desert was his passion, and he was not bothered by extremes of temperature or rough camping conditions. At the age of 84, Frank was reported lost on a collecting trip in the canyons of Painted Gorge in the Anza Borrego Desert, where he had been searching for fossils. Two days later Frank was found, suffering from injuries from a fall, but still carrying the fossils he had collected!  

As a tribute to his skills as a naturalist, at least 14 new species or subspecies were named in his honor, including six mammals and three birds. After surviving numerous dangerous events in the wilderness, he died at the age of 87 after being hit by a streetcar.

PHOTO CREDIT: Research Library, SDNHM