James Graham Cooper

James G. Cooper

(1830-1902) James G. Cooper was born in New York City in 1830. His father was founder of the Lyceum of Natural History in New York and an early American naturalist, studying vertebrates leading to one species of hawk being named for him, the Cooper's Hawk. His mother died suddenly when he a young boy and the family moved to New Jersey. His father's knowledge of the natural world influenced young James, and he spent his childhood fishing and collecting plants and animals.

He attended medical school in New York and graduated in 1851, hoping to finance his interest in the natural world by working as a physician. The next year, he heard about planned governmental surveys of the West and wrote to the new Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1853, he was assigned as a physician and naturalist on a survey with the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to find a railroad route to the Pacific since the US was interested not only in topographical information but what plant and animal resources they might find. He made many collections and shipped them back to the Smithsonian.

Cooper idled in Washington after this expedition for some time, writing about his expeditions and meeting many important political and military leaders, yet he yearned to return to the wilderness. In 1860, he returned to California and eventually found work with the Geological Survey of California led by Josiah D. Whitney. His objective was to take inventory of flora and fauna in the state. He continued the work off and on for many years as meager governmental funds allowed, exploring southern California, the Sierra Nevada mountains, Channel Islands, Farallones, and coastal ranges.

He married in 1866 and moved to the San Francisco Bay area with his wife where he managed to balance his medical practice with his love of the natural world. After so many years of collecting his knowledge covered a broad range of subjects. He published papers on medicinal plants, forest trees, birds, mammals, reptiles, land snails, freshwater clams, coal distribution, marine mollusks, fishes, and fossils, writing over 150 papers on these topics.

He published an 1874 paper called California in the Miocene Epoch which were theories based on his invertebrate discoveries in inland California as well as the Catalogue of Californian Fossils (1894).  Several species of marine mollusks, as well as the Cooper Ornithological Club, were named in his honor.

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