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RAGSDALE, GEORGE HENRY

RAGSDALE, GEORGE HENRY (1846–1895). George Henry Ragsdale, naturalist, son of Lewis and Elizabeth (Lonas) Ragsdale, was born in Knox County, Tennessee, on April 1, 1846, the eldest child in a family consisting of himself and five sisters. His mother died in 1860, and around 1864 his father married Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, a union to which two additional children were born. Ragsdale's formal education probably ended with the death of his mother and the beginning of the Civil War. Entries in his earliest diaries suggest that he was a highly sensitive individual with intellectual interests and self-discipline. Throughout his adult life he maintained detailed records of his observations and committed his thoughts to paper in the form of brief essays.

In 1867 the family left Tennessee and moved to a farm three miles southeast of Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas. Ragsdale's interest in natural history began between 1870 and 1877, while he served as county surveyor. He was a collector of all types of natural-history specimens, but his primary interests were birds and mollusks. In 1877 he began to collect specimens of birds' eggs, nests, and skins and to correspond with other naturalists. His collecting efforts were concentrated in Cooke County and surrounding areas. He did, however, make two long collecting trips during 1878, the first to San Antonio and Eagle Pass and the second to the Brazos River. By the early 1890s Ragsdale's ornithological collection consisted of 600 eggs and the skins of 165 types of bird. He was a frequent correspondent with the Smithsonian Institution, to which he occasionally donated or sold specimens. He also maintained a natural-history exhibit that he displayed at county fairs and, during 1891, at the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport. During the 1880s and 1890s he supported his family through farming, taxidermy, and the sale of natural-history specimens, except for brief periods during 1891 and 1892, when he was employed as a field worker with the Geological Survey of Texas (see GEOLOGICAL SURVEYS OF TEXAS).

During the late 1880s and early 1890s Ragsdale collected mollusks for John Allen Singley, a naturalist with the Geological Survey. More then twenty of Ragsdale's specimen records were later incorporated into the mollusk section of Singley's Natural History of Texas, published in 1893. His contributions to the study of Texas mollusks are further recognized in the name of the snail Rabdotus dealbatus ragsdalei, which he first collected near Saint Jo in Montague County.

His most significant contributions were in the field of ornithology. Excluding his numerous popular writings, he published more than forty articles on birds. Seventeen of his ornithological papers and numerous specimen records are cited in Harry C. Oberholser's The Bird Life of Texas. For twenty-eight years Ragsdale was the only permanent bird observer in Cooke County and much of north central Texas. During 1884 and 1885 he supplied data for W. W. Cooke's Bird Migration in the Mississippi Valley (1888), and he was a regional contributor to Walter Bradford Barrows's monograph on The English Sparrow in North America (1889). Many journal articles published by eastern ornithologists cite Ragsdale either as a collector of specimens or as a source of information. He was assisted in some of his work by his younger half brother, David Franklin Ragsdale (1866–1936), who was also a natural-history collector.

In 1884 Ragsdale became a member of the American Ornithologists' Union. He is also believed to have been a member of the first Texas Academy of Scienceqv and the Texas State Geological and Scientific Association. Ragsdale was an advocate of science for the layman and was a regular contributor of educational articles to local newspapers and a frequent lecturer on science topics.

He was married in 1871 to Elizabeth Letitia Owens of Knoxville, Tennessee, a union to which two sons, James F. and William Pleasant, were born. Letitia died in July 1881, following the birth of their third child, a daughter, who also died shortly thereafter. In 1883 Ragsdale married Kittie Brewster Reinhardt, a union to which four children were born. Kittie's brother, Vic Reinhardt, was the editor of the Temperance Vedette, published at Terrell, Texas, and through this family association Ragsdale became a contributing editor of this publication. Ragsdale was a Methodist. He died on March 25, 1895, and is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Gainesville.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Stanley D. Casto, "George Henry Ragsdale: The Gainesville Naturalist," Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society 13 (1980). Samuel W. Geiser Papers, University Archives, Southern Methodist University. George Henry Ragsdale Papers, Morton Museum of Cooke County, Gainesville, Texas. John Allen Singley, "Contributions to the Natural History of Texas," Fourth Annual Report of the Geological Survey of Texas, Pt. 1 (1893).

Stanley D. Casto

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Stanley D. Casto, "RAGSDALE, GEORGE HENRY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra53), accessed July 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.