In 1935 the University of Nevada formed a study group to consider medicinal values of plants.At the same time, the Carson Indian Agency realized that they had a plant emergency on their hands. The U.S. government had been "rescuing" starving cattle in the Dust Bowl by transferring them to Nevada and issuing them to natives on tribal land. The cattle ate every plant in sight and died! The Works Progress Administration, sponsored by the Carson Indian Agency and in conjunction with the University of Nevada, funded the 1937-1940 Nevada Medicinal Plants Project.

While a coincidence of disparate factors inspired the project, it took shape as a tightly choreographed effort under the direction of W. A. Archer and B. Y. Morrison of the Bureau of Plant Industry. A large group including Harry Sampson, Edith Murphey, and Percy and Agnes Train was hired to comb Nevada, collecting plants and interviewing Native Americans about plant uses. As you will see, the results of the project were both exciting and frustrating.

WPA Road Repair Scene
The Works Progress Administration provided jobs, at just below prevailing rates, to over 3 million people by 1936. In this image, laborers grade a street in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1936. Work Project #509 in Nevada differed from the roadwork often associated with the WPA and included both botanical field workers and clerks to generate a cross-reference indexed by common name. Image courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh's Archives of Industrial Society. Click on image to enlarge.


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Douglas Holland