Crawling to Canes
January 22, 1917
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Presbyterian minister, writer, and American botanist Ellsworth Jerome Hill. Ellsworth was born in Leroy, New York.
When Ellsworth was only 20 years old, one of his knees stopped working, and a doctor suggested he study botany. So, Ellsworth would crawl from his house to the orchard, where he would pick a few flowers and then crawl back to the house to identify them.
And the following year, Ellsworth, who used to canes when he walked, moved to Mississippi, where the climate was warmer.
After Ellsworth met and married a young woman named Milancy Leach, she became his daily helpmate.
When Ellsworth was feeling especially lame or simply lacked strength, Milancy would step in and finish the work for him.
However, by the time he was 40, Ellsworth somehow put his lameness behind him. In the back half of his life, he seemed to be better able to manage his physical challenge. Thanks to Milancy’s guidance, Ellsworth had learned how to cope with the symptoms.
In a touching tribute to Ellsworth after his death, the botanist Agnes Chase wrote:
“Most of these collections were made while Ellsworth walked on crutches or with two canes. Ellsworth told me that he carried his vasculum over his shoulder and a camp stool with his crutch or cane in one hand. To secure a plant, he would drop the camp stool, which opened of itself, then he would lower himself to the stool and dig the plant.
Ellsworth recovered from his lameness but often suffered acute pain from cold or wetness or overexertion. But this did not deter him from making botanical trips that would have taxed a more robust man. In the Dunes, I have seen him tire out more than one able-bodied man.“
Ellsworth recognized the value in revisiting places that had been previously botanized. It was Ellsworth Jerome Hill who said,
"In studying the flora of a restricted region, no matter how carefully it seems to have been explored, one is frequently surprised by new things...
No region can be regarded as thoroughly explored until every acre of its wild areas at least has been examined. Some plants are so rare or local or grow under such peculiar conditions that a few square rods or even feet may comprise their range."