skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. A. Canfield   5 August 1871

Monterey, Cala.,

Aug. 5, 1871.

Mr. Darwin;

Dear Sir;

Being the possessor, fortunately, of three of your works;—Plants and Animals under Domestication; Origin of Species, and the Descent of Man,1 I have had an introduction to you, in one way at least, though not personally. And I take the liberty to send you a few notes,—putting them down at random,—without order or connection. I state the facts from my own knowledge unless otherwise specified—

In A. & P. under Domestication, Orange Judd & Co., Vol. 1, p 40, “The habit of barking, however, which is almost universal with domesticated dogs, and which does not characterise a single natural species of the family, seems an exception”.2 Note.— Not so: the Canis latrans, or Coyote, of western N. America, very often barks, either alone or several at the same time. I have heard them a thousand times (generally at night) barking at a bear or at a horse staked out or at our dogs. The bark of the Coyote is a succession of quick, sharp yelps on a high key; sometimes two or three yelps, and again a long string of them. Sometimes in the day-time coyotes will follow a bear with angry and prolonged barking. Perhaps, however, you do not consider the Coyote a member of the dog-family. It is really a connecting link between wolves, dogs and foxes.3 The Coyote breeds freely with the dog. I have seen several instances of it. The wolf, C. occidentalis, var. griseo-albus,4 does not bark, but howls. P.42. Note;—At the ranch of San Benito, Monterey Co, some of the common dogs became wild and raised litters of young in the thickets bordering on the Salinas R.; making burrows under the roots of trees and piles of brush and drift-wood.5 Packs of 20 or 30 hunted together by night, like wolves, killing and eating young calves; until the ranchmen hunted & destroyed them. At Alisal, Monterey Co., the domestic Cat, as I learn from reliable persons, frequently gets impregnated by the male wild-cat, Lynx rufus, & produces short-tailed kittens.6 Whether these hybrids are fertile is more than I know. P.80,—Note— The wild horses of Western N. America are mostly dun-colored of various shades from yellow to brown; roans of various shades,—gray-roan, iron-gray-roan, red-roan, strawberry-roan, &c.; and gray changing, as the horse grows older, to white. Most of the yellow, dun-colored & light-brown and some of the grays have the spinal, shoulder & leg-stripes of a darker color.7 The same is true of the mules bred among them. There was a race of “curly horses”, or horses with the hair short & curled; that had been produced intentionally by selection for that purpose, on a ranch near Los Angeles—8

In 1853 there were in that band or Caballada9 several hundred curly-haired horses.

Vol. 2, p. 367. “Annual plants sometimes become perennial,” and vice versa.10 Note.— So in California, the stock gilly flower & the mignonette, Reseda become perennial. The Castor-bean, Ricinus communis, the heartsease, Viola tricolor, and several other “annual” plants are perennial with us.11 P. 406; Note.— In the N. States, horses with white noses and muzzles, after eating the St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum, generally get their noses sore with scabs and cracks.12 P.418. Note— I have (at Monterey, Cala.,) a vine of honeysuckle, Lonicera grata, that has nearly all its leaves laciniate; not because it is depauperated, for it is thrifty and growing fast.13

“Descent of Man”; Vol.1, p.258. Note— The N. American Antelope, Antilocapra Americana, cannot be called polygamous nor monogamous;—the males and females all herd together during the copulating season—14 P.280. Note— Only about one in five of the females of the Prong-horn have any horns, and those are always very rudimentary15   She sometimes has one horn only, sometimes one very small one & one larger, and sometimes both alike. See my little article on the Pronghorn in the Proceedings of the Zoological Soc. of London, Feby. 27, 1866; p. 109 a copy of which I take the liberty of sending you.16 Vol. II, p. 230— Note— Where horses grow up and live quite or almost in a state of nature, the stallions collect bands of mares & keep them separate from those of rivals—17 When I was a ranchero I had many opportunities for observing them absolutely wild & free as well as those that were nearly so. A stallion, as he grows strong & active, collects mares and adds to his harem by force or by stealing them from other bands, if any come near his own— He stands guard most of the time over his own band, & if any mare is inclined to straggle, he drives her back to the band by biting & kicking her, if necessary. My band of tame horses used to feed in the open plain and hills near the ranchhouse— A gentle mare that had never been wild was missing one morning— Suspecting that she had been stolen by a band of mesteños (“mustangs”) that roved not far off, I found the band and her with them. With my vaqueros18 I tried on several occasions to drive her away from the wild horses and toward the valley where the Corral was into which she was accustomed to go— But she would not leave the wild band,—could not if she had wanted to,—and I could not retake her— But about 6 months afterward part of the band with which she was running was captured by surrounding & driving them into a hidden Corral in a thicket in a narrow valley. After retaking her, she was completely changed in disposition & habits. From being quiet & gentle she had become skittish and suspicious and would blow and snort at almost everything. From having been plump and fat, she became and remained thin and sinewy though not poor, and I was obliged to keep her always tied up. I was finally compelled to shoot all the stallions among the wild ones and thus break up the band. Pardon this digression, but the items may be of some interest to you.

Among our molluscs, both land- & sea-shells, there are found many forms, of which it is difficult to say with certainty whether they are species or varieties. Thus the species of the genus Acmaea,19 of which we have twelve species at Monterey & several other forms worthy of notice, are all connected by innumerable varieties. And so of many others;—it is impossible to say whether they are species or varieties.— There is a breed or race of deer in the mountains 30 miles S.E. of here that have very abnormal horns— I have one head that has 14 separate points or horns of different sizes springing from the skull. For all these horns there are only two roots; like the root of Fucus20 attached to a stone. So that the 14 horns are collected in two groups. Three of these are 10 to 16 inches long, the others shorter & of different lengths. The hunters say that these deer, of which many have been seen, are without testicles, having been castrated by wood-ticks which have infested them in such numbers as to produce inflammation & loss of these organs. I cannot believe this, for these deer are said by the same hunters to be a third larger than our common C. Columbianus.21 If wood-ticks had injured them sufficiently to interfere with the growth of the horns, the deer would be weak & of small size.

Hoping these facts may be of some service to you, I remain, | Yours very truly, | Colbert A. Canfield.

CD annotations

1.1 Being … know. 2.20] crossed pencil
2.1 In] after opening square bracket pencil
4.4 In the N.... cracks. 4.6] in square brackets pencil
4.6 P. 418.... size. 6.16] crossed pencil
5.1 “Descent … alike. 5.6] ‘Descent of Man’ blue crayon, underl blue crayon
5.1 Antilocarpa Americana 5.2] ‘2’ added blue crayon
5.7 1866;] ‘p. 109’ interl pencil
6.11 these deer] ‘deer’ underl pencil
Top of letter: dash red crayon; ‘Colour of wild Horses’ pencil; ‘Polygamy [Shorthorn] & Antelope’ blue crayon ‘Domestic animals’ pencil; ‘23d Pages | Descent of Man.—’ pencil, del pencil; ‘Eating— Hypericum’ pencil


Variation US ed., 1: 40 (English edition 1: 26–7).
The family Canidae includes wolves, dogs, and coyotes or jackals in the genus Canis, and red foxes in the genus Vulpes.
Canis lupus occidentalis (the Rocky Mountain wolf) and C. lupus griseoalbus (the Manitoba wolf) are distinct subspecies (ITIS).
In Variation 1: 26–8, CD discussed reversion in domesticated dogs, concluding with an account of burrowing behaviour in a half-bred dingo.
CD discussed hybrids between wild and domesticated cats in Variation 1: 43–8. Lynx rufus is the bobcat.
In Variation 1: 55–61, CD gave evidence for ancestral horses having been dun-coloured or roan. He amended his discussion in Variation 2d ed., citing Canfield for the information that in certain parts of North America wild horses were mostly dun and striped (Variation 2d ed., 1: 64).
CD discussed curly hair in horses in Variation 1: 54; he added Canfield’s information to the discussion in the second edition (Variation 2d ed., 1: 56 n. 26).
Caballada: herd of horses (Spanish).
Variation 2: 305.
The stock-gillyflower is an old name for the stock (Matthiola). None of the plants Canfield lists here is a true annual.
In discussing the apparent correlation of lack of pigmentation with susceptibility to certain poisons, CD claimed that white-muzzled horses were more prone than others to ulceration of the nose and lips after eating Aethusa cynapium, or fool’s parsley (Variation 2: 337).
In discussing analogous or parallel variation, CD noted that a large number of unrelated plants produced varieties with laciniate, that is, jagged, leaves (Variation 2: 348). Thrifty: prosperous and in good condition (US).
CD discussed instances of polygamy in animals in Descent, concluding that while most antelopes were polygamous, some were monogamous (Descent 1: 267). Canfield’s references are to the US edition.
In the first edition of Descent, CD asserted that although both sexes of the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) had horns, those of the females were almost rudimentary (Descent 1: 289). He altered the text in the second edition to include the more detailed information provided here by Canfield, and also cited Canfield 1866 (Descent 2d ed., p. 234; see also p. 504).
Canfield refers to Canfield 1866. No presentation copy has been found; CD’s copy of the journal, including Canfield’s paper with CD’s annotations, is in the unbound pamphlet collection in the Darwin Library–CUL.
In discussing the role of male combat in sexual selection, CD recounted a case of wild stallions maintaining separate troops of mares (Descent 2: 241).
Vaqueros: cowboys (Spanish).
Acmaea is a genus of limpets in the family Acmaeidae.
Fucus is a genus of brown algae in the family Fucaceae.
Cervus columbianus is now Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, the Columbian black-tailed deer.


Canfield, Colbert A. 1866. On the habits of the prongbuck (Antilocapra americana), and the periodical shedding of its horns. [Read 27 February 1866.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1866): 105–10.

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

ITIS: Integrated Taxonomic Information System.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Variation US ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. New York: Orange Judd & Co. [1868.]


Sends a series of factual corrections to Variation and Descent: barking of coyotes and colour of wild American horses.

Letter details

Letter no.
Colbert Austin Canfield
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Monterey, Calif.
Source of text
DAR 161: 39
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7897,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19