George was born on September 20, 1849, in Brooklyn, New York. He received a BA degree in 1870 and a PhD degree in osteology in 1880, both from Yale University.
In the summer of 1870, George was a member of the six-month O. C. Marsh expedition to the West (Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, and Utah) to collect vertebrate Pliocene and Cretaceous fossils. In 1874, after becoming an assistant in osteology at the Peabody Museum, George accepted an invitation to take Marsh’s place as naturalist on the Black Hills expedition, led by General George Armstrong Custer. In 1875, also in the capacity of naturalist, he accompanied Colonel William Ludlow’s reconnaissance of Yellowstone Park and vicinity. In 1899, he was a member of the Harriman Alaskan Expedition.
During these missions, George became interested in the culture and welfare of American Indians, especially Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Pawnee, and for many years returned to the West to expand his knowledge. His 1875 Yellowstone experience convinced him of the pending demise of many wildlife species, particularly big game, in the absence of laws regulating their taking.
In 1876, George became editor of Forest and Stream magazine, rising to senior editor and publisher in 1880, positions he held until 1911. In this capacity, he promptly launched sustained campaigns against market hunting and for realistic game laws. The movement culminated in enactments of the Lacey Act of 1900 and the Migratory Bird Treaty with Great Britain in 1916. George served on the first advisory board for Federal Migratory Bird Law. He supported strong regulatory control of hunting in all states, and in 1893, he initiated investigation of game poaching in Yellowstone National Park. The resulting exposé led directly to enactment by Congress of the Yellowstone Park Protection Act of 1894 (keystone of national park legislation).
In the summer of 1885, George explored areas in Montana now known as Glacier National Park, and through his subsequent writings, he was largely responsible for inclusion of the “crown of the continent” in the national park system in 1910.
In 1886, he founded the Audubon Society of New York, forerunner of the National Audubon Society, and served as its director for 26 years. George was a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887, and served as its president from 1918 to 1927. In 1927, he was named honorary president for life. He was a fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union, president of the National Parks Association, and a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Hispanic Society of America, and served on the advisory board of the American Game Protective Association (forerunner of the Wildlife Management Institute). He was a member of the Century, Cosmos, Rockaway, Mayflower Descendants, Authors, Explorers, and Narrows Island clubs, and the Society of Mammalogists, New York Academy of Sciences, and Archeological Institute of America.
George was an author or coauthor of nearly 30 books, including classic ethnographic studies, such as The Cheyenne Indians, Their History and Ways of Life, seven “Jack” adventure books for boys (using the nom de plume “Yo”), such as Jack the Young Explorer, and such highly regarded sporting literature as American Duck Shooting. Yale University conferred on him an honorary LittD degree in 1921. In 1925, for his extraordinary contributions to conservation, he was presented the Theodore Roosevelt Gold Medal by President Calvin Coolidge.
George, a quiet, modest man, was a model of intellectual diversity, integrity, and professional dedication. He was a real force behind the early conservation movement. He died in New York on April 11, 1938. George was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1922 and became an honorary member in 1923.