Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/29

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GEOLOGICAL METHODS IN EARLIER DAYS

GEOLOGICAL METHODS IN EARLIER DAYS
By Professor JOHN J. STEVENSON
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

WHILE reading discussions of modern field and office methods, published in Economic Geology, I became impressed with the feeling that some notes, historical and reminiscent, respecting conditions and methods of forty and more years ago, should be placed on record for the benefit of the younger geologists. The reminiscences are confined to my own experience, which, however, did not differ from that of contemporary workers.

Popular interest in natural history was quickened, early in the nineteenth century, by the formation of societies and the founding of museums. Efforts to secure cooperation by the central government were so far successful that surgeons accompanying exploring expeditions, in charge of army officers, were chosen as much because of willingness to act as collectors as because of medical skill. Very soon, natural history came to be regarded as, at least, lending dignity to an expedition’s work, so that an army-explorer looked upon his equipment as defective unless it included a naturalist; a report without an appendix or a series of appendices, discussing collections secured by the party, seemed to be painfully incomplete. After the first third of the century had passed, geology acquired some degree of popular respect as a practical science and it received recognition from the War Department. The making of geological observations became part of the duty assigned to the naturalist-surgeon. In almost every case, however, the work of the naturalist or geologist was merely incidental and his opportunity to obtain detailed information was limited.

In the later sixties, after the close of the Civil War, the War Department, through the corps of engineers, began exploration anew. Clarence King’s organization was under this Bureau, but he was not subject to military control in the field; his only hindrance was the pressure for results to prove speedy productiveness and to satisfy inquiring legislators that the field-work had not been merely a prolonged picnic. Somewhat later, an organization of the earlier or reconnaissance type was effected and was placed in charge of Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, who was endowed with extraordinary energy and with such physical endurance as to be a source of pain to all members of his party. In 1872, Wheeler became convinced that, without geological and other scientific contributions, his work would be incomplete, for Hayden had already loomed large on the horizon. The scope of the organization was