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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 10, No. 2
June, 1932
BEGINNING OF THE GEOLOGICAL WORK IN OKLAHOMA

By Charles N. Gould

Page 196

Rarely do I step upon the campus of the University of Oklahoma these days that I do not subconsciously contrast present-day conditions with those on the campus at Norman when I first saw them in 1900.

At that time, thirty-two years ago, there was but one University building, a three-story brick structure located back of the present Chemistry building. There were but four houses on the west side of the University Boulevard, and none on the east side. There was a row of trees down the middle of the Boulevard, the track on one side being for buggies and the other for bicycles.

Everything between the Boulevard and the section line, now Jenkins Street, was a wheat field. Asp and DeBarr avenues had not yet been laid out. The football field was on the quadrangle where the Fine Arts building now stands. The elm and locust trees on the campus were little higher than a man's head.

There were eight regular members of the faculty; namely, President Boyd, and Professors DeBarr, Buchanan, Paxton, Elder, Parrington, Van Vleet and King. In 1900 when I came to the University, five new men were employed; Sturgis, Cole, Matlock, Upjohn and myself. Two young fellows, Gittinger and Hadseil who enrolled as students that year, were afterward added to the faculty.

The reason for my coming to the University in 1900 was that at that time the Territory of Oklahoma had a Geological Survey but no geologist. Two years before a law had been passed by the Territorial legislature establishing a Territorial Geological and Natural History Survey. At the suggestion of President Boyd, Mr. Henry E. Asp, then president of the Board of Regents of the University, had written the bill and had been instrumental in securing its passage by the Legislature. I imagine that if the truth

Page 197

were known, the real reason for this action at that time was to keep the Agricultural College from getting the Geological Survey.

By the provisions of this law the professor of Biology at the University was named ex-officio Territorial Geologist. Thus the job was wished off on Dr. Albert H. VanVleet who was at that time professor of Biology. In the largeness of its heart (if a legislature can be conceived of as having a heart) the aforesaid legislature appropriated the munificient sum of $300.00 per year for the maintenance of the Survey.

So Dr. VanVleet found himself in the position of having $300.00 which must be spent. The first year he bought a tent, a dishpan and cooking outfit, a red wagon, and two horses. And these were real horses, not large but built according to specifications. Each horse had four legs, one on each corner, and a full equipment of eyes and ears. In color they did not match. One was a sort of pinkish brown, but we could not quite decide the color of the other horse. Around the campfire at night we used to argue the color of the horse. He was more or less mottled, a sort of a cross between an off-color red roan and a purple. I imagine that mauve would be the best term to apply. You will remember that Whistler says that mauve is pink trying to be purple.

The most striking characteristic of the mauve horse was his face. It was a very intelligent face, but varigated in color with splashes of white and red and several intermediate shades and tints. His eyes did not match, but they were kindly.

These horses were not lazy. At least Dr. VanVleet always insisted they were not lazy. Perhaps it would be more nearly correct to say that they were born tired. They sometimes made as much as twenty miles a day, but their average gait was fifteen miles.

Having acquired a team, wagon and camp outfit, it was up to the Territorial Geologist to use them. Dr. VanVleet found himself confronted with one difficulty. By taking stock he found that he had a perfectly good Geological Survey, legally constituted, also $300.00 to be spent during the succeeding year, a dishpan, a tent, certain pots and ket-

Page 198

tles, a red wagon, a team and other things necessary and needful to prosecute the work of a geological survey. Only one minor item was missing; namely, a geologist.

So he set about to find the geologist. There were no funds to pay said geologist. Some one must be found who would be willing to work for glory and expenses. And that is where I came into the picture.

It happened that at that time President Boyd had as private secretary, a young man named George Bucklin, now for many years in the United States Consular service. One day when Dr. VanVleet and President Boyd were discussing the matter of securing a geologist, Mr. Bucklin remarked that he believed he knew a young chap who would be willing to work for nothing. He said that he had a friend doing graduate work in geology at the University of Nebraska, who was crazy over rocks, who wanted a job, and who wanted to come to Oklahoma.

Bucklin was instructed to write and find out if this fellow really would be willing to come to Oklahoma and work during the summer for expenses. The chap referred to was the present writer, who at that time was on the outlook for just such a place. I came, and here I have been ever since.

The first field party of the Oklahoma Survey outfitted and left Norman about the middle of June, 1900. Besides the ex-officio Territorial Geologist and the really true geologist, there were two young chaps that I had brought along, who had been fellow students at Southwestern College, at Winfield, Kansas. They were Paul J. White, botanist and Roy Hadsell, cook.

Hadsell was the only one of the bunch who drew a salary. I forget how much he received, something like $15.00 or $20.00 per month, but believe me, he earned his money. That man Hadsell surely can cook.

From Norman we started north. Hadsell and I sat in the front seat, took turns driving, and VanVleet and White, gentlemen of leisure, rode on the rear seat. The first night out of Norman we camped two miles north of Oklahoma City, on the farm on which Belle Isle lake has since been built. The owner of the quarter section wanted to sell us the land for $2000.00. When we showed no interest, he offered to sell for $1200.00. But we did not buy.

Geological Survey Camp

Page 199

The second night we camped near Guthrie, and two nights later on the school grounds at Orlando. A prairie storm out of the northwest struck camp about two o'clock in the morning, and the four of us hung onto tent poles for an hour to keep the tent from blowing down.

The dishpan, tin plates and other implements that had been stacked on the chuck box outside the tent, went south. We heard them going. The next morning we sent out an exploring party. The dishpan was collected from a hedge fence a quarter of a mile south. The stew kettle was located in a gully still farther down the line. Some of the tin plates, like the late lamented Clementine, were "lost and gone forever."

From Orlando we went east to Stillwater and Ingalls, where we camped in what has since become the Ingalls oil field. Turning west, we passed through Perry and Enid to Cleo where we visited the Glass Mountains, then north, crossing the Big Salt Plains near Cherokee, then west to Alva and to the Salt Plains of the Cimarron, south through Woodward, and Taloga to Arapaho and Weatherford, past the Caddo County Buttes to Watonga and the Salt Creek Canyon in the Gypsum Hills of Baine County, and returned to Norman by way of Kingfisher and El Reno.

Leaving Dr. VanVleet at Norman, White, Hadsell and I made a trip east into the Indian Territory. From Norman we passed through Shawnee, Okmulgee, Sapulpa, Tulsa, Skiatook and Pawhuska and back to Norman.

This trip of between 500 and 600 miles occupied the greater part of the summer. Twenty-eight years later, Hadsell and I in an automobile, made the same trip in a week.

In September, 1900, the first classes in geology were taught at the University of Oklahoma. For the year's work I received as salary $400.00. It was the hardest year's work I ever put in. I had to make good. There was no shadow of a doubt about the matter. I just had to make good, and that was all there was to it.

At that time the University had been running for eight years and the enrollment was about 400, of which only about 60 were college students. The greater part of the student body were preparatory students, corresponding in rank to high school.

Page 200

When I came, there was no geological equipment whatever, no laboratories, no collections, no books, no students, not even a class room. The sum total of the department of geology at the University of Oklahoma in September, 1900, consisted of one tall, slim individual who was willing to work.

As I remember now, there was no mad rush among the student body to avail themselves of the opportunities offered to secure a first-class geological education. In fact in order to get students, I was almost compelled to follow the scriptural injunction to "go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in."

It should be remembered that these were the old days. Our ideas were primitive. At that time geology had not yet come into its own. It was not then considered as being well toward the top of the list of the 57 legitimate and recognized methods of securing a permanent meal ticket. In those far-off days of 1900, geology was one of the so-called cultural subjects taught in college. It was a "pure" science; meaning one that had no known practical application. At that time geologists were not supposed to become oppulent. The persuasive promoter had not yet begun to comb the universities and inveigle reluctant sophomores from their studies, holding out as inducements fabulous salaries, an interest in the business, and an opportunity to marry the blonde daughter.

This was even before the time of the Sears Roebuck, mail-order variety of geologist, the fellow who always found the anticline crossing the block of leases held by the promoter, and whose reports, like a certain brand of soap were 99.98 percent favorable.

So during the first year the young department had the usual difficulties. It caught the ordinary number of students who always flock to beginning classes to try out the new professor and see if he is "easy". There were no class rooms for geology. We dodged around over the building wherever we could find a vacant room. I remember that the class in physiography met in the biology laboratory, and the class in general geology met in the English room at an hour when Professor Parrington had no class.

Page 201

Among others who took geology the first year, I now recollect C. C. Roberts, Paul Mackey, E. M. Vanderslice, George Bucklin, Lillie Miller, Ray Crowe, Kate Barbour, John Hefley and M. J. Ferguson. It is significant to note that not one of these people became a geologist.

The second year there were more students in the department, and it was this year that one lone individual declared his intention of specializing in geology. This was Pierce Larkin from Helena. He has since been for many years in consulting practice in Tulsa. The first man to graduate from the department was Chas. T. Kirk. Kirk and Chester Reeds, also an early graduate, were the first two men from the department to secure their doctorate, Kirk from Wisconsin and Reeds from Yale.

I spent the field season of 1901 with a United States Geological Survey party under the direction of Mr. Joseph A. Taff. E. O. Ulrich and Geo. I Adams, well known American geologists, were members of the party. During the early part of the season, the work consisted of the preparation of a geologic map of the Tahlequah folio in northeastern Oklahoma. Later we studied the coal fields near Sallisaw and Spiro. Having completed this work, we moved farther west and spent several weeks working out the stratigraphy and structure and preparing a map of the northern part of the Arbuckle Mountains. I remember we made camp at the following points: Franks, Roff, Buckhorn Spring, Rock Creek, Falls Creek, Old Fort Arbuckle, and Hennepin. The day that William McKinley was shot at Buffalo, we had our camp at Falls Creek.

Having finished the work in the Arbuckle Mountains the camp was moved west to the Wichitas. The rest of the season was spent in riding horseback over these mountains, securing data for the geologic map. The results of the summer's work were published by Mr. Taff in the Tahlequah folio, and in Professional Paper No. 31, both of the United States Geological Survey. The latter paper has been reprinted as Bulletin No. 12, of the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

This year, 1901, was the year of the opening of the Kiowa and Comanche reservation. Lawton and Hobart were

Page 202

cities of tents, the streets filled with a struggling mob of homeseekers.

This was also the year of the greatest gold excitement in the Wichita Mountains. For many years there had been persistent rumors to the effect that there was gold in these mountains. Many attempts had been made to open mines. In every case the government authorities had stepped in and prevented operations. As soon as the land was opened to settlement, the miners rushed in. At the time of our visit to the mountains, September and October of 1901, there were thousands of miners at work. Every little gulch had its cluster of cabins. The hills were bristling with claim notices and honeycombed with mining shafts. Several little mining towns sprang up, such as Meers, Oreana and Wildman all long since defunct. Hope ran high and every one expected to get rich overnight.

Mr. Taff and I collected samples from many of the so-called mines, and sent the samples to the government laboratories at Washington for analysis. The results of these analyses showed only a trace of precious metal in a few of the samples. In no case was there anything of value.

Our publication of these reports raised a storm of protests. The miners refused to believe the results of the work of the government chemists. For several years the battle raged, then as the miners starved out, it gradually subsided. Some of the old timers, refusing to be discouraged, hung on for years, and even today there may be some of the old miners still at work.

Our best estimate is that something like more than a million dollars were spent in the vain attempt to find gold and silver in paying quantities in the Wichita Mountains.

It was during this summer that the preliminary surveys were made looking toward the setting apart of certain tracts of land near Sulphur as the Platte National Park. Acting under an order from the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Taff and I visited the region and spent a week riding horseback over the country. We visited the mineral springs and studied general conditions. The report which was made recommending the establishment of a national park at this place, was acted upon favorably by Congress, and a park was established.

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The manuscript of the First Biennial Report of the Department of Geology and Natural History was destroyed by the fire which burned the first University building. The Second Biennial Report has the date of November 29, 1902, but was not published until the next year. This Second Biennial Report was in fact the first official geological report published in Oklahoma. It is a paper bound volume of 175 pages. The personnel was as follows: A. H. VanVleet, Territorial Geologist, Chas. N. Gould, Geologist, R. S. Sherwin, assistant in geology and chemistry, Paul J. White, Botanist and C. D. Bunker, collector in zoology. The contents included five papers, General Geology of Oklahoma and Gypsum of Oklahoma by Chas. N. Gould, and Plants of Oklahoma, Birds of Oklahoma, and Snakes of Oklahoma by A. H. VanVleet. This little volume is now very rare.

From these modest beginnings, the department of Geology at the University and the general interest in the subject has grown until today the department has become one of the largest in the world. Many men now in middle life who received their first inspiration in the department, are now among the prominent leaders in business and science throughout the United States. A list of their names would make interesting reading to the old-timers at Norman.

I am beginning to agree with the sentiment expressed some years ago by an old friend of mine, who said that the greatest pleasure that can come to an individual is the consciousness of having directed aright the steps of young people.

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