Title:
David Dale Owen and Indiana's First Geological Survey

Author:
Walter B. Hendrickson

Date:
1940

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume , Issue 1, pp 1-15

Article Type:
Article

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David Dale Owen and Indiana's First Geological Survey

WALTER B. HENDRICKSON

In the eighteen-thirties, Indiana, as well as other western states, was feeling growing pains. The elevation of Andrew Jackson to the presidency had made westerners feel that their importance to the nation was at last recognized. A combination of circumstances had caused a business boom that was quickening the economic life of all the western states. By 1834, new settlers by the tens of thousands were pouring into the regions of the Mississippi Valley, creating farms and building towns. The people of the West could see a glorious future; the people were coming, the land was rich, and other natural resources were at hand. All that was needed was time and money to realize on what were considered the essential elements of all great and prosperous states.

The decade of the eighteen-thirties was one of great and enthusiastic promotion of farming, mining and transportation facilities. In order that a state might take its place in the sun, the first move to be made was the creation of adequate systems of communication to bridge the gap between producer and consumer—getting the products of western farms to eastern markets. Accordingly, state legislatures appropriated large sums of money for the building of canals and roads, and, with great energy, ditches were dug, forests were cut down, and streams were dredged in order to make new highways of commerce.

Along with this great internal improvement movement, and in some ways contradictory to it, was a movement in the western states to develop their own resources, so that they would be independent of the East for mineral products. If westerners could supply their own needs for such things as iron and coal, the money that went to the East would be spent at home, thus increasing local wealth. The needs of the growing cities would be met by locating and utilizing local deposits of building stone, potters' clay, and sand and gravel. The immediate capital to develop these natural resources could be supplied by eastern capitalists, who should, it was believed, jump at the opportunity of making profitable investments as soon as they were informed of the fact that the west contained potential wealth in its rocks and soils. This point of view was well expressed by the report of the state senate committee on education, when the matter of creating a geological survey came before the legislature in 1836:

Indiana is just launching into a general system of internal improve- ments, which if properly prosecuted must shortly give her an elevated rank in the Union. Her local position is a proud one—her outlines such as to secure for her, under wise legislation, and at no distant day, a decided prominence as an independent state. We are about to expend millions in the construction of canals, railroads, turnpikes, etc… Connected with this, it occurs to your committee that an accurate examination of the geology of the country is absolutely necessary to the successful prosecution of our public works. Such an examination would impart life and vigor to the plan—indeed without it, we should labor under a thousand difficulties, which such a survey would diminish, if not remove. The peculiar character of the country and soil on the various routes selected for improvement, "the presence of valuable ores, with the localities and extent of quarries, and of coal and lime formations, objects of inquiry so essential to internal improvements, and the advantage of domestic prosperity, would be discovered, and the possession and advantages of them given to the public … ."1

The result of this line of reasoning was that there was a sudden awareness of the necessity for trained men to discover and to locate the mineral wealth of the western states, and thus it was that scientists, especially the geologists, took on a new importance in the eyes of progressive westerners.

Indiana was certainly one of the most active states in this movement for exploring natural resources. The first state geological surveys had been in the East, where the importance of geology had long been stressed by pioneer teachers of the science in eastern universities. As a result of this agitation, Massachusetts created the first state survey in 1830, Tennessee in 1831, and Maryland and New Jersey in


  • 1Indiana Bow. Journal, sas. of 1935-1836. 268.
1833. Maine, Ohio and New York instituted surveys in 1836. Thus, prior to 1837, only two western states, Tennessee and Ohio, had authorized geological surveys.2

The first official notice of the need for a geological survey in Indiana was in 1830. At this time, a resolution was passed in the state senate providing that the committee on education should investigate the feasibility of appointing a professor of geology and mineralogy at the state college at Bloomington, who would devote a part of his time to the making of a "thorough geological examination of our state … and report all the useful discoveries for the practical benefit of the country."3 The committee reported that the funds of the college were insufficient for such purposes, and there the matter of a geological survey rested until 1835.4

In that year, Governor Noah Noble, in his message to the legislature in December, asserted that he had become aware of the desirability of a geological and topographical survey of the state, when he had talked to a gentleman who had found indications of coal in the neighborhood of the National Road. Governor Noble urged that the need for a correct map of the state, and the desirability of information about the natural resources of the state, could very well be met by appointing an agent. He especially urged that the mineral deposits be investigated, saying that "without the aid and application of geological science," those deposits would never be developed.5

But this was a new venture for the legislature to consider, and the members evidently doubted the ability of the state to carry it through alone. A joint resolution of the two houses provided that the governor should correspond with the governors of Ohio and Kentucky, to learn whether those states would be willing to coöperate with Indiana in a joint survey of the three states. Further, Governor Noble was directed to consult with "one or more eminent geologists in the TJnited States in regard to the subject."6

Governor Noble himself was entirely convinced of the necessity and desirability of the geological survey, and he


  • 2 George Perkins Merrill, One Hundred Years of American Geology (New Haven. 1924). 127-208, passim; G. P. Merrill, ed. and comp., Contributions to a History of American State Geological and Natural History Surveys (Washington, 1920), Bulletin 109, United States National Museum, 637-686.
  • 3Indiana Senate Journal. Seas. of 1830-1831, 87.
  • 4Ibid., 110.
  • 5Indiana Senate Journal, Seas of 1825-1835, 25.
  • 6Laws of Indiana, Seas. of 1835-1836, Local Laws, 393.
carried out the terms of the resolution with energy. He could not secure the coöperation of Ohio, probably because there was already a movement on foot to provide for a separate survey of that state. The governor of Kentucky never answered his letter.7 As an "eminent geologist," the governor selected George W. Featherstonhaugh, the Geologist of the United States.8 In reply to the governor's letter, Featherstonhaugh said that it would be possible for a superficial examination, which would be of value to the state, to be made in one year, by one man, and at comparatively small expense, but added that he knew of only one man who could make the survey, and he was in Europe.9 In his message communicating the results of his investigations, Governor Noble urged the legislature to proceed to authorize a geological survey for Indiana without waiting for Ohio and Kentucky, because he was satisfied that,

In this state we have external indications of large beds of coal and other mineral deposits, but for want of the test of science, their extent and value are unknown … [and I am] satisfied that these resources, properly developed, will give employment to thousands, subserve the purposes of commerce, contribute to the support of our public works, and add greatly to the wealth of our citizens and the State… 10

In response to the words of the Governor, the Legislature passed an act providing for the creation of a geological survey. This act authorized the governor to appoint annually a person of "talents, integrity, and suitable scientific acquirements as geologist for the State of Indiana. "The compensation was to be $1,500 a year, with provision for expenses, not to exceed $250. The geologist was to make a "complete and minute" survey, first of the regions in the neighborhood of contemplated public works, and then in other portions of the state. He was to prepare a "detailed account of all remarkable discoveries made, and the progress of the work," and lay it before the legislature annually. The geologist was also to analyze any mineral substance at the request of any citizen of the state, in the time of the year when he was not


  • 7Indiana House Journal, Seas. of 1836-37, 26.
  • 8Ibid, Featherstonhaugh had been appointed United States Geologist by Congress in 1834, and had been assigned to make a survey of the territory west of the Mississippi. between the Red and Missouri rivers. See G. W. Featherstonhaugh. Geological Report of an examination made in 1934 of the elevated country between the Missouri and Red rivers (Washington, 1836).
  • 9 Featherstonhaugh to Governor Noble, Washington, Oct. 17. 1836, Noble Papers, Indiana State Library. There is no hint as to who was the man to whom Feather stonhaugh referred, but it is possible that It was Dr. John Locke, a competent scientist of Cincinnati.
  • 10Dichotic' House Journal, Seas, of 1836-1877. 26.
actively engaged in the field. Finally, it was provided that the act should continue in force for only one year, unless re-enacted by the legislature.11 Thus was Indiana's first geological survey established.

The governor proceeded to appoint a man of "talents, integrity, and suitable scientific acquirements." This man was David Dale Owen, and it is quite probable that the Governor had him in mind for the office even before the passage of the act. Noble had often visited in New Harmony, and was at least well acquainted with David Dale's brother, Robert Dale, who was rapidly becoming a leader in the councils of the Jackson party in the state.12 The Governor thought so highly of Robert Dale and his sister Jane, that he had sent his daughters to live in the latter's home, where they received instruction in music.13 On some of his visits to New Harmony, the governor must have become acquainted with Robert Dale's younger brother.

David Dale was an earnest young man, who had equipped a remarkable laboratory and museum in New Harmony, and, since his school days, had been interested in science. He had received an excellent European education, including three years at Hofwyl, a famous Swiss school, a year at Glasgow under a noted professor of chemistry, and, finally, another year at London University, where he listened to the foremost scientists of the time. He returned to New Harmony with Robert Dale Owen in 1833, and made his home there. In 1835-37, he was in attendance at the Medical College of Ohio, in Cincinnati. There he studied chemistry and anatomy in order that he might become proficient in all branches of the science of geology. He had made up his mind that this newest of sciences was the most interesting. In 1836, he had accompanied his friend, Gerard Troost, on a survey in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. David Dale Owen, though but twenty-seven years old when Governor Noble appointed him, was entirely competent to become state geologist 14

It seems highly probable that Governor Noble had talked with Owen about the possibility of instituting a state geological


  • 11Lams of Indiana, Seas. of 1836-1837, General Laws. 108-109. Under the first state constitution of Indiana (1816-1852). the general assembly met annually.
  • 12 R. D. Owen to Nash Noble, Nov. 12, 1836, Noble Papers, Indiana State Library.
  • 13Idem.
  • 14 Manuscript Autobiography, D. D. Owen Papers. These papers are in the possession of David Dale's granddaughter. Mrs. Caroline Dale Snedeker, and are keptat her home on Nantucket Island.
survey, because it was known in New Harmony as early as October of 1836, before the legislature met, that there was a movement on foot for a survey, and that David Dale Owen would probably secure the position of state geologist.15 It seems improbable that Owen himself did not know of it, and perhaps the voluntary service on the Tennessee survey was a specific preparation for the Indiana survey.

Whatever behind-the-scenes moves actually took place, the first official notice that David Dale Owen received of his appointment came when his commission arrived from the Secretary of State, and that was dated March 31, 1837.16 Owen assumed his duties immediately, and this fact lends weight to the opinion that he had been long expecting the appointment, and already had his plans of operation well worked out.

As Owen saw the problem, the first object was to "gain a correct and connected idea of the whole, before spending much time in detailed examination of any particular spot."17 With this object in mind, the geologist left New Harmony in April of 1837, followed the Wabash river to its junction with the Ohio river, and then traveled up that river, through all its meanderings, to the southeastern corner of the state, in Dearborn county."18 His purpose in doing so was to determine the succession of the underlying strata, which he could do by observing the exposed rocks in the bluffs of the river. He was thus able to gain a good idea of the geological formations all along the southern boundary of the state. With this knowledge, he was ready to go into the interior of the state, and determine just how far the various formations that he had observed along the Ohio extended. For this purpose, he proceeded to run zig-zag lines, so that he would cover the whole of the southern and central parts of the state. He ran the first line from Lawrenceburg, through Ripley county to Madison. Then he turned northward, and followed the route of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, construction on which had been begun in 1836. He took advantage of the


  • 15 Alexander Maclure to William Maclure. New Harmony, Oct. 18, 1836, Maclure Papers, Working Men's Institute Library, New Harmony, Ind.
  • 16 Record of Commissions, 1837-1846, Mss. In the office of the Secretary of State of Indiana.
  • 17 David Dale Owen, Report of a Geological Reconnoissance of the State of Indiana; made in the year 1837 (Indianapolis, 1838). 10. Hereafter cited as First Indiana Report.
  • 18Ibid.
two deep cuts, which were being made in the hills back of Madison, to study the formations thus exposed.19

From Columbus, he turned westward, proceeded to make a circle through the counties of the central hill region of the southern portion of the state, and then returned again to Columbus. He now proceeded to Indianapolis, continuing his investigations along the route of the M. & I. Railroad. Leaving Indianapolis, he followed the National Road to Greenfield, turned southeastward, and made a circle through Brookville, returning to Indianapolis through Greensburg and Shelbyville. Besides, there was a line established to the westward, from Indianapolis to Terre Haute. There Owen turned south and followed the Wabash to New Harmony.20

In the fall of 1837, he continued his plans of making zigzag lines, covering the interior counties of southern Indiana, which he had not visited in the spring. Then, heading north, he followed the Wabash river to Lafayette and Logansport, where he picked up the route of the Michigan Road, and followed it through South Bend and on to Michigan City. Leaving Michigan City, he went back to South Bend and on to Elkhart. Here he met with an accident, the details of which are not known. He had planned to go on to Ft. Wayne, and then to Logansport again, but instead he returned directly to the latter town, and followed the north bank of the Wabash back to Lafayette. From here he made his way back to New Harmony by way of Crawfordsville, Spencer and Princeton.21 Altogether, in the course of the first year of the survey, Owen traveled a thousand miles, all of it on horseback. When one considers the difficulties of travel in Indiana in the thirties, and the fact that many stops and side excursions must necessarily have been made, this was a remarkable exhibition of endurance of hard work amidst hardships.

One of Owen's principal tasks was the delineation of the extent of the coal area of Indiana. He determined that the eastern boundary was a line running from Oil Creek, in Perry County, north to a little west of a line through Paoli, Bedford and Bloomington, where it swung to the west, and crossed the National Road near Putnamville.22 Owen pointed out


  • 19 "Ibid.: C. G. Sappington, "The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad," Indiana Magazine of History (Sept., 1916, XII, 237. 238.
  • 20 First Indiana Report, 10.
  • 21Ibid.
  • 22Ibid., 13.
that the eastern boundary of the coal field was only partly in Indiana, that it swung down into Kentucky as far as Bowling Green, where it swung back to the west, and crossed the Ohio again at Golconda, Illinois. He hazarded the opinion that the Indiana coal field was but a part of a great central coal field that extended into Illinois, and was in the form of a great basin, similar to coal fields of Europe. Investigations by succeeding geologists have made little change in the eastern boundary of the coal basin, and have upheld Owen's theory of a great central coal field.23

Not only did Owen point out to the citizens of the state the area in which they might expect to find coal, but he showed them a means whereby they could determine whether or not they had dug deep enough to find it. He adopted a discovery of Dr. Troost's that no coal could be found below a limestone which contained a particular fossil. Once a coal miner found himself in the midst of this limestone, he would know that it was useless to dig deeper.24 In discussing coal mining, Owen took the opportunity to point out the importance of consulting a geologist before any mining was done, so that a scientific opinion could be given on the chances of finding coal in a particular spot. He told the story of a Maryland landowner who observed lignite scattered over the surface of his fields, and knowing it to be imperfect coal, he immediately presumed that solid coal would be found below the surface. He hired an experienced miner from England, and invested $20,000 in sinking a shaft for a mine. Over the protests of a scientist of the neighborhood, who was aware of the character of the underlying formations, the landowner continued operations, and, of course, was disappointed in finding no coal,25

Owen also had a word of warning for those residents of southern Indiana who mistook a black, bituminous shale which was found along the Ohio river for coal, just because it would burn. In the first place, Owen pointed out that, geologically, the shale was below the Archimedes limestone, and so could not possibly be coal; in the second place, the only reason that it burned was because of its high sulphur and bitumin content.26 In both of these stories, Owen was intent


  • 23Ibid., note, 17.
  • 24Ibid., 13. This particular fossil was called Archimedes because of its screw-like shape.
  • 25Ibid., 4-5.
  • 26 Ibid., 15.
on making the point that science, geology and chemistry, at least, had more than an abstract and theoretical value, and could be practically useful in an economic way. His whole viewpoint on the purposes of the state geological survey was clearly stated by him:

I have considered it my duty, while surveying a country as new as ours, to remember that a state just settling, is like a young man just starting out in life, whom it behooves to secure for himself a competency, before he indulges in unproductive fancies. I have considered it the most important object to search out the hidden resources of the state, and open new fields of enterprize to her citizens. That object effected, time enough will remain to institute inquiries (which a liberal policy forbids us to overlook) of a less productive and abstract character; inquiries which are interesting in a scientific, rather than a commercial point of view.27

Because of this attitude, Owen did not spend a great deal of time investigating the coal measures of Indiana, probably because, at that time, coal was not as economically important as it was later to become, since there remained much uncuttimber to serve the people as fuel both for home use and for manufacturing.28 What seemed of more importance to Owen was the location and extent of possible sources of iron ore. He said that

when there was any possibility of discovering a valuable deposit of iron, I instituted a more particular investigation in such localities: believing that a good iron bank is of more intrinsic value to the State than a mine of gold or silver.29

He was no doubt disappointed, because he found no very large deposits of ore, but he was able to locate sizable quantities of brown oxide of iron, which, although not the best ore, would justify the establishment of smelters.30

The other principal resource of Indiana which Owen investigated at some length was building stone. Although he appreciated the fact that oölitic limestone was to be found in great quantities, he does not seem to have recognized the potentialities of the greatest limestone region of the state. Most of his discussion of building stone was devoted to the quarries of southern and southeastern Indiana, where he found good fossiliferous limestone.31


  • 27Ibid., 4-5.
  • 28 G. M. Levette, "Fuel Values of Coal," Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources. 13 Annual Report (Indianapolis, 1833), 11.
  • 29First Indiana Report, 21.
  • 30Ibid., 22, 25.
  • 31Ibid., 16, 18, 26, 28.

The field work of the survey occupied Owen through the summer and autumn of 1837. During that time, he was almost constantly away from home, meeting new people, and visiting all points of geological interest. After the completion of the fall trip to the northern part of the state, Owen prepared a report of his work to submit to the legislature. This report was published in Indianapolis. In December, 1837, he went to the capital to read proofs and to visit the members of the legislature in the interests of having the survey renewed for another year. The trip from New Harmony to Indianapolis occupied six days, and was made on horseback. Being winter time, Owen encountered cold weather, bad roads and high water. On his arrival in Indianapolis, he found difficulty in securing lodging, since one of the principal taverns had closed its doors. Finally he found a "snug little room to myself with a little open stove, and just room to turn between the table and the bed."32

The legislators were much interested in geology, and several of them asked Owen to lecture on the subject. These invitations were made official by a resolution of the house of representatives, offering to put the hall of the house at his disposal for as many evenings as he might desire to lecture.33 Owen borrowed some apparatus from a local doctor, and delivered his lectures, as he himself reported, "with greater facility than I expected."34 His visit must have had a favorable effect on the legislature, because, in spite of an effort on the part of the senate to repeal the act of 1837, the survey was continued for another year, and Owen was duly re-appointed as state geologist on March 10, 1838.35

During the spring and fall of the second year of the survey, field investigations were continued. Having already made a general reconnaissance, he now devoted his time to a more detailed investigation of geological formations and mineral resources. Instead of considering the extent of formations, and running lines to determine their limits, he visited individual counties, and made separate reports in regard to their geology and natural resources. He again traveled


  • 32 D. D. Owen to Mrs. D. D. Owen. Indianapolis, Dec. 14 [1837?], D. D. Owen Papers.
  • 33Indiana Howe Journal, Sees. of 1837-1838, 93.
  • 34 D. D. Owen to Mrs. D. D. Owen, Indianapolis, Dec. 14, [1887?], D. D. Owen Papers.
  • 35Indiana Scnite Journal. Sess. of 1837-1838, 580, Indiana House Journal, Sess. of 1837-38, 439; Record of Commissions. 1837-1845, Mss. in office of Secretary of State of Indiana.
through the counties of the southern part of the state, and then through a few of the northern counties.36 He composed for himself a series of questions to be answered by investigation. He wanted to find out the best methods for mining coal; to find out if Indiana possessed lead ore in any quantity; to discover where the best building stone could be found; to learn what were the possibilities of finding salt springs. He was also interested in solving some questions of a purely scientific character, chiefly, in what way did the geological formations and deposits of Indiana agree with, and in what way did they differ from those of neighboring states.37

Owen sought the answers to these questions by investigating numerous bluffs of water courses, the walls of wells, sheer sides of hills, caves, excavations for roads and canals. In fact, he studied any place where he could get a glimpse of the rock formations. He located workable seams of coal, sources of salt from springs, beds of clay and shale suitable for pottery and brick making, deposits of iron ore, and outcrops of sandstone and limestone. He was particularly impressed by the possibilities of developing iron manufacture in the central western part of the state in Vermillion, Parke and Fountain counties. Here Owen found the essential elements for iron manufacture: coal, limestone, timber and ironore. He predicted that this area of the state would become the center of a large and important iron smelting industry.38 Further, he prophesied that, since the whole of the coal area of the state was also the best mineral region of the state, it would eventually be the seat of manufacturing and industry.39 These predictions were fulfilled to a degree for a period. That is, until the development of the Mesabi iron ore fields, and the change from river to rail transportation, much of Indiana's industry did center around Terre Haute.40

In the interests of comparing Indiana geology with that of other states, Owen made a trip into the salt producing area of Virginia (now West Virginia), in the neighborhood of the Kanawha river. His purpose was to discover if there was a possibility of locating good brine springs and wells in


  • 36 David Dale Owen, Second Report of a Geological Survey of the State of Indiana made in the year 1838 (lndlanapolis, 1839), 3. Hereafter cited as Second Indiana Report.
  • 37Ibid., 4.
  • 38Ibid., 22-27.
  • 39First Indiana Report, 26.
  • 40 W. S. Blatchley. "A Century of Geology in Indiana." Indiana Academy of Science. Proceedings (1916). 102-103.
Indiana. Since there had been but few deep borings in Indiana, the best way of determining whether there were possibilities of securing a productive source of salt, was to compare the geologic formations of Indiana with those of a territory where salt was secured in quantity. The regions about the valleys of the Kanawha and Muskingum rivers on either side of the Ohio were selected by Owen, because they were on the margin of coal producing regions, as well as of brine springs, and so approximated central Indiana in geology.41 Owen realized that Indiana had always been handicapped in her development of the meat-packing industry by a lack of local sources for salt manufacture. It had been necessary to import most of the salt used from eastern Kentucky and western Virginia, or from New Orleans. The best salt came from New Orleans, and of course entailed a heavy shipping charge, even after steamboats made upstream freighting possible.42 Owen concluded from his investigations that, since there was salt in western Virginia, there would be salt in Indiana, because the character of the geological formations of the two regions was very similar, and he declared that salt water would be found in the south-central area of Indiana, which was on the border of the coal region.43

Owen did other work in comparing the geology of 'Indiana and Ohio, and laid the foundation for his later work in defining the succession of geological formations for the entire northern Mississippi region including the Ohio valley. Because of its technicalities, this part of his report will not be considered. Suffice it to say that Owen became the foremost western geologist, and present day geologists have verified the general accuracy of his work.

Owen never completed his task of surveying Indiana, although, at the time of his death, in 1860, he was again engaged, as state geologist, in directing a detailed and thorough study of Indiana's geology. In spite of a strong plea by Governor David Wallace to the legislature, during the session of 1838-39, that the survey be continued,44 the state senate did not take any action on his recommendation, while the house


  • 41Second Indians Report, 17.
  • 42 Frances Eugene Andrews, The Early Salt Industry … . (A.M. Thesis. Ms., Indiana University Library), 1-18.
  • 43Second Indiana Report, 32-36.
  • 44Indiana Doeunentary Journal, Seas, of 1838-1839, 19.
tabled a bill for the continuation of the survey.45 The failure of the legislature to act in the matter of renewal, of course did not mean that Owen immediately ceased work on the survey, because he continued to carry on his activities under the act of 1838 which did not expire for a year. He was recommissioned as state geologist on June 7, 1839.46 In the session of 1839-1840, Governor Wallace again urged the legislature to re-establish a geological survey, and again the legislature refused to take action, although the house committee on agriculture made a favorable report for the revival of the survey.47 Apparently, the survey was not authorized because of the fact that the country was in state of business depression, and the legislators wanted to keep the tax burden as low as possible. Besides, the great internal improvement scheme, which Indiana had inaugurated in 1836, was costing far more than had been anticipated, and the legislators refused to spend money on what must have seemed to many of them as a frivolous and unimportant use of state funds.48

The results of Owen's survey of Indiana were embodied in his two reports. The first was submitted to the legislature at the 1837-1838 session, and the second at the 1838-1839 session. Both reports were printed by the state, and included in the Documentary Journal. Owen made a series of maps and geological illustrations to accompany these reports, but they were never published. The original illustrations were supposed to have been deposited in the State Library, but they seem to have been lost. Owen's two modest little pamphlets, the first of thirty-four pages, and the second of fifty-four pages, exhibit the thoroughness with which he investigated the geology of the state, and are a tribute to his keenness of observation and his ability to draw correct conclusions from his observations. Written in a simple and direct style, they were meant to be understood by the layman, and the first report was prefaced by a short exposition of the principles of geology, which is an excellent summary of the geological knowledge of the day.


  • 45Indiana House Journal, Seas. of 1838-1839, 160. The committee to which the governor's message was referred made a long and convincing report in favor of the survey, and it was only after an animated debate that the opponents of the bill succeeded in tabling it. See Logansport Herald, Feb. 21, 1839.
  • 46 Record of Commissions, 1837-1845, Mu. in office of Secretary of State of Indiana.
  • 47Indiana House Journal, Sess. of 1839-1840, 451.
  • 48 Logan Esarey. "Internal Improvements in Early Indiana," Indiana Historical Society, Publications (1911), V, 109, 119; Autobiography, D. D. Owen Papers.

Owen was always conscious of the fact that he was a public servant, and never sacrificed the public interest to his personal enthusiasm for science. Yet, he also believed that he had a mission to perform, and that it was his duty to educate the people so that they would understand that geology, while a science, was yet a practical science. Upon taking office as state geologist, he issued a statement to the press, that in accordance with the act of the legislature, he would receive at New Harmony, any specimens of minerals or metals about which the citizens wished information. These he would analyze during those periods when he was not in the field. In addition to this statutory requirement, Owen invited any person to send him fossils, rock and mineral specimens of interest, and especially urged engineers, miners, well-diggers and quarrymen to advance the interests of science by being on the lookout for such material. He gave detailed instructions for the packing and shipment of specimens and offered to pay transportation charges on all such material submitted to him.49 There is a letter in existence which discloses that at least one citizen of the state co-operated with him. The writer, Samuel H. Dowden of Dear born county, told Owen about the various minerals on his farm, described fossils found in the creek bed, and offered to send specimens.50

In concluding his first report, State Geologist Owen made a series of suggestions to the legislature as to the future conduct of the geological survey of the state. He advised that the state would find it money well spent to institute an organization which would make a minute and detailed examination of all the geological features of the state, including a topographical survey, the mapping of the extent of all the formations within the state, and the analysis of all the coal, building stone, and mineral deposits, and the thorough classification of all fossil remains. He recognized that such a survey would cost both money and time, and although he said that the results would justify the expenditure, he felt that a continuation of the plan under which his office was


  • 49Indiana Journal, Apr. 15, 1837; Indiana Democrat, Apr. 12, 1837; Logansport Canal-Telegraph. May 6, 1837; Bloomington Post. May 12. 1837.
  • 50 Samuel H. Dowden to Robert Dale Owen [11, Healthy Retreat, Dearborn County, Ind., May 24, 1837, Maclure Papers, Working Men's Institute Library, New Harmony, Ind. Without doubt, the person who wrote the letter meant it for David Dale Owen. Robert Dale had such a state-wide reputation that persons often addressed him when they meant to address one of his leas well-known brothers.
created would accomplish much that was worth while.51 Owen was tactful enough to realize that legislatures should be led, not driven, into increasing the expenditures of the state.

When one reads these unpretentious, lucid reports of the first state geologist on the geology of Indiana, one is impressed with their accuracy and fundamental correctness. His work has been the basis of all later investigations by succeeding state geologists, and although they have amplified and added details to his descriptions of the formations of the state, there have been very few of his conclusions which have been discredited.52 His breadth of vision, and his discrimination between the essential and the non-essential have made his work of lasting importance. His contemporaries thought well of his work, and the American Journal of Science and Arts devoted two pages to a review of the first report, ending with this statement:

The report is concluded with suggestions as to the future detailed survey, which as they are (like the entire report) marked by much good sense and correct knowledge, ought to command, and we trust will secure, the attention of the legislature and the people of Indianan.53

Largely on the strength of his work in Indiana, David Dale Owen was, in 1838, chosen by James A. Witcomb, then Commissioner of the General Land Office, to make a survey of the United States mineral lands in Iowa and Wisconsin, and, while engaged in this survey, Owen acquitted himself with the same brilliance that he had exhibited in his work in Indiana.54


  • 51First Indiana Report, 33-34.
  • 52 W. S. Blatchley, op. cit., 99, 109.
  • 53American Journal of Science and Arts (1938), Ser. 1, XXXIV. 196.
  • 54 See Arthur Deen, "Early Science in the Ohio Valley," for a brief account of the work of David Dale Owen after 1838, Indiana Magazine of History (March, 1937), XXXIII, 41-42.


Published by the Indiana University Department of History.