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Conflicts Between Josiah D. Whitney and William P. Blake in Relation to California Geology and Future Development During the Post-Gold Rush Era

TESTA, STEPHEN, Testa Environmental Corporation, Mokelumne Hill, CA

William P. Blake was the first professional geologist to explore the southwest, thus providing the earliest scientific accounts of the region. In geological circles, Blake is best known for his service as a geologist for the Pacific Railroad Survey (1853-1854), an opportunity initiated by Josiah D. Whitney, Blake's distant cousin. In 1860, Blake opposed Whitney for director of the first geological survey of California. Despite lack of prior geologic experience, political connections and an aggressive campaign resulted in Whitney serving as the survey’s first director. As Director, Whitney never referenced Blake's earlier pioneering works, nor did Blake cooperate with Whitney after Whitney's appointment as Director in April, 1860. The survey was ultimately abandoned in 1874, due partly to over-emphasis on issues considered by the legislature as too academic and of little practical value in a post-goldrush period, where the development of additional mineral resources was desired.

In 1861, Blake successfully opposed Whitney, through popularity or actively campaigning, for the position of California's commissioner to the 1862 London International Exhibition ("Vote 42 Blake, 2 Whitney"). However, Blake did not take this prestigious post, and was joined by Whitney's candidate Raphael Pumpelly as mining consultants to the Japanese government. From 1864-1867, Blake became the first director and professor in mineralogy, geology, and mining at the College of California (1864-1867), a position Whitney viewed as an attempt to gain control of the California Geological Survey. However, no documentation indicates this was Blake's intention.

Conflicts between Whitney and Blake extended beyond competition over positions and continued for four decades. Blake correctly disagreed with Whitney on several important issues of the times including the economic potential of the Bodie Mines, economic value and potential of gas and oil in California, the glaciated nature of Yosemite Valley, potential for earthquakes, and origin and significance of the Calaveras Skull. Blake's contributions to the early geological understanding of California were influential, correctly forecasting its growth potential, providing insight into the geology, and mineral, water and agricultural resources of the region, and significantly contributing to its early academic development.



AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90911©2000 AAPG Pacific Section and Western Region Society of Petroleum Engineers, Long Beach, California