Geological Perceptions Regarding the Prospects of Oil and Mineral Resources in California in the Late 19th Century
S. M. Testa
Testa Environmental Corporation Mokelumne Hill, CA
Prior to the establishment of the California Geological Survey under J. D. Whitney in 1860, several individuals commented on the presence of butimen in California. Early observations and favorable comments were made and subsequently published by Tyson (1851),Williamson (1852), Trask (1853 and 1855), Blake (1854 and 1857) and Antisell (1857). Following establishment of the Survey, Whitney along with his assistant Brewer, had little to no desire to assist mining promoters in their activities. In April of 1864, promoters requested Benjamin Silliman, Jr., the former professor of both Brewer and Blake, to assess the economic potential of oil and mineral resources in California. Silliman had practical experience in Pennsylvania oil fields, and after a limited investigation predicted a great future for oil deposits in southern California, a conclusion wholly supported by Blake. Whitney along with Brewer did not endorse the wave of optimism associated with oil speculation in the mid-1860s and aggressively attacked Silliman and Blake. Contrary to Whitney, Blake and Silliman also provided favorable and optimistic evaluations of the Bodie Mining District, among other prospects, during the post-gold rush era. Through the efforts of Whitney and Brewer, Silliman eventually resigned from teaching in 1869–1870. Blake remained a formidable opponent of Whitney throughout their respective professional careers. Blake correctly opposed Whitney on other scientific matters relating to seismic hazards, formation of YosemiteValley, and the age of man, among others. From about 1885 to 1949, the USGS shared Whitney’s pessimistic attitude regarding oil deposits in California and elsewhere in the United States. History however has shown Blake and Silliman to be correct in their optimism.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90904©2001 AAPG Pacific Section Meeting, Universal City, California