Hayden's Debt to Lewis & Clark

masthead saying 'We Proceeded On'
Reprinted from We Proceeded On1

Ferdinand V. Hayden

Civil war era officer with long beard

Courtesy US Geological Survey Photo Archives

This photo was taken at the time of his 4th Geological Survey of the Territories in 1870.

—Editor, KT

The detailed geological and physical descriptions of the Missouri River Breaks and White Cliffs, paraphrased and better punctuated, survived nearly intact in the Biddle version of the journals (published in 1814) and thus were available to any early geologist fortunate enough to find or borrow a copy. It would be a half century before geological exploration of the Missouri River Breaks and White Cliffs area would begin in earnest. The pioneering geologist of the American West, Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, explored the Missouri as far up as Fort Benton in 1854- 55, and beginning in 1856 he published in the Proceedings of the Philadelphia Academy of Science a series of papers describing its geology.2 We know that Hayden was familiar with the captains' journal observations, for he refers to their description of the region (almost certainly derived from Biddle) in his 1860 paper "A Geological Sketch of the Estuary and Fresh-water Deposits of the Bad Lands of the Judith," published in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society—a most appropriate venue considering that Jefferson and Lewis were members of that distinguished society. Hayden remarks that the captains gave an "accurate description of the physical features of this remarkable region," particularly in the section they named the "Stone Walls."3 By naming the Judith River Formation in 1871 after Clark's Judith River, Hayden also helped ensure that the captains' legacy would live on in geological literature.

It may never be known how much preliminary knowledge Hayden or his colleagues in the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories gained from the journals of Lewis and Clark before their forays into Montana. And it must be recognized that the captains were not geologists, were believed to have carried only one book that had anything to say about geology, entertained no speculations on the age of the rocks, and according to both Cutright and Jackson recorded less about geology as the expedition proceeded westward.4 Yet the observations they did make remain revealing and useful. Speaking from experience, I know that anyone preparing for a pioneering survey and mapping exercise like Hayden's would have been grateful for this advance knowledge about a region of the West that was terra incognita for geologists.

  • 1. John W. Jengo, "high broken and rocky:" Lewis and Clark as geological observers, We Proceeded On, Volume 28, No. 2 (May 2002), the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Page titles, subheadings, and graphics have been added. The original printed format is provided at http://lewisandclark.org/wpo/pdf/vol28no2.pdf#page=24.
  • 2. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden (1829-1887) was a trailblazing geologist and explorer of the West. He directed the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories, which focused on Nebraska, Wyoming (including the region that became Yellowstone National Park), Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. His pioneering work in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains laid the foundation for the creation of the U. S. Geological Survey.
  • 3. Ferdinand V. Hayden, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1860, 123-138.
  • 4. Cutright, Lewis and Clark, 57, and Jackson, Jefferson and the Stony Mountains, 197.