C.D. Walcott

There is a fascinating old photograph on page 28 of The Geology of Millard County, Utah by Hintze and Davis, titled “Charles D. Walcott’s unpublished photograph of his paleontological exploration party in Tule Valley on September 11, 1903”. We see a buckboard pulled by a two horse team and a canvas covered supply wagon with a team of four. There are three carefully posed men and a dog. Water barrels are strapped to the wagon along with other provisions giving all indications of a well supplied expedition.

C.D. Walcott was born with an insatiable interest in natural history. He was committed by the age of 17 to devote his life to the study of the oldest fossiliferous rocks of North America. At that time the oldest known were from the Cambrian of the western states and in particular the Wheeler Shale of Millard County. The Wheeler Geological Survey had stumbled upon this formation in the mid 1800’s and a number of very interesting and primitive fossils had been sent back East for study and publication. The potential was certainly there and Walcott was more than anxious to leave his office and conduct a systematic survey of these largely unexplored rocks.

3 Anomalocaris canadensis, was first discovered by Walcott

He arrived at Salt Lake in August 1903 and left on the 27th with his field assistant Fred B. Weeks, his teamster Dan Orr, and cook Arthur Brown. It turned out to be a 26 day excursion into the desert wilderness of western Utah, most of that time within the confines of our County. The trip was so successful that he returned for a second field trip in 1905.

It is impossible to over-estimate the influence and prestige of Walcott: Hintze calls him “the father of Cambrian paleontology and stratigraphy in North America.” At this particular time he was director of the U.S. Geological Survey; a few years later he was president of the Smithsonian, president of the National Academy of Sciences, vice chairman of the National Research Council, chairman of the Carnegie Institute Executive Committee, and chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Though much too busy for field work and exploration, our reading gives us a glimpse into the excitement Walcott experienced as he prepared for these western trips.

Walcott’s 2nd U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin included the first good descriptions of five fossils represented in our present fossil collection. Their generic names are Asaphiscus, Ptychoparia, Agnostus, Olenoides, and Acrothele.

Information for this article comes from: Geology of Millard County, Utah by Lehi F. Hintze and Fitzhugh D. Davis, Bulletin 133, Utah Geological Survey, 2003.