The foundations of paleontology at UCMP

by Jere Lipps (page 1 of 5)

John C. Fremont
John C. Fremont, as a young man.
UCMP's roots go back 163 years, further back than the University that houses it, or the state that founded the University. It began with John C. Fremont (left).
During his military excursions into Mexican California in 1843-44, Fremont collected fossils, and it was his fossil finds (later described by James Hall) that initiated an interest in the geology and paleontology of California and thus led to the start of UCMP's fossil collection.
California became a U.S. territory in February 1848, just one week after gold had been discovered on the American River. The gold rush of 1849 preceded California's statehood in 1850. Little was known about the geology of California at that time, but such a large, diverse state surely must have many resources. In 1853, the Legislature asked J.B. Trask, an amateur geologist and founder of the California Academy of Sciences, to survey the state. He found fossils, but did not describe them. Later, Trask was appointed to study the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges. Although this appointment has been called the First Geological Survey of California, there was no official act declaring that, or making Trask State Geologist. The Coast Survey asked W.P. Blake to

  Josiah D. Whitney Josiah D. Whitney, the California State Geologist in 1863.

study the geology and geography of the coast from Bodega Bay to San Diego. Both he and Trask found fossils, including microfossils. Trask left geology, but Blake continued his work with the Pacific Railroad Surveys, and Jules Marcou published two geologic maps of the United States that showed California consisting of just a few rock types.
More information was needed, so in 1860, the California Legislature created an official Geological Survey of California with Josiah D. Whitney (above and next page) as the first State Geologist.

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