Yellowstone and the Great West: Journals, Letters, and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition

By Marlene Deahl Merrill | Go to book overview

The Diarists

GEORGE ALLEN

After graduating from Oberlin College in 1850, Ferdinand Hayden stayed in touch with Professor George Allen, sending him the latest publications on geological subjects as well as western fossil and rock specimens for Allen's natural history collection (then called a "cabinet"). When Allen indicated his desire to join the 1870 expedition, Hayden encouraged him to participate. Allen was, after all, a respected geologist with broad field experience. Unhappily, Hayden had little inkling of just how physically and psychologically unprepared Allen was for such an expedition.

As a geologist, George Allen had endured the physical demands of arduous fieldwork in the East and Midwest, but they were nothing like what he would encounter during the 1871 survey. Moreover, he suffered from what was then called "nervous disease," a combination of anxiety and depression.

Deeply devout, Allen had long conformed to the practice of reserving Sunday as a day of worship and rest -- a practice Hayden had resented while serving on the Raynolds Expedition more than a decade before. A longtime Congregationalist, Allen believed in the efficacy of personal prayer during difficult times, especially as an underpaid and underappreciated professor at Oberlin College. Yet, despite his deeply held religious beliefs, Allen enthusiastically embraced new geological theories. He celebrated scientific knowledge even when it conflicted with biblical history, saying that such knowledge "gives us the present structure and past history of this our planetary abode . . . [and is] a striking proof of the power, wisdom & goodness of the Great Creator."1

In contrast to his openness to new scientific ideas, Allen viewed Native Americans with a closed mind. Undoubtedly, part of this attitude was due to the missionary zeal that had permeated Oberlin from its founding forty

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