You are here

Exhibit: Branner's Arkansas Geological Survey Raises Miners' Ire

Garvin Mine, Arkansas

You know you've made people mad when they hang you in effigy.

Before John Casper Branner came to Stanford, he spent several years as the State Geologist of Arkansas. In 1887-1888, he and his team completed the second-ever geological survey in Arkansas -- and the first in 30 years. Residents of the state were intent on having Branner verify the various reports of gold in the area; companies were busy making money off prospectors willing to buy up gold stock that promised riches and wealth.

This week's Branner 100 exhibit tells the story of the Second Arkansas Geological Survey.

Towns in Garland County, including Bear (City) and Hot Springs, boomed during the early and mid-1800s. Houses were built, a post office was established, a telephone exchange was installed, and businesses were founded, including hotels, schools, and a Masonic lodge. At one point Bear City included 35 mining companies. An August 9, 1888 newspaper article from The Daily Picayune indicated that "during the last two years mining companies have been organized in Arkansas with capital stocks amounting to a total of upwards of $111,000,000 for the purpose of working the proposed gold and silver mines in this state..." (The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, Thursday, August 09, 1888; Issue 198.)

You might imagine that many folks were none too pleased when the report from the survey was released, indicating the claims were false. "Prof. Branner states in his report that he is brought irresistibly to the conclusion that ignorance or fraud or both are at the bottom of all the gold assays reported from Montgomery and Garland counties and that the Golden City mines are swindles." (The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, Saturday, August 11, 1888; p.4; Issue 100.)

In response, the people of Bear City hung Prof. Branner in effigy.

Two days later The Daily Picayune of New Orleans declared Branner "a brave and honest man" and defended his actions by saying, "It was a bold step for this geologist to denounce those Arkansas mines, and if he resisted efforts to corrupt him in the interest of dishonest speculation he was more than ever brave." (The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, Thursday, August 09, 1888; Issue 198.)

About a week later, a report in Denver's Rocky Mountain News indicated that "This bombshell caused intense excitement among speculators and led to an indignation meeting at Hot Springs, at which geology was treated with small respect and its Arkansas representative was soundly abused." They essentially encouraged Branner to rethink his position, otherwise he "may fare badly." (Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, Sunday, August 19, 1888; p. 12.)

But Branner certainly had his supporters, including R. P. Rothwell, Editor of The Engineering and Mining Journal, who wrote a letter to Branner on Aug. 30th, 1888, saying "I see they are going for you pretty lively in the Arkansas papers, and I have again taken up the cudgel for you in the Journal of this week..." (John Casper Branner papers [SC0034]).

Stop by Branner Library this week to see a great collection of Stanford Libraries materials that tells this tale, including the survey itself, a geological map of Arkansas, and a map of minerals in the Garland and Montgomery county areas. You can also view reproductions of the letter from R.P. Rothwell and a photo of the Garvin Mine from our collection of Branner papers, the originals of which can only be viewed in our Special Collections Reading Room. Copies of the contemporary newspaper articles that report on public reactions to the survey that were found through the Libraries' subscription to the 19th century U.S. newspapers database are also on display.

This exhibit is part of the anniversary celebration commemorating the 100th year since the founding of the Branner Earth Sciences Library & Map Collections (June 14, 1915 - June 15, 2015.)

Counting down to the anniversary on June 14, each week we will be exhibiting items from our collection and archive. This exhibition is part of an ongoing series of anniversary events that culminate with a public celebration, speakers, and tour of the library on Thursday, June 11, 2015 from 4-6:30pm. Please be sure to join us!

Additional Sources:

John Casper Branner. Wikipedia. 
Bear, Arkansas. Wikipedia. 
Bear (Garland County). The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.