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Geologist cast stones at Tucson

Citizen Staff Writer


Citizen Staff Writer

Even world-class scientists, apparently, can have faulty memories.

Either that or Raphael Pumpelly, who bad-mouthed the Old Pueblo in his published recollections of 1860 Tucson, was prone to exaggeration.

In one of his several books on his travels, he recalled an exhausting stagecoach ride that brought him here from El Paso, Texas.

He said the ride was too rough for him to sleep and he had little opportunity to eat. He wrote that after finally disembarking, he threw himself onto the floor “of the first room I could enter” (a saloon), and slept for 12 hours, awakening finally at the sound of a pistol shot.

He added, “I have no remembrance of having eaten for a week. So when I saw some men hurrying to a house where a man with a revolver stood ringing a bell, I turned to enter. The man stopped me. ‘Fifty cents first!’ he said, holding out his hand. There were jerked beef, and beans, and some things they called bread and coffee. You ate what was pushed at you, the memory of that pistol acted as a persuasion.”

Pumpelly’s unkind words about Tucson ruffled local feathers, and Pierson W. Dooner, editor of the Weekly Arizonan, described them as “an extravagant and absurd fable.”

In fact, the editor added, Pumpelly had taken a room at the Buckley House, and when the dinner bell rang, he “combed his silken hair and dined.”

The traveler’s treatment of the Tohono O’odham (then known as Papagos) and San Xavier Mission was kinder, but not by much:

“The mission building is still in tolerable preservation, with all the interior ornamentation and objects of worship of the chapel.

“The successors of the zealous founders have long since disappeared, but the Indians with a feeling of mixed pride and superstitious reverence, guard it according to their ability as a sacred legacy.”

Pumpelly was in Arizona – an early part of his world travels – in the role of geologist, examining and facilitating mining activities in southern Arizona.

Later, he would teach at Harvard, become an author and finally, late in life, reinvent himself as a self-taught archaeologist.

Pumpelly was born Sept. 8, 1837, in Oswego, N.Y., and studied at Oswego Academy with a goal of becoming a geologist and mining engineer. Initially destined for Yale University, he opted instead at age 17 to accompany his mother to Europe.

There, he learned French, German and Italian. He was enrolled at the Royal School of Mines in Frieburg, Saxony, Germany, in 1856 and was graduated in 1859.

A year later, he was employed as a mining engineer in Arizona, directing development of mines in several locations including Tubac and Apache County.

Leaving Arizona after a couple of years here, he accepted a commission from the Japanese government to explore the geology of that country.

Political unrest there prompted him to move once again, and in 1864-1865, he did a major geological survey of the Gobi Desert.

From there, he trekked overland to St. Petersburg, Russia, before returning to the United States at the close of the Civil War.

In 1868, he was named a mining professor at Harvard University, remaining in that position for seven years until he once again got the urge to travel.

He was described as 6 feet 3 inches tall, wearing a luxurious, waist-length beard and having a fondness for cigars. His genial nature and wealth of knowledge made him an easy conversationalist.

He did research on iron and copper deposits around Lake Superior, served as Missouri’s state geologist in 1871 and in, 1884, was in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey’s New England section.

He was in charge of the mineral industries survey for the 10th U.S. census, and in 1905 was elected president of the Geological Society of America.

In 1904, he received a Carnegie Institution grant to study ancient civilizations in Turkestan. In so doing, he developed techniques that would – a half-century later – become standard procedure in archaeological investigations. The same techniques are still in use today.

Pumpelly returned to Tucson on March 6, 1915, when in his late 70s, bringing with him a son, daughter-in-law and two daughters “for the health benefits of the climate.”

He noted changes in the Old Pueblo: “When I had last touched the ground at Tucson in 1860, there was only a cluster of mud huts, and a population which though not virtuous was happy. . . . Now, after half a century, Tucson was a flourishing city with fine streets, luxurious hotels and plate glass-windowed department stores.”

Pumpelly died Aug. 10, 1923, at Newport, R.I.

Paul L. Allen can be reached at 573-4588 or pallen@tucsoncitizen.com. For more history coverage, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/history.

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