Oklahoma Stories


By Melanie Wilderman August 2018

Oklahoma’s first geological map rediscovered and recovered

A debate four years ago among co-workers at the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) about the oldest published geological map of the state led to an important historical find—one that had been buried for years in an OGS storeroom. 

Brittany Pritchett, a geologist for OGS at the time, was exploring the storeroom with colleague Jim Anderson, a cartographer who retired from the Survey in December. Anderson had remembered seeing some old maps in the storeroom that might be able to settle the debate, but neither expected to find such a significant piece of work.

 Under a pile of other maps and various items people tend to toss into storage rooms to be forgotten, lay a colorful, hand-drawn map in a broken frame. Pritchett noticed the map’s vibrant watercolor tones and the smattering of handwritten notes. 

“I immediately knew we had something special,” she said. 

A printed title and date read “Map of Oklahoma Territory, 1898,” which predates Oklahoma statehood by nine years. Handwritten off to one side were the words: “Preliminary Geological map of Oklahoma, 1904,” along with the cartographer’s name.

The map is the work of Charles N. Gould, founder of the University of Oklahoma School of Geology and the first director of the OGS, also known as the “father of Oklahoma geology,” according to an OGS news release.  

“The date on the map was much earlier than what we were expecting. The more we examined it, the more Jim and I knew we had something important,” Pritchett said. 

Pritchett, who worked as an OGS geologist for five years and is now with EOG Resources in San Antonio, explained this type of map, known as a manuscript map, was a working version of the finalized document printed in 1905. Though much of the map was in decent shape, Pritchett and Anderson realized quickly that parts of it were in need of attention. 

Map conservation and preservation is a delicate process, and the OGS enlisted the service of Lyzanne Gann Preservation in Dallas, Texas. Anderson drove the map to Dallas and observed part of the process. He explained how the work took several months to complete as the old and deteriorating glue and canvas backing had to be painstakingly removed while not damaging the fragile paper. Additionally, the map underwent a chemical cleaning.

“Cleaning the paper without removing the handwritten pen and pencil details is risky business, but Gann did a really good job on it,” Anderson said. 

Pritchett, who wrote about the history of the map and the process of finding and preserving it, said the more she researched Gould and the resources available at the time, the more impressed she became with the map. 

“It’s incredible what he was able to do without a car, without proper roads—sometimes no roads at all—without topographic maps, and without very much previous data. So much was unknown. I imagine it would be a near impossible task for most,” Pritchett said. 

In a 1927 writing that is part of the OU Western History Collection, Gould noted that in 1900 there was a need for a geological map of Oklahoma, but none was available. He wrote: “In fact, at that time there was almost nothing known regarding the geology of either Oklahoma or Indian Territory. At that time it was a virgin field, all unexplored.”

“The map also represents an important part of Oklahoma history,” Pritchett said. “It was created after the 1889 Land Run and before statehood in an effort by the Territory and the federal government to quickly learn about the resources—water, minerals, oil and gas—in order to help plan the infrastructure for the future state of Oklahoma.” 

Following the map’s public unveiling at the OGS in July 2017, three years after it was discovered in a storeroom and more than a century after Gould drew the first strokes to create it, the restored map now hangs in the Laurence S. Youngblood Energy Library on the second floor of Sarkeys Energy Center at the University of Oklahoma, open to the public and future explorers.

First map, Fast facts:

  • Before 1900 not much geological information was known about Oklahoma Territory.
  • Work on this map began nine years before Oklahoma’s statehood.
  • Gould first came to Oklahoma in 1900 as a geologist for the Oklahoma Territorial Geological and Natural History Survey and to establish the OU School of Geology. 
  • The map is hand-drawn by Gould and is based on less than four years’ work from the Territorial Survey.
  • The map likely traveled back and forth with Gould from the Oklahoma Territorial Survey offices and the field as well as to the USGS offices in Washington, D.C. 
  • The map was published in its final form in 1905 and also served as Gould’s Ph.D. work for his doctorate from the University of Nebraska. 

All information from “Conserving Oklahoma’s First Geologic Map,” by Brittany Pritchett with Jim Anderson. Oklahoma Geology Notes. 76 (2), 4-16, April-June 2017. Electronic copy available: http://ogs.ou.edu/docs/geologynotes/GN-V76N2.pdf 

Category: Oklahoma Stories

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