Saturday, April 13, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 14

William Fletcher Cummings Preacher Turned Geologist with Darwin in One Saddlebag and the Bible in the Other, Surveys San Saba County, April  1889

Of all the colorful characters in Texas Methodist history, few can match William Fletcher Cummings (1840-1931).  He was a preacher, soldier, journalist, and finally a geologist who contributed to scientific knowledge about the Permian Basin, the main focus of U. S. Petroleum activity today.

Cummings was born  into a parsonage family in Springfield, Missouri, in 1840.  He attended St. Charles College, and over the objections of his father, studied geology.  That interest led his joining a scientific expedition to Texas in 1859.   The next year he was admitted on trial in the East Texas Conference but also served in the Texas Conference.  His appointments took him far and wide to the following counties, Liberty, Van Zandt, Llano, Ellis, Liberty, Chambers, Bell, and Lampasas.   

He served in the Confederate army in Arkansas and in 1868 bought an interest in the Waxahachie Argus.  For a short time he served as editor.  He also became involved in acquiring land for rail right of ways and real estate.  He never forgot his collegiate interest in geology, and in 1889 joined the State Bureau of Geology.  In that capacity he worked with the famous R. T. Hill, the “Father of Texas Geology.” 

Geology in the late 19th century in Texas was mainly survey work with the hope that the surveys would discover valuable ores.   Survey work meant spending almost as much time in the saddle as a circuit rider so the two careers meshed.   His work took him mainly to the western parts of Texas, usually packing his instruments and supplies on mules—it was said that he kept a copy of Darwin in one saddle bag and the Bible in another.  The surveys were published by the state of Texas and added immensely to the store of knowledge of the state. 

When the occasion arose, he would deliver a sermon in one of the remote communities he was visiting for a geologic survey. 

Not all of his work was for the state.  He also worked with the famous Edward Drinker Cope in fossil collecting and went to Mexico in the search of artesian wells.

He died in El Paso and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery there.  His papers are in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at UT.


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