Robert T. Hill
Robert Thomas Hill was born on August 11, 1858 in Nashville, Tennessee. He became an orphane at the age of five, and was then raised by his grandmother. In 1874, at the age of 16, Hill boarded a train and traveled to east Waco, Texas. From there he found his way to the frontier town of Comanche, Texas, where he joined his brother, Joe, the editor of The Comanche Chief newspaper. Robert worked as a printer for the newspaper and performed various other duties including writing, bookbinding, and eventually became co-editor of the paper.
The 1880s were a good time for graduating geologists in the United States. There was a great deal of interest in the American West and there was a need for trained geologists. The United States Geological Survey was founded in 1878 and John Wesley Powell had become director in 1881. Powell hired Hill in 1885 to work at the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. After a year of being assigned menial tasks such as the preparation of the Survey’s fossil collections, Hill was assigned to a three-month field season in his beloved Texas, a period that would provide an opportunity to revisit the Cretaceous deposits of west-central Texas.
He traversed portions of the state underlain by Cretaceous deposits accompanied by William Fletcher Cummins of Dallas, another geologist that would prove to be an influential figure in early Texas geology. In the 1880s and 1890s, even as settlers began to trickle into the Big Bend region, it remained largely undefined on maps. Following the Mexican War, American surveying parties followed the river to determine the boundary between the United States and Mexico, yet steered clear of the deep canyons found along this portion of the Rio Grande.
In October 1899, as a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist Hill led a six man expedition to explore and document the canyons of the Rio Grande, a place he described as "the longest and least known." Traveling in three boats, the expedition took nearly an entire month to travel from Presidio to Langtry, Texas. Hill packed photography equipment into the boats, and took a series of photographs, both during and after his river voyage. Two years later, Hill published an article describing his voyage, and describing the Big Bend region in the colorful language of the period.
Robert T. Hill is now known as the father of Texas geology. In his lifetime, he successfully published over 100 publications detailing the geology of Texas. He died on July 20, 1941 at the age of 82 in Dallas, Texas.
Alexander, N. 1976. Father of Texas Geology: Robert T. Hill. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 317 pp.