- UW Department of Geology and Geophysics
Profiles of Rocky Mountain Geologists – a continuing series
Israel Cook Russell (1852–1906) is best known for his geomorphic studies of the Great Basin region and Cascade Arc during the latter half of the 19th Century. As a long–time U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist and close associate of John Wesley Powell (1834–1902) and Grove Karl Gilbert (1843–1918), Russell was one of the foremost contributors to the science of Quaternary geology in the American West. Rabbitt (1980, p. 163) notes that Russell “endured rather than enjoyed the comforts of civilization” and was enthusiastic about fieldwork, especially in the American West. My purpose is to provide a review of his professional career with a focus on his contributions to geology.
Russell (Fig. 1) was born in upstate New York in 1852. He graduated with degrees in Bachelor of Science and Civil Engineering from the University of the City of New York in 1872, and Master of Science in 1875 (Lombard and D'Ooge, 1906). He also undertook graduate studies at the Columbia University School of Mines. He visited New Zealand in 1874 as a member of the U. S. Transit of Venus Expedition, and returned to Columbia University as an assistant professor of geology in 1875. As no provision was made for work in natural history on this expedition, Russell obtained an appointment as ‘photographer' (Gilbert, 1906) and acquired the necessary skills in a hurried course under physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937). These skills were put to extensive use for the remainder of his life and account for the majority of photographs in his publications.
In 1878 Russell was hired as an assistant geologist on George Montague Wheeler's (1842–1905) U. S. Geographical Survey West of the 100th Meridian working in Colorado and …