- UW Department of Geology and Geophysics
Profiles of Rocky Mountain Geologists – a continuing series
The State of Wyoming could do no better service to the youth of the State, no greater honor to itself than by erecting a fitting and lasting memorial at the university where he worked so faithfully, to the memory of Professor Wilbur Clinton Knight, a sincere and a faithful man, and an earnest student.
—S. W. Williston, 1904
Wilbur Clinton Knight (Fig. 1), accomplished geologist and teacher, the son of a farmer, was born on 13 December 1858 at Rochelle, Illinois, then near the limit of civilization on the Great Plains (Williston, 1904). By 1859, petroleum production commenced at Titusville, Pennsylvania, in time reducing the demand for whale oil, coal gas, and lard burned in lamps (Trager, 1992, p. 479). Also this year, Charles Darwin's revolutionary research, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, appeared, to great public interest and debate. Thus, Knight's birth occurred at the dawn of momentous industrial and intellectual changes.
While he was still a child, Wilbur Knight's family moved to a farm in Nebraska near Blue Springs, thirty miles south of Lincoln and a few miles north of the Kansas border. This remote hamlet lies between Beatrice to the northwest and Barneston on the southeast. It was a frontier life, hard and challenging. Fittingly, he was an exceptional marksman and greatly skilled with a fishing rod. Like many other village and farm-and-ranch boys, Knight never really left the land, but became one with it, discovering there the allure of geology.
He began very early to roam the plains of southeastern Nebraska, picking up a …