Knight, Samuel Howell

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(b. Laramie, Wyoming, 31 July 1892; d. Laramie, 1 February 1975)


S. H. Knight was the son of Wilbur C. and Emma Howell Knight. His father was the first professor of geology at the University of Wyoming, and his mother was dean of women at the same institution from 1911 to 1921. In his youth, Knight spent considerable time working as an assistant to both his father and Professor William C. Reed, paleontological curator at the university. With his brother, Oliver, he followed his father into a career in geology. He was educated at the University of Wyoming (B. A. 1913) and Columbia University (Ph.D. 1929). In 1916 he married Edwina Hall, whom he met while at Columbia. They had two children, Wilbur and Eleanor, both of whom studied geology.

After several years as a graduate student at Columbia, Knight returned to Wyoming in 1916 as an assistant professor of geology and by 1917 was full professor and head of the one-man department of geology. During the early years (1917 –1928) he established the undergraduate curriculum and initiated a graduate program that began awarding the master’s degree in geology in 1926. By 1931 the department had grown to three members and after World War II to seven. The graduate program included doctoral students by the early 1950’s. During much of this time’ Doc’ Knight wore two hats: head of the department and Wyoming state geologist (1933–1941).

Knight’s emphases as a career academic geologist were the education of undergraduate students, the development of exceptional field geologists (Wyoming Geology Science Camp), and, using his considerable artistic abilities the popularization of geology for the general public in a geologically blessed state. The latter efforts are best represented by the university geology museum that houses his reconstruction of a Wyoming Brontosaurus skeleton and murals depicting the paleogeography of the Rocky Mountain West. His full-scale copper Tyrannosaurus rex now stands before the S. H. Knight Geology building at the university of Wyoming.

Interests in unraveling sedimentary paleoenvironments, the reletionship between intermontance basin formation and episodic and history of geology, published as abstracts and field guides provide insight into his active and sharing mind. That experience and enthusiasm were brought to students and to lay and professional audiences throughout the West using a “chalk talk” approach in which the geologic history of the area “evolved” through perspective drawings before their very eyes.

Although the bulk of his time was spent for the benefit of students, faculty, and the university Kniught made signification contributions to the field of geology Two papers, one sedimentological(1929), the other paleontological (1968), illustrate his unique geologic insight and his recognition of the importance of three-dimensional representation of geologic features. His doctoral work on the sedimentology of the Pennsylvanian Fountain and Casper formations in the Laramie Basin characterizes his background and scientific style. The work was field based and tied intimately to the present Laramie River basin as a modern analogue. Quantitative grain-size.mineral and chemical analyses of representative samples from carefully measure strigraphy section of the fountain and casper formations, from mechanically weathered Precambrian Sherman granite, and many primary sedimentary structures of the Fountain Formation are common in the present drainage system.

In addition to his interpretation of the lithic character and distribution of the Fountain Formation as a Pennsylvanian alluvian fan complex, he described and defined unusal festoon cross-lamination. some with penecontemporaneous folds. More fully developed in the laterally equivalent casper formation. these primary sedimentary structures were elegantly documented in plan in cross section and in three dimensional sketches commonly repoduction in modern sedimentology texts his diagram and explanation that festoon cross-lamination forms “as a result of shifting currents in a large shallow body of water” are easily translated to modern features in nearshore tidal channels where strong currents constantly change and rework clastic sediments In the same work interestingly he recognized the possibility that sandstone dikes in the Fountain and Casper sandstone resulted from earthquake activity during the Pennsylvanian—a paleoseismic indicator receiving renewed attention.

Towards the end of his academic carrer and after his 1963 retirement, kinight completed a detailed study of Precambrian stromatolites, remarkably wellpreservedin the Nash formation in the Medicine bow mountain Wyoming with his grandson (now a professional geologist) as an assistant he mapped the distribution of stromatolities. bioherms and reefs bu plane table and alidate (1:1200 scale) and individual heads by net and protractor methods (1:60 to1:120scale) in such detail that entire algal communities could be reconstructed To Distinguish the three basic Proterozoic algal forms, he cut oriented samples into four-inch cubes, resectioned the sides into thin, polished translucent slabs. Photogrphed, and reassembled the cubes resection the sides source to examine their full three-dimensional character. His very clever treatment of this Precambrian occurrence is a fully illustrated descriptive classic.

S.H Knight became an honarary member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 1959.He was an honoury life member of the Wyoming Geological Association (1952) and a fellow of the Geological Society of America. His published work and the time, thought, and effort he devoted to his students and his university provide a living legacy in those whom he touched and in their students His Philosophy that geology begins in the field and that theoretical and experimental advances must be returned to a field setting for the science to flourish is no less true today than during the fifty years of “Doc” Knights tenure in and for Wyoming


1.Original Works knight was the author of thirtyfour scientific papers, including abstracts of work prewsented at professional meetings and field guides to the geology of Wyoming Acomplete bibiography is in the memorial by J. D. Love and Jane M.Love in Geological Society of America Memorials.7 (1977). His most significant works are “The Fountain and the Casper Formations of the Laramie Basin;A Study on genesis of Sediments.” in University of Woming Publications in Science: Geology, I (1929), 1–82; and “Precambrian Stromatolites. Bioherms, and Reefs in the Lower Half of the Nash Formation, Medicine Bow Mountains, Wyoming.” in Contributions to Geology, 7 f(1968), 73–166.

II, Secondary Literature, R. S. Houston and D. W. Boyd, memorial, in Bulletin of the American As-sociation of Petroleum Geologists, 60 (1977), 1130–1132; and H. D. Thomas, introduction, in Contributions to Geology, 2 (1963), 1–6, an issue dedicated to Knight in honor of his retirement that contains a bibiography complete through 1963. There is also a brief treatment of knight’s impact on the University of Wyoming in Time (12 July 1963).

Wallace A. Bothner

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Knight, Samuel Howell

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