Winchell, Newton Horace

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(b. Northeast, New York, 17 December 1839; d. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2 May 1914)

geology, archaeology.

Winchell was the son of Horace and Caroline McAllister Winchell, both of whom were school-teachers. At the age of sixteen he began teaching in public schools and continued that career after entering the University of Michigan in 1857. His studies and teaching were interrupted by military service in the Civil War, and he graduated in 1866. Winchell served as principal and superintendent of local schools in Michigan between 1866 and 1870. He accepted a position as assistant to his brother Alexander on the Michigan State Geological Survey and, later, to.John Strong Newberry on the Ohio State Geological Survey. In 1872 he was appointed state geologist of Minnesota, a post he held for twenty–eight years. While state geologist Winchell was also professor of geology and curator of the museum at Michigan State University: he relinquished most of those duties, however, after about seven years. The last nine years of his life were devoted to the Minnesota Historical Society.

In contrast with his brother Alexander, Winchell confined his scientific work mainly to original research rather than teaching and lecturing. His principal contributions to geology are recorded in twenty-four Reports and ten Bulletins of the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey. With a group of assistants he surveyed, mapped, and reported on every county in the state. The great iron ore deposits of the Mesabi and Vermilion ranges, as well as the Marquette, Gogebic, and Cuyuna ranges, were studied in detail. In addition, building-stone resources, copper deposits, lignite and anthracite beds, water supply, salt wells, and drift soils were examined in the course of the survey. Winchell’s interpretations of the structure of the Lake Superior region and of the origin of the iron ores was in conflict with that of the geologists of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Winchell also contributed to the ornithological, entomological, and botanic studies of Minnesota. Although his geological work was carried out almost exclusively in that state, he prepared the first geologic map of the interior of the Black Hills as a member of Custer’s expedition in 1874. With the aid of his younger son, Alexander Newton, Winchell wrote Elements of Optical Mineralogy, revised editions of which are still used. Aid on other projects was given by his older son. Horace Vaughn Winchell, and his son-in-law, Ulysses S. Grant, the geologist.

Contributions to archaeology were among Winchell’s earliest studies, and these were related to his glaciological work. His detailed and accurate conception of the waning of the great ice sheets and the contemporaneous existence of man produced considerable debate. Most noteworthy was his estimate of the time of the last stage of the Glacial Period by approximating the rate of recession of St. Anthony’s Falls, cutting the Mississippi River gorge from Fort Snelling to the present site of the falls in Minneapolis. The duration of postglacial time was estimated as about eight thousand years, assuming that the gorge was the result of postglacial erosion. Winchell assembled data on thousands of Indian mounds and concluded that they were the work of the immediate ancestors of the present Indian tribes and were not constructed by a prior race of distinct culture. His geological knowledge aided him in determining that paleolithic man in America antedated the Kansan stage of glaciation.

Winchell was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as a member of the Federal Assay Commission in 1886. He was one of the founders of the Minnesota Academy of Sciences in 1873 and served three terms as its president. The first steps in the organization of the Geological Society of America were instigated by Winchell in 1881, and he served as its president in 1902. In cooperation with his brother Alexander and other geologists, in 1888 he established the American Geologist, which he edited for eighteen years. The initial purpose of the journal was to provide a nonpartisan publication free from the influence of the national geological survey, which was viewed as encroaching on the domain of the state geological surveys. The causes for concern evaporated, and the magazine turned to then–current geological problems. In 1905 the magazine was incorporated with, enlarged, and published as Economic Geology, the title it still bears.

Winchell married Charlotte Sophia Imus of Galesburg, Michigan, on 24 August 1864. Of their five children, their sons Alexander Newton and Horace Vaughn became prominent geologists and one daughter, Avis married a successful geologist, Ulysses Sherman Grant.


Winchell’s writings include “Report of a Reconnaissance of the Black Hills of Dakota in 1874,” in Geological Report. . . (1875), 21–65; MThe Geology of Minnesota; Final Report of the Geological and Natural Histor_N, Surrey of Minnesota, 6 vols. (Minneapolis, 1884–1901): “The So–Called Huronian Rocks in the Vicinity of Sudbury, Ontario,” in Bulletin of the Minnesota Academy of Sciences, 3 (1889), 183–185; “The Iron Ores of Minnesota; Their Geology, Discovery, Development, Qualities, Origin, and Comparison With Those of Other Mining Districts,” Bulletin of the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Surrey, no. 6 (1891), written with H. V. Winchell: “Was Man in America in the Glacial Period?,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 14 (1903), 133–152; Elements of Optical Mineralogy, 3 vols. (New York, 1909), written with A. N. Winchell; The Aborigines of Minnesota (St. Paul, Minn., 1911); and “The Weathering of Aboriginal Stone Artifacts: a Consideration of the Paleoliths of Kansas,” Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 16, pt. I (1913).

H. S. Yoder, Jr.