BIOGRAPHY: The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume VI
K. Knott, James Proctor
KNIGHT, Wilbur Clinton, geologist, was born in Rochelle, Ill., Dec. 13, 1858; son of David A. and Cornelia E. (Jones) Knight, and grandson of Hezekiah T. and Anna A. (Angel) Knight. He graduated from the University of Nebraska, B.S., 1886, A.M., 1893; was assistant territorial geologist of Wyoming, 1886-87; manager and superintendent of mines in Colorado and Wyoming, 1888-92; was elected professor of mining at the University of Wyoming in 1893; professor of mining and geology, curator of the museum and geologist of the experiment station at the University of Wyoming in 1894; was appointed state geologist in 1898, and directed the Union Pacific scientific expedition through the fossil fields of Wyoming in 1899. He was married, Oct. 16, 1889, to Emma E. Howell. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America in 1897, a member of the National Geographic society in 1898, and of the American Institute of Mining Engineers in 1899. He is the author of many scientific papers and of contributions to scientific journals. He died in Laramie, Wy., July 30, 1903.
The fossil genus Knightia is named after the first Wyoming State Geologist Wilbur Clinton Knight
Current Research Projects at the Tate Museum
Reported by Russell J Hawley, Education Director, Tate Museum
After 100 years the final resting of the giant pliosaur Megalneusaurns rei was rediscovered in Fremont County, Wyoming. Parts of this animal, most notably two large complete forelimbs were collected by Wilbur Knight in the late 1890's and has been on display in the Tate Museum. We are hoping that a good portion of the animals is still in the ground as some large congealed "balls" containing thousands of cephalopod hooklets were found at the site. These are believed to be the pliosaur's stomach contents.
Knight, Wilbur Clinton 1858-1903
Biographical Dictionary of American Science.
The seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. By Clark A. Elliott. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1979.(BiDAmS)
Biographical Index to American Science. The seventeenth century to 1920. Compiled by Clark A. Elliott. Bibliographies and Indexes in American History, no. 16. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.(BiInAmS)The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans.Brief biographies of authors, administrators, clergymen, commanders, editors, engineers, jurists, merchants, officials, philanthropists,scientists, statesmen, and others who are making American history. 10 volumes. Edited by Rossiter Johnson. Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904.(TwCBDA)
Who Was Who in America. A component volume of [Who's Who in American
History.]. Volume 1, 1897-1942. Chicago: A.N. Marquis Co.,
San Francisco Call, Volume 86, Number 30, 30 June 1899
To Study Wyoming’s Fossils
Union Pacific invites Geologists and Paleontologists to a Free Excursion.
The Union Pacific Company to-day forwarded three hundred invitations to prominent geologists and paleontologists throughout the country to join in a free excursion of sixty days to study the recent fossil finds in the Wyoming wonderland. The professors of the various large colleges throughout the country are especially invited and transportation is to be furnished for at least one assistant free. The excursionists are expected to gather at Laramie, Wyo., on July 19 and begin their research under the directions of Prof. Knight of the Wyoming University. The field of research is the richest known to the geologist, and no effort will be spared to give the college men all the chance they desire to investigate the Wyoming wonderland – New York Sun.
Los Angeles Herald, Number 355, 20 September 1899
Gathering Old Bones
More Valuable Then Relics Of Bison
Spectacled Scientists Digging Up Dinosaur Fossils in the Wilds of Wyoming
Laramie, Wyo., Sept. 19 – (Correspondence of the Associated Press.) Fifty-eight American colleges and museums will be enriched at the opening of the college year by unprecedented accessions of fossils, professors and students from as many institutions having just spent a month collecting the bones and vegetable remains of millions of years from the hillsides of Wyoming. Almost a hundred enthusiasts came to this city as the guests of Wilbur C. Knight of the State University. The first field of consequence was encountered at Cooper creek. Fossils were found abundant in red sandstone of the Fox hills formation. Several species were obtained that are believed to be new to science. Professor Knight found a variety of pectim and Professors Collie and Todd discovered pieces of coral, an extremely rare occurrence in this formation. Mr. Vincent gathered two varieties of deciduous leaves. This deposit has never been described as occurring in the Fox hills. The first shipment to eastern colleges was made from Rock Creek station, and consisted mainly of shell forms of prehistoric life. The scientists studied with intense interest the Como bluff, whence Yale has drawn her dinosaur treasures. Twenty years ago Professor March opened up these quarries near Medicine Bow, and placed the field work in the hands of S. W. Silliston and W. H. Reed. The former is now in charge of the natural history department of the University of Kansas, and Mr. Reed is at the present collecting for the Carnegie museum. In spite of the previous thorough prospecting along the Como exposure, several remarkable finds were made. The party from the Gustavus Adolphus college of Minnesota opened the grave of a huge dinosaur. Several days were given to the exposure, while the expedition moved on, and the results indicate that a promising quarry has be located for next season’s work. Professor Charlton and his assistants from Baylor university in Texas located another dinosaur, which becomes the distinctive property of their institution. They also unearthed plesiosaur, the first to be reported from this formation in Wyoming. The objective point of the geologists of the party was the canyon of the Upper Platte river. This great natural wonder has slumbered in obscurity in spite of the activity of the American sightseer. It is the last of the great gorges to be examined by scientists, and no adequate popular or scientific description has ever been published of its picturesque grandeur. The canyon is eight miles in length, and, as it winds through walls that are in places over a thousand feet high, it presents a spectacle only equalled in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. The Platte canyon has an advantage over the better known canyon in its previous isolation. Many scientists are yet at work on their quarries, and will not give up the pursuit until the snow flies. The Carnegie museum collectors are devoting their attention to a “double-raftered” creature with a long neck, tail and hind legs and short fore legs, the whole length of the animal being sixty feet. It stood twenty feet high at the hips, the thigh bone or femur being six feet long and fifteen inches in diameter. A dozen quarries will be developed next year. One of the permanent results of this years pilgrimage will be the establishment of a permanent summer school of geology and paleontology at the University of Wyoming. Eastern students will thus be enabled to spend their vacations in field work under the eyes of men who know Wyoming formation as the pages of an open book.
Pacific Rural Press, Volume 58, Number 9, 26 August 1899
The Gigantic Fossils of Wyoming
The extinct animals being found under the plains of Wyoming do not cease to be a wonder. Other lands have produced huge mammals and strange reptiles, but none ever previously discovered can equal or approach those of the Cretaceous and Tertiary beds or southeastern and central Wyoming. Under the auspices of the Union Pacific Railroad a large party of men from numerous colleges and universities, headed by Prof. Wilbur C. Knight of the Wyoming University, is now delving into the sandstone and clays for the fossil remains of these immense animals long since extinct. Herewith are Illustrated two of these monsters with the individual bones of several others. At one time Wyoming had numerous fresh water lakes and a semi-tropical climate, at which time these animals appear to have dwelt in the swamps and lakes in great numbers. Dying, they sank in the mud flats, and accumulating deposits covered the remains, the bony parts of which were turned to stone. These are called fossils. Birds, fish, trees, leaves and other forms of organic life have been preserved in like manner. The tracks made by animals in the soft mud are also often found and ripple marks of waves and even the imprint of rain drops can sometimes be seen with wonderful distinctness.
(Link to illustrations)
DEATH: The American Geologist
January, 1904 No. 1
Wilbur, Clinton Knight
By S. W. Williston
In the death of Wilbur Clinton Knight at the early age of forty four, science has sustained a loss, which can only be truly appreciated by those who knew him best. A man of rigorous rectitute of character, enthusiastic to a greater degree than is common among scientific men even, tireless in activity, and sincerely devoted to science because of the love of science, the results of the work he accomplished in the comparatively few years of his mature powers will be known best only to the university which he served so well, and to those friend elsewhere who came into close relationship with him. It was my pleasure to be a frequent correspondent of Dr. Knight for nearly ten years, and to have spent weeks with him in camp and at his own fireside. The news of his death came as a shock while on my way to visit him in Laramie in response to a most generous invitation. I had long since learned to trust him implicitly as an upright gentleman and as a friend. Professor Knight, the son of a farmer, was born at Rochelle, Illinois, Dec. 13, 1858. His father, David A. Knight, removed while yet the son was a boy to a farm near Lincoln, Nebraska, then near the limits of civilization on the plains. Pioneer life developed in the son those traits which have brought success to many another western lad, self reliance, vigor of purpose and of body, energy and ambition. The naturalist was born in the country boy, and those keen powers of observation for which he was distinguished were trained as perhaps nothing else would have trained them. The fauna and flora and geology of his prairie home surroundings became familiar to him in a way that shaped his whole future life. While the larger part of his attention in later years was devoted to geological and chemical pursuits, I have reason to believe that, could he have been left free to follow his own inclinations, he would have preferred to give his life to purely paleontological and stratigraphical studies, and he never fully reconciled himself to his limitations. He graduated at the University of Nebraska in 1896, in the scientific course. He left his country home, where there was little stimulus for intellectual life, to enter college at an age when most young men graduate, and worked his way through his course by setting type at night time. Immediately after his graduation, he went to Wyoming to serve as an assistant geologist on the territorial survey. In this position, and as an assayer and superintendent of mines of Colorado and Wyoming he served until called to the professorship of Geology and Mining at the newly founded University of Wyoming, at Laramie, in 1893, a position which he held uninterruptedly, with the added duties, concurrently or successively, of geologist of Wyoming experiment station, curator of the State Museum, state geologist, and principal of the School of Mines of the State University, until his death from peritonitis, July 28 of the past year. He received the degrees of M.A. and Ph. D. from his alma mater in 1893 and 1901, and had also spent some time in graduate study at the University of Chicago. He was for years a fellow of the Geological Society of America, and was a member of the Institute of Mining Engineers, of the National Geographic Society, and of other societies. During the ten years of his incumbency of the professorship at the University of Wyoming, professor Knight found time, notwithstanding the multiplicity and arduousness of his labors, to publish many valuable contributions to geological and paleontological science, a list of which, as compiled by his colleague, professor A. Nelson, will be found appended herewith. Indeed those who knew him can only be surprised at the tireless and incessant activity which enabled him to accomplish so much of real value. But his publications tell only a part of what he did, and that too oftentimes the most meager means at his command and amid discouragements which few can appreciate. Almost isolated from companionship with scientific men in his own field of work, with but little literature and means for comparative studies, his work was largely that of a pioneer, preparing the way for others. He found time among other things to bring together collections in paleontology of which any university might be proud. More than fifty tons of valuable fossils, chiefly vertebrates, were obtained for the university by his patient effort, and some of those young men whom he helped to train are now gaining reputations for themselves in paleontology. Only a few months before his death he published an excellent extended list of the birds of Wyoming, based upon material largely the result of his own labors. The larger part of his published papers, it will be seen, were devoted to economic geology, and the state owes him a dept of which I trust it feels fully conscious. Nevertheless, he published not a few papers of value on the stratigraphy, paleontology and natural history of Wyoming. In stratigraphic geology his chief services were in the more accurate mapping of parts of the state, in the recognition of the Lower Permian, in the recognition of the so-called Triassic or Red-beds as being, in part at least, of Permian age, in the more accurate determinations of the Jurassic horizons, etc. In paleontology he described a number of new forms of plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, fishes, etc. Much of the material which he accumulated is new to science and of much interest, and it is unfortunate that he did not have the time and opportunity to study this material more fully. His limitations were those of a pioneer state-multiplicity of things to do, and the lack of means which can only be brought together by time. And his merits are largely those of a pioneer, merits which are not often appreciated at their full value by the laboratory scientist. As to his personal character, I am permitted to quote from a letter from a mutual friend, and colleague of professor Knight for ten years, professor E. E. Slosson:
"Professor Knight habitually overworked himself day and night; he was not strong in constitution. He built his own assay furnaces, put up partitions and desks and bought his own books when appropriations were insufficient, as they must always be in a new university. He was unfailingly courteous and kind hearted in his relations with others, never wounding feelings and unselfishly doing more than his share of the duties which came his way. He was outspoken against shams and pretensions of all kinds, and his opposition to the present methods of exploiting mines in the west often brought down upon him the displeasure of promoters, and caused efforts to be made to force him out of his position. His assays were fearless and honest. He was tempted at times by offers of large salaries to go into mining work, but he refused them always because of his love of science."
All this I can corroborate. It was a few weeks before his death he wrote me he been sadly tempted to accept an excellent position in mining work with a salary of five thousand dollars a year, but he could not abandon his scientific work. The State had learned to trust him for his ability and fearless integrity, and he might have had many opportunities in business life had he desired. The appreciation of scientific merit comes slowly in the western states unless it leads immediately to the almighty dollar, and he who loves science for science's sake is usually regarded outside of his immediate circle of friends, with a feeling of mild contempt. More than anywhere else, I think, newspaper notoriety is necessary in the west to give fame to the "scientist." But professor Knight was not that kind of a man, and this must be taken into account in correctly appreciating his character. Nevertheless, after many years Wyoming did appreciate him, as was evident by the universal regret at his demise. Professor Knight was married in 1889 to Miss E. Emma Howell, who survives him with four children. That his home life was a happy one I can certify from personal knowledge. Professor Knight gave his life unselfishly and freely, without the recompense he deserved, and amid many discouragements, to his adopted State. His period of highest usefulness was only fairly begun, and his university had learned his real worth; his colleagues have only the kindest and most sincere words of appreciation for him as a man and as a teacher. 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 faithful man, and an earnest student.
CENSUS: 1880 United States Federal Census
Name: Wilber C. Knight
Home in 1880: Sicily, Gage, Nebraska
Estimated birth year: abt 1859
Relation to head-of-household: Son
Father's name: David A.
Father's birthplace: New York
Mother's name: Cornelia E.
Mother's birthplace: New York
Marital Status: Single
Household Members: Name Age
David A. Knight 45
Cornelia E. Knight 45
Wilber C. Knight 21
Emma L. Knight 19
Hattie A. Knight 15
Ella C. Knight 9
Homer A. Knight 6
Howard O. Knight 6
Source Citation: Year: 1880; Census Place: Sicily, Gage, Nebraska; Roll: T9_749; Family History Film: 1254749; Page: 105.4000; Enumeration District: 349; Image: 0458.
1900 United States Federal Census
Name: Wilson Knight
Home in 1900: Laramie Ward 2, Albany, Wyoming
Estimated birth year: abt 1861
Relationship to head-of-house: Head
Spouse's name: Emma E
Occupation: Wyoming State Geologist
Household Members: Name Age
Wilson Knight 39
Emma E Knight 34
Florence Knight 9
Howell Knight 7
Everett Knight 6
Carry Nelson 20
Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Laramie Ward 2, Albany, Wyoming; Roll: T623 1826; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 8.
OBITUARY: The New York Times
Published: July 30, 1903
Death List of A Day
Dr. Wilbur Clinton Knight.
Laramie, Wyoming, July 29.-Dr. Wilbur Clinton Knight, Professor of Geology and Mining Engineering at the University of Wyoming, and curator of the State Museum, is dead of peritonitis. Dr. Wilbur Clinton Knight was born at Rochelle, Ill., in 1858, and was graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1886. He was made Assistant Territorial Geologist of Wyoming the same year. He was Superintendent of Mines in Colorado and Wyoming, 1888-93. The following year he assumed the position of Professor of Geology and Mining Engineering at the University of Wyoming, which he held up to the time of his death. Since 1897 he had also been State Geologist of Wyoming. He was a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, and a member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers and of the Geographical Society of America.
Utica Herald-Dispatch, Monday Evening August 17, 1903
Wilbur Clinton Knight
Wilbur Clinton Knight, geologist of the University of Wyoming, who at one time lived in this city, died in Laramie, Wyoming, recently of peritonitis, age 45 years. His mother was Cornella, the daughter of David Jones of Lansing street, where the parents were married.
Los Angeles Herald, Volume XXX, Number 296, 30 July 1903
Dr. Wilbur Clinton Knight
Laramie, Wyo., July 29. – Dr. Wilbur Clinton Knight, professor of geology and Wyoming and curator of the state museum died last night of peritonitis.
MEDIA: D0046 - Wilbur Clinton Knight - Field trip in the Wyoming hills - 1899