Maxim Konrad Elias,
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, Neb.

American Journal of Science, v. 245, pp. 592-594. (1947).

Reprinted here by permission of the American Journal of Science.

The vexing problem: how to make the earth science understandable and interesting to a layman, has been solved by the late Professor Willard in a surprisingly simple and charming way. He is not oratorical, but narrates; does not teach, but converses, taking the interested person into his confidence. Thus he unfolds to him the epic of the incessant work of nature, the results of which surround him: be they hills or streams, river pebbles, or glacial moraines, coal, or ore. Neither does he hesitate to tell about our professional difficulties and doubts in explaining nature's work, as the case may be.

Willard's books are meant primarily for the folk among whom he lived: the people of the rugged mountains and peaceful valleys of the north -- the country he loved and talked about, so well. His three principal books eulogize the geology and landscape of the three north central states: North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota.

The son of Clinton Dewitt and Lavinia Lanphear Willard, Daniel Everett was born on August 22, 1862, in the small town of Nile in the Allegheny Mountains of the State of New York. In 1888 he graduated at the nearby Alfred College, at Alfred, and went to teach and became principal of Albion Academy in Wisconsin. He entered the University of Chicago in 1893, working his way through, and graduated with a Master's degree in Geology in 1895. From 1895 to 1903 he taught natural sciences at the State Teachers College at Mayville, North Dakota. On November 11, 1903, he married Mary Emily Davis, a fellow teacher (in Nebraska City), and wrote his first book: "The Story of the Prairies, or the landscape geology of North Dakota," published in 1902. Next year he was appointed to the position of professor of geology at the North Dakota Agricultural College, where he stayed until 1910. This position led him to the directorship of the young State Geological Survey, and cooperative work with the U.S. Geological Survey during the summer months, of 1902 to 1905.

The Northern Pacific Railroad claimed him for its Public Relations Department, in which he served from 1910 to 1918, when he changed his affiliation to the State Department of Agriculture in Minnesota. From 1924 to 1934 he investigated the natural resources of the northwest, as agriculturist of the Great Northern Railway, with headquarters in St. Paul. After retirement from this position he lived in Nebraska City, Nebraska, where he continued to write his books until his death April 1, 1947.

The success of his first book determined the choice of his life's line of work: the assistance in development of the natural resources of the northern states, through study and popular accounts of their majestic scenery, fascinating geological history, and mineral wealth. His first book went through eleven editions -- a fate which seldom befalls a non-fiction, semi-technical publication. As he worked on improvement of this book, he developed his own style and logical order in presentation of facts and conclusions; and he followed this style in the next books, each devoted to a single State: Minnesota (1922), Montana (1935) and California (1942). In each he gives a well-illustrated summary of the main geological features and landscape of a State, and at the end appends special chapters about what can be observed and learned from a window of a moving train or motor car, along its principal thoroughfares. For a traveler, who watches the rolling panorama of a country, the enjoyment of its charm is greatly increased, when he knows what has made it so -- be it the work of nature or of man. This special features of Willard's books -- an orderly travelogue -- has been generally followed in the guide-books of a more technical nature published by the U. S. Geological Survey, some State Surveys, and professional geological societies.

As Willard humbly puts it, in the preface of his 1935 book: "It is not a contribution of knowledge. It is attempted to be an interpretation. Everything that has been said somebody knew before. The author's aim has been to bring together in readable form a vast field of facts." One may add that he has done it in an intelligently entertaining and altogether charming form.

Willard's was an energetic and fruitful life, and his books are his best monument, as they wil continue his life-time service to the people for many years to come. His alma mater conferred on him an honorary degree, and he was made a Fellow of the American Geographical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He is survived by his widow and his only son, Daniel Everett Willard of Sioux City, Iowa.

In the Necrology published May 15, 1947, in vol. 4, No. 3 of the mimeographed "Minnesota Geologist," the official bulletin of the Geological Society of Minnesota in which he was a member, the following is written:

"Dr. Willard maintained a keen interest in our Society. He was more often seen on the field trips than at the lectures, but many will remember his tall figure, the grace of his carriage, his dignity, friendliness, and smile. No monument his friend or family could erect would be more enduring than the record of his life. We will miss him greatly."


1902           The Story of the Prairies, or the landscape geology of North Dakota. 256 pp., Chicago. 5th ed. 1905, 377 pp. Chicago, 10th ed. 1923, 375 pp., 170 figs., St. Paul, Minn. Webb Publ. Co.
1904 Series of papers on geology and soils of North Dakota. N. Dak. Agr. Coll. S., 2nd Bien. Rep. 128-153.
1904 (with M.B. Erickson). A survey of the coteaus of the Missouri N. Dak. Agr. Coll. S., 2nd Bien. Rep. 17-27, map.
1905 (with C.M. Hall). Description of the Casselton and Fargo quadrangles (N. Dak.-Minn.), . N. Dak. Agr. Coll. S., 2nd Bien. Rep. 128-153.
1906 Series of papers on geology of North Dakota. N. Dak. Agr. Coll. S., 3rd Bien. Rep. 6-54.
1909 Description of the Jamestown-Tower District, N. Dak. U. S. Geol. Survey, Geol. Atlas, Folio No. 168: 10 pp., maps. N.Dak. Agr. Coll. S., 4th Bien. Rep.: 173-233, maps (1910).
1922 The story of the North Star State (Minnesota). 395 pp., 156 figs, St. Paul, Minn., Webb Publ. Co.
1935 Montana. The Geological Story. 373 pp, 122 figs., Lancaster, Pa., Science Press.
1942 Adventures in scenery, a popular reader of California geology. X + 438 pp., 1 pl., 107 figs., incl. geol. maps. Lancaster, Pa., Jaques Cattell Press.
1946 The Geological Story, in the "Pacific Coast Range," edited by Roderick Peattle. The Vanguard Press.

Finished manuscripts      

The center of the United States.
Prairie Yarns
Education is free (?). (The story of the author's struggle in obtaining an education).

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