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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Who surveyed the Ozarks? Hoover did

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on July 23, 2020

Residents of the small Ozarks towns and villages would later recall young Bert Hoover as “a wiry young man who tended to business and avoided the local square dances.”

Bert was Herbert Hoover, who would later serve as the 29th president of the United States from 1929 through 1933.

In 1892, Hoover was a student at the newly opened Stanford University. Strapped for cash, as many college students are, Hoover was in need of summer employment. One of Stanford’s geology professors, John C. Branner, was able to get Hoover a job as an assistant on the Geological Survey of Arkansas. Branner had once been the State Geologist of Arkansas.

In her article, “Stanford Techie,” Elena S. Danielson said the job “involved lots of camping and tramping in the Ozarks. For someone more comfortable outdoors than in the parlor, it was ideal, with no small talk.”

Hoover spent the summer mostly in Searcy and Newton counties, mapping the geologic outcrops of the Ozarks. The $60 a month plus expenses for three months seemed like a fortune, Hoover would later say. In his autobiography, Hoover would write about his experiences in Arkansas.

“I did my job on foot mostly alone, stopping at nights at the nearest cabin,” he said.

The sight of the serious Hoover studying rock formations raised a few eyebrows.

“The mountain people were hospitable but suspicious of all ‘government agents,'” Hoover wrote. “Some were moonshiners and to them even a gawky boy might be a spy. There were terms that could adequately explain my presence among them. To talk about the rocks only excited more suspicion. To say that I was making a survey was worse, for they wanted no check-up on their landholdings. To say I was tracing the zinc- or coal-bearing formations made them fearful of some wicked corporate invasion. I finally gave up trying to explain.”

Despite the suspicions, Hoover never failed to find someone who would take him in at nightfall and who would often refuse any payment in the morning.

Hoover, who as president would witness the effects of the Great Depression on many Americans, saw a lot of poverty in the Ozarks during that summer of 1892.

“The living conditions of many of these people were just as horrible as they are today,” Hoover wrote. “Generations of sowbelly, sorghum molasses and corn-meal, of sleeping and living half a dozen in a room, had fatally lowered their vitality and ambitions. The remedy — then as today — is to regenerate racial vitality in the next generation through education and decent feeding of the children.”

Several of Hoover’s reports are still on file at the Arkansas Geological Commission in Little Rock.

According to, the town of Leslie was first surveyed by Hoover.

In 1896, Branner and Hoover found outcroppings of lead and zinc in the Ozarks.

The Benton County community of Hoover, which no longer exists, might have been named for Hoover, who surveyed the area