Born in Virginia, E. T. Cox moved with his family to New Harmony in May, 1826. Edward attended the communal school then operating as an integral part of the Robert Owen social-reform experiment.
Working in New Harmony with James Sampson on the collecting, classifying, and preserving of fossils and other specimens, Cox developed a strong interest in geology and chemistry. (Today, remnants of both Cox and Sampson collections are on display in the museum of the Workingmen's Institute in New Harmony. E. T. Cox married a daughter of Mr. Sampson.)
Geological Surveys of Indiana up to 1862 had been conducted by David Dale Owen, and upon his death in 1860, by Richard Owen, both sons of Robert Owen who had purchased the town of New Harmony in 1825. From 1862 to 1868, there was little geological work in the state because of preoccupation with the Civil War. However, on March 5, 1869, the General Assembly past an Act "providing for a Geological Survey and for the collecting and preserving of a Geological and Mineralogical Cabinet of the Natural History of this State, and creating the Office of State Geologist..."
Cox, who had served as a chemical and geological assistant to David Dale Owen in both the Kentucky and Arkansas Geological Surveys, wrote: "... I proceeded to pack my large and valuable collection of minerals, fossils, shells and other objects of natural history...preparatory to making my residence in Indianapolis... On arriving at the Capitol with this collection, it was soon made manifest that the room set apart for the use of the State Geologist was totally inadequate..." After several moves, Cox's collection occupied a site which eventually became the present-day Indiana State Museum.
During his ten years as the State Geologist, Cox published ten Reports comprising 2,954 printed pages. The Reports are described individually by a later Indiana State Geologist:
W. S. Blatchley, "A Century of Geology in Indiana," Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 32 (1916) 89-177.
Two sections of Cox's sixth report were written by David Starr Jordan. They are among Jordan's earliest writings on fish, entitled "The Sisco of Lake Tippecanoe and its Relatives" and "Synopsis of the Genera of Fishes to be looked for in Indiana." Jordan became a renowned ichthyologist, President of Indiana University, and later, President of Stanford University.
In 1939 a letter written by Cox was published in
Edward Travers Cox, "A Visit to New Harmony in 1883," Indiana Magazine of History 35 (1939) 182-187.
Cox's letter describes people, places, and activities of the Harmonist years (1814-1824), providing details probably not recorded by any other writer. For example, Cox describes Jonathan Lenz, once a trustee of the Society of Harmonists. Lenz was 77 years old at the time of Cox's visit. Today, the Lenz House is one of the stops on a present-day Historic New Harmony tour.
Twenty-six of Cox's geological publications are itemized in
John M. Nickles, Geologic Literature on North America 1785-1918, Part I. Bibliography, U.S.G.S., Government Printing Office, Washington, 1923.
Image of E. T. Cox used by permission of Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 7177, George P. Merrill Collection.