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. After the collapse of the Owen community in 1828 and the continuation of schools under William Maclure and Madame Marie Duclos Fretageot, possibly young Cox was a student in one of those schools.
Working in New Harmony with James Sampson (1806-1890) 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 Sampson's daughter, Eliza, in New Harmony on 22 April 1848.
Geological Surveys of Indiana up to 1862 had been conducted by David Dale Owen, and upon his death in 1860, by Richard Owen. Both were 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 the Civil War. However, on March 5, 1869, the General Assembly passed 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..."
|Image of E. T. Cox, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 7177, George P. Merrill Collection.
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.
Among them is his essay, "Archĉology", written years before its appearance in the first issue of Proceedings of the Indiana Historical Society, 1897. pp. 217-240. The essay reviews earliest archĉological records worldwide, then North American, and then within Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. An excerpt from pages 232-233 follows:
The highest mounds yet found in Indiana are in Knox county. Prof. Collett, in his report on this county, says the "Pyramid mound, one mile south of Vincennes, is 47 feet high, greatest diameter 300 feet, lesser diameter 150 feet; the level area on the top is 15 by 50 feet, and is crowded with intrusive burials of a later race." Sugar Loaf mound just east of the city limits, was opened up by a shaft which, he thinks, reached the bottom at forty-two feet.Beginning on page 237, Cox writes about the fabled fossil footprints of New Harmony:
The mound E. N. E. of Vincennes court-house is built on a spur of the hills, and the top is sixty-seven feet about the plain. Mr. Collett calls it a "terraced mound," which has a winding roadway to the top. Archĉologists have, as I think, without due consideration, classified the mounds into altar and sacrificial mounds, sepulchral or burial mounds, lookout mounds and mounds of habitation.
When we dig into a mound and find that it contains human bones, it may then with propriety be called a sepulchral or a burial mound. But to speak of others as altar mounds or mounds of worship, mounds of habitation or lookout mounds, is assigning to them a purpose which can not be sustained unless fortified by some better proof than the mythical writings of Spanish historians.
George Rapp, who was at the head of a community of Germans known as "Harmonists," that came to this state in 1815, and settled on the Wabash river, in Posey county, where they built the town of New Harmony, found at St. Louis a large stone slab, eight feet long, five feet wide and eight inches thick, upon which are seen the images of two human feet; in front of these images is an irregularly rounded mark; the feet have the appearance of being the impress made on mud, and the scroll as having been made with a stick in the hands of the owner, and the mud so impressed subsequently hardened into stone.Cox then refers to a debunking (pp. 239-240):
This foot-print slab was held in high esteem by Rapp, and he played upon the supersititions of his followers by stating that they were left by the angel Gabriel, who alighted on the earth to warn the people of the near destruction of the world. It must be remembered that the Rappites or Harmonists were Second Adventists.
Schoolcraft [Henry Schoolcraft (Wikipedia)], in his journey down the Wabash, in 1821, stopped at New Harmony, and gives an account of this foot-print slab, accompanied with accurate drawings. In this account he expresses the opinion that the impressions were those made by an Indian who stepped out of his canoe on a mud beach and made the mark in front of the tracks with a stick and then stepped back into his canoe; subsequently the mud hardened into stone, which preserved the fossil imprints.
My honored preceptor, the late David Dale Owen, soon exposed the fallacy of the hasty conclusions reached by Schoolcraft, and pointd to the fact that the slab was a limestone belonging to the palĉozoic age, and was studded with brachiopod shells, characteristic of the sub-carboniferous period, and the tracks, however perfect in form, were carved into the solid rock by human hands. The most zealous advocate of man's antiquity would hardly dream of tracing him back to palĉozoic times. Subsequently Dr. Owen collected a large number of stones containing carved human feet, and from a careful study of the subject came to the conclusion that in most cases they were carved in stone, so situated, as to commemorate the highest water-mark of the streams, or to note some other memorable event.Cox was recognized in newspapers across the country. For example, an article in The Evansville Journal, 28 June 1870 (vol. 21, p. 4) includes these words regarding railway transportation and commerce between "Marble City" [Knoxville, TN] and Henderson County, KY:
I mention these facts to show how easy it is for one to be led astray, when every possible phase of the subject is not carefully studied. Let us, therefore, attend strictly to detailing facts of observation, and they are sure to lead to a correct solution of all problems within the compass of the human mind.
Prof. E. T. Cox, the celebrated State Geologist of Indiana, a man noted throughout the scientific world for his profound erudition and perfect accuracy, made a thorough examination of Marble City, and after giving a detailed report of the richness and value of the mineral he stated in conclusion as follows, viz:Richard Owen and E. T. Cox wrote Report on the Mines of New Mexico, published in Washington D. C. by Judge John Sebrie Watts, in 1865. (Watts had received a degree in law from Indiana State University, now Indiana University.) Owen's letter of introduction to Watts is marked "Indiana State University, Bloomington, January 1, 1865". The opening sentence follows: "SIR, In accordance with your desire to receive a report embracing the chief results obtained during a short exploration of New Mexico, made by your request, and as your individual enterprise, I proceed to submit the general facts regarding the geological features, mineral wealth, and other resources of the country, amplifying by details partly through the examinations made in the field and verfied since our return in the laboratory, by the analytical researches of Mr. E. T.Cox, his report of which, giving full particulars, will be transmitted as soon as the analysis can be completed."
"The natural advantages to be derived from the location of your lands at the confluence of Green River with the Ohio, is such as should strongly recommend them to the favorable notice of the manufacturer, mechanic and tradesman. The demands of commerce surely point out the necessity of this city at the mouth of Green River, more especially it is made navigable at all seasons of the year by locks and dams, and flows through a large and productive portion of the State. The fossil fuel which exists in profusion, and the readiness with which it may be mined and supplied to steamboats and barges for the Southern markets, should build up, at once, a large and lucrative business. In addition to coal, marble and building stone, the prospect for good brine is equal to say in the western coal field; which, taken in connection with an abundance of cheap fuel, is an advantage gained in the manufacture of salt, when the brine is sufficiently strong and pure, that cannot be overlooked. For farming purposes, your tract and the lands adjoining it are among the best in Henderson County, and pour a rich return into the lap of the industrious husbandman. [Signed] E. T. Cox, Geologist"
Owen's letter notes that "Mr. Cox was for eight years chief assistant to my late brother, Dr. David Dale Owen, while he made the surveys of Kentucky and Arkansas, in the field as well as during the winter analytical work connected with those surveys, in which pursuits my brother invariably acknowledged the skill and accuracy of Mr.Cox."
Following Owen's letter is one from Cox, signed "E. T. Cox, Geologist and Chemist. New Harmony, Ind., February 20, 1865". A portion of Cox's letter is quoted here:
Three mines belonging to the New Mexico Mining Company, are situated in the Placer mountains, 27 miles south of Santa Fe. The gold is found in quartz veins or lodes high up in the mountain side; also in sand and gravel, disintegrated from the parent rocks and washed down into the ravines or gulches of the mountain, the latter constituting what is called Gulch or Placer mines.Cox then describes a sample of quartz in which no gold was visible to the eye. "The rock was crushed and the gold separated by careful washing, using a magnet to extract the magnetic sand." He then writes:
The principle [sic] vein is a porous ferruginous quartz, containing more or less magnetic and bi-sulphuret of iron, (iron pyrites.) It has a width varying from one to four feet. The strike or bearing is a little east of north, and the dip is westerly about 8 degrees. Several shafts have been sunk on this vein and two drifts have been started on the side of the mountain with a view of reaching it in a lateral direction. The principle shaft called Ortiz, after the proprietor who first worked the mine, has penetrated to a depth (as reported to us) of more than 150 feet. The other openings are but a short distance from the main shaft, and, at the time of our visit, the main shaft was rendered inaccessible on account of the removal of the ladders and windlass; consequently we could get no good view of the bottom part of the vein, and had to collect our specimens for analysis from a small quantity of ore at the mouth of the shafts, thrown out some time past when the mine was last worked. This ore had been culled over and selected from by the numerous visitors who have been attracted to the locality by curiosity, or with a view to ultimate speculation, each carrying away as much as he conveniently could of the richest specimens. I think it due to mention this fact, because Gov. Connelly and other prominent citizens of Santa Fe, well acquainted with the mines, felt sure we could not get a fair average of ore under the circumstances. Such as it was, we collected over 100 pounds, from a portion of which the analysis herein given was made.
The Ortiz vein presents all the characteristics of a rich and inexhaustible gold quartz. The precious metal is disseminated in minute particles only visible to the eye in rare specimens. When separated from the mother rock, the gold is in such fine particles that the aid of a glass is necessary in order to recognize them. With all due precaution, it was found impossible to separate the gold from the last part of sand in the assay, by blowing; gold dust invisible to the naked eye could always be detected in the material driven to one side.
Calculated for the ton of rock (2,000 pounds) this ore gave 3 ounces and 2 pennyweights of gold.
Estimating the ounce to be worth, at the present time, at least $36, we have $111.60 as the product of 2,000 pounds of the quartz.
This gold was analyzed and the composition is given in per cent.
The New Harmony Register, Jaunary 24, 1874 included a letter Cox, in Indianapolis, wrote to Charles W. Slater in New Harmony. The letter is copied here:
Dear Sir: I have read with much interest the notes published in the two last numbers of your paper giving a historical sketch of the drama in New Harmony, inder the auspices of the Thespian Society—or rather Societies, for there have been several distinct organizations since the building of the first theatre. It is quite incomprehensible to those unaware of the remarkable combination of talent, which was concentrated at the beautiful village of New Harmony, as far back as the year 1826, when the philanthropist Robert Owen, and the wealthy patron of science William Maclure, gathered around them the liberal-minded and earnest advocates of human progress.In 1881, newspapers in several states, including California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, carried an article that refers to Cox's knowledge of a tortoise. A portion follows:
They found themselves surrounded by a wilderness and cut off from the varied life of a city, to which many had previously been accustomed. Thus situated, they determined to build a theatre for the purpose of affording rational amusement during the hours allotted for relaxation from labor in the fields, workshops, publishing and engraving establishments. For it must be remembered that during this period of the history of New Harmony—1828-1834—Mr. Tiebout, a celebrated engraver from Philadelphia, was actively engaged, assisted by his pupils, in preparing the copperplate engravings of the insects and fresh-water shells, for Thomas Say's American Entomology and American Conchology, works which are among the most valued contributions ever made to Science in America. Michaux's Sylvia Americana [sic, should be Sylva Americana], with beautiful colored engravings illustrating the foliage and fruits of the forest trees of America, and Maclure's Opinions, in three volumes, were, together with an illustrated quarto edition of Æsop's Fables and some minor works, published on the busy press of New Harmony, and sustained by the generous purse of William Maclure. C. A. Lesueur, the eminent Naturalist, was engaged in the study of the fishes and reptiltes, and, in that day, where could the world point to two more devoted and accurate observants than C. A. LESUEUR and THOMAS SAY? But the list does not end with these illustrious names, for we must add the names of Dr. Troost the Mineralogist, Phiquepal d'Arusmont, the Physicist, who married Frances Wright, and David Dale Owen the Geologist and Chemist.
I have before me, probably the only stockholder's ticket that is now to be found of the many issued to those who furnished money for building the first theatre at New Harmony. It is a finely-executed copper-plate engraving, 3x4 inches, designed by C. A. Lesueur and engraved by C. Tiebout.* [This image can be viewed in Part 18 of Cornelius Tiebout Engravings.] The two large pillares which formed the limits of the stage in front, stand on the sides of the engraving, and hanging on the right hand column are musical instruments of various kinds sustaining an open music-book and two small staffs, around which are twined the ivy, emblematical of poetry. On the left hand column are two masks, Tregedy and Comedy; a dagger, Cupid's box and quiver, and the fool's baton. At the top of each column is an American Eagle; their extended wings meet in the center and from their beaks is appended a scroll on which is inscribed "New Harmony." The drop curtain is half raised, the sun breaks forth after a storm, which leaves a rainbow on the side of Poetry and Music, and zig zag lightning is seen on the left by the side of Tragedy. The Niagara Falls form the scene in the back-ground, and a rattlesnake coiled ready to strike, is conspicuous in the fore-ground. The Niagara Falls and the rattlesnake, Mr. Lesueur said, "are the two grandest natural curiosities in America," and hence he worked them into this exquisite design. At the top of the card are the words "THESPIAN SOCIETY" engraved in capital letters. At the bottom in small letters, C. A. Lesueur, del., and C. Tiebout, sc. T. G. Chase, Sec'y., and John Schnee, Pres't., is witten in red ink. On the back of the ticket is written in black ink "George W. L. White† and friend." The word admit has probably been cut off in the subsequent trimming of the blank margin around the engraving. There is, also, near the indorsement on the back a small octagonal seal which is too much blurred to be deciphered.
When in Dublin, Ireland, last spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Edward Clibburn† and Mr. G. McGlowan, two of the three young Irish gentlemen whose names you have placed in the list of those who participated in the theatrical performances at New Harmony. Dr. Bell, the talented and merry young Irishman, died a short time after reaching his home in Dublin, and the house was pointed out to me in which he breathed his last.
Boy as I was, I can well recall many of the successful efforts of Dr. Bell to amuse the people of New Harmony.
*The press-work was executed by our late lamented friend James Bennett, who also assisted in the press-work of all the publications mentioned above.
†Son of Colonel White who was killed at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and father of Isaac White, the Evansville Druggist.
‡Now Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy
At a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences the other evening, a very fine specimen of the desert land tortoise, from Cajon Pass, San Bernardinao county, in that State, was received. The specimen had been carefully prepared, and was as large as an ordinary bucket. The tortoise is a native of the arid regions of California and Arizona, and Professor E. T. Cox, who was present, related a curious circumstance connected with it. He found on dissecting one of them that it carried on each side a membrane, attached to the inner portion of the shell, in which was about a pint of clear water, the whole amount being about a quart. He was of the opinion that this water was derived from the secretions of the giant barrel cactus, on which the tortoise feeds. The cactus contains a great deal of water. The tortoise is found in sections of country where there is no vegetation but the cactus. A traveler suffering from thirst could, in an emergency, supply himself with water by killing a tortoise. [See Desert tortoise (Wikipedia)]In about 1892, after residing in New York City, Cox moved to Albion, Florida, where he was a chemist for the Portland Chemical and Phosphate Co. and served as postmaster for several years. He died in Jacksonville, Florida on 6 January 1907.