Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Near-Surface Geochemistry and Geobiology

Nicholas Lloyd Taliaferro

Nicholas Lloyd Taliaferro (1890 - 1961)

When Nicholas Lloyd Taliaferro was killed suddenly in an automobile accident near Lafayette on November 16, 1961, a colorful personality was lost, a prince among geological surveyors, one who knew more about the geological history of California and mapped more of its surface than any in his profession ever did or are likely to do. He was born on October 6, 1890, in Augusta, Kentucky, and hence was generally and affectionately called "Tucky," though a few bewildered freshmen incurred his fleeting wrath when they first met him by pronouncing his name as it is spelled. His family on both sides came to this country more than 250 years ago, and among them he counted some of English, Irish, Scotch, Welsh, French, and Italian origin.

Tucky received his B.S. degree on the Berkeley campus in 1913, and during the following year, after a brief spell as engineer at the Yellow Aster Mine in Randsburg, he served as a Teaching Assistant. From 1914 to 1916, he traveled widely in China and the Philippines, doing geological exploration for the Standard Oil Company under the direction of the late Professor Louderback. In 1917, as Junior Engineer in the U.S. Bureau of Mines, he was engaged in war-minerals investigations. Then, between 1918 and 1920, he was one of two instructors who, along with Professors Lawson, Louderback, and Eakle, and a Teaching Fellow, constituted the entire Department of Geology at Berkeley. He was awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1920, his thesis dealing with the manganese deposits of the Sierra Nevada.

Tucky had already begun a lifelong and successful career as a consulting geologist, specializing in oil exploration, while still an Instructor. After receiving his doctorate, he left the campus for six years to devote full time to this work, chiefly in the western states, but also in Mexico and Alaska. During part of this period, he was Chief Geologist for the Ventura Consolidated Oil Fields and subsidiary companies.

Oil geologists were in great demand in those days and the ones immediately thereafter; accordingly, Professors Lawson and Louderback invited Tucky to return to Berkeley to take charge of instruction in field mapping and in structural and non-metalliferous economic geology. He was appointed Associate Professor in 1926 and served in that capacity for a decade. From 1936 until he retired in 1958, he was Professor of Geology, and between 1937 and 1945 he also served as Chairman of the Department.

Tucky was first and foremost a field geologist and few, if any, equalled or excelled him in this role. His devotion to mapping was passionate; no sooner had he finished one quadrangle than he had immediately to start on the next. Mapping became for him as much an end in itself as a means to an end. He loved the geologic hunt; he cared much less for skinning, cooking, and serving the quarry. He mapped no less than twenty-six quadrangles in the State, covering more than 6,000 square miles, and in doing so he walked across the California hills for well over 50,000 miles! Interpretations inevitably become modified, but the lines he drew on his maps and the structure-sections he made from them will long continue to be valuable guides for future work.

Tucky's important contributions to our understanding of the geological history of California were greatly augmented by the rigorous field training he gave to more than a thousand students, many of whom have since risen to high positions in oil and mining companies and in State and Federal surveys. For thirty-three years he ran the Geology Summer Camp, a record unlikely ever to be equalled, and much of the fine standing now enjoyed by the department is attributable to the splendid training he gave in field geology. It was there, in the field, that he was at his best; he worked the students hard and long, yet only the slackers fail to recall him with feelings of respect and affection. He was gruff at times, and his vocabulary could be salty, but always those who liked him best were those who got to know him best.

Tucky was not a voluminous writer, and most of his important papers were published between 1933 and 1944, but when he took pencil in hand he wrote easily and clearly, filling unfilled bluebooks by the dozen! Invariably, however, another unmapped quadrangle beckoned, so that many sheets he mapped were left without an explanatory statement. His principal published contributions deal with the geology of the Coast Ranges of California, for while he did an immense amount of work in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, little of what he discovered there reached the printed page. Among his publications, these are perhaps the chief: The Relation of Volcanism to Diatomaceous and Associated Siliceous Sediments (1933); Contraction Phenomena in Cherts (1934); Some Properties of Opal (1935); Geologic History and Correlation of the Jurassic of Southwestern Oregon and California (1942); Franciscan-Knoxville Problem (1943); Cretaceous and Paleocene of the Santa Lucia Range (1944); and Geology of the San Francisco Bay Counties (1952).

New dating techniques and additional field work have led to modification of some of Tucky's cherished views, especially concerning the Franciscan Formation and the amount of lateral movement that has taken place along the San Andreas Fault, but the vast accumulation of carefully collected data that he left on the geology of California will always be a rich mine for others to exploit.

Just as Tucky's main contributions to geology were concentrated within the State, so his main contributions to the University were concentrated in his department. He took little part in general University affairs and cared little for administration and committee work, for which he was temperamentally unsuited.

He was sincere and emotional, and in all that he did he was forthright, quite incapable of sham. One always knew where Tucky stood on any issue; his likes and dislikes were pronounced. He greatly enjoyed the role of host and raconteur, and he entertained his guests bounteously, with a delightful, warm, southern hospitality. His wife, Ann F. Watson, whom he married in 1937, and their son, Anthony, survive him; so does his son Nicholas, by his first wife, Dorothy Gebhardt Fagan, who died in 1933.

To preserve his memory, interested individuals may direct contributions to graduate student fellowships in the UC Berkeley Earth & Planetary Science Department. Checks should be made out to "The Regents of the University of California" and addressed to Front Office, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, 307 McCone Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 94720-4767.

In Memoriam written by Howell Williams, R. M. Kleinpell, and E. H. Wisser