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Texas | People | Comanche, Texas

Robert Thomas Hill,
"Dean of Texas Geology"

(1858-1941)




by Margaret Waring
Robert Thomas Hill, Dean of Texas Geology
Photo courtesy Cornell University Library
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 11, 1858, Robert T. Hill was orphaned before the Civil War ended and he spent a miserable youth in the care of very strict elderly relatives. Joe Hill, Robert's brother, ran away from home and became a printer at Comanche where he wrote back asking Robert to join him. In 1874, at age sixteen, Hill says that he got to Waco and came to Comanche riding with kindly freighters and walking the last of the way. He arrived to a warm welcome in the midst of the Christmas night dance in 1874 and always regarded the little town as home afterward.
Comanche TX - Robert Thomas Hill Historical Marker
Robert Thomas Hill Historical Marker in Comanche
TE photo

During the Comanche years, Joe and Robert Hill owned the local newspaper, the Comanche Chief, for a year or so. Ownership including doing everything from selling ads and writing, setting type and printing, to stoking the stove and sweeping up. Hill's home was often a pallet in the back of the shop and he never forgot his "briar breaker" associates, old time Comancheans. Among his favorites were T. J. and Lucy Nabers who ran a boarding house. Even years later, Hill recalled the venison and wild turkey that graced their table.

Hill made one trip up the trail in 1877 with J. M. Holmsley's herd. It probably was the most memorable event of his youthful years at Comanche. His friendship with Holmsley's widow, Araminta, lasted throughout the rest of her life. They visited in Comanche any time he could get back.

In free moments, Hill wandered the area near Comanche studying geological features. He had a copy of the 1880 edition of Dana's Manual of Geology and began studying a butte about eight miles northwest of Comanche locally known as Round Mountain. There a layer of fossils suggested that the land had once been part of an ancient ocean floor. He tried to fit the strata he observed into Dana's classification scheme but it did not work. He soon realized he was dealing with something not yet described in science. His life long career in geological study had begun. Locals made fun of Hill's interest and took the fossil specimens he displayed in the newspaper office window to throw at hogs wandering the town's streets.

To shorten a long story, Hill boarded the stage at Comanche on February 28, 1882 wearing his old jeans and taking a trunk full of the rocks and fossils he had collected. His destination was Cornell University where he would study and graduate, defend his theory, and change earlier ideas in geological science forever. The Comanche days were ended.

Dr. Robert T. Hill's long and colorful life is well recounted in Dr. Nancy Alexander's biography. Her dissertation was published by Southern Methodist University Press in 1976 as Father of Texas Geology, Robert T. Hill.

At the end, Comanche was relevant for Hill again as he asked that his ashes be scattered on his beloved Round Mountain. Hill died on July 28, 1941 and a private ceremony was held atop Round Mountain on Sunday afternoon, October 26. A small group of invited guests climbed to the summit where there were remarks by some of Hill's distinguished colleagues in the field of geology. His ashes were scattered by James B. Nabers who had worked with him at the Comanche Chief in its early years. Quoting from the remarks of Dr. Ellis Shuler:

"Frankly, it seemed to me that it was merely a passing fancy of an old man and yet I felt it was a pledge that we could not leave unredeemed." Near the top of the mountain Shuler stopped to rest and beheld the "breathless view . . . and as I sat on a ledge of rock . . . it all flashed over me that Round Mountain was Hill's mount of inspiration."


Margaret T. Waring 2003

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