submitted by: Jay Jones

06 Herbert Gregory

One of the important personalities in the development of Southern Utah was a geology professor from Yale University, Dr. Herbert E. Gregory. His pioneering work in identifying and mapping the geological and geographical features of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona is foundational to the modern understanding of the region.

Herbert Ernest Gregory was born in Michigan in 1869, and his family moved to Nebraska a few years later. His younger brother remembers him having exceptional energy, being a leader in school sports, and completing his lessons with little apparent effort. Their mother died when Herbert was 12 years old. Being the 11th of 13 siblings, he was sent to live with a Lambert family, who treated him as one of their own.

After graduating from a small college in Nebraska, he went to Yale University, where he received a PhD in 1899. He became a member of the Yale faculty, teaching geology. He was also appointed as assistant geologist for the U. S. Geological Survey, and he kept that association for the rest of his life.

Herbert married Edna Hope in 1908. She was at his side for many of his field trips and international travels.

In 1909 he was asked to search for underground water sources in the vast Navajo Indian Reservation of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. It was this assignment that introduced him to the Colorado Plateau and Southern Utah.

Dr. Reed W. Farnsworth, a physician in Cedar City, wrote the article, “Herbert Ernest Gregory: Pioneer Geologist of Southern Utah,” that appeared in the Utah Historical Quarterly in 1962. He writes:

“It was my great privilege to have known Dr. Gregory over a period of thirteen years extending from 1939 to 1952. This was the period of his life ranging from age seventy until his death at age eighty-two. These would normally be considered the sunset years usually spent in reflection and easing off from taxing commitments and responsibilities. Not so with Dr. Gregory. He always acted as though he had never given any thought to the possibility that his life might someday come to an end.”

Dr. Farnsworth describes a visit the two men made to the Escalante River:

“I shall never forget the expression on his face one October afternoon as we were standing on a small ledge gazing out across the cleft of the Escalante River below us — toward the Water Pocket Fold and the Henry Mountains. His eyes sparkled like a child's on Christmas morning as the wind blew his straggly gray locks back from his face. He was seeing visions and dreaming dreams of the happy days he had spent in this area forty years earlier as a field geologist. He spent his eightieth birthday on this trip, and I feel sure he could not have enjoyed it more on any other spot on the globe.”

Dr. Farnsworth indicates that Gregory’s life revolved around three geographical centers: (1) Yale University, where he held the Silliman Professorial Chair in Geology from 1904 to his retirement in 1936; (2) the Hawaiian Islands where he was director of the Bishop Museum from 1919 to 1936; and (3) the Colorado Plateau area, from the Four Corners westward to Zion Park.

In Southern Utah he was housed in quarters furnished by Zion Park. “It was during his return visits to Zion that I came to know him both professionally and as a friend and fellow explorer of this vast colorful area that he loved so well,” wrote Farnsworth. He continues:

“[At] Zion Canyon . . . he was close to his field problems and could revel in landscape views that to him were the world's finest. I have heard him repeat many times that if he were called upon to select a single podium from which to view America's most expansive geology, it would be atop the black lava rock mountain just east of Black Ridge, above Ash Creek, looking south-eastward toward Mount Trumbull, Kaibab Plateau, Smithsonian Butte, Zion West Temple, and the finger canyons and buttes of the Kolob.”

Gregory Butte, the southernmost of the Kolob “five fingers”, was named in honor of Dr. Gregory. This remarkable rock mountain has stories of its own. A post on the American Alpine Club website reports the first known ascent of Gregory Butte in July 2016 by Dan Sith. His route took him up a steep, difficult gully to a hanging valley part way up. Climbers in the 1950s had reached this point to take measurements of nearby Kolob Arch. From the hanging valley to the top of Gregory Butte was another difficult and dangerous climb.

Gregory Natural Bridge, located on a tributary to the lower Escalante River is another remarkable geological feature named for Herbert Gregory. A Spring 1995 Utah Historical Quarterly article describes the “discovery” of this natural wonder, now quite “undiscoverable” under the waters of Lake Powell.

Dr. Gregory conducted geologic studies in Australia, South America, the Pacific Islands, and other points around the world. He published sixty-six professional papers, including “Geology and Geography of the Zion Park Region, Utah and Arizona” published in 1950 and “Geology of eastern Iron County, Utah,” published in cooperation with the U. S. Geological Survey. He also authored “Scientific Explorations in Southern Utah,” puiblished in the American Journal of Science in October 1945.

Herbert Gregory died in 1952. Dr. Farnsworth gave this tribute: “He knew kings, princes, and heads of nations, yet was equally at home with the lonely tribesmen of the Southwest deserts. The world was his home, and I have never known a person who knew so much about it. His life might well be summed up by the Navajo word, Utenie — ‘Doer of Great Deeds.’ ”